Monday, September 26, 2011

The Plan: Harvest Feast

Ok, kids, here is the down and dirty list of exactly what you need to do to singlehandedly throw an unforgettable Harvest Feast. (Well, ok, you will singlehandedly be doing all of the cooking. But feel free to ask a helpful friend to assist with plating or bringing food out to the table). We think of every detail so you don't have to! Here goes.

2 Days in Advance:

Clean your house! Seriously. I can't tell you how much I wish I would take my own advice, and how many times people have shown up to find me standing in front of a pile of crud with a dustpan in my hand and a guilty look on my face. Or the number of times I have thrown a pile of clothes in the wash an hour before go time, and then forgotten that I have wet wash in the machine until 48 hours later. Do as I say, not as I do.

Buy the booze! Take time to choose some nice bottles of wine, have your booze and mixers lined up and at the ready.

Dress up your table! This is your chance to get crafty. Gather up fall leaves and make a bouquet. Think of a creative way to make place cards - I have a collection of polaroids of my friends I like to use, but you could try hand-lettering cards and stamping them with a fall icon. You could also find acorns to spread across your tablecloth. And apologies to stores like Pottery Barn that roll out new plate patterns for each season, but who are they kidding? Update your table's look for pennies - buy some cheap glass votive holders, and wrap them with strips of fancy translucent paper in colors to match your table - I like orange for fall; it'll give your table a great glow.

1 Day in Advance:

Buy the food! Here's your grocery list.

Fruits & Veggies:
pt. raspberries
2 white onions
red onion
1 clove garlic
bag of mixed greens
bag of cauliflower florets
1 lb. raw beets

Italian Food:
1/2 cup pine nuts
arborio rice
jar of your fave tomato sauce

Bread & Jam:
french bread
blackberry jam
smooth peanut butter

Cooking & Baking:
olive oil
raspberry vinegar
baking soda
brown sugar
2 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate per person
unsweetened cocoa powder
big marshmallows
graham crackers
seasoned bread crumbs
garlic salt
sea salt

Cans & Jars:
two 12 oz cans kernel corn
1 cup chicken broth
6 cups vegetable broth

salted butter
unsalted butter
boursin cheese
cream cheese
small hunk of parmesan
large hunk of fontina cheese
sliced mozzarella
2 eggs
whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
whipped cream

Meat & Fish:
4-6 boneless chicken breasts (there will be a ton of food, so lighter eaters may be happy splitting one)
scallops (1-3 per person, depending on size of scallops)
Day of: 
Cook the feast! I'm going to assume your first guests will walk through the door at 7pm. Adjust times to suit your actual start time.

