Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Entertaining alternatives to Thanksgiving tradition

Libby’s Fun, Fall Entertaining Ideas:

Autumn has arrived and invigorating weather is setting in, this is a perfect time to look forward to getting back to cooking hearty, savory dishes, catching up with loved ones after summer trips and taking in all the beauty the fall season has to offer. Whether you’re looking for an excuse to reconnect with friends and family or just to cook up some good old comfort food, just realize you don’t need a reason but instead some fun, fall entertaining ideas!

Wine Tasting Party:

Stage a relaxed, casual wine tasting party with friends. Invite 12 – 14 guests; one bottle of wine can be poured in small amounts for 12 – 14 people. Choose to compare four to six wines and set a theme for the tasting; maybe compare six different Cabernets or compare three Cabernets and then three Chardonnays. If you want to turn it into a competition ask friends to bring a bottle of wine, put the wines in bags to hide the labels. Pour a small amount in each glass and let the guests taste (everyone thinks his or her wine will be the favorite and that’s part of the fun). Print a “scoring sheet” off the Internet to rate the wines and then collect the sheets and tally the scores. Offer a bottle of Champagne to the guest who brought the overall favorite wine. Serve lots of simple, rustic foods; bread and crackers with a variety of cheeses, bowls of olives, crudités, thick sliced roast beef on crostini toasts with Roquefort cheese, red grapes, pear and apple slices. You can tailor the menu to the varietal of wine you will be tasting, smoked salmon or shrimp with white wine and Beef or pork with red wine, just make sure it’s mostly finger food. As always have lots of candles lit and great music playing when your guests arrive!

Fall Country Lunch:

Invite friends over for a fun, fall lunch outdoors, it’s a great way to enjoy a crisp autumn day and if the weather is bad you can always move the lunch inside. Make a simple outdoor table buy putting long, wide wooden planks on top of bails of hay. (If you can’t find wood then just use the bails of hay with placemats on top) Pull up a variety of chairs, benches and stools for guests to sit on. Set out blankets and throws in case it’s chilly and guests want to keep their legs warm. Set out your “hay table” with good napkins, china, glassware and silverware. You’ll serve all the food “family style” down the middle of the table, have big silver buckets full of ice for wine and beer with openers out so guests can help themselves. If you don’t want to prepare all the food you can always do a potluck and ask friends to bring their favorite fall dish. Make sure they bring it in a container that is oven proof so it can be hot when you put it on the table. If you are feeling inspired to cook yourself, keep it simple with items that can be cooked ahead and are easily transported outside. Serve mugs of tomato/ basil soup with garlic toast to start with, and then serve roasted lemon/garlic chicken with sautéed mushrooms and an arugula/butternut squash salad topped with fresh ricotta salata and toasted pumpkin seeds. Serve a warm peach/ blueberry crisp for desert. Even though it’s a casual setting outdoors, be sure to dress up your table with all your good china, glassware and flatware, it’s elegant and unexpected!

Fall Family Picnic:

This is for families that want to enjoy a crisp autumn day outdoors when the leaves are changing colors, falling to the ground and creating that perfect, big pile to jump into! This picnic can work in a pumpkin patch, apple orchard, or local park; the main ingredients are family, food, and fall fun. Plan an easy hike through the woods, pumpkin or apple picking, or a game of tag football…this is all about relaxing and enjoying time together. Pack blankets to sit on or wrap up in and extra sweaters for little ones are a good idea. Bring thermoses, a football and Frisbee and don’t forget the camera. Bring colored paper and chalk, let the kids do chalk rubbing of the leaves they pick up and use them as tags for presents throughout the year. Pick beautiful leaves, take them home and press them in a phonebook between wax paper, pull them out at Thanksgiving and write each guests name on them to use as place cards. As with any mobile meal make sure to keep it easy to prepare, serve and eat. Start with mugs of butternut squash soup, and then serve Roasted turkey and havarti sandwiches, sweet corn and pepper salad, and tomato and cucumber salad. Finish with chocolate chip cookies and brownies, hot chocolate and hot mulled cider. Attach small metal rimmed tags onto the mugs with each guests name on it, they’ll feel special and they can keep track of their mug to re-use it for warm beverages throughout the day.

Fall Cookie Decorating:

Cookie decorating isn’t great just around holiday time, this is a classic kids activity that never goes out of style and can become a tradition no matter what the season! It’s perfect for a rainy, fall day and it’s fun to do with a group of kids. Bake the sugar cookies ahead of time, using large fall themed cookie cutters. Cover your kitchen table or counter with newspaper, set out a paper plate for each child and have lots of plastic knives and paper towels available. Mix up orange, brown, yellow and green icing (1lb box confectioners sugar, 2 egg whites, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar and 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice make enough icing for four different colors) Be sure to have lots of different sprinkles, jimmies and colored crystal sugars available…everybody knows that’s the BEST PART!