The colorful autumn landscape and frosty nip in the air this time of year seem to have most people in a cheerful mood after the long hot summer. Hosting a fun dinner affair may be just the right remedy to recharge and reconnect with your favorite people before the holiday hustle and bustle begins.

Since dinner party entertainment is all about the right ingredients together the kitchen and the invitation list, Rae Lynn will walk you through the 4-Step Plan for a Fall Dinner Party Menu. 
  • Step 1 involves figuring out the time, space, and equipment needed for hosting a fantastic fall feast. Unfortunately we can’t show up in person to assess your personal situation, but we have created a list of things for you to consider. offers unique supplies and decorations specific to the autumn theme that will make your gathering even more memorable.
  • Step 2 involves deciding on the featured dish of the evening. One strategy is to feature a unique but simple dish that is iconic of the seasonal theme, and we have identified two suggestions to fit the bill: a delicious Duck Roast with Brandied Apricot Glaze and Roasted Tarragon Chicken.    
  • Steps 3 & 4 of the plan involve building the menu with dishes and wines that support the night’s premier selection. The following recipes feature some of our favorite seasonal flavors and make delightful additions to an autumn harvest-inspired menu. You can read the full Dinner Menu Planning article here.    
 Here is one of our favorite fall dinner party menus, along with recipes inspired by the season:

Cocktail Hour
Lemon Gingertini
Apple Cider with Spiced Rum

Hors d’oeuvre
Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

Tuna Crostini

Cheesy Pumpkin Soup

Poached Pear Salad

Apricot Glazed Duck
Roasted Potatoes

Apple-Raspberry Crisp

Cocktail Hour
Drinks:  The French term “Aperitif” is derived from the Latin verb meaning “to open,” and describes a dry alcoholic beverage offered before a meal to stimulate the appetite. Premixing one drink per guest will accomplish this task without the possibility of becoming overly tipsy.   

The Lemon Gingertini features refreshing notes of lemon balanced by spicy ginger mixed in a gin or vodka base. This particular drink makes a fabulous aperitif because it is not overly sweet and cleanses the palate of lingering flavors to prepare for the more substantial courses to come.   

The key to the recipe is boiling fresh ginger in the preparation of the simple syrup, as well as using good quality liquor. Serve in a sugar-rimmed martini glass with an Acorn & Maple Leaf skewered lemon to garnish.   

Traditional Lemon Gingertini
Inspired by

Makes 1 serving
  • 2-1/2 oz premium gin (Hendricks or Bombay Sapphire)
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz ginger syrup
    • 1 part water
    • 2 parts sugar, dissolved
    • 1-inch cube of ginger
Mix all ingredients in a shaker or pitcher with ice.  Shake or stir and strain into a martini glass.  Serve with a lemon twist.     

Easy Lemon Gingertini
Makes 8 servings    

  • 2 lemons, divided
  • 1 2½-in. piece fresh ginger root (about 2 oz), peeled
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 can (12 oz) frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 4 cups (1 L) chilled club soda
  • 1 cup lemon-flavored vodka (optional)
  • ½ cup lemon sorbet
  1. Zest lemons. 
  2. Cut lemons in half crosswise. 
  3. Cut two thin slices from one lemon. Cut slices into quarters and cut one slit into each quarter; set quarters aside for garnish. 
  4. Juice remaining lemons to measure about ? cup.
  5. Finely mince ginger root. 
  6. Combine lemon zest, juice, ginger and sugar; cover loosely with lid. 
  7. Microwave on HIGH 2-3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved.
  8. Place lemonade concentrate into a large pitcher. 
  9. Pour ginger mixture through strainer into pitcher; discard ginger. 
  10. Add vodka and stir.
  11. Add club soda right before serving and stir.
  12. To serve, place 1 small scoop of sorbet into glasses. Pour beverage over sorbet. Garnish glasses with reserved lemon quarters.
Apple Cider with Spiced Rum
Inspired by

Hot apple cider is always a win when greeting guests at the door, pressing warm mugs into chilly fingers as outer layers are shed. It can also be served cold as a refreshingly bold blend of autumn flavors. 

