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Entertaining: Autumn Party
At an autumn dinner, a harvest theme guides the warm palette and hearty menu
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Recipes in this story
Heirloom Tomato Salad
The first day of January may mean a new calendar and well-intentioned resolutions, but autumn offers its own fresh start. It initiates a new academic year, promises the premieres of television favorites, kicks off the football season, and ushers in the holidays. So when party planners Catherine Bailly Dunne and Tanis McGregor, founders of Door Couture, decide to throw a fall gathering, they see harvesttime as a reason to celebrate.
"At this time of year, you are constantly looking forward to something 'next month,'" explains Catherine. "There are holidays to anticipate plus the delight of rediscovering the comforts of warm, cozy wardrobes and crackling blazes in the fireplace."
So for this get-together, Catherine and Tanis let a harvest theme guide their warm palette and hearty menu. Because it's an intimate dinner for six, the dining room seems too grand-and too expected. Instead, a small pine kitchen table that can be easily enlivened with pretty accoutrements is positioned in front of a fireplace in the living room. Covered by a linen cloth in muted purple, the table is just the right size for dining in this venue. The cozy setup also distinguishes the casual affair from the Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings that will soon occur in the formal dining room.
Rugged logs and the distressed finish of the stone mantelpiece inspire the duo's use of natural materials for their setting. Rattan bistro-style chairs lend the feel of a French country inn, while rattan chargers ground ceramic dinner plates in aubergine-and-cream patterns of various forest scenes. Classic cassoulet, a traditional French bean-and-meat dish, is served to each guest in a vintage pottery cassolette. Topped with animal-shaped lids, the whimsical cassolettes become conversation pieces. Napkins edged in a crocheted trim give a hand-touched twist to traditional ivory linen. Wineglasses and tumblers with gold accents sparkle among the other rustic elements.
For this autumn dinner, a plentiful supply of such fall flowers as chrysanthemums, bittersweet, and asters would make an appropriate centerpiece. But Catherine and Tanis instead look to the offerings at their local farmer's market to create a colorful homage to the season's harvest. This arrangement includes eggplant, pomegranates, and bell peppers with cascading grapes tucked in between. "Everyone loves flowers in the spring, when the winter months have starved us of their blooms," says Tanis. "But the fall is really about celebrating what's been planted and cared for over the summer."
Photography: Michael Venera
Sources: "Les Maisons Enchantées" faience dinner plates from Hermès, and linen Alexandre Turpault tablecloth, both through The Silver Peacock (212/426-2610); crystal stemware and frosted glass centerpiece from TableArt (tableartonline.com).
To update traditional cornucopias, Catherine and Tanis formed two sturdy, contrasting papers into cones and filled them with vegetables. They hung the little cornucopias from the top of the door using two colors of grosgrain ribbon.
Printed invitations always look polished, but for a less formal gathering, handwritten invites are charming. Here, thick paper placecards are tied with orange ribbons.
To play off of the door decorations, miniature cones are filled with chocolates, adorned with ribbon rosettes, and hung on the back of each chair. All paper products and ribbon are from Kate's Paperie (katespaperie.com).
Instead of using flowers for a centerpiece, make it from fruits and vegetables in the earthy colors of fall. For a simple, modern version, use produce that is all one color. To make arranging easy, choose a variety of shapes and sizes for your components.
Here's to fall!
Heirloom Tomato Salad
David Reardon, executive chef at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, California, created this recipe. It's a light, elegant starter to the rich cassoulet. Prep the ingredients in advance, and put the salad together just before guests arrive. A visit to the farmers market will yield the best heirloom tomatoes, green beans, and microgreens.
- 6 heirloom tomatoes (about 2-1/2 pounds), varying in size and color
- 1/4 cup basil-flavored olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- Basil leaves
- 3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
- 8 ounces fresh haricot vert or thin green beans, quick-cooked and cooled
- 1 cup microgreens or baby arugula
Cut tomatoes in wedges, slices, and/or chunks. Toss with half the basil-flavored olive oil and salt, and pepper to taste. Arrange tomatoes on six salad plates. Arrange fennel, red onion, and basil leaves on top of tomatoes. Top with Gorgonzola and green beans. Drizzle each salad with remaining oil; garnish with microgreens or baby arugula. Makes 6 servings.
