Autumn: when pumpkin flavored items are everywhere and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief because we’re no longer baking when we walk outside. It’s the time of the year when the parties return to the inside. Don’t wait for Halloween to kick off the season, have an autumn-inspired cocktail party. Make it ripe with all of the seasons’ harvest and decorated with the rich colors of autumn. Here’s how!
Prepare Yourselves: Autumn is Coming
Planning the party
- Figure out your guest list. A cocktail party works best when you keep comfort in mind. If you want a big crowd, invite a big crowd, but know that a cocktail party lets the guests know the drinks will keep coming. If you are more comfortable with just close friends, only invite a small group.
- Ensure you have enough food and drinks for the allotted guests. This menu has hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and a dessert. Count on each guest having 2-4 of each hors d’oeuvres. Have enough drinks by buying extra bottles of wine or a mix of foreign beers in addition to the mixed drinks on this menu.
- Create ambiance. Make sure your home is well lit and add some light music. Note: if you anticipate a larger party it might be a good idea to invite neighbors or let them know you will be having guests.
- Remember safety. Have designated drivers ready to take people home, cab services ready, or be prepared to have guests stay at your place until they sober up the next morning.
- This menu works best with certain types of glassware so, if possible, have it on hand, rent some, or purchase plastic “glassware.” To keep with the theme, provide leaf-colored napkins and disposable plates.
- Always have more ice than you think you need.
- The items on the menu (including drinks) are all very portable so ensure your house has good seating areas for people to lounge.
The Small Bites
Arancini (Rice Balls)
- 3 cups prepared and completely cooled risotto (homemade is best, but you can pick some up too)
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1 cup flour
- Oil, for frying
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Beat two eggs, mix well into the cooled risotto. Form risotto into small balls. If the mixture is too moist to hold shape, mix a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs in.
- Heat 2-3 inches of oil in heavy, deep pan. Heat to approximately 350 degrees.
- Prepare a breading station. Flour first, then egg beaten well, then breadcrumbs in three separate bowls.
- With each rice ball dip in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. (Use one hand or fork for the dry dips and one for the egg, it’ll be much easier.)
- Fry the balls several at a time (adding too many would lower the temperature of the oil and that’s bad), fry until deep golden color, then pull out with metal tongs or a metal slotted spoon and rest on a few sheets of paper towels. Sprinkle salt and pepper on them while they are still hot.
- Rice balls can be served warm or room temperature (can be made in advance). Serve with marinara sauce.
- 20-30 miniature sweet peppers
- 1 package of Boursin cheese
- 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
- 2 tablespoons diced kalmata olives, optional
- Wash each pepper, cut off the very, very top taking care not to break them. Dry, set aside.
- Mix Boursin, feta, walnuts and olives together well.
- Stuff each pepper full of the Boursin mixture. Chill.
- Serve cool or room temperature. (Can be made in advance.)
Spinach Artichoke Dip
- 1 16 ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
- 1 8 ounce can of artichoke hearts, drained
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pinch of cayenne pepper
- 6 ounces cream cheese
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 2 cups Italian cheese mix, shredded (generally has parmesan, mozzarella and one or two other cheese in it — can substitute 1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup parmesan instead)
- Sauté garlic in butter, add spinach and artichoke to warm through.
- On low heat add sour cream, cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne. Stir over low heat until it melts together.
- Add one cup cheese to the mix stirring in gently, transfer to baking dish, top with remaining cheese.
- (If preparing in advance, cover and chill here.) Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake until bubbly and melted on top, approximately 15-20 minutes. (If cheese on top is getting browned too quickly, cover with lid or foil and bake longer.)
- Serve warm or room temperature with chips (tortilla or multi-grain).
- 2 large zucchini, cut into ¼ inch slices
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, diced finely
- 1 cup diced tomato
- 2 tablespoon finely diced onion
- 1 tablespoon basil, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush the zucchini rounds with olive oil. Put in oven for five to seven minutes to prebake.
- In a bowl mix the tomato, onion, garlic, basil and salt.
- Top each zucchini rounds with spoonful of tomato mixture. Sprinkle scant amount of cheese on top.
- To serve, put in oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cheese melts a bit. The zucchini should still be crisp enough to eat as a finger food.
No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecakes
- 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (or substitute ginger snap crumbs)
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- ½ cup sugar
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 1 cup whipped topping or heavy cream beat to medium peaks
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup candied pecans, chopped, for garnish
- Line two cupcake pans with cupcake liners. Mix crumbs with melted butter. Press a little into the bottom of each line. Chill while preparing the rest.
- Beat sugar, cream cheese, puree, and spices very, very well. Fold in the whipped cream. Spoon even amounts into the cupcake liners.
- To serve sprinkle the candied pecans on top.
Cran-egranate Punch (Yield 2 quarts)
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1 ½ cups cranberry juice (I find it’s best to use sweetened)
- 1 ½ cups pomegranate juice
- ¾ cup dark rum
- ¾ cup light rum
- ½ cup amaretto liqueur
- Cranberries or pomegranate arils for garnish
- Ice, roughly crushed for serving
- Mix all juices, rum, amaretto together. Chill well.
- Fill a rocks glass with the roughly crushed iced, fill with punch, garnish with arils or cranberry.
Concord Grape Sangrias (Yield ~2 quarts)
- 2 bottles medium bodied red wine, like Merlot, chilled
- 2 cups concord grape juice
- ½ superfine sugar
- ½ cup vodka
- 2 cups black or concord grapes, cut in half, frozen
- 1 granny smith apple, finely sliced
- Mix wine, juice, vodka in large pitcher. Add sugar, stir until dissolved. Add apple and chill.
- Before serving the frozen grapes and few ice cubes.
- Serve in large wine glasses. (May substitute wine for your favorite.)
Spiked Apple Cider (Yield ~3 Quarts)
- ½ gallon chilled apple cider
- 1 cup cinnamon schnapps
- 1 cup vodka (red apple if possible)
- Ice to serve
- Caramel syrup for garnish
- Mix cider, schnapps, vodka in large pitcher. Chill well.
- In highball glass, fill half with ice, fill up with spiked cider, garnish with a drizzle of caramel.
To stay with the theme, look for full bodied wines that state they have notes of apple, cranberry, pomegranate, or concord grapes. Many beer companies make seasonal beers now — Oktoberfest by Rahr & Sons, Pecan Harvest Ale by Abita, or Harvest Pumpkin Ale by Blue Moon — so feel free to look for those, too.