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Fall Dinner Party Ideas for Trip Across the Border

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Every year a group of my girlfriends drag the hubbies along for a trip to a family summer house in the Canadian side of the Thousand Islands (10 of us in all, plus kids under 1 year).

I've been wanting to host a "fancy" dinner party at our house, but rather than do that I volunteered to take the "fancy" dinner party across the border. Now I'm totally stuck on menu and logistics so I'd greatly appreciate ideas!

Since this house is more a vacation home the cooking supplies are not the strongest, but I can bring some stuff along or make due. One of the areas I'm stuck is a few of the guys are very much the "meat and potatos" types with a virtual total aversion to any kind of vegetable on earth. On the other hand I have tortured my husband over the years and turned him into the adventuresome and creative eater and cook that I am.

Appetizers - stuck on this

Soup course rather than salad............(although considering eliminating entirely)

Main dish -- Possibly a pork loin or coq a vin or cornish game hen...I've been on a cinnamon and bay leaf kick lately so if anyone has any good recipes for cornish game hen that would give a little bit of a different kick to it, that would be amazing! (My favorite pork loin rub involves cinnamon + cloves + cumin + red pepper...etc etc etc if you get the idea!)

Sides - Possibly risotto of some kind...plus?? Asparagus and green beans are the only two vegetables I can think of that are safe bets...but something like potatoes seems like way too many starches

Dessert -- I'm not a big dessert person so I'm stuck on this as well.

If anyone can offer any inspiration on my stalled out menu I'd be soooo appreciative! The trip is a blast and I looove to cook for friends...would love for this menu to be a special one!

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  1. I like the idea of the risotto, you could 'hide' vegetables within that.

    My other half is also averse to vegetables. I find presentation and lack of information until he has tried it does wonders.

    You could make mini hasselback potatoes using new potatoes. You could even go along the theme of an upper class roast dinner, I think the cornish ehn would go well with that sort of theme.

    1. So you're cooking for 10 + people..... Some of which are die-hard meat & potato types, and you want to make risotto?? You're quite brave.....

      Obviously, you know your guests better than we do..... So if you're doing a pork loin, and don't mind a little work (since you were considering risotto) I would add something like scalloped potatoes & sautéed green beans on the side.

      If you do Cornish hens, you would need at least five of them, and probably double ovens, or at least a grill, which you don't mention.

      How about a whole side of salmon, baked, with mashed potatoes & roasted asparagus?

      Or baked/roasted chicken parts, seasoned how you like, and a nice squash casserole?

      I'm not a dessert person either, so I would have someone bring/make it or buy something, that's how I roll.

      Appys? I would keep it simple.... A nice & relatively easy fall ish thing would be to cook down some shallots, an onion, some thyme sprigs and dried cherries. Add some salt, and let reduce add simmer for about an hour. It will be caramelized brown, and is wonderful on crackers or bread (let cool before serving) and wedges of Manchego cheese......

      10 Replies
      1. re: Dirtywextraolives

        Your appetizer sounds great, dirty. I would like to practice it tomorrow with the goal of making it for a dinner party at a friend's house in another state next week. It's a hard crowd to impress! Many good cooks plus a professional chef in the family.

        Please give a little more instruction re "cook down." Does liquid need to be added to the shallots and cherries?

        Will Walmart dried cherries work?

        What would be the best substitute for the Manchego?

        Thanks so much for your help.

        1. re: laredo

          for dessert, I made this cake 2x recently and have passed the recipe on to many people who also made it. All to incredibly rave reviews. it is bar none, the best chocolate cake I have made (maybe even eaten!). And I found it better the next day, so it is something you could make at home and take with you. (even 2 days would be fine). It also uses zucchini, so you sort of get some vegetables in ;)

          http://dinnerwithjulie.com/2012/06/14...

          I added about 2 tsp instant coffee, used sour cream, 2 Lindt 80% chocolate bars (the big ones, broken up instead of chocolate chips) and coated it with a chocolate ganache icing. To DIE for!!

