a cozy autumn dinner party
This post was done in partnership with Macy’s, who sponsored this party by providing the compensation and beautiful wares from their Martha Stewart Collectors Enameled Cast Iron Collection and Martha Stewart Harvest Collection to make it happen. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!
Can I share a little secret?
Despite moving back to Portland and having a big (well, not that big, but it certainly feels big after living in San Francisco and New York), beautiful house to fill with friends and family, the thought of having people over stresses me out.
It’s all in my head, I admit it. The house is old — built in 1912, I’m slowly updating it room by room. The kitchen is great, but when I walk into the other rooms, all I see are the cracks and peeling paint on the walls, the dents and scratches on the floors that need to be fixed. I’m paranoid that my guests will judge me on these flaws (despite the fact that all they’ve ever done is tell me how beautiful it all is, because my friends are wonderful).
Another part is that cooking for a big crowd stresses me out. The last big dinner party I had in my house was in 2014; I was living with three dudes, all of whom were big eaters. We decided to host an Asian-style Friendsgiving with all of our friends, and I’d foolishly taken on more than I could handle. And believe me, there’s nothing more stressful than trying to make six or seven dishes all at once with a room full of hangry boys yelling about how hungry they are. Ahh, Thanksgiving.
It turns out that the trick to actually have fun as a host and manage is to, well, keep it small. And keep it simple. Especially if you’re new to the whole dinner party/entertaining thing. Invite a handful of friends—maybe just two or three—and just serve a handful of dishes that come together easily with little to no work. Soup is a great example; it’s hearty, tasty, and comforting during the cold fall/winter season. The prep is easy — roast the vegetables before blending them, and serving them with handfuls of bright, beautiful herbs.
And of course, no good soup dish is complete without bread. I like to make my own bread at home to really impress everybody. People are often intimidated by bread; I know I was, for a long time. But you can actually put together a beautiful loaf without too much work. After stirring and kneading the ingredients together a few times, all you really need to do is wait. After that, the secret lies in baking it within a heavy, lidded enameled cast iron pot like this one from Macy’s Martha Stewart collection. The pots conduct heat evenly and efficiently, and the lid keeps steam in to make the beautifully brown and solid crust that is the sign of a good, hearty bread.
So without further ado, here is an easy, breezy autumn dinner party menu for four complete with your own rustic, artisan bread. Enjoy!
Martha Stewart Harvest Collection, created for Macy’s
- Plan ahead for this one! Whenever I throw parties, I like to break up the work so that I’m not actually doing a whole lot on the day of the party. For this menu, that means mixing the bread and roasting the pumpkin the night before the party. The bread will slowly proof overnight, giving it a lovely, yeasty flavor and a fluffy, holey texture that we all know and love from the best bread. If you’re throwing the party on Saturday night, a good schedule is to mix the bread at 7PM on Friday night, and shape the bread for its second proofing between 8AM to 10AM the next morning. The bread will be ready before lunch. As for the soup, you can probably make it about an hour or two before your guests arrive — the longest part of the recipe is prepping and roasting the pumpkin, which you can do either the night before or in the morning of your evening dinner party.
- There are a couple of quirks in the recipe for the rustic pumpkin seed bread. If you like to bake using volume measurements like I do, you’ll need a 1/8-cup measure. However, bread baking is very precise, so I recommend using a digital kitchen scale for this recipe. The recipe will also seem like it doesn’t have enough yeast in it, but believe me when I say that you don’t need any more. A smaller amount of yeast extends fermentation time, which causes the dough to be more acidic and adds more complex flavors and aromas to the bread. Be sure to use instant dried yeast (as opposed to active dry yeast); you’ll need to change the temperature of the water if you opt for any other kind of yeast.
Overnight Rustic Pumpkin Seed Bread
(adapted from Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast)
- a digital kitchen scale (not required, but highly recommended — see baker’s notes)
- a digital, instant-read food thermometer
- a 6 qt. round casserole pot with a lid (like this one from the Macy’s Martha Stewart Collection)
- a fine-mist spray bottle
- 3 7/8 cups (17.65 ounces) bread flour, plus more for work surfaces
- 1 2/3 cups (13 fluid ounces) water, warmed to between 90 (F) and 95 (F)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon instant dried yeast
- 1/3 cup (1.85 ounces) raw pumpkin seeds
The Night Before
- Combine 3 7/8 cups bread flour, 1 2/3 cups warm water (see baker’s notes) in the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer. Use a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon to mix until just incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon instant dried yeast evenly over the top of the dough. Run a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon under the sink and mix the salt and yeast into the dough, rewetting your tool as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. Reach underneath the dough and grab about a quarter of it. Gently stretch this section of dough and fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. Repeat three more times, until the salt and yeast are fully enclosed.
- Nestle a dough hook attachment to your freestanding electric mixer. Beat on low speed for about 3 minutes, or until the dough has tension in it. Don’t worry if your dough seems sticky — this is a fairly wet dough. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, then beat again on low speed for another 30 seconds or so until the dough tightens up. Use a digital, instant-read food thermometer to measure the temperature of the dough; the target temperature at the end of this process is between 77 (F) and 78 (F). Don’t worry if it’s a few degrees cooler than that; that just means your dough will take longer to rise. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, you’ll need to “fold” the dough. Run your hand under the sink (wet hands help prevent the dough from sticking to you) and reach under the mound of dough, grabbing about one quarter of it. Stretch this section of the dough to the point of resistance (don’t force it!), then fold it over the entire length of the dough mass to the opposite side of the dough. Repeat about four or five times, working around the dough until it has tightened into a ball. Grab the entire ball and invert it so that the seam side where all the folds have come together, faces down. This helps the folds hold their position — the top should be smooth.
