Make Fall Entertaining, Warm, Cozy and Colorful
Show-stopper recipes to make in advance for easier hosting.
Whether you’re hosting a simcha for hundreds at a venue or making a family party at home, surround your guests with the vibrant colors and warm flavors of fall.
Esther Katz, Extraordinary Events by Esther (Instagram.com@extraordinary_events_by_esther), brings in seasonal touches to all her parties. With multiple simchas coming up, she’s thinking of all the ways she can add the essence of autumn to her décor and menus. For fall, it’s about getting cozy and bringing in warm colors like hunter green, sage, gold and burgundy. The bat mitzvah girl may want pink décor, but you can’t get pink peonies in the fall. Katz works with florists to blend in what’s available with what the client wants. Even when pastel pink plays a leading role, the food can reflect the season. A fall bat mitzvah can start with hot apple cider served in mugs, accompanied by hot pretzels and knishes. Perfectly cooked chicken is delicious in all seasons, but a wild rice stuffing gives it the taste of autumn.
Once the sukkah walls come down, many families will start planning for Thanksgiving, just over a month away. This is one of Katz’s favorite meals to host at home; she will have her entire extended family over for the celebration. Katz likes to have autumn decorations, like napkin rings made out of twigs, and intertwined dried flowers with fresh ones that she gets that day.
She likes gorgeous disposable plates, large and small, but says it can be fun to mix them up—combine plates that have gold rims with solids; put a lightweight small plate over a heavier large one. They look best on real fabric table cloths. She always has a seating plan. Since she hosts each year, she is careful to change the place of honor—which grandchildren sit next to the grandparents. People like to sit next to the host, so she also switches who sits next to her and her husband, Elie, each year. Place cards ensure the plan. Katz writes each name and her now 9-year-old daughter puts something special on it, like a smiley face for Savta, or a rainbow and flowers for herself. She saves her decorations and puts the kids’ past projects on the table to evoke fond memories.
Casual elegance best describes Katz’s approach to food. “Keep it easy,” she advises. “If you’re the hostess, plan ahead. Know what each person is bringing and write a card—‘Shoshana’s potatoes’ or ‘Mom’s salad.’ Some guests will want to bring their tried-and-true signature dishes, but encourage creativity. New twists can freshen up the meal.”
Katz likes to make polenta rounds with sauteed mushrooms, thyme, garlic and wine. She varies the string beans—sometimes with a teriyaki sauce or sautéed with mushrooms or cashew nuts. Pretty but informal serving dishes add a nice touch. All-white is always correct, but mixing in a fall color like hunter green adds visual appeal. Katz notes that everyone gathers in the kitchen but they know that’s where the work gets done. Don’t feel you have to cover the counters or a nice granite island. A drink station with assorted beverages, nuts and hors d’oeuvres lets people get comfortable as soon as they come in. She serves a variety of wines for all tastes from sweet to cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio. There’s also Champagne for the adults and sparkling cider for the kids. Desserts are brought by guests. There’s usually a good selection including apple pie, lemon meringue pie and cookies.
The family divides the tasks for the day. Katz is in charge of décor, purchasing and preparing side dishes, including alternatives for people with food allergies. Her husband, Elie, is the family turkey chef; he makes a whole turkey plus a big package of drumsticks for the kids and another breast and thigh, so there is always enough for everyone to have their favorite part. He also makes a special gluten-free stuffing for his wife—and any other gluten-free guests—in addition to his traditional rendition. He uses Trader Joe’s gluten-free bread, vegan butter, lots of sautéed onions, garlic, mushroom and chicken broth. The three Katz children help with making and hanging decorations, setting the table and some of the cooking.
A successful event takes planning to make each element contribute to the overall ambience. “When my family walks in for Thanksgiving, they smell the turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes, and see the gorgeous flowers and candles on the tables,” said Katz. “The kids see I saved their precious artwork. It all comes together and makes everybody feel cozy and comfortable. Guests appreciate and notice all the special touches. And food always makes people happy!”
Esther Katz’s Polenta
- 2 polenta logs, found at Trader Joe’s or ShopRite
- 2 pounds cremini mushrooms (or a mix of exotic mushrooms like portobello, oyster and chanterelle)
- Four shallots thinly sliced into rounds
- Five cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup white wine
- Vegan butter
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly cracked pepper
- Fresh thyme sprigs
➀ Slice polenta into even rounds about ½-inch thick.
➁ Clean the mushrooms by taking a wet paper towel and cleaning off any dirt.
➂ Slice mushrooms thinly. Sauté in olive oil, until lightly brown, then add ¼ cup of wine. When the wine gets cooked, set aside the mushrooms.
➃ Sauté the shallots in a few teaspoons of olive oil till soft and golden browned.
