If you could invite anyone to a fall dinner party, who would it be? I mean, anyone. That certain someone, who you idolize and adore. Your hero. It can be ANYONE. Have you ever thought about this?
I have. It’s simple. If I could have anyone…I mean, anyone…it would be the Barefoot Contessa. Yep, Ina Garten. She is my culinary heroine. Not only do I have all of her cookbooks, but I watch her Food Network episodes whenever I get a chance…& I don’t watch TV. To me, she is the ultimate entertainer. From her table settings to her menus…to her calming, warm voice…I cannot think of anyone I would want to emulate more.
I began thinking a couple of weeks ago about who I would want to invite to a fall dinner party, when we were discussing Chip’s upcoming trip to Manhattan. His very full itinerary included an evening with my heroine. Yep, one of my best friends was having dinner with the culinary doyenne herself. I was thrilled for him, and how I wished I could pack myself in his suitcase & go too! Could you imagine? Dinner with Ina? It’s simply more than I could possibly handle.
While there are a few others on my bucket list that I would love to invite for dinner…I will share that list with you at a later time…Ina Garten is certainly at the very top of that list. I couldn’t think of anyone that I would want to cook for right now. Although Ina does cook and creates seasonal menus, when I think of having her to dinner, I immediately think of preparing a fall dinner party menu for two reasons…
…one, her roast chicken & apple crostata are 2 of my favorite things that she makes, & I immediately think of Fall…
…secondly, Ina is Jewish. How fun would it be to celebrate the Jewish New Year with her! Talk about a celebration! Whether it would be for the High Holy Days or not…it doesn’t matter…having Ina Garten at my home in the Fall would be an experience extraordinaire, to put it in Émilie terms…so, what would we make?
First, we need to create a cocktail in honor of Ina. Since she is all about a celebration, whether big or small, it only seems fitting that we start off the evening with something special & seasonal. This time of year, I am a big fan of hard apple cider. Have you ever mixed it with Champagne or Prosecco? Combining Sparkling Rosé & hard cider creates a cocktail that is clean, yet fruity with hints of apple, and the bubbles just put this cocktail over the top…plus, it’s pretty. What I like most, though, about Pink Cider Sparklers are there only 2 ingredients! I think Foggy Ridge Cider tastes best in this cocktail…lots of apple flavor, yet crisp & dry with BUBBLES! I know Ina would love this!
Next, we need a cocktail nibble to accompany the Sparklers! Both Ina & I love a cocktail nibble. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little nosh while the next courses are being prepared? What do you think of Roasted Chickpeas? Roasting the chickpeas with Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, sumac, sesame seeds & salt pairs nicely with the Pink Cider Sparklers. The chickpeas stave off hunger pangs, yet are not enough to spoil one’s appetite.
For a salad course, let’s serve one that highlights Southern ingredients. We have some wonderful local produce this time of year. Living in the Hamptons may preclude Ina from having ready access to figs & Asian persimmons, two of my favorite fall fruits. I think we should add pomegranate seeds, apples & pistachios as well for texture.
Let’s also use Mâche, or Lamb’s Lettuce, dressed with a vinaigrette of honey, O Honey Apple Cider Vinegar & EVOO…I prefer Midtown Olive Oil’s Cobrancosa, which has wonderful apple undertones…our francophile guest would love this! The nicely balanced vinaigrette tastes great drizzled over the sweet, lush Asian persimmon & fig, the tart, crisp Ginger Gold apple chunks, & the fresh, pungent goat cheese from Goat Lady Dairy. The pomegranate seeds make the salad pop with color, & pistachios add a nice crunch. Serve the Fall Fruit Goat Cheese Salad during the High Holy Days, as the fruits all have religious significance. Don’t you agree this salad would also be a hit at Thanksgiving?
I serve the salad with freshly baked challah with honey & apples. Don’t you just love this presentation? You will not believe how easy this is to do…simply roll challah dough out in a long rope, about 2½-3 feet, & wrap the dough around a small glass dish. Bake the bread, pour pomegranate honey in the glass bowl, & serve with crisp apple slices. Ina would be impressed.
Regardless of the night of the week, I would serve Roast Chicken, but not one of Ina’s recipes…my recipe. Ina, I want your honest opinion! I recently created Cider Roast Chicken with Roasted Apples & Onions. Can you think of anything better to serve at a fall dinner party? A roast chicken never tasted so good! I roast my chicken at a higher temperature than Ina does…450˚, in fact, at 10 minutes per pound.