Ariane Daguin, founder and CEO of D'Artagnan, a premier distributor of foie gras and organic poultry, beef, and lamb, contributed this recipe. "Cassoulet is the classic sausage, duck, and bean casserole that is at the heart of traditional Gascon cooking," Ariane says. "In Gascony, the ingredients will vary from region to region and chef to chef. What's important is that it cook slowly so all the ingredients have time to marry."
The time is definitely worth the effort. This satisfying dish is the ultimate French comfort food. Preorder the coco beans, ventrèche, demi-glace, duck-leg confit, and sausages from dartagnan.com.
- 1-1/2 pounds coco blanc beans or dried great Northern beans (3-3/4 cups)
- 1/2 pound ventrèche (cured French bacon)
- 10 cloves garlic
- 1 medium onion, cut in half
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrot
- Bouquet garni*
- 4 cups beef broth or 2 cups duck and veal demi-glace dissolved in 2 cups water
- 3 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- Pinch ground black pepper
- 4 portions duck-leg confit
- 1 pound duck and Armagnac sausage or garlic sausage, halved crosswise or cut into large slices
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Rinse beans and place in Dutch oven; cover beans with 8 cups water. Soak overnight. (Or combine beans and 8 cups water; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 2 minutes. Cover; let stand 1 hour.) Drain beans; return to pot. Add bacon, garlic, onion halves, carrot, and bouquet garni, and 10 cups fresh water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, about 1 hour or until beans are just tender, stirring often. Drain; discard onion and bouquet garni. Return beans to pot.
Add broth, tomatoes, chopped onion, and pinch of pepper; bring to boil. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325°F. If desired, remove duck meat from bones, if present, or cut each in half at the joint.
Remove half the bean mixture from pot. Add duck legs and sausage; cover with removed beans. Cover; bake about 2 hours or until hot and bubbling.** Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Uncover; bake 20 minutes or until top is browned. Remove from oven; let stand 15 minutes before serving. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.
*Bouquet Garni: In a 6x6-inch square of doubled cheesecloth place 5 parsley sprigs, 3 celery leaves, 2 thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 5 cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns; tie into bundle with kitchen twine.
**Recipe may be prepared ahead until this point. Cover; refrigerate for up to 2 days. Put in 325°F oven for 1 hour to heat through; increase oven temperature to 400°F and continue as instructed.
Bake this the day of your dinner party. Give it a final flourish by dusting with confectioners' sugar just before serving.
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter
- 1 slightly beaten egg
- 1 recipe Almond Cream (see instructions)
- 3 medium pears
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
For crust, in medium bowl stir together flour, sugar, lemon peel, and salt. Using pastry blender cut in butter until pieces are pea-size. Stir in egg with fork, gently tossing until flour mixture is moistened. Form into ball. If necessary, cover and chill in refrigerator about 30 minutes or until easy to handle. On lightly floured surface, roll dough into 11-inch circle. Transfer to 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Trim pastry even with edge of pan.
Line pastry with double thickness of foil. Bake in 450°F oven about 8 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 5 to 6 minutes more or until pastry is just golden. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.
Spread Almond Cream over bottom crust. Peel pears; cut in half. Remove and discard stems and seeds. With cut sides down, cut each pear half crosswise into thin slices; do not separate slices. Brush pears with lemon juice. Arrange pears, cut sides down, on top of Almond Cream. Press down on pear halves to slightly fan out slices. Bake in 375° oven 20 minutes.
Sprinkle pears with almond crumbs reserved from Almond Cream. Bake 25 minutes more or until knife inserted near center comes out clean and pears are golden. (If necessary, cover tart with foil for last 15 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning.) Makes 10 servings.
Almond Cream: In food processor or blender, combine 3/4 cup almonds, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup crushed amaretti cookies (about 10). Cover; process or blend just until crumbs form. Remove 2 tablespoons almond crumbs; set aside. Add 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened; 2 eggs; 1 tablespoon pear brandy, Kirsch, or milk; and 1 teaspoon vanilla to remaining crumb mixture. Cover; process or blend until combined.