2pm Set out a stick of butter to soften
2:30 Set your table with tablecloth, place cards, napkins, glasses, salt & pepper shakers, silverware, candles and a centerpiece if you're having one.
3pm Pre-slice your french bread and bag it for now. Set out 2 baking sheets (one for crostini, one for cookies), and a platter for serving your crostini. Stack your salad plates, soup bowls and dinner plates for easy plating when the time comes.
3:10 Make corn chowder: Chop 1/2 an onion, mince 1 clove of garlic, chop 1/4 cup of parsley. In a large pot over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp salted butter and add these three ingredients. Saute for about 5 minutes, until onions are tender. Add 3 Tbsp flour and stir well to create a roux. Whisk in 2 1/2 cups milk and 1 cup chicken broth. Add both 12 oz cans of kernal corn and 2 1/2 Tbsp cream cheese, and allow to heat through. Add 1 tsp garlic salt and 1 tsp pepper. Stir together, then cover and remove from heat.
4pm Carefully toast your pine nuts, and combine 1/4 cup raspberry vinegar, 3/4 cup olive oil, and 1 tsp sea salt in a shaker bottle to make your vinaigrette. Place vinaigrette on the table and allow guests to dress their own salads when the time comes.
4:05 Plate your salads ahead of time: handful of greens, small handful raspberries, small handful pine nuts, 3 shaves of parmesan.
4:15 Prep your chicken parmesan: Pound your chicken breasts to 1/2 inch thickness. Whisk together 1/2 cup milk and one egg. Dip the chicken pieces in the mixture, then dip them in seasoned breadcrumbs. Heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil in large pan over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken about 3-4 minutes per side, then place the pieces in a glass baking dish. This can be stored under plastic wrap in the fridge.
4:45 Make cookie batter: Combine 1 1/4 cups flour, 3/4 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt. In a separate bowl, combine softened stick of butter with 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup packed brown sugar. Add 1 egg and 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter to buttersugar mixture. Mix dry mixture into wet mixture in increments. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to bake. Smush up some graham crackers in a bowl and reserve for later - this is for the rims of your hot chocolate mugs. Oh yeah.
5pm Prep your cauliflower: Steam florets in a frying pan with a 1/2 cup of water until tender. Place florets in a baking pan. Drizzle olive oil on top. Shake about 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup grated parm on top of florets. Cut pats of salted butter, to taste (1/2 to 1 stick) and place them all over the top. Sprinkle paprika, salt & pepper to taste on top of that.
5:30 Prep your risotto. Pour 6 cups vegetable broth into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Peel and cube your beets.
5:50 Add your beets to the broth and simmer until tender. Finely chop a red onion. Grate 2 cups fontina cheese. Chop 3 Tbsp parsley. Set these aside for later.
6:20 Remove beets from broth with a slotted spoon. Cover broth and remove from heat. Your prep work is done! Relax for a bit.
6:45 Pre-heat your broiler/Open a bottle of red wine and let it breathe.
7pm Guests arrive/toss your french bread slices on your baking sheet, pour a generous drizzle of olive oil on top, flip and drizzle the other side and broil, 2 minutes each side.
7:05 BACK BURNER 1: On medium flame, bring corn chowder up to a gentle simmer./BACK BURNER 2: Bring vegetable broth back up to simmer./FRONT BURNER 1: Melt 1/2 stick unsalted butter in large heavy saucepan, and add the chopped red onion and 3 Tbsp raspberry vinegar. Cook gently for 10 minutes until soft, golden and translucent, but not browned.
7:10 Remove crostini and lower oven to 350degrees. While still warm, spread boursin cheese on each crostino, then spread a nice smear of blackberry jam on each. THIS IS A GREAT JOB TO DELEGATE if your first guests are sweetly offering to help. They can also bring out the crostini and pour themselves some wine while you're cooking.
7:15 FRONT BURNER 2: On medium heat, melt 4 Tbsp. salted butter in a skillet for your scallops/FRONT BURNER 1: Add the cooked beets to your risotto pot, then 2 1/2 cups arborio rice, and stir until well-coated with butter and heated through.
7:17 Begin adding hot broth to your rice, a large ladle at a time, stirring gently until each ladle has almost been absorbed by the rice. The risotto should be kept at a bare simmer throughout cooking, so don't let the rice dry out - add more broth as necessary. Continue until the rice is tender and creamy, but the grains still firm. You'll be stirring almost continually, but you can step away for the moments it takes to multitask the next few jobs. Your guests will be without you for the first half hour, but they'll have courses to nibble on, and you can catch up by eating a couple of courses at once.
7:20 Cook scallops 2-4 minutes per side, depending on the size of scallops
7:25 While scallops cook, ladle chowder into bowls.
7:28 Add scallops and shake out a dash of cayenne on each bowl, and serve chowder.
7:30 Throw cauliflower in the oven.
7:35 Throw 2 slices of mozzarella on each chicken piece, then pour jar of sauce over the whole deal. Bake it in the oven.
7:37 Risotto is finished cooking! Taste and season well with salt and pepper, then beat in additional 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, the grated Fontina and the parsley. Cover and let it rest until it's time to serve the main course. Sit down with your guests and eat your soup and crostini.
7:45 Bring out the salads and pass the vinaigrette.
8pm Remove chicken and cauliflower from the oven but leave it on 350degrees. Dinner is served!
8:30 (or whenever you can actually contemplate dessert) Get a helpful friend to scoop cookie dough balls and place them on the cookie sheet - flatten and crosshatch each ball with a fork. These will then bake for 12 minutes. In the meantime, make the hot chocolate. (These amounts are for a single serving - just multiply by number of servings). First, gently melt butter in a small saucepan. In a second saucepan over low heat, combine 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream, and 2 Tbsp sugar and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add 2 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate chips and a pinch of cinnamon and whisk constantly until the chocolate is melted. Do NOT let the mixture come to a boil. Rub melted butter along the rim of each mug, dip into graham cracker crumbs to coat, and fill the mugs with hot chocolate. Place a Tbsp of whipped cream and 3 big marshmallows on top. If you have one of those snazzy creme brulee torches, you can toast the top of those marshies. If not, you can sprinkle with a dash of cocoa powder.

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