The Cooking Chronicles: Autumn Housewarming

While I love hosting parties, they seem to take a lot out of me. Mack (and Kim’s) housewarming party is a good example.

They moved into their new apartment in May. I offered to help Mack with the housewarming preparations (mainly around menu planning), and started thinking about summer-appropriate foods to serve. June soon gave way to July, then August, and finally September, when Mack at last chose a date for the belated celebration.

To befit the cooler weather and seasonal produce, I felt a menu overhaul was in order. As well, I wanted to incorporate dishes that Mack himself would serve, namely, share plates and comfort food. And for my twist (something wholly unnecessary, but really a pleasure for me to work out) – the inclusion of at least one ingredient obtained from a local producer or manufacturer in each dish.

With those parameters in place, the following menu was born:

Housewarming menu (“lamb” should read “turkey” – I had lamb on the brain for some reason)

Every dish could be made or assembled in advance to be heated up just prior to guests arriving. The only tricky item was the turkey sliders, which would be formed that afternoon, but pan-fried while guests were snacking on other things – an entertaining faux-pas, I’m sure, but we were pretty attached to serving the mini burgers.

We spent most of Friday evening (after the debate, of course) in the kitchen, baking up cupcakes, cookies, and pita chips.

The idea for Chocolate Chai Spice Cupcakes were inspired by a similar flavour offered at Whimsical Cupcakes to celebrate the season. I found a recipe online that appealed to me even with the added step of grinding the spice mixture myself. It was a pretty fragrant mix that I wasn’t sure would work with the chocolate, but it turned out to be an interesting combination, great paired with a cup of coffee. The tops of the ‘cakes ended up being much too dry and crumbly, but that could have been a result of leaving them in the oven a few minutes too long. This was also the only item on my menu that lacked a local component, though I was so tempted to head to Kerstin’s to pick up some dark chocolate.

Chocolate Chai Spice Cupcakes

The unusual Coffee Shortbread recipe came to me by way of Flickr, which I followed to a blog. A modified Martha Stewart recipe, we used freshly-ground Transcend-roasted coffee in our cookies. The only instruction we neglected was “properly” chilling the shortbread before baking. I found the shortbread a little on the bland side, unfortunately, though Mack disagreed with me and gobbled up the leftovers once the guests departed.

Coffee Shortbread

We were up early on Saturday morning to head to the City Centre Market and ensure we had the pick of produce and meat. It was a lovely way to start a fall day, as though it was cool enough to remind us that cooler weather was ahead, the sun was bright and full of optimism for the weekend.

Back at the apartment, while Mack cleaned and tidied up, I continued with the food prep. Giada de Laurentiis’ Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables was the easiest to start with. I wasn’t sure the bowl we had on hand was big enough to combine everything, but it turned out all right. Once this dish was assembled, I put it in the fridge, and would start heating it only after the nachos were out of the oven. I think this would be a great recipe to pull out for an autumn potluck – great texture, color, and a cinch to make. Leftovers also heat well in the microwave for a nice lunch the next day.

Colorful vegetables (Kuhmann’s squash made up the local ingredient)

Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

By the time I was done with the pasta, the ground bison meat we had picked up from Medicine Man Bison that morning had defrosted. The chili recipe I chose was something between the Medicine Man’s and another I had seen in Food for Thought magazine, primarily because I could not find the “Louisiana dip mix” called for in the former recipe. I had never made chili before, but after this experience, I will definitely make it again – the result was a delicious payoff for something so easy. The ground bison was notable – virtually no fat appeared when I browned it in the skillet, and at $12.50 for 2lbs, it was a decent price to pay for good quality meat. After I incorporated all the ingredients, we transferred the chili into my Mum’s borrowed slow cooker and let it simmer until the party started. It was a great dish to have on hand, as for those dropping by later in the evening, we could guarantee them something hot to eat. 

Hearty Bison Chili

Next were Rachel Ray’s Apple-Cheddar Turkey Burgers, something Mack and I had experimented with two weeks before. This time however, mini versions were on tap, built with Italian Bakery baby buns we picked up at the Italian Centre, and Greenvalley lettuce we bought at the Market. Though the turkey itself turned out to be resilient to over-cooking, done again, I’m not sure I would make them again for a large, informal group gathering. Trying to balance conversation/hosting duties while cooking the slider patties was too difficult a task.

Getting the buns ready (yes, I realized the burgers were missing apple slices…after Mack pointed it out)

Apple-Cheddar Turkey Sliders

Last but not least was assembling Mack’s Slammin’ Cheese Nachos – an item Mack would probably make and serve if he were to host the party on his own. We layered Don Antonio’s tortilla chips with mozzarella and cheddar cheese with diced olives, jalapenos, and roma tomatoes from Gull Valley Greenhouses. Kim suggested that we use glass pie dishes for the nachos which was a great idea – it meant we could bake and serve the nachos in the same container.

Mack’s Slammin’ Cheese Nachos

Once everything was in the fridge and ready to go, we were able to start setting up the table and the apartment itself.

Buffet-style

Drink bucket (the only true “relic” from my summer party plans, and one I wasn’t willing to give up)

Though there seemed to be some issues with the door buzzer (and people not being able to find the apartment just behind the fire doors), everyone made it all right. We had suggested that guests eat something prior to arriving, as I didn’t think we would be able to make enough to feed fifteen hungry mouths, but perhaps it was the wrong strategy to take, as many of our friends arrived with full stomachs.

Between nibbling, chatting, fun with fortune cookies and Transformers, it was a good night overall. And with the house broken in, it’s only a matter of time before the apartment will play host to another gathering of friends.

In the living room

Thanks to everyone for coming (and to my Mum for helping us out)! Mack’s photo set is here.

EDIT: I neglected to thank Jane in my post for bringing the hummus to go with the pita chips. Thanks again, Jane!

6 thoughts on “The Cooking Chronicles: Autumn Housewarming

  1. Mmm….looking at all the pics makes me sad that we decided to eat first. Hopefully you guys weren’t eating turkey-nachos-with-chili-hummus on shortbread cookies the rest of the week!

  2. Actually, Mack ended up with most of the leftovers. Though I don’t think he minded – it meant he didn’t have to cook for a week :).

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