Lightened-Up Fall Dinner Party
When my friend Hillary asked me to help co-host her gourmet club dinner last month, I happily accepted — though I was a bit intimidated at the thought of preparing a multi-course meal for 12. Luckily Hillary’s a veteran, and with the help of her darling daughter/sous chef Avery, we had a great time choosing a theme, testing recipes and creating a menu. While the food portion of the evening had a few hiccups (I may never be invited back!), overall we were pleased with how everything turned out, set against the backdrop of Hillary’s beautiful home.
We settled on “Fall Fête: A Taste of Autumn” for our theme, and decided to play off a traditional autumnal color scheme by adding natural, earthy and light elements. We also “lightened up” economically by using mostly items we already had on hand — or were readily available in nature — for serving and decorating. White candles perched on disks cut from a piece of firewood, glass cylinder vases filled with dried white beans, mini white pumpkins and a few golden-orange ornaments scattered on a rustic burlap runner made a simple, and reusable, centerpiece.
We stuck to a palette of mostly whites, tans and browns, with pops of bright orange provided by my abundant backyard persimmon tree. (They also made handy bottle stoppers for our cider-tasting bar.)
Since we were on a tight time frame, we created e-mail invitations using Paperless Post. If you haven’t tried sending invites this way, I highly recommend! They have a fantastic selection of FREE templates, and although it’s always nice to get an invitation in the mail, sending them electronically allows you to easily track opens, manage the guest list and send follow-up reminders.
To help with planning, we created a Pinterest board for storing and sharing ideas we found online.
Kraft paper place card “leaves” were printed with each guest’s name, then secured to the persimmon’s stem with a quilting pin.
To personalize our menus (and take-home favors), we started with a wheat wreath graphic, then downloaded two fun (and free) fonts: Matchbook and Lamar Pen (also used in our invite). Inspired by this Camille Styles post, we typed up the menus in Word, then had them printed on kraft paper-colored cardstock at the local OfficeDepot.
We served a variety of autumn-inspired tastes that were generally lighter and healthier than most standard fall fare (desserts excluded!). Flatbread with pomegranate salsa; brie, prosciutto + fig bruschetta; artichoke + white bean crostini, and a cider-tasting bar to start, followed by Hungarian mushroom soup, maple-glazed pork tenderloin, mini potato gratins, kale salad (inspired by one at Hillstone SF) and wild rice + barley pilaf. For dessert, we offered spiced pear cheesecake, individual pumpkin bread puddings and homemade maple ice cream.
To thank our guests for coming, we sent them home with a jar of salted caramel sauce. (Recipe here.)
Despite my culinary missteps, it was a wonderful evening with old — and new — friends and a great way to kick off the fall season.
Images by Christopher Halloran Photography