FRIENDSGIVING, FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, SMALL TALK

Autumn Luncheon with Neighbors

French Pear Liqueur from Alsace almost gone! Turns out it’s liquid Gold because I tried to order online and it can’t be shipped to my State. On the list if I get back to France!

Nearly everyone we know is experiencing some form of stress in 2020, from health concerns of a family member, to financial restraints, home schooling children, and more. Here in the South alone, our anxiety level has been on edge as we have waited out multiple hurricanes and tropical storms. As we try to slowly and carefully gather with small groups of friends once again, I extended an invitation to three of my neighbors for a late afternoon autumn lunch.

Setting the table I tried to create some space between each chair.

One of the ladies has been taking care of an ailing family member for a long time, and I thought she could use a day out of the house; another recently put her house up for sale and will be moving away within a month; and the third organized a neighborhood bunco group several years ago that brought us all together and has been one of my closest friends for nearly seven years. While my work life has been extremely stressful and busy, I find my joy in spoiling others. So this, my second Autumn luncheon was scheduled more than 14 days since the fondue and was limited to three guests.

A French Country theme works well in the Fall, and I prepared a Fall inspired menu that was partially prepared by me and partially purchased. I made the roasted carrot ginger soup a day ahead (most dishes taste even better the next day) , the poached pears and palmier I prepare the morning of the lunch; and I purchased the Autumn salad at a local cafe’.

The Autumnal salad was a new item on the menu that I had tried the weekend before, filled with roasted beets and sweet potatoes, red quinoa, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, golden raisins, spring greens and frisee, green apples, small broccoli florets, radicchio and topped with alpha sprouts. Tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette, it couldn’t be more perfect. There were so many ingredients that it was just more feasible to purchase two salads that I split four ways.

MENU

  • Apple Pie Wine
  • Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup with Crème Fraîche, Gremolata and Fried Shallots
  • Autumnal Salad
  • Poached Pears and Crispy Palmier
  • French Pear Liqueur
  • Hot tea (Chai or Apple Cider herbal)

Pears Poached in Apple Cider & Apple Brandy

Adapted from Martha Stewart – my own little changes are listed below the photos. https://www.marthastewart.com/341355/poached-pears

2 1/2 cups of apple cider and 1/2 cup of Calvados (Apple Brandy)
For a little crunch I made palmiers to serve on the side. Another idea was to finely chop some crystalized ginger and pistachios and fold into slightly softened vanilla ice cream and then place back in the freezer. A small scoop on the side of the pear.

Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup

Ingredients:

2 lb bag of carrots (peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces)

2 macintosh apples (peeled and cubed same size as carrots)

fresh ginger (1 tablespoon grated)

1 lemon zest the entire lemon ( juice see below)

salt and pepper

1 garlic bulb sliced in half horizontally

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup of coconut milk

1 quart vegetable stock

1 large yellow onion (thinly sliced)

Juice of 1/2 of the lemon)

1 small fresno pepper chopped

2 large shallots (thinly sliced on a mandolin)

1 cup of canola or vegetable oil

Gremolata (optional)

Creme fraiche

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle a baking sheet with about 1 tbsp. olive oil. Place cubed carrots and apples, grated ginger, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper into a large bowl. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil and then stir or toss with hands until everything is coated evenly. Pour onto the oiled baking sheet and spread into on even layer. Nestle in the halved garlic bulb and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the the oven and toss with a spatula (turning carrots and apples over). Return to the oven and bake another 20 to 30 minutes until carrots are tender.

Meanwhile, add the thinly sliced onion and place is a small non-stick pan. Over medium heat slowly saute’. Add small amounts of water as they begin to dry or stick to the pan. Watch carefully until golden brown making sure not to burn. May take up to 20 minutes or more. Set aside.

Remove carrot tray from the oven. Let cool for about 15 minutes.

