A Cozy Fall Dinner Party

So often food connects us to memories or people. We have a favorite dish our mother made for us as children or remember a special breakfast our grandparents made only when we visited them. We highlight memorable meals with friends and memorialize the trips we’ve taken based on what we ate.

We make a connection to the people we care about through food. It doesn’t matter one bit if you consider yourself a ‘foodie,’ or have no idea how to get around the in the kitchen.  What we find is that the food really didn’t matter all that much, ultimately it’s about the gathering.

My aunt, whose recipe for mashed potatoes is included in this menu,  understood the simple pleasures of a good meal, good friends, the decadence of a sweet-smelling candle and a good piece of chocolate. She never missed an opportunity to gather with her friends and family. She loved to cook and was a natural generous host. I think of her often when I’m in my own kitchen. Her food was thoughtful and inspiring while in the same breath completely approachable.

As the holiday season quickly approaches and so many of us steel ourselves for the onslaught of gatherings and events, here is an opportunity to make a meal for friends and family that feels like a warm hug on a cold blustery evening.

This isn’t a fancy menu; just good, simple food for a cozy evening. Grilled tri-tip steak is marinated in soy sauce, brown sugar, and garlic with a splash of sriracha resulting in tender flavorful meat. Mashed potatoes get a makeover with sour cream and cream cheese, then baked to give the potatoes a twice-baked texture. Your guests will be fighting over the last spoonful, I can guarantee it. And finally, a big spinach salad full of fruit, tangy goat cheese and delicious caramelized onions, not only surprise you but add big delicious flavor.

Dessert is decadent but so easy. Homemade mocha pudding literally comes together in 10 minutes but will wow your guests. It is rich and chocolaty with a hint of espresso. A dollop of whipped cream and a few berries softens the richness of the dessert and makes it so special.

Don’t worry too much about the perfect centerpiece or matching napkins. Just set the table, turn some music on and invite people over. Sit around the table long after the meal ends sharing stories and laughing until your sides hurt. The dishes can wait until morning, just enjoy being at the table, in the moment. 

Grilled Tri-Tip Steak

  • 2-3 pounds tri-tip
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine olive oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, vinegar, sesame oil and sriracha. Whisk to combine. Liberally salt and pepper the tri-tip steaks on both sides of the meat. Submerge the meat in the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate at least 3 hours, longer if possible.

Preheat outdoor grill to medium-high. Place tri-tip steak on the grill. Sear each side for 5 – 8 minutes per side.

Lower grill to medium-low heat and continue to grill for 6-10 minutes or until a thermometer reaches 130 degrees in the center of the steak. Tri-tip steaks can range in thickness. I suggest using a meat thermometer to check the temperature to ensure the meat does not overcook. The total cooking time will be about 20-25 minutes. 

Meredith’s Potatoes

  • 5 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups full-fat sour cream
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon green onions, thinly sliced
  • Dash of smoked paprika

Place potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Boil potatoes over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. Drain water from potatoes and return them to the pot. Turn the heat back to medium and cook for one to two minutes until moisture evaporates. Turn heat off.

Using a hand mixer or a potato masher, begin to mash the potatoes. Mix in the sour cream and cream cheese and continue stirring and mixing until the potatoes are smooth and the ingredient are well-combined. Salt and pepper to the potatoes liberally. Taste to see if they need more salt.

Generously butter baking dish. Add potatoes to the buttered dish, smoothing the surface. Sprinkle with a dash of smoked paprika. Bake potatoes in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Garnish with slivered green onions. Serve immediately.

*Potatoes can be made ahead of time. Instead of baking, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Allow the potatoes to come to room temperature while oven preheats.

Harvest Salad with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Dressing

  • 1 8 oz. container organic baby spinach
  • 1 honey crisp apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 6 oz. container fresh blackberries (or raspberries)
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup crumbled goat cheese
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup toasted slivered almonds

Maple Balsamic Dressing

  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Start by caramelizing the onion. In a medium saucepan, drizzle two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over thinly sliced onions. Give the onions a quick stir and sprinkle with kosher salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover with a lid. Stir every couple minutes until the onions are richly brown and condensed down by about half, usually about 30 minutes. After the first 10 minutes of cooking, remove the lid and continue to stir the onions.

In a large bowl, layer the honey crisp apple, blackberries, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds over baby spinach. Top everything with the caramelized onions. Drizzle with maple balsamic dressing and mix to combine all ingredients. Serve immediately.

Herb Butter

  • ½ cup salted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs such as Italian parsley, basil and rosemary
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • Coarse sea salt

In a small bowl use a fork to mix softened butter with fresh herbs and lemon zest. Sprinkle with coarse salt. On a piece of parchment paper, place the butter in the center of the paper. Wrap the parchment around the butter forming a cylinder. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, unwrap butter from parchment and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Chocolate Mocha Pudding

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Sweetened heavy whipping cream
  • Raspberries

In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, instant espresso and cornstarch. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk and egg yolks. Turn the heat to medium and pour the milk mixture over the sugar mixture, stirring to combine. Whisk constantly until the mixture begins to boil and thicken, about five minutes. Allow the pudding to boil an additional minute before removing from the heat. Stir in vanilla.

To make whipped cream, whip one cup heavy whipping cream with a hand mixer. For additional flavor add one tablespoon powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla extract. Store extras in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

*As soon as the pudding is finished thickening and the vanilla extract is stirred in, place a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap over the pudding. This prevents a skin from forming and keeps the pudding decadently smooth.

To serve, divide pudding into individual cups. Top with sweetened whipped cream and a few fresh raspberries.

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