➄ In a separate pan, sauté the polenta rounds in a few teaspoons of olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
➅Place 10 sprigs of thyme and add the garlic towards the end; this will probably need to be done in batches.
➆Add onions and mushrooms, and 3 tablespoons of vegan butter. Toss for a couple of minutes
➇Place everything in a roasting pan and bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes until everything is nicely browned. Whatever you make will be gobbled up!
Chanie Apfelbaum, author of the “Busy in Brooklyn” blog (www.busyinbrooklyn.com) and “Millennial Kosher” cookbook, thinks that sitting by a fireplace with a warm drink like hot apple cider or mulled wine with cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmeg, is a quintessential fall delight. “I love those warm flavors and spices, and they make your kitchen smell amazing,” she said. Gingerbread is one of her favorite fall flavors. She uses it in cookies, roasted nuts, salads, granola, cakes, and even as a garnish for soup.
Apfelbaum loves using fruits for both sweet and savory dishes. In “Millennial Kosher” she has a recipe for Fall Harvest Apple and Honey Roast. Fresh figs are another favorite. On her blog, she has roasted salmon with a sauce made from figs, ginger and soy. Pumpkin is the star of pies and cakes, but it also goes well with savory dishes like her Gnocchi With Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce. Best of all, you can use canned pumpkin instead of fresh, with no loss of taste or texture. Fall fruits will keep their shape when baked to add beauty to delicious desserts. With a tart or tarte tatin, you have a gorgeous presentation plus the delicious taste of pears, apples or figs.
Apfelbaum goes to a friend each year for Thanksgiving and brings something—usually from one of the many recipes she’s testing. She has brought gingersnap cookies, gingerbread cupcakes and tahini pumpkin pie. Another fall dish she makes often is cranberry sauce. It’s easy to make at home with fresh cranberries and tastes better than canned. Her pro tip: Cook fresh cranberries in a liquid other than water. She has used red wine, apple cider and pomegranate juice. She sweetens it with maple syrup or honey, which is a little healthier. A sprinkling of orange or lemon zest adds even more flavor.
For entertaining, fruits and vegetables can make beautiful serving pieces and decorations. Larger squashes like acorn can be the base for serving the scooped-out and puréed or sautéed flesh, or filled with a rice pilaf with pomegranate seeds. Small squashes make excellent fall decorations on a table. You can also make a slit in each one to place a name tag. You can do the same thing with chestnuts. Apfelbaum loves the flavor and texture of chestnuts. She buys the already peeled version and roasts them again with olive oil and spices like ras el hanout or herbes de Provence to make them even better. They make a tasty garnish crumbled over soup.
Chanie Apfelbaum’s Gingerbread Cupcakes With Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from “The Collegiate Baker”
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- ⅓ cup molasses
- 1 cup hot water
➀ Preheat oven to 350 F.
➁ Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg to a bowl and whisk to combine.
➂ In a separate bowl, mix the oil, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Add eggs and mix to incorporate. Add the molasses and stir to combine.
➃ Add half of the dry ingredients and half of the hot water to the wet mixture and mix until incorporated.
➄ Repeat with the second half of the dry ingredients and hot water.
➅Fill cupcake pans about ⅔ full and bake for approximately 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 (8-ounce) container whipped cream cheese
- 4 tablespoons softened butter
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
➀ Add the cream cheese and butter to a bowl and mix with a spoon to combine.
➁ Add the brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and mix until incorporated.
➂ Add the confectioners sugar ⅓ cup at a time, stirring until thickened.
Some of my most treasured recipes come from cooking classes I took with Karen Sheer at the Jewish Community Center on the Palisades many years ago. I make her Citrus Turkey With Marsala Gravy every fall. Now living in Greenwich, Connecticut, Sheer is busy developing and testing recipes for her blog, “A Zest for Life” (www.azestforlife.com). The blog also provides advice on cooking tools. techniques and the reasons she recommends using organic products.
“A Zest for Life” is easy to navigate. The recipe index is divided into categories including seasonal ones. Click on “Fall” for loads of inspiration including over 20 recipes for squash and apples. Sheer likes to cook with what’s in season, and for fall that means plenty of apple recipes. She urges everyone to make their own applesauce. By putting in the peels and then straining them out, you get a delicious pink sauce that’s visually more attractive and healthier than commercially produced products since you make it without corn syrup. And you can’t beat fresh applesauce with latkes.
One of Sheer’s favorite fall recipes is Braised Sheet Pan Chicken—chicken thighs share the pan with delicata squash cut in circles, shallots, broth and an apple cider glaze. Another is Braised Tzimmes Chicken, which can be found in both the Fall and Passover sections on the blog. Chicken thighs, shallots, carrots and prunes are sauteed and braised on the cooktop with a balsamic, rosemary and honey sauce, then baked in the oven.
