In Southern California we don’t get an “Indian Summer” with beautiful fall leaves, cooler days, apple picking in the country… no – it is hot hot hot! It can be June Gloom all summer but when fall rolls around it is all of a sudden sunny with the usual palm trees swaying in the breeze. So what is a former New Yorker to do? Have a dinner party with a “Fall Theme” of course!
I have been playing Bunko (or some call it “Drunko”) for over 12 years with the same neighborhood ladies. We are a tight group, rather snobby, and pride ourselves on our good food and wine choices. I like to think that we try to out do each other at this monthly get together. That means cool it on the processed Costco appetizers, or at least keep the Trader Joe’s mini quiches to a minimum. Here are some of my tried and true recipe suggestions for this time of year. You can mix and match depending on the size of your crowd.
FALL DINNER PARTY IDEAS:
Basic Cheese, Nuts and Crackers – I like to put out a variety. For a fall theme include smoked cheeses, like a smoky Gouda. I prefer Sharp Cheddar, Brie, and one gourmet type like Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, or a nice Parmigiano Reggiano. I also like a Horseradish cheddar at this time of year. Buy some mixed good quality nuts or buy raw walnuts or almonds and saut them in a pan on low heat with some plain sugar and pumpkin pie spice for a real treat. You can add a bit of butter to the pan, but you don’t have to.
Apple Cider Martinis with Graham cracker Sugar Rims – the Bartender Dan at Big Canyon Country Club and I invented this Fall drink. Take 2 quarts of spiced apple cider (use mulling spices and fresh fruit like lemons, oranges and limes to stew cider in a big pot.) Take a martini shaker and put lots of ice in it. Only add alcohol if you are over 21 and just a little bit or you will regret it. I would add vanilla vodka – 1/2 ounce per drink. Take a lemon slice and run it around the rim of a martini glass. Dip it into the graham cracker sugar crumbs on a plate. Then pour the ice cold cider mixture into the glass and serve. It is so good.
Rose Wine and Chardonnay- In California we have so many wine choices and regions. In the fall and at Thanksgiving I love to serve a Rose wine early in the dinner with appetizers. Find a nice dry one and pair it with your special cheese selection. Since I am a Chardonnay snob we always have to immediately have lots of bottles available (have everyone bring one or two… ) for the next courses. Don’t forget the critically important sparkling apple cider, water, and Diet Sodas.
Other great appetizers – You should probably always serve Veggies with dip for the skinny gals (I didn’t say the b word… ) but be sure to include hearty crock-pot meats that you can make in advance. When grilling season is over mini sausages that are spicy or smoked with a jar of your favorite bar b q sauce poured over them are perfect. You can even put them into a microwave dish and serve them heated just like that. Meatballs are always hearty and the gang won’t complain that you starved them with vegetarian dishes. Buy frozen store bought meatballs and pop them into your crock-pot with 1 jar of chili sauce and 1 small jar of grape jelly. Of course you should serve my sister Kris’s easy to make stuffed mushrooms (in short, stuff mushrooms with a mixture of 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, 1 cups of real mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of chopped dried onions, 1-4 ounce package of real crumbled bacon bits.) Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Note: These are PERFECT football game appetizers.
Butternut Squash Soup – Make from scratch if you dare, or cheat and buy a good quality pre-made soup. Use 2 large soup packages in a large saucepan. When hot add 1 package of Boursin cheese and let it melt. This is an awesome soup. Let your guests serve themselves in small coffee cups with saucers, they only need a small amount.
1 or 2 large Turkey breasts cooked and sliced. I love the fresh taste of turkey breast and this is easy to heat up and serve on a tray. Why mess with a silly frozen huge bird that takes forever to cook?
Mashed Garlic Potatoes – It is easy to boil small red potatoes until very tender, don’t bother to peel them, drain, then mash with 1 large package of Rondele cheese melted into the hot potatoes. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic, about cup of milk, 4 tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper to taste.
Roasted Vegetables – ladies, and gentleman for that matter, LOVE roasted veggies. Maybe it is just a California thing but we can’t get enough mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus, onions (even green ones) and if you dare, eggplant. If you can’t grill them in the fall, just spread them out on a large cookie sheet, sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. I often add parmesan cheese for an added flavor. Cook at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, yum!
Salad with cranberries – 2 heads of fresh cut up Romaine Lettuce, sliced red onion, 1 or 2 sliced avocados, roasted sunflower seeds or other candied nuts, dried cranberries, and lots of crumbled feta cheese. I use a light vinaigrette dressing or CHAMPAGNE GIRARDS DRESSING. The cranberries really make it a nice fall salad.
Heirloom Tomato Salad with fresh basil – slice fresh heirloom or other good tomatoes if you can find them this time of year. I sprinkle some balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic in a bowl with the sliced tomatoes, add sea salt (I love different types of sea salt, like chardonnay or Hawaiian volcano sea salts) and lots of chopped fresh basil. Let the tomatoes marinate in the refrigerator and serve with the salad.
Brownies with sea salt – This is my trick recipe and really makes the chocolate lovers happy. Take a good quality store bought brownie mix, follow the recipe and before putting it in the oven add chopped up Lindt Sea Salt Chocolate squares. This chocolate is the best and it is hard to find at the store so buy early and often. My friend Chris and I stock these candy bars and throw them out for dessert when in a pinch.
Mini Pumpkin baked desserts like cheesecakes or store bought mini pumpkin cupcakes or cookies. Just to show that you are in with the Fall theme of pumpkin this and that. If you have time to bake them in mini muffin tins and ice them with cream cheese icing – you go for it! I always wing it at the last minute and so appreciate those grocery store seasonal theme bakeries!
Decaf coffee with peppermint mocha – it only comes out once a year so grab some Peppermint Mocha or Pumpkin Spice Coffeemate Liquid creamers – YUM!
I served most of this at last year’s Bunko and plan on doing it again this year because I really like making Thanksgiving fall type dishes that are a bit different. My family doesn’t let me switch up the menu on the real day. God forbid I should not use plain boring Idaho potatoes, a Butterball turkey, and Pepperidge Farm Stuffing. I can’t do anything healthy or low fat and have to serve pumpkin pie for my dad. I would be laughed out of the room with my roasted veggies and wine pairing ideas. That is why I love my Bunko Ladies!