October Garden Party

October is a great month to host a party. People's schedules haven't become so busy that even the mention of a party makes them want to run in the opposite direction (those of you who host parties on Thanksgiving or Christmas know what I'm talking about). The cooler weather makes an outdoor gathering more comfortable and usually bug free. And your menu is calling to you from your now-bountiful garden. It's time for a high-class garden party!

There are two things that you ideally want to link together when you're planning a garden party: your setting and your menu.

First, here are a few words on the atmosphere you want to create for your party. If you can set up some tables and comfortable chairs in a garden setting, great! However, you don't need to be surrounded by a garden to get that "harvest" feel. You can start by covering your tables in fabric table clothes that feature Autumn's famous colors. You can go with one color or, if you have 3 or more tables to cover, a combination of reds, golds, oranges, and browns. Centerpieces can feature pumpkins, dried corn, sunflowers, and even some brightly colored leaves from the backyard. Include candles to add great lighting and interest. The number one rule when decorating for your party is: Be creative! Use items from your garden, your closet, and your backyard.

Now, on to the food! Part of what makes fall garden parties such fun is that the menu actually becomes a major decorating feature. The bounty you harvest from your garden ends up adding colors, textures, and aromas that inevitably add to the atmosphere around you. Of course, once your guests start digging in, the fun is only multiplied. Below are some festive suggestions about what to serve at a garden party:

When I plan a party for more than eight guests, I usually nominate one table to act as a buffet and encourage my guests to help themselves. If you plan on serving the sorbet after dinner -- which I suggest -- bring individual wine glasses of it out on a large serving tray. It's a refreshing end to a festive meal.

I have a couple of beverage suggestions to accompany your meal. If you have invited an adult audience, you should feel free to make your favorite white wine available. However, I also try to include a non-alcoholic choice. A perfect match for this menu would be fresh apple cider served in a large glass pitcher. For added flair, position several small apples in the pitcher so that they show through the glass. If you do this, make sure you have additional cider on hand. The apples will displace a lot of liquid and you may need to add extra liquid several times.

Now, on to the recipes...

Fall Fruit and Orange-Cinnamon Dip

A brightly-colored fruit tray filled with fresh melon, apples, pears, and grapes is the central focus of this recipe. This tray can be served with dinner or as an appetizer before your guests are seated for the main course.
  • Assorted fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces (try using fresh cantaloupe, honeydew melon, apple slices, pear slices, and grapes)
  • 4 T. nonfat sour cream
  • 1 T. powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. undiluted frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Arrange prepared fruit on a large serving tray. Sprinkle with Fruit Fresh, if desired, to keep apples and pears from browning.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Serve slightly chilled with fruit tray.

  • Yields: 1/2 cup dip
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes (plus cutting time, which will vary)

Tex-Mex Confetti Soup

This zesty soup will be a great hit if your party falls on a cooler day. Either way, the beautiful colors featured in this soup are sure to impress. If you don't have a quart of stewed tomatoes, you can use a quart of tomato juice.
  • 3 T. pepper oil
  • 2 T. garlic
  • 3 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 quart stewed tomatoes
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 quart tomato juice (or V8)
  • 1/2 c. snipped dried tomatoes
  • 1 c. corn
  • 1/2 c. onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c. green pepper, chopped
  • 1 - 15 oz. can chick peas
  • 1 - 2.25 oz. can black olives
  • 1/2 c. hot salsa
  • 1/8 tsp. hot pepper sauce

In a medium frying pan, brown garlic and chicken breasts in pepper oil over medium-high heat until chicken breasts are cooked. Cube the cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

In a large stock pot, combine remaining ingredients. Add cubed chicken. Simmer over medium-low heat for 1 1/2 hours, mixing frequently. Serve hot.

  • Yields: about 5 quarts soup
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours

Garden Pizza

This unusual pizza features three types of bell peppers mixed with red wine vinegar and black olives. The result is pizza that has a very Greek accent!
  • 1 large prepared pizza crust (such as Boboli)
  • olive oil
  • 3 medium-sized bell peppers (red, yellow, and green)
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1 T. Italian seasoning
  • 1 - 2.25 oz. can black olives
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheese (choose your favorite combination)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brush pizza crust with olive oil. Heat 2 T. olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add sliced peppers and onion; cook until slightly blackened. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine red wine vinegar, 3 T. olive oil, and Italian seasoning. Add blackened peppers and onions and toss until well-coated.

Carefully arrange the mixture over the crust. Add the black olives and sliced tomatoes. Top the pizza with shredded cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned.

  • Yields: 1 large pizza
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Strawberry-Pepper Chutney

This easy main dish is also a great taste sensation. Strawberries and maple syrup add their sweetness to traditional grilled chicken breasts.
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 c. strawberries, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 c. chopped green peppers
  • 1 c. diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 c. honey mustard
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 2 T. fresh chopped cilantro

Prepare hot grill. Salt and pepper chicken breasts and place over hot coals. Cook until juices run clear (about 15 minutes), turning halfway through.

Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a bowl for chutney. Serve each chicken breast with about 1/2 c. chutney.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Tomato-Grapefruit Sorbet

This tangy sorbet is sure to leave your guests impressed. After finishing a great meal, it makes a great statement.
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 4 c. chopped tomato, blended until smooth
  • 4 c. grapefruit juice
  • 1 tsp. orange juice concentrate, undiluted
  • 2 egg whites, chilled and lightly beaten

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and chill in a covered jar.

Combine chilled sugar water, tomato, grapefruit juice, and orange juice concentrate in a plastic container. Place in the freezer. Whisk when crystals begin to form. Whisk 3 more times during the freezing process at hourly intervals until the sorbet has a slush-like consistency. Add the egg whites halfway through the freezing process. Move the sorbet to the refrigerator to soften 20 minutes before you are ready to serve it.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus 3 1/2 hours freezing time