          1. re: laredo

            I LOVE asparagus risotto, it would be a great way to get some veggies in. Make sure you add a drizzle of really good thick balsamic, if you have it or can get it, and large shavings of real parm. I make a veg stock with the asparagus trimming, onion, carrot and celery. Then blanch my asparagus in this stock before making the risotto. You could easily do this the day before.

            Squash is so lovely this time of year, is there no way your finicky eaters would enjoy a butternut squash soup? top it with a few drops of maple syrup and crispy maple bacon for a Canadian twist (and make the meat eaters happy).

            1. re: laredo

              Sure. Cook the four ingredients, covered, until softened, about 12-14 mins or so, medium heat. Then add some sugar, about 3 tbsp, and cover and cook down some more, another ten minutes or so until they are caramelized.

              Then, you want to add about a 1/4 cup each of sherry vinegar & warm water. Cok on low, uncovered, stir occasionally, for about an hour. Season w s&p, & let cool to room temp.

              Yes, any brand of dried cherries would work. And any aged sheep's cheese or even something like cheddar would work just fine. He the type of cheese you like, it will work. Enjoy it!

              1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                Thank you! As for amount of cherries, does four cups sound right?

                Thanks again.

                1. re: laredo

                  Oh no, that's way too much. To make about 1 1/2 cups of confit, the quantities are about a 1/2 lb. of shallots, quartered and 1 medium onion, cut into eighths. And you only need about a half cup of the dried cherries, chopped coarsely. I add a bit more, but it will be a bit sweet. Enjoy it and you're welcome!

                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                    Many thank, Dirty!

                    1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                      Thanks so much, Dirty.

                      I made the confit this weekend for a group of great cooks and it was a hit.

                      Next time will try cranberries.

                      Thanks again!

                      1. re: laredo

                        Great idea! Glad it was a hit! You're very welcome!

                2. re: laredo

                  these are 2 of my favorite appetizers:
                  http://www.chow.com/recipes/13439-smo...
                  all you need is a broiler, super easy, and sooo yummy. Even better with nice big shrimp. you could do these and proscuitto wrapped asparagus (if you don't do it for risotto) and they would complement each other nicely, satisfying the meat and veg people.
                  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/gi...

              2. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone!

                I'm surprised that risotto is a brave dish??? I guess in our area it's a fairly standard side!

                After I thought about the logistics of cornish game hens for 10 people and a 2 hour drive I realized that was a bad idea. So I think the pork loin is a safe bet.

                Would risotto (will some veggies) and some kind of butternut squash be too starchy-seeming or do you think those are 2 good sides?

                The shallot-cherry reduction for cheese as an appetizer sounds amazing...as well as the proscuitto and asparagus. Now I have too many ideas floating around!

                7 Replies
                1. re: travelingfool

                  one thing I wanted to mention was make sure whatever you bring will be allowed across the border. Some food items are not allowed in, or may have maximums. I am not sure exactly how it works, because I am Canadian, often we bring food back from the US, but our exemptions may be different than what you can bring into Canada as an American. There are a lot of restrictions on produce especially.

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    Oh, we go into Canada all the time with food and have never had a problem as long as it's for "personal use." As long as the stuff is store bought in the US (proof of origin) and is free of soil/leaves/etc there has never been a problem. Questions related to the amount of food (ie why are you bringing food into Canada) and where it was bought are the only things we've been grilled on before.

                    1. re: travelingfool

                      okay, that is good. We have a laundry list of items that we cannot bring in no matter where it is purchased. Enjoy your trip.

                      1. re: cleopatra999

                        Now I'm paranoid we've only ever had lazy border agents before...what can't you bring in?

                        1. re: travelingfool

                          almost all fruit, some produce. It is pretty much anything that we grow here in BC, But, the rules might be different for Ontario (I think that is where you are going?). Check out Canadian Border services online, they should have information there, or give them a call to be sure.