Carefully squeeze the softened garlic over the cooked carrots and dispose of all of the husks. Deseed and finely chop the fresno pepper (a 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes is an option). Depending on the size of your food processor, you may be able to puree everything at one time or you may have to divide the ingredients into small portions and puree in batches. If making in batches try to use equal parts of carrot, apple, caramelized onions and fresno pepper. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable stock and puree. Continue to add stock 1/2 cup at a time until you reach the consistency that you prefer. Pour each batch into a medium saucepan to reheat. When all of the batches are complete and transferred to the pot, add the juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 cup of coconut milk to add a little richness. You may of course add as little or as much as you would like according to your taste. Just remember to taste as you add. Salt and pepper to taste.

Gremolata (optional) – this is a mixture of herbs (parsley, cilantro, thyme, sage) finely chopped, finely grated parmesan, toasted chopped nuts, and lemon zest. I even used some of the carrot tops (greens). Nut options can be pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts or other nuts can be added. A gremolata adds a little color and herbaceous freshness to the top of the soup.

Lastly, slice two large shallots on a mandolin (or slice very thinly with a sharp knife.) Place 1 cup of canola or vegetable oil to a medium saucepan and heat. Add the shallots and cook with an occasional stir until golden brown and crispy. Place fried shallots into a sieve or strainer to drain the oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

To serve place the heated carrot soup in a bowl, either swirl a small amount of creme fraiche (or sour cream or greek yogurt) over the surface. I placed my creme fraiche into a condiment squirt bottle, but you can use the tip of a spoon or even a zip bag and make a small cut in the bottom corner to apply the cream. Top with gremolata and then fried shallots.

The table was also dressed with a couple of pumpkins and a crock vase filled with sunflowers and hydrangeas. The napkins wrapped with twine and a crocosmia stem in bright orange.

I always have some kind of little take home favor for my guests. I found these miniature mums that were wrapped in Halloween paper that had a plastic coating. I removed one of the wraps and used it as a template to shape some gift wrap I had to recover each. I used a small tube of glue, to attache bot together, re-wrapped the little pot and tied with black gingham. I then cut out one of the gold bees and glued it over the ribbon knot. Trimmed the ribbon edges and placed one at each place setting. I also make pumpkin bread loaves that I wrapped and sent everyone home with.

A few hours later, we had enjoyed an afternoon of sharing the year’s experiences, offering support for each other’s future and a satisfying meal.

I found this apple wine at Fresh Market.
Served ice cold was, light ,crisp and slightly sweet. A lovely afternoon drink.

I have several friend between my wine club, book club and mother’s tea groups. So in few weeks I’ll be hosting yet another small luncheon for another 2 or 3. See you soon!

FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, WINE CLUB

🍁🍂 Travel Memories Gathering🍁🍂

We drove past many fields of Sunflowers and grapevines. We also were introduced to Crémant a pleasant, sparkling, refreshing wine from Alsace, France.

🍁I think we would all agree that the year 2020 has really thrown us off course. Whatever our routines may have been in the past, nearly everything has been forced to change. The routine that gives me the most pleasure and provides the content for this blog, is planning “social interactions and parties” for my family and friends. Social distancing obviously put a serious halt to all of those gatherings for several months, but as the “phases” allow us to slowly move forward and restrictions begin to slightly relax, I finally sent my first invite for a small gathering.

🍁Just one year ago (in early September 2019) when life was clearly different than it is has been this year, I met two of my friends in Europe for an unexpected adventure. We spent one week visiting a castle in Southern Germany; medieval towns in Alsace,France and the Swiss Alps of Mürren, Switzerland. What better way to shake off our 2020 blues, than to recreate some of the food and wine experiences from our trip and gather to talk and recall special moments of this memorable time we spent together. Our best memories pictured below:

German Salad with edible marigolds.
Cornichons, capers and pearl cocktail onions;
French Pear Liqueur brought back from Eguisheim, France,
that tastes like sweet caramelized pears to sip with dessert.
Store bought truffle mousse, charcuterie meats, garlic toasts.
I found this truffle mousse (pate’) in the cheese section at Whole Foods. It didn’t have much of a truffle flavor, but was still very good and filled two ramekins.
A traditional Swiss fondue made with Emmethal and Gruyere cheeses, garlic, white wine & kirsch, served with roasted (rather than boiled multi-colored potatoes and toasted baguette cubes (see link at the end for the recipe ).
Napkins reminiscent of a French country kitchen and colorful rooster place mats.