- When the dough relaxes a bit and flattens across the bottom of the bowl, repeat the process for a second fold. Depending on the temperature of your dough and the temperature of the room, this could take anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes. Repeat the folding process described in Step 4. Let the dough relax/flatten for one more time, before repeating the folding process one last time. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise overnight on the counter at room temperature. When the dough is about 2 1/2 to 3 times its original volume, it is ready to be divided. It should take around 12 to 14 hours to get to this state.
- Once the dough has risen in volume overnight, it’s time to fold and shape the loaf. Dust a work surface and your hands with flour. Line a medium bowl with parchment paper and top with a dusting of flour.
- Tip the bowl containing the dough slightly and use your hands to gently loosen the dough from the bottom of the bowl without pulling or tearing it. Shape the dough into a medium tight ball by folding like you did the night before, but with floured hands instead of wet ones: reach under the mound of dough, grabbing about a quarter of it and stretching it to the point of resistance. Fold it over the length of the dough mass to the opposite side of the dough. Repeat about four or five times, working around the dough until it has tightened into a ball. Grab the entire ball and invert it so that the seam side faces down. Transfer to the lined medium bowl and lightly flour the top of the loaf before covering the bowl in plastic wrap. This is the final rising period before baking, also known as “proofing.”
- Plan on baking the loaf about 1 hour and 15 minutes after it’s been shaped, assuming a room temperature of about 70 (F). If your kitchen is warmer, the loaf will be ready in about 1 hour. You’ll be able to tell when the loaf is ready by using the Finger-Dent Test: poke the risen loaf with a floured finger, making an indentation about 1/2-inch deep. If it springs back immediately, the loaf needs more time to proof. If the dent doesn’t spring back at all, the loaf is overproofed. You can still bake it, but the loaf maybe on the dense/heavy side.
- You’ll also need to preheat your baking pot and oven as the loaf is proofing at least 45 minutes prior to baking. Center a rack in the oven and place a 6 qt. round casserole pot with a lid on the rack. Preheat the oven to 475 (F).
- Once the oven and casserole pot have both been preheated and the loaf passes the Finger-Dent Test, it’s time to bake your bread. Invert the proofed dough onto the center of the parchment paper, so that the seam side of the dough will be up. Prepare a parchment paper sheet by spraying it with cooking spray and sprinkling it generously with flour. Fill a fine-mist spray bottle with water and spritz the dough with water until it is glistening wet, but not dripping. Sprinkle 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds over the dough — the water will help the seeds stick.
- Use oven mitts to carefully remove the preheated casserole pot from the oven, removing the lid. Use the parchment paper to carefully transfer the proofed dough, seam-side/seeded-side up with the parchment paper at the bottom into the pot. Be extra careful, the pot gets HOT! Use oven mitts to carefully replace the lid.
- Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, before carefully removing the lid and baking for an additional 20 to 30 minutes until the bread is at least medium dark brown all around the loaf. Check the oven after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot.
- Once the bread is ready, it will be a uniform dark brown throughout. Use oven mitts to remove the casserole pot from the oven and carefully use the parchment paper to lift the bread from the pot. If the parchment paper disintegrates, you can carefully tip the pot so that the bread tumbles out. Place the loaf on a wire rack and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing — don’t slice any sooner! The bread is still cooking inside, and it’s essential that you let any residual internal heat and steam do its work A good loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the crust. Keep uncovered, at room temperature, until ready to serve.
Pumpkin Coconut Soup
- a 2 qt. round casserole pot with a lid (like this one from the Macy’s Martha Stewart Collection)
- an immersion blender
- a small Ziploc bag
- a small (around 4 pounds) pumpkin
- 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil, divided into 1 tablespoon and 3 tablespoon portions
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
- 4 cups (32 fluid ounces) vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) full fat unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- scallions, for serving
- chives, for serving
- a pinch of cayenne pepper
- freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 425 (F) and prepare a baking sheet by lining with aluminum foil and spraying with a thin layer of cooking spray. Set aside.
- Carefully halve a small pumpkin and scooping out and discarding the seeds. Slice the pumpkin in half to make quarters. Brush 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil over the flesh of the pumpkin and place the quarters, flesh side down, onto the baking sheet. Roast for 35 minutes or until the orange flesh is easily pierced through with a fork. Set aside on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes.
- Once the pumpkin is cool enough to touch, gently peel the skin off. It should come off fairly easily. Discard the skin and transfer the pumpkin to a tupperware with a lid. Transfer to the refrigerator and cool overnight.
- Place a 2 qt. casserole pot on medium heat. When the pot is warm, add 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add 1 large diced yellow onion, 4 large minced garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder. Stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the roasted pumpkin from the night before and 4 cups vegetable broth. Use an immersion blender to break up the pumpkin and onions to create a homogenous, yellow-orange mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, giving the flavors time to meld.
- After about 15 minutes, reduce the heat back down to medium-low and stir in 1/2 cup coconut milk. Remove the soup from heat and let it cool slightly, before using the immersion blender again to blend the soup to get rid of any lumps and chunks.
- Transfer 2 tablespoons sour cream to a small Ziploc bag. Cut a tiny hole in the corner of the bag to create a mini piping bag on the fly; squeeze the sour cream through the hole on top of the soup to make patterns in the soup. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Garnish with scallions and chives, and season with black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.