I also brush the skin with Rosemary Sage Infused Olive Oil before roasting. During the last 30 minutes, I add apples & onions, sprinkled with chopped sage & rosemary, to the roasting pan. We’ll add more cider & finish roasting. The apples & onions caramelize beautifully & taste divine with the roast chicken.
It’s time to discuss our side dishes. I think we should include carrots. Ina loves this root vegetable, as do I, and there is nothing prettier at a fall dinner party than a platter of multicolored carrots! Salted Honey Roasted Carrots take minutes to prepare! Brush the carrots with olive oil, drizzle with honey, then add kosher salt…roast. Done. Easy-Peasy! Ina, I just know you’ll want the recipe!
What other side dishes should we serve? Green beans pair well with roast chicken & carrots, don’t you agree? What do you think of serving Lemony Green Beans, a dish I created years ago. The green beans are steamed, then quickly sautéed in butter, olive oil, lemon zest & juice. The beans taste delicious whether served hot or at room temperature.
Because Ina Garten is my ultimate fall dinner party guest, I think we should serve a third side dish. Why limit her to only green beans & carrots? After all, if I am inviting her to celebrate the Jewish New Year…or at least, Shabbat…we need something traditional. How about kasha? Many of you have probably not heard of kasha unless you had a bubbie from Eastern Europe or you watched Seinfeld. I am guessing that Ina had a bubbie, but who knows about Seinfeld. Let’s save that question for dinner. Have I peaked your interest as to what kasha is? Buckwheat groats that originated from Central & Eastern Europe, & this gluten-free grain has been consumed there for over 1000 years. Wow. I had no idea, & I’ve been eating kasha since I was old enough to hold a spoon.
My bubbie made kasha with bowties every Friday night, & she served it with either roast chicken or brisket. She simmered kasha in the cooked meat juices, then added bowtie pasta. I loved it because my bubbie made it, but it lacked flavor…let’s just say kasha can be bland. If I’m making kasha for the Barefoot Contessa, then I want to create a dish she will adore! I pray that she’ll ask for the recipe to include it in her next cookbook. That would be my dream come true!
So, how are we going to make this dish? First, let’s sauté shiitake mushrooms, shallots & garlic together, then we’ll add artichoke hearts. Next, we’ll brown semolina or gluten-free pasta in butter, because we are making Kasha “Rice-a-Roni”! Lastly, we’ll add the kasha, veggies & mushroom broth to the orzo…simmer… & serve. Ina will love me after trying the kasha. To date, there isn’t a kasha recipe in any of her cookbooks. Maybe…just maybe?
Dessert has to be a homerun, & trust me, I have contemplated “what-to-make” ad nauseum. We are cooking for the Barefoot Contessa, after all. Should I make her Apple Crostata with a twist?
What if I use a mandoline & thinly slice Honey Crisp apples, rather than cutting the apples into chunks? Add a crumb topping? Nope, not original enough, and my crostata will never be as good as hers. Since she would be coming to see me, the dessert should be Southern. Recently, I found a recipe for Upside-Down Pineapple Cake in Garden & Gun, it looked amazing. Then, I started thinking & had an epiphany. What about making a Skillet Caramel Apple Cake? Let’s just say that many a cake has been made over the last few weeks before I finally created a recipe that became “Ina-Worthy”.
I cannot tell you how many times I have caramelized apples over the past three weeks. I then combined cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, apple butter & buttermilk…as well as apple pie moonshine, butter & eggs…to create a tender moist upside-down cake studded with buttery caramel & apples. The cake just needs a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This decidedly Southern dessert is definitely a perfect ending to a fall dinner party menu.
All I can say is that I hope Ina reads this blog. Ina, you are my heroine, and learning from you would be the greatest honor ever. It would be a dream come true. Gosh, if she did come to visit, who would I invite? Chip, of course, and a few other fabulous friends to spend the evening with someone truly tres extraordinaire. I especially hope that she would enjoy this fall dinner party menu. Now, for a few thanks…to all my taste-testers…especially, Joy & Marc, who gave me great advice and took even better photos…Chip, for all your inspiration…& everyone who helped with this menu…Happy New Year…Happy Fall…Cheers!
A Fall Dinner Party Menu
Fall Fruit Goat Cheese Salad
Drizzled with a Honey Apple Vinaigrette
Cider Roast Chicken
with Roasted Apples & Onions