🍁I needed this gathering to be relaxing for myself as well as my gal pals. So while I prepared the salads and the fondue, I took shortcuts here and there and bought items prepared, like the pate’ and this Black Forest cake, that while not like the original version we enjoyed in the Black Forest of Germany, was light after all of the cheese, bread and potatoes and still recalled the memory of that day.

After removing the fondue pot, I placed two large pieces of cake on a platter in the middle of the table and we grabbed forkfuls with a cup of coffee and an occasional sip of our Pear Liqueur cordial.

🍁”Where should we go when we can safely travel again?” asked on of my friends. Spain was suggested…. they’ve both been there – I haven’t. Once again, I’d be thrilled to just go along for the adventure!

Recipes and planning can be found on my 2019 Friendsgiving post https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/category/friendsgiving/

Images from our European Adventure can be found on my Travel Journal category posts https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/the-spontaneous-traveler-bonus-edition/

GATHERINGS

Hosting a Friendsgiving Brunch

My favorite season of the year is Fall. The brilliant hues of harvested apples, pears and squash; foliage changing from fresh greens to a kaleidoscope, golds, sharp tangerine, mellow melon, peach, apricot – warm caramel, luscious chocolate and aubergine all causing one’s imagination to wander to a warm crackling fire, wrapped in a cozy sweater, sipping steamy apple cider, hot chocolate or buttered rum. What could be more comforting and inviting?

Bellini Cocktails, Sparkling Apple Cider.

Several year’s ago I went on a quintessential Fall Pilgrimage Tour of New England. Having grown up mostly on the west coast of the U.S. I was always curious about the east coast, especially during the season of changing leaves. The experience was everything I had imagined and more, so much so that I went back a few years later. I loved it so much and would go every year if I could. Of course, I can’t go every year, but I can coax a little of those memories to life in some way each year in my home.

This year (2019), I’m planning a Wine Club Friendsgiving with just the girls to share some of the food and spirits experienced on my September trip to Germany, France and Switzerland. In order to keep that plan under the radar so that my gal pals can be surprised, I decided to share some imagines from a Friendsgiving brunch I hosted a few years ago.

For ten years I worked with a wonderful group of ladies at a bank that was eventually purchased by a large credit card company. After that purchase our division was gradually phased out and our group disbursed into various directions that included different employers and in some cases a complete change in careers. For many years since that break up, one friend in particular routinely scheduled monthly after work dinner meetings at various restaurants for our group to gather and stay in touch. Over time, it has grown more difficult to get the group together, each entering different phases of their lives including retirement.

I decided to host a Friendsgiving Brunch for the group and about eight attended. My menu consisted of Southern comfort food dishes and seasonal fruits. Above: Appetizer – mini crab cakes. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ellie-krieger/crab-cakes-recipe-1945435 Below: A citrus salad of sliced blood and naval oranges, shaved coconut, chopped pistachios with a honey citrus vinaigrette. https://www.justataste.com/citrus-salad-honey-dressing-recipe/

Below: The main course -Cheesy jalapeño grits and grillades made with thinly pounded pork loin. https://www.chefjohnbesh.com/recipes-1/2016/2/15/slow-cooked-veal-grillades-and-jalapeo-cheese-grits

Below: Dessert -Pear brandy cream cheese stuffed bosch pears pouched in apple cider and honey, served with Amarena cherries and a cinnamon sugar palmier. https://www.marthastewart.com/341355/poached-pears

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/cinnamon-elephant-ears-recipe-1923543

Below: Gift/Favor bags filled with homemade cranberry orange scones and small jars of preserves. https://www.marthastewart.com/317925/cranberry-orange-scones

This menu has fairly simple ingredients and preparation. The crab cakes can be formed and refrigerated over night to be cooked about an hour before everyone’s arrival and set in a low temperature oven until ready to serve. The grillades can be cooked a day ahead and re-warmed with the grits prepared early in the morning in a slow cooker and then set on low to keep warm with an occasional stir.

