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?
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
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!
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.