This DIY recipe uses unfermented and unfiltered apple juice, which can be a non-alcoholic option to serve alongside other aperitifs. Or, kick it up a notch with liberal splash of spiced rum.   

Makes 8 servings   

  • 1 apple
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • Pinch grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup dark rum
  • Cinnamon sticks, garnish
  1. Stud the apple with the cloves. 
  2. In a medium pot, combine the studded apple and remaining ingredients except the rum. 
  3. Slowly bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer for 10 minutes. 
  4. Remove from the heat and add the rum. 
  5. Discard the apple. 
  6. Ladle into mugs and garnish each with a cinnamon stick. 
  7. Serve immediately.   
Hors d’oeuvre:  Decadent bites of savory meats tantalize the palate and spark a biological cascade of pleasure-inducing chemicals that optimize the appetite. Succulent, and subtly sweet scallops enveloped by satisfyingly crisp applewood bacon is so divine that it will have your guests raving.   

The secret to perfect scallops isn’t fresh or frozen, but whether they are dried before cooking. The least bit of moisture on the surface causes the flesh to boil rather than sear, preventing it from achieving that sublime mouthwatering texture.   

If using frozen scallops, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature. Pat fresh or frozen scallops with paper towels until completely dry, then wrap with bacon strips cooked briefly until dark but still flexible.   

Secure with a toothpick, then pan sear the scallops on each side in the leftover bacon grease. Serve on a Silver-Plated Serving Tray or colored Enamel Scalloped Square Tray.   

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops
Inspired by

Makes 24 hors d’oeuvres   

  • 12 slices of bacon, cut in half lengthwise
  • 24 medium-sized scallops
  • 10 Tbsp butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Toothpicks
Steps to prepare:  
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. If you want to make clean up easier, line the baking dish with foil (shiny side down) and grease the foil.
  3. Cut the bacon slices in half lengthwise so you have 24 pieces.
  4. Pre-fry the bacon just until it gets some color and it's still limp and soft (it needs to be flexible enough to wrap around the scallops).
  5. Melt the butter in a small bowl.
  6. Add garlic, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper (if using) and stir well.
  7. Set half of this butter / garlic mixture aside for later.
  8. Dip each scallop in melted butter / garlic sauce.
  9. Wrap a strip of bacon around each scallop; secure with toothpick (all the way through the scallop).
  10. Arrange the wrapped scallops on the greased baking dish.
  11. Bake on the middle rack for around 15 minutes (or until the scallops are done and the bacon is crisp).
  12. Place scallops in large bowl and pour remaining butter / garlic sauce from earlier over the scallops and toss gently to coat.
First Course: Appetizer

Transition your guests to the dining room by setting out your fall dinner party menu first course appetizers at the table. Simple but flavorful tuna-topped crostini, inspired by the classic Salad Niçoise, will occupy your guests as the cocktail glasses are cleared away to prepare for the meal.   

Fresh tuna may be seared or poached, or if very good quality can be eaten raw as long as kept thoroughly chilled until eaten. Canned tuna also makes a delicious topping with the addition of green or kalamata olives, shallots and mayonnaise.   

Sprinkle with tarragon and a slice of shallot for an exceptional finish, served up on a Silver-Plated Serving Tray or colored Enamel Scalloped Square Tray.   

Tuna Crostini
Inspired by

Makes 12 appetizers   

  • 1/4 cup pitted green or kalamata olives
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 5 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 can (about 3 ounces) solid white tuna in oil, drained, and broken into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 Crostini
  Steps to prepare:  
  1. Finely chop half the olives, and thinly slice remaining; set aside.
  2. Remove yolks from eggs, and discard.
  3. Place whites in a medium bowl; using a fork, mash egg whites until 1/4-inch pieces are formed.
  4. Add mayonnaise, tuna, olives, capers, and chopped tarragon; stir to combine.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Top crostini with mixture and garnish with fresh tarragon.
Second Course: Soup

Cooler temperatures make perfect weather for hot soups that warm the soul as well as the extremities. A scrumptious cheesy pumpkin soup incorporates the seasonal produce with comforting flavors and cheerful autumn hues.   