Kabocha Squash Soup with Cashew Crema has classic fall flavors. Cashew crema is a whipped-cream substitute that is healthier and keeps dishes pareve. Sheer doesn’t keep kosher at home but learned the principles teaching at the JCC. Most of her recipes can be made with kosher ingredients or an easy swap. An Apple Waldorf Salad makes a lovely light lunch or first course. It can be made pareve easily with nondairy yogurt.
Sheer is a big proponent of fresh food with as little processing as possible. “Many commercial items like ketchup and mayo have ‘natural flavors’ that aren’t natural,” she said. “They are chemicals made in a laboratory sold to food manufacturers to alter the flavor. It’s easier and better to make them yourself, or source organic ingredients. It’s important to know what’s in your food.” To that end, Sheer’s favorite place to be is the farmers’ market near her home, which is open all year. It’s where she can see what’s in season and meet the farmers.
Sheer learned about food as a student at the New York Restaurant School. After graduating, she worked at Gourmet magazine with Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ former chef, and then became a private chef, along with being the mother of small children. She had several clients who belonged to the JCC and urged her to give cooking classes there. From her years as a private chef, Sheer learned how to pace a meal and keep the courses flowing smoothly. She reminded me of the No. 1 guideline for anyone hosting a meal: Make as much as possible ahead. When guests are expected, you want to pop the dishes in the oven and pull the salads and dressing out of the fridge. That’s how to enjoy your company, and that mulled wine, with a minimum of stress.
Karen Sheer’s Kabocha Squash and Apple Soup With Cashew Crema
Serves 10, or 8 With Larger Bowls.
- 1 medium kabocha squash (6 cups), from a 2 ½-pound squash
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil, organic, or neutral oil
- 1 cup shallots, peeled, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ¼ teaspoon crushed chile peppers, adjust to your level of spiciness
- 2 cups fresh apples, peeled, coarsely chopped (I used Macoun apples)
- 4 ½ cups vegetable broth*
- 1 cup fresh apple cider (check ingredients for no preservatives)
- 1 cup raw cashews, divided (half for Cashew Crema). See recipe: Cashew Crema
- Spiced cashews (garnish). See recipe below.
➀ Soak raw cashews in plenty of cool water to cover by 1 inch to soak. Cover and let stand for 6 hours or overnight. Drain, rinse and divide—will use ½ cup for the soup and ½ cup for Cashew Crema.
➁ Cashew Crema:
To the carafe of a blender add ½ of the soaked raw cashews with ¼ cup coconut milk and ¼ cup filtered water.
Add flavorings: ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup, a pinch of sea salt and a big pinch of cinnamon.
Blend all on low to high speed until very creamy and smooth, about 30 seconds.
(No need to clean the carafe if making the soup next!)
Remove to a clean glass bowl or container. Refrigerate if not using within an hour. Will stay for about 5 days.
Prick the kabocha squash all over with a fork and place in a microwave on a plate.
Cook until squash has softened, and you can easily cut through it: 5-6 minutes.
Cut squash into 8 large wedges, remove and discard seeds.
Cut away and discard peel—this should be quite easy, as the skin has softened.
Cube the squash into 1 ½-inch pieces.
In a heavy, non reactive soup pot (I used an enamel coated cast iron one) add coconut oil, melt over medium heat.
Add the squash, stir to incorporate for 3 minutes until lightly browned.
Add the next six ingredients: shallots, garlic, curry powder, garam masala, crushed chile peppers and apples. Stir and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes to lightly color the ingredients and toast the seasonings.
Add the vegetable broth and apple cider, raise the heat, bring to a boil.
Cover, turn heat down to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until all has softened nicely.
Take off heat and cool slightly.
To the carafe of a blender: Add half the soup with ½ cup soaked, raw cashews. Blend low to high speed about 30 seconds, or until very smooth. Pour into a large bowl or pot.
Blend the second half of the soup for just 5 seconds—or until a little chunky. (You may also blend very smooth.) Add to the other soup and mix well.
➃ To Serve:
Ladle soup into individual bowls. Top with Cashew Crema ~ Dollop some on the side of soup, and drag a sharp knife through it to create a pattern.
Top with Spiced Cashews and fresh herbs (I used marjoram leaves.)
➄ Spiced Cashew Garnish:
Heat ½ teaspoon coconut oil in a small 7-inch skillet over low-medium heat. Add ¼ teaspoon curry powder and ¼ teaspoon garam masala.
Stir to toast spices for a few seconds. Add ¼ cup raw cashew halves; stir and cook until they are lightly golden brown.
Remove to a clean plate and cool. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.
Adding cashews to the soup will result in a creamy, dairy-free soup.
By Bracha Schwartz