My first experience with poached pears was at a bed and breakfast in Calistoga, CA, as part of the breakfast menu. I remembered how much I enjoyed it, thinking it was a unique and delicious idea for breakfast. Theirs was poached in red wine (appropriate for the wine country). I chose a recipe using apple cider for my Fall themed brunch. I prepped and cooked the poached pears (without over cooking) leaving them in the pot until ready to serve. As I peeled and cored each pear, I filled it’s center with a mixture of softened cream cheese, spiked with a small amount of pear brandy and vanilla extract. The liquid can be re-warmed just prior to serving and poured over each pear set into a bowl or glass dessert dish with sides, or it is just a delicious at room temperature. A spoonful of amarena cherries was set along the side of the pear and its apple cider broth.

Amarena cherries can be found at some of the local gourmet stores, seasonally at Trader Joe’s or online. They’ve become a favorite of my wine club and can also be used for cocktails. Once you try them you’ll understand why. Other similar options are Dark Morello or French Griottines (cherries in kirsch brandy). Note: A jar of these make a great hostess gift!

https://www.worldmarket.com/category/food-and-drink/food/condiments-sauces.do?template=PLA&plfsku=571668&&mrkgcl=660&mrkgadid=3282585950&camp=ppc%3AGoogle%3APLA%2BMerkle_Shopping_PLA%7CConsumables%2BSavories_and_Baking&product_id=571668&adpos=1o1&creative=260704783163&device=c&matchtype=&network=g&gclid=Cj0KCQjwivbsBRDsARIsADyISJ941VKHe0zr8GMqw5SnWP8wAmdRx9uJg-VqM4h69RzFBjkvJHZNsmQaAqzuEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

The favor/gift bags were prepared with ribbon the small jars of preserves wrapped in one of the friendsgiving napkins with twine a week in advance. The mini scones were baked fresh the morning of the brunch wrapped in wax paper (due to the butter content) and tucked into the bags to be distributed before everyone disbursed.

Finally the Bellini bar was set up about a half hour before everyone’s arrival, along with a freshly brewed pitcher of iced tea for those who do not drink alcohol. A bottle of iced down prosecco and sparkling apple cider (another non-alcohol option), a bottle of pureed peach nectar (Tuesday Morning) and Grand Mariner raspberry peach liqueur all set on my cocktail cart with glasses to the side for self serve.

Simple dishes and easy set up for a lovely way to gather and enjoy the company of friends and celebrate this glorious season that like clockwork, recurs year after year.

GATHERINGS, WINE CLUB

Cheesy Goodness -Need an idea for your Cheese Course at your next wine tasting or dinner party?

Are you thinking about hosting a dinner or wine tasting party and need a fresh idea for the cheese course? Hosting a wine club for the past five years, I’m always seeking out new ideas. While a traditional board or tray of the standard soft, hard and blue cheese is more than acceptable, if you’re looking for something a little less predictable, I’m sharing some of the variations I’ve found and served.

Cheese is expensive and I’ve learned over time that less is more. The cheese course should be the first of “small bites”, so that your guests still have room in their bellies to enjoy the small bites they’ve prepared (for my wine club each couple or single brings a small bite and bottle of wine) or the dinner you’ve prepared. If you’re hosting a book club or just wine tasting with cheese the first option below offers a great variety of items for nibbling.