Sweet and mild orange pumpkin is well-accompanied by savory bacon, crispy shallots, and young Gruyere which imparts a nutty finish. Pair with a flaky French baguette for a satisfying autumn feast. Choose light-bodied white and red wines to serve with fall dinner party menu soups and salads.   

Cheesy Pumpkin Soup
Inspired by

Makes 3 servings

Ingredients for pumpkin soup:  
  • 3 strips bacon
  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 8 ounces low-sodium chicken stock (or more as needed)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Crispy fried shallots (see recipe below)
  • Miniature pumpkins for serving, optional
Steps to prepare pumpkin soup:  
  1. In a medium pot, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels, leaving fat in pot. Crumble and reserve.
  2. Pour off all but about one-half tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add shallots to pot and cook over medium heat until soft. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds, then add white wine to deglaze bottom of pot, scraping up all the bits with a wooden spoon. Let wine reduce until no liquid remains.
  3. Add pumpkin, chicken stock and heavy cream. Whisk to combine. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, covered.
  4. Stir in grated cheese, cayenne pepper and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. If soup is too thick, add extra chicken stock to desired consistency.
  6. Top with bacon crumbles and crispy fried shallots.
  7. If desired, cut the top off of miniature pumpkins and scrape out insides. Serve soup in pumpkin "bowls."
  Ingredients for crispy fried shallots:  
  • Chopped shallots
  • Flour
  • Vegetable oil
  Steps to prepare crispy fried shallots:  
  1. Toss shallots with a little flour to coat.
  2. Heat about an inch of oil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add shallots and fry until lightly brown and crispy.
  3. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Third Course: Salad

“Poaching” refers to the technique of cooking food over gently simmering liquid. In this dish, luscious Bosch pears are cooked in a sweet and spicy stock, then drizzled with tangy vinaigrette and served on a bed of seasonal greens such as baby spinach and arugula.   

Creamy blue cheese adds an earthy finish, but plain goat cheese also goes well if mold isn’t your thing. Add some toasted or candied pecans to seal the meal with a delectable crunch.   

Poached Pear Salad
Inspired by

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients for salad:  
  • 1 head Boston lettuce
  • 3/4-cup pear vinaigrette, recipe follows
  • 4 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted
  • 2 poached pears, recipe follows, halved and cored
Steps to prepare salad:  
  1. To assemble salad, wash lettuce well and drain until very dry.
  2. Toss leaves in the pear vinaigrette in a salad bowl.
  3. Add the blue cheese and pecans.
  4. Place a mound of lettuce on each of 4 plates.
  5. Serve with one-half of a poached pear.
Ingredients for poached pears:  
  • 4 Bosch pears
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 lemon peel
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
Steps to prepare poached pears:  
  1. Peel pears, leaving stems intact and trimming bottom to "seat" them firmly in bottom of large stockpot.
  2. Add the wine, water, sugar, vanilla bean, star anise, lemon and orange peels, and cinnamon stick into the stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Remove from stove and let cool to room temperature.
  5. Refrigerate.
  6. Reserve 1/4 cup of poaching liquid for the vinaigrette.
Ingredients for pear vinaigrette:  
  • 2 poached pears, pureed
  • 1/4 cup walnut oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup poaching liquid from the poached pears
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Steps to prepare pear vinaigrette:  
  1. Place ingredients in large bowl and whisk together.
  2. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Simple Alternate:  When pressed for time, a simpler salad will certainly suffice. Omit the pears and dressing from the preceding recipe and sprinkle seasonal greens with dried cranberries and candied nuts. Toss liberally with balsamic vinaigrette and feta cheese.   

Fourth Course: Main    

Depending on your state’s hunting season specifications, duck season is usually in full swing by mid-October. Seasonally attuned hosts may wish to seize the opportunity to serve up this rarer bird. Wild duck may have a bit of a “gamey” taste which is desirable by some, but the rich flavors of domesticated duck is enjoyed even by guests with the tamest tastes. 

