Year after year Central Floridians anticipate the beginning of fall and the slightly cool evening temperatures that accompany. Windows begin to open in the late afternoons, and the thought of “heating up the kitchen again” seems like a delicious idea. Although locally we do not experience the changing color of foliage or the sights and sounds of combines harvesting grain crops. Cooler temperatures do motivate us to begin thinking about the holidays and entertaining our friends.
- Harvesting an Autumn dinner at Home
So what is a harvest dinner?
Think of it as a precursor to Thanksgiving-familiar aromas, simple recipes, childhood favorites. A warm-up, so to speak, yet much simpler and stress free. Oh and did I mention a lot fewer dirty dishes? Here are some tips and recipes to get you started.
- Keep it small. It’s you, your plus one, and up to six others to enjoy the evening.
- Dress the table up, and invite your guests to dress casual in denim and plaids. Pumpkins are a favorite vehicle for fresh cut flowers as are glass cubes filled with acorns and sunflowers. Pick up a few sheets of brown butcher paper at your favorite craft store and utilize these as your table covering. Tie the plaid theme back in with simple linen napkins.
- Dim the lights and light the candles. Beware of the seasonal scented candles- unscented is the simple, elegant way to go.
- Now that the table and décor are done, set the tone with music. A great-and easy-source is Hotel Costes Radio (free at hotelcostes.com/radio/ and live from the Hotel Costes in Paris) that provides the perfect mix of upbeat dinner party tunes.
Gewurztraminer is the perfect autumn wine for greeting your guests. This delicious white wine plays very nicely with all the fall flavors. It’s full texture, low acidity, and the apricot, ginger and cinnamon flavors are sure to please.
Put it all out there. Sure, serving and clearing three courses looks impressive, but it also pulls you away from your guests, and they have joined you this evening to spend time with you. Have a couple noshes on the dining table before guests even sit. Think charcuterie, delicious meats, cheeses, picked vegetables; and some raisin walnut bread with sweet butter. The remainder of the dinner can be placed out as soon as guests take their seats.
Sweet Potato and smoked Gruyere Vegetable Cakes
Serves 8 guests
6 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/4 inch)
4 tablespoons red onion, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons zucchini, diced
4 tablespoons honey
½ cup corn kernels
2 cups smoked Gruyere, shredded
4 tablespoons flour (2 tablespoons for potato Mix and 2 tablespoons for sautéing)
6 tablespoons heavy cream
6 tablespoons each of salt and pepper
Place potatoes in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 6-10 minutes (until soft but not mushy). Strain well. While the potatoes are cooking, sweat off the onion and zucchini in a hot sauté pan, approximately three minutes. Place all ingredients, including hot potatoes and vegetables, in a mixing bowl and incorporate with a spatula gently.
Potatoes should remain chunky. Place in refrigerator for 10 minutes to cool down. Form into 1 ½ inch thick cakes, dust with flour and sauté in olive oil until brown. Finish in a 300 degree oven for 5-8 minutes.
Creamy Polenta with Pears, Gorgonzola and Walnuts
Serves 8 guests
FOR THE PEARS:
3 firm pears, peeled
3 tablespoons orange blossom honey
½ cup chicken stock
FOR THE POLENTA:
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
FOR THE DISH:
½ cup chopped walnuts
8 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Fresh basil for garnish
Pears: Halve, stem, core the pears and slice each half into three or four pieces in a sauté pan, heat the honey just below smoking. Add the pears, spreading them in an even layer and sauté quickly until brown. Add the chicken stock and swirl as it reduces into a glaze. Remove pears from heat and set aside.
Polenta: In a medium saucepot, bring the stock, milk, oil, salt and pepper to a simmer. Remove from heat and vigorously whisk while slowly adding the cornmeal in a steady stream. Return the mixture to a low heat and stir until thick and creamy. Add more stock if further cooking is required.
To Serve: Toss the sautéed pears together with the walnuts and cheese. Spread over the polenta and garnish with basil.
Serves 8 guests
10 red delicious apples
1 cup sugar
1 cup Chianti wine
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Peel, core and dice apples into medium-sized pieces. In a large saucepot, combine sugar and Chianti and simmer on medium low heat for 3 minutes. Add apples and continue to cook 1 hour and 15 minutes. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. Next, place mixture into a food processor and pulse until smooth but slightly chunky. Pour into a shallow dish to cool. Refrigerate up to one week.
Braised Short Ribs
Serves 8 guests
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
8 short ribs
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
4 carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
4 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
4 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 cups red wine
2 cups canned pears
4 cups beef broth
4 cups apple juice
Pre-heat oven to 375°. Season short ribs and place in oven for 10 minutes. When shanks are broned on both sides, remove from oven. In medium-sized pot place 4 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, onions, carrots and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes, add rosemary, thyme, wine, apple juice, pears and beef broth, and simmer 2 minutes. Place shanks into pot, cover tightly and place in a 325° oven for 3 hours. Serve immediately and enjoy.
Chef Jamie McFadden
Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine and Events, is a fresh-approach cooking style. He is an award-winning chef who has worked at various high profile restaurants, including his own restaurant, Mimi’s Café & Wine Bar. In 1998, he founded Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine & Events and in November 2013, he launched Cuisiniers Celebrations at East End Market, with unique event spaces that can accommodate up to 250 people.
Other career highlights include preparing two Central Florida inspired meals at the James Beard House in New York City, and co-founding The PEAS Foundation, which provides food insecure households with fresh fruits and vegetables.