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Host a dinner that puts a spin on traditional autumn flavors

Chef J. Whiting dishes out <em>paella</em> to friends and family during a fall dinner party last month at his home in Phoenix.

Chef J. Whiting dishes out <em>paella</em> to friends and family during a fall dinner party last month at his home in Phoenix.

Even if the days are still hot in your part of the country, the cooler mornings and evenings of autumn have a rejuvenating effect. By the time October rolls around, we are ready to shake off the sluggishness of our summer days and start entertaining again.

We have almost limitless meal possibilities, since we can shift to more oven-based dishes. You can serve guests a hot bowl of soup or a hearty stew and not worry about felling them from heatstroke.

For J. Whiting, a chef and instructor at Kitchen Classics in Phoenix, fall means putting a different spin on traditional flavors. For this party to welcome fall, Whiting looked for creative ways to cook with foods in season. The menu included stuffed apples, which Whiting filled with mushrooms, bacon and onions. His crème brûlée dessert incorporates pumpkin purée.

And in a nod to the cooler temperatures, he served paella, a steaming Spanish rice dish infused with saffron. Because paella is more or less an ingredient free-for-all, you can add a seasonal touch by including vegetables such as carrots or squash.

When you’re planning your menu, says Whiting, keep in mind that one ingredient can serve as a jumping-off point when you’re trying to decide what to serve.

“I started with apples, because they’re in season, and that led to something more creative,” he says. “Pumpkin was another. I just kept my eyes open while I was shopping and thought of possibilities.”

People shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, he says.

“If you mess up, the worst-case scenario is you feed it to the dog,” he says. “Otherwise, you can make almost anything better by adding more cheese or butter.”



Substitute browned chicken pieces or your favorite vegetables and seafood in the paella. Don’t be afraid to experiment with any of these seasonal recipes.

Spicy Apple Cider

32 ounces unfiltered apple juice

16 ounces water

1/2 lemon, sliced

1 orange, sliced

2 cinnamon sticks

3 to 4 whole cloves

1/2 cup honey

a few drops Tabasco sauce

Mix and bring all ingredients to a boil. Serve hot.

Serves six.

Stuffed Apples

4 apples, split and cored

2 ounces maple syrup

salt and pepper

3 to 4 strips of bacon, diced

1/4 cup onion, finely chopped

4 ounces crimini mushrooms, chopped

4 ounces chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon sage

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush each apple piece with maple syrup, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in a lined sheet pan. Loosely cover with foil and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until fork tender. Put the bacon in a cold, large sauté pan and bring the heat to medium slowly to render the fat.

When the bacon begins to brown and sizzle, add the onion. Cook until edges begin to brown. Add mushrooms and cook until wilted slightly. Add chicken stock and oregano and sage, scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any brown goodness that might be stuck. Bring to a simmer and reduce until the liquid is almost gone.

Stir in the bread crumbs and season to taste. Fill each apple with the mixture.

(If you’re using cheese, sprinkle cheese on top of the apple and bake uncovered for 1 to 2 minutes, until cheese bubbles and begins to turn brown.)

Serves 8.


24 ounces hot chicken stock

1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, shells reserved

olive oil, as needed

1 yellow onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) long-grain rice

2 cups tomatoes, diced

1 jar (6 to 8 ounces) clam juice

2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped

pinch saffron

1 pound sausage, cut into bite-size pieces

1 pound mussels

2 teaspoons paprika

salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat chicken stock with shrimp shells. In a paella pan or large skillet, heat enough oil to coat bottom. Sauté onion, carrot and bell pepper over medium heat until they begin to darken. Add rice and tomatoes. Cook until rice begins to turn translucent around edges (about 5 to 10 minutes).

Add clam juice and garlic. Let clam juice reduce. Remove shrimp shells and add stock and saffron. Bring liquid to a boil.

Once liquid starts to boil, add sausage and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes. Add mussels and shrimp and cook until done, about 15 minutes. Add paprika and season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.

Serves 8.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

8 baby pumpkins

1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 cups pumpkin purée

8 egg yolks

1 tablespoon vanilla

pinch of salt

Cut the tops off the pumpkins and scoop out most of the insides. Liberally sprinkle sugar inside each pumpkin. Use a kitchen torch to gently melt the sugar in the pumpkins. The sugar is melted when it bubbles and browns. If not using a torch, place pumpkins upside down on a hot grill for about 5 minutes.

Pour cream into a saucepan. Add spices and pumpkin purée and heat on medium-low until simmering. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, 1 cup sugar and pinch of salt until pale yellow and frothy.

Slowly add a few spoonfuls of hot cream mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. When the egg mixture is hot, pour the mixture into the cream and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Pour the mixture through a strainer to remove any pulp or cooked egg bits.

Fill each pumpkin with custard and chill for at least 2 hours. When chilled, top each custard pumpkin with sugar and burn with a kitchen torch, or place under the broiler until bubbly and brown.

Serves 8.

Source for these recipes: J. Whiting, Kitchen Classics, Phoenix


Enjoyable parties don’t happen by accident



The Arizona Republic

Parties require planning.

Procrastinators who wake up 12 hours before the party wondering what to serve or scrambling to clean are inviting chaos along with the guests.

Follow these tips for a dinner that both the host and guest will enjoy:

• People are busy, so send invitations two to three weeks in advance.

• Draft a work plan with a timetable. If the party is a smash, keep this timetable to use for future entertaining. Make notes on any changes. This might sound neurotic, but this makes hosting future parties easier.

• Plan a table scheme, including a centerpiece and place settings. The style of your party should fit you as well as your favorite jeans do.

• Plan the menu, keeping in mind any dietary restrictions. If three guests are vegetarians, nix the prime rib. Or plan a side dish that can double for a vegetarian entree.

• Include in-season foods. Who wants to celebrate the fall with a cold melon soup?

• Keep the menu simple and try to include foods that do not require a lot of last-minute preparation.

• Do not feel guilty about cooking the entree and buying the dessert.

• Check out the deli cases, especially at high-end grocery stores, for salads, desserts and appetizers.

• Select music to play softly during the party. Remember guests come to talk, not shout over Aerosmith.

• Clean the house several days before the party and touch up the guest bathroom and kitchen at the last minute.

• Set the table in advance. If you set it more than three days before the party, cover with a sheet to stop dust from collecting on the glasses.

• Do last-minute shopping and as much food preparation as possible early in the day.

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