Guest Editor: Katie Lee

The Comfort Table author Katie Lee shares her secrets for Fall entertaining, and some yummy recipes too!

What are you cooking for this Fall’s dinner parties?
My favorite seasonal bites are Wild Mushroom-Parmesan Grits Cakes and Spiced Pepitas and Pecans Rollover. 
Tip: I always make an extra batch of the spiced nuts, they are the perfect snack or last-minute gift for drop-in guests. 

Favorite Fall dessert? 
Pumpkin Toffee Trifle is one of my go-to fall desserts. Nothing tastes like fall more than pumpkin, and the best part about this dessert is you can make it the night before.

Your Fall cocktail recipe? 
Hard Apple Cider!

What's your color palette this Fall? 
Rich jewel tones always work in the fall.  This season, I am really into burgundy.  

What are your favorite Fall entertaining tips? 
1. Set up a station with small bites and drinks to keep your guests busy while you finish preparing dinner. 
2. Place cards make your guests feel special– you can buy potted Rosemary plants and adorn them with nametags, doubling as party favors. 

Favorite RR item to wear this Fall to your entertaining events?
I love this confetti dress. It's stylish and chic, but also functional for entertaining. Because of the print, if I'm in the kitchen and something splatters, it won't show! 

What's your ideal Fall harvest table decor like? 
I decorate in autumnal colors with flowers and gourds. To give the table a nice glow, I fill old floral vases with cranberries and acorns and top them with an unscented votive candle. Anchor the table with a runner, it’s a modern twist on the tablecloth and makes clean up a breeze. 

As a guest, what does a hostess appreciate most as a gift? 
I think it’s most important to tailor your hostess gift to your hostess! I like bringing my “zen” friends a beautiful candle set or my “foodie” friends a homemade jar of holiday coffee I make with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla bean.  And there is nothing wrong with bringing a few cleaning supplies and offering to help tidy up after dinner! 

What's your Fall signature candle scent? I love the Ambre du Nepal scent from Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier -- it makes my house smell so warm and inviting when it’s cold outside. Perfect dinner guest, dead or alive? I'd give anything to have another dinner with my Grandpa. He loved food more than anyone I know and he passed away when I was in college. I would love to have him in my home and cook for him. 

Wild Mushroom–Parmesan Grits Cakes
I make grits cakes for parties all the time. Anything can be added to the grits—sometimes I mix in chorizo or rock shrimp, Cheddar or Asiago—and they are always a success. For Thanksgiving, I like using mushrooms and Parmesan for a nice, rich flavor. Since it’s a holiday, I like to make the grits cakes extra special by adding mushroom ragout.
For the grits cakes:
4 Tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely diced white button mushrooms
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 cups reduced-fat milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon saffron thread
2 cups grated grits (not instant or quick-cooking)
½ cup paramesan cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 ½ -inch biscuit cutter for the grit cakes

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.
Add the mushrooms and cook about 5 minutes, until all of the liquid is released and they are golden brown. 
Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the chicken stock, milk, and 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a gentle boil. Stir in the saffron threads until dissolved, about 2 minutes. 
Slowly whisk in the grits and reduce the heat to a very low simmer, stirring occasionally to keep the grits from scorching. 
Cook, stirring frequently until the liquid has been absorbed and the grits are thick, about 30 minutes. 
Stir in the reserved mushrooms, and the cheese, butter, and teaspoon pepper. Grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Pour in the grits and smooth out into an even layer. Let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to overnight. Use a 2" biscuit cutter to cut out 15 cakes.

For the mushroom ragout:
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter 1 garlic glove, minced
1 spring fresh rosemary
2 cups mixed wild mushroom (such as chanterelle, porcini, oyster, or shitake)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon heavy cream
Melt the butter with garlic and rosemary in a medium skillet over medium heat Add mushrooms and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until all of the liquid is released and the mushrooms are golden brown. Season with the salt and pepper and stir in lemon juice and heavy cream. 
Cook about 2 more minutes, until cream is absorbed. Remove rosemary.
To finish, use the remaining olive oil to grease a nonstick griddle over medium heat. Gently blot the grits cakes with paper towels to make sure they are not damp. Cook the cakes 4 to 5 minutes oneach side, until golden brown. Garnish with the mushroom ragout.
Makes 15 servings

Spiced Pepitas and Pecans
These are a delicious homemade version of “bar nuts.” I use pepitas as a nod to the season and pecans for my Southern heritage, but any combination of nuts works.
½ cup lightly packed light brown sugar ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon water
2 cups raw pepitals (shelled pumpkin seeds)
2 cups shelled pecans halves
Preheat the oven to 300°F
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cumin, salt, and cayenne. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and water until frothy. Stir in the pepitas and pecans, then add sugar mixture. Toss until nuts are completely coated. Evenly spread nuts on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until crispy. 
Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 4 cups 
Pumpkin Toffee Trifle are a fun and easy way to make a decadent dessert. This Pumpkin Toffee Trifle is simply decadent and has all the flavors of the season. Don't waste your time putting on icing and worrying about every single detail of a big project cake. The large trifle bowl is great and easy to use. You can make the night before. The longer it sits in the fridge the better!
1 (6 ounce) box vanilla pudding mix     (cooked to package instructions)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
¼ cup light brown sugar
4 bananas, thinly sliced
4 toffee bars, chopped
1 loaf pumpkin bread (about 3 cups) cut in cubes
4 cups whipped cream
Gently mix vanilla pudding with pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and brown sugar. 
Into a glass trifle bowl, add one half of the pumpkin bread. Scoop in one half of the pudding, add a layer of one half of the banana and chopped toffee. Smooth on one half of the whipped cream. Repeat layers, ending with cream and toffee. 
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. 

Hard Apple Cider
With this hard apple cider simmering on the stove, expect people to swoon when they walk through the front door. Simply delicious and can be served hot or poured over crushed ice.
1 quart apple cider
2 tablespoons sugar
2 whole star anise
1 piece orange peel (about 1 by 4 inches) ½ inch piece fresh ginger
¾ cup calvados
Thinly sliced apples, for garnish
In a saucepan, combine the cider, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, orange peel, and ginger. 
Bring to a low boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Strain and stir in calvados. 
Serve hot, or chill and serve over crushed ice. Garnish with apple slices.
Makes 6 servings (About 5 cups)