                          1. re: cleopatra999

                            Oooh, yeah, I think there are more restrictions in that area. I know Canada restricts a lot from west coast states so that could be what it is for BC.

                  2. re: travelingfool

                    i personally (and this is just me) don't think you need a winter squash and risotto.

                    are something like zucchini (or other veggie) pancakes too healthy? or not meat and potatoes enough? you could even do them as an app with a nice dipping sauce.
                    you could also do stuffed potato skins as a side... fill em with veggies and whatnot, disguise em up.
                    or stuffed tomatoes, maybe with some other veggies, barley, lentils, etc.

                    because of the weather, my mind immediately went to french onion soup for your soup... or minestrone or mushroom barley or navy bean... ok, i think i'm hungry and a little bit soggy from the walk home in the rain.

                    for dessert, maybe take something you can make ahead... i.e. some killer brownies. freeze em, take em up, serve with ice cream and a nice sauce? or premake some pie dough, roll it out, fit it to pie tin, seal it up and freeze it. take with, defrost fill and bake?

                    have fun!

                  3. OK, I think I've settled on a menu. I decided to go all out and splurge on a beef tenderloin rather than a pork tenderloin.

                    Appetizers: Conned someone into taking these over -- it will be a cheese platter
                    Salad (for those in the group who will eat it): Carmalized Butternut Squash and Onion with Mixed Field Greens
                    Main Course: Beef tenderloin with a rub similar to the one I do for pork
                    Sides: Mushroom Risotto and Haricot Verts with Pine Nuts (2 of the "we hate our veggies" folks will eat green beans!)
                    Dessert: Lemon Panna Cotta with a Mixed Berry Balsamic and Red Wine Reduction (I made the reduction last night and it turned out amazing...here's to hoping that it goes ok with the lemon panna cotta! Nervous about that one.....definitely flying by the seat of my pants)

                    What do you all think? Thanks for all the suggestions!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: travelingfool

                      sounds delicious in my opinion. do you have a recipe for the salad you could pass on??

                      1. re: cleopatra999

                        It's the recipe in Better Homes and Gardens this month, actually! I just happened across it a couple weeks ago. It's on the website, but it wants me to register to view it online or otherwise I'd give you the link. I'll give you a rundown of the recipe how I made it on my test run rather than how they make it (nothing measured when I made it, but these are the amounts from the recipe)...

                        1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
                        1/2 tsp orange zest
                        3 Tbsp. maple syrup
                        1 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
                        1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
                        2 pound butternush squash, cut on a mandolin into about 1/8" thick slices
                        1 red onion, cut on a mandolin into about 1/8" thick slices
                        1/2 tsp. salt
                        1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
                        1/4 cup olive oil
                        4 Tbsp. walnut oil
                        6 cups mixed salad greens
                        1/2 cup Wegmans Pistachio Nut Mix, chopped
                        3 oz. goat cheese

                        1. Stir together 1st 4 ingredients
                        2. Place butternut squash and onions in a ziplock bag with 1/2 of marinade. Reserve remaining marinade. Marinade in fridge 1-4 hours.
                        3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain squash and onions and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 26-30 minutes.
                        4. For dressing, whisk together remaining marinade with oil. .........you know the rest....combine etc etc etc.

                        The original recipe called for radicchio which I omitted. There was no onion in the original, but I thought the recipe might need a little more oompf in it so I decided to add the onion to the squash (the onions were more done than the squash coming out of the oven, but still tasted great). I used a mandolin because I have a hard time with squash getting really thin slices which is what I wanted. I also don't measure anything when I do things like dressings and marinades so my amounts could have been off. I also added the zest which wasn't called for in the original. I used the mixed nut mix rather than just pistachios. Original also didn't call for walnut oil, but I decided to add some because I really think walnut oil makes a dish with maple syrup in it. I like a lot of savory and sweet and bitter contrast in my salads, so I might even consider making it again with the radicchio I omitted and adding candied walnuts and a little less maple syrup in the marinade.

                        1. re: travelingfool

                          sounds lovely!! thank you!!