Marinate a whole bird in a sauce of apricot preserves and brandy overnight in the refrigerator, then simply bake in the oven. Add some halved red potatoes, whole peeled carrots, and thick slices of raw Gala apples to roast alongside the duck in the pan as a delicious accompaniment. 

Baking Tip: Prop duck up on vegetables (potato halves, whole carrots, etc) or use a roasting rack placed inside the pan to allow the fat to pool below the meat. This enables the skin to get crispy and caramelized without stewing the back-meat.

Apricot Glazed Duck
Inspired by

Makes 4 servings  

  • 1 duck
  • 1.5 cups brandy
  • 1 small jar apricot preserves
  • 2 fresh apricots
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 covered baking pan (or foil cover pan)
  • 1 roasting rack (optional, may use vegetables instead)
  • 1 sauce pan
  • 1 blender
  • 1 turkey baster
  • 1 gallon-sized plastic bag
Steps to prepare:   
  1. Remove any packaged organs or plastic clips, etc. Bathe the duck in hot water for 5 minutes on each side in a pan, then pat dry.
  2. Mix the water, brandy, preserves and fresh apricots in blender until smooth, then transfer to a medium saucepan.
  3. Put the duck into a gallon-sized plastic bag, then pour the sauce over it. Place it in the fridge overnight, flipping the meat over halfway through to marinate the sides evenly.
  4. Several hours before the party begins, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Transfer the marinade to a cooking pot and heat on the stove until it is steaming but not boiling, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Remove the duck from the bag and arrange on top of vegetables or roasting rack. If using the rack, arrange the vegetables under and around it.
  6. Let bake for 45 minutes, uncovered. Then, remove the fat which as accumulated in the bottom of the pan with a turkey baster and baste the bird with it. Also baste with the apricot mixture.
  7. Reduce oven heat to 375 F and allow the bird to roast for 30 minutes more. Baste the duck with the apricot mixture again after 15 minutes after the temperature reduction.
  8. Remove from the oven when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 150F, and allow to rest on the serving platter for 10 minutes before carving.
Variations:  Feel free to substitute the fresh apricots with dried ones and spice things up by adding 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 Tbsp. honey, 1/8 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme, and 1/8 tsp. onion powder brushed onto the bird just before baking. The recipe can be easily doubled for larger parties. Designate a “master carver” to cut the birds at the table, or serve pre-cut pieces.   

Tarragon Chicken alternative:  If you find duck still a daunting dish, try this super easy fall dinner party menu alternative. Lightly season two whole chickens (innards removed) with 1/2 teaspoon garlic and onion powders for each bird, along with a dash (~1/8 tsp.) of salt, red and black peppers. Finish off with 1 Tbsp. dried tarragon each and roast uncovered for an hour and a half at 350 degrees, or until the juices run clear. 

Offer red and white full-bodied table wines with either main course for a delightful dining experience. Afterwards, encourage guests to leave their dishes by taking coffee and dessert in a separate room with plenty of seating and table space.

Fifth Course: Dessert   

An ideal close to a satisfying autumn dinner party meal is a bubbling oven crisp featuring the fruits of the season. Caramelized oatmeal crumbles melt in the mouth and a subtly sweetened layer of warm apples and raspberries topped with a scoop frosty vanilla ice cream captures the essence of fall in each toothsome bite.   

Apple-Raspberry Crisp
Inspired by

Ingredients for topping:
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled; cut into 1/2” cubes
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
Steps to prepare topping:
  1. Mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.
  2. Cut the butter pieces into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
  3. Stir in the pecan pieces.
Ingredients for filling:
  • 6-7 medium  Golden Delicious apples; peeled, cored, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons apple brandy
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter; cut into 1/4” cubes
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (not in syrup)
Steps to prepare filling:
  1. Toss the apple slices with the lemon juice
  2. Add sugar, flour and cinnamon and stir.
  3. Add the apple brandy and butter and toss until combined.
  4. Gently toss in the raspberries.
Steps to prepare the apple-raspberry crisp:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.
  3. Spread the fruit filling evenly in the baking dish.
  4. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the top is browned.
  6. Serve warm.
Share your favorite fall dinner party menu ideas with us.

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