As usual Pinterest can offer great inspiration for the cheese course, but I also have found inspiration from Food Network programs (as is show in the links below provided) and wine magazines. One day as I was leaving my local wine store I noticed that they had a stack of back issues of Wine Enthusiast near the door with a sign that said “Free”. I confirmed with the cashier just to be sure and then sifted through the stack and found one with a cover that read “The Cheese Issue”. I was in a hurry, but grabbed two other issues that looked like they may have information to inspire me.

This is where I found the recipe for the goat cheese tarts that were an absolute hit! Don’t let expensive or unusual ingredients intimidate you. With the internet you can search for substitutions for ingredients that aren’t affordable or readily available. As an example, the ingredient for red verjus I learned can be substituted with red wine vinegar or simple red wine. Since vinegar was an option, I had a small bottle of mango pulp vinegar I received as a gift and substituted it for the verjus. In lieu of eucalyptus honey, I used clover honey that I had in my pantry. Orange blossom, wildflower, lavender honeys – whatever you have or can find a small jar of will work just as well and had no affect on the end result. I did have to purchase gelatin sheets online, but that’s something I wanted to have in my pantry anyway. This issue contained a few other cheese “recipes” that I intend to use at future wine meetings as a creative alternative to the beautiful, but same ole’ cheeseboard.

Traditional cheese tray. Hard cheeses that pair with summer white wines, fruit, sliced meats, marcona almonds and crackers.
In the center of the table, honey goat cheese
rolled in chopped cranberries and crystalized ginger.

Serving size for a book club or wine and cheese tasting party.
Oven Roasted red seedless grapes, sliced salami, grilled brie and
grilled walnut bread with crackers on the side.
(Wine Club themed Summer Grillin’)

Serving size one per couple.
Grape and Onion Mostrada https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/grape-and-red-onion-mostarda-5300990?soc=sharepin
with Blue Cheese and Pecan Ice Box Crackers https://www.marthastewart.com/1072363/blue-cheese-pecan-icebox-crackers
(Wine Club “South American Reds”)
Serving size one per couple
.
Goat’s Milk Pavé with Mango Honey Gelée adapted from the recipe below:
https://top100.winespectator.com/2017/article/recipe-match-for-vouvray/
(Wine Club: Annual Wine Off)
Serving size one tart -per person served as shown above.

Italian Baked Fontina in small 6″ cast iron skillets, served with toasted breads, and apple slices.
https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/baked-fontina-recipe-1923423
(Wine Club: Italian Reds)
Serving size one skillet per couple.
Baked brie topped with red wine, rosemary, black cherry, black grape and raspberry compote.
(Wine Club: Valentine Theme)

Serving size one per couple.
Grilled Feta with garlic and cherry tomatoes,
served with toasted pita triangles or naan bread.
https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/broiled-feta-garlicky-cherry-tomatoes-capers.html
(Wine Club: Symphony of Whites- included Greece)

This was prepared and served in an 8 inch cast iron skillet
on a table with other cheeses. It can easily be prepared in
smaller portions and served in one 6 inch skillet per couple.
Beer cheese fondue served with baked pretzels
(pretzels found in the freezer section of grocer).
(Wine Club: Symphony of Whites – included Germany)

Group serving, also great for a beer tasting or Octoberfest party.

Ramekin over a wax burner from the dollar store. The perfect serving size for two.

When serving the cheese course at the table, I use a vessel that provides a serving size for two (1 per couple). A round of brie is usually cut into four and one triangle (one fourth) is used per couple. Six inch cast iron skillets serves two the baked Italian fontina cheese and baked brie with compote.

As a personal note, PLEASE invite a single friend or two. They need to be part of group gathering just as much if not more so as couples. I personally do not have a partner. I host my gatherings with up to 7 couples and two singles. When serving these individual cheese courses, I divide the serving between myself and the other single guest into separate dishes or we sit side by side and share the dish just as the couples do.

Whether you’re hosting a game night, a wine tasting, a dinner party or book club, I hope these cheese course alternatives will inspire you to do something a little different and surprising!