A Fresh Take on Fall Dinner

It’s the golden hour of the year. September signals the shift toward rich colors, comfort food, and casual entertaining, and for me, it’s also steeped in nostalgia. This month, we invite you to pull up a bar stool and dine in the kitchen, where we’re serving up earthy mushroom risotto; roasted pepper crostini; prosciutto-wrapped grilled cucumbers; and nutty, grilled pears and cream. But first, let’s toast to September with a fall-inspired sip!

Fall Cider Margarita with Star Anise

Makes 1 cocktail

It’s a fall cocktail with star power! I’m loving the seasonal combo of sweet apple cider, spicy star anise, silver tequila, and lime … with plenty of cinnamon sugar hanging on the rim. Shake it all up, and you’ve got — one tall drink of fall.  


1 ounce silver tequila

4 ounces fresh apple cider

Juice of half a lime

4 tablespoons sugar 

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 star anise pod


Add the tequila, cider, and lime juice to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Combine the sugar and cinnamon. Moisten the rim of a tall glass with the leftover lime half, and roll the rim in the sugar and spice mixture. Fill the glass with ice. Shake up your cocktail, and pour. Top with star anise. Cheers to fall!

Prosciutto-Wrapped Grilled Cucumber and Arugula

This super-quick salad side adds a fresh, salty crunch to your meal.


1 English cucumber

1 package sliced

Baby arugula 

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar



Peel and slice half an English cucumber into 3-inch sticks. Lightly grill the cucumber on a stove-top pan coated with olive oil. Wrap three sticks in a slice of prosciutto, tucking in a few arugula leaves. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt.

Mushroom Risotto with Truffle Oil

Makes 4 servings

Fall is filled with nostalgia for me. For starters, it’s mushroom season. During this time of year, I’m transported back to the days of mushroom hunting in the forests with my grandmother, Nettie. This creamy risotto is one of my favorite mushroom dishes, and it’s a triple mushroom threat. It features dried porcini mushrooms, a pantry staple of mine; sautéed fresh mushrooms; and mushroom bouillon. I finish it off with a sprinkling of Parmesan and a bit of mascarpone. Oh, and a drizzle of truffle oil. Make that a quadruple threat!


1 cup dried porcini mushrooms

2 cups warm water

1 (truffle) mushroom bouillon cube 

21/2 cups water

Olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 shallot, chopped

11/2 cups arborio rice

1 teaspoon Pernod liqueur 

2 cloves chopped garlic

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon each salt & pepper

3 to 4 chopped fresh shitake mushrooms 

4 fresh sage leaves

1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup mascarpone 

Truffle oil


  • Soak the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of warm water for at least 30 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a bowl. Medium-chop the mushrooms. Warm the leftover liquid in a small stovetop pan. 
  • Dissolve the bouillon cube in 21/2 cups of boiling water. Boil for three minutes. Turn it down to low. 
  • Coat a heavy, medium saucepan with olive oil, add the butter, and warm the mixture on medium heat. Add the shallots, rice, Pernod, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Sauté for about 4 minutes until the shallots soften and the rice turns a bit opaque. Add the chopped mushrooms and a bit more olive oil, and stir for another 3 minutes. 
  • Add the hot bouillon mushroom broth to the rice, in ½-cup increments, stirring until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue in this matter, using all of the broth. 
  • Add the leftover dried mushroom broth in ½-cup increments, until the rice is tender, and the risotto is creamy. (You might not use all of the broth.) Total cooking time is approximately 30 minutes.
  • While you are cooking and stirring the risotto, in a separate pan, quickly sauté the fresh mushrooms and parsley. Fry up the sage leaves on the side. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Finish the risotto on the stovetop by stirring in 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup mascarpone.
  • Spoon the risotto into serving bowls. Top each bowl with the fresh sautéed mushrooms, a fried sage leaf, a sprinkling of Parmesan, and a light drizzle of truffle oil.

Roasted Orange Peppers with Dried Oregano on Grilled Baguette

In my family, September also is synonymous with roasted peppers. From the time I was a kid, we piled in the family Buick and headed to Yakima, where we picked peppers in the farm fields. Once back home, the peppers were oven-roasted and canned to be used all fall and winter long. My favorite way to serve them is sliced and piled high on slices of toasted baguette.


3 orange bell peppers

Olive oil 

1 clove of garlic, chopped

Dried oregano

Salt and pepper

1 small baguette, sliced 


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the whole peppers on a baking sheet. Roast for approximately 25 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally, until the skin is wrinkled and charred. Remove the hot peppers from the oven.

TIP: Place the peppers in a paper bag. Seal the bag, and allow them to sit for 10 minutes while cooling. This will make them easy to peel. Peel the peppers, discarding the stem and removing the seeds, and then slice thinly. In a bowl, drizzle the peppers with olive oil, sprinkle with chopped garlic, crumbled dried oregano, and salt and pepper. In a stovetop pan, grill slices of baguette. Heap with roasted peppers.

Pan-Grilled Pears with Toasted Hazelnuts, Cardamom, and Heavy Cream

Serves 4

Buttery, grilled spiced pears, crunchy toasted hazelnuts, bathed in cream … need I say more? This is a quick and delicious fall finisher — for your dine-in meal.


1/3 cup butter, salted

3 pears, sliced

¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped (toast nuts on a baking sheet, in a 350-degree oven, for 10-12 minutes)

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream


In a sauté pan, melt the butter on medium heat. Sauté the pears until they soften a bit and turn golden brown. Add the toasted hazelnuts, cardamom, and cinnamon sugar to the pan, and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat, and allow it to cool for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the cream into the pan, stir to coat the pears, plate, and serve.

Fall Floral Flourish

Set a fall mood with one, big, beautiful bouquet of sunflowers, packed in a rustic clay container. 

Protea pincushions in fall colors add unexpected autumn charm.

Bowls of fall veggies create an earthy appeal.

Tip: Set out a sideboard display of your favorite olive oils, vinegars, and seasonings, so ingredients are at your fingertips.

is a 425 contributor.
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