Fall flavors to savor

A hearty soup with a color alone that shouts autumn. (Steve Rice/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

As surely as I reach for my wool coat and warm mittens when the leaves turn to crimson and gold, so do I pull out the soup pot and casserole dishes that were set aside for months.

Once again the windows steam up from the bubbling pots on the stove and make a cozy nest of the warm kitchen.

The heady perfume of dinner fills every corner and seeps outdoors, teasing passersby with hints of an upcoming meal. We nestle in for the coming cold months, wrapping ourselves in the hearty flavors of the season that keep us warm and content.

For this menu we start out with a ginger-flavored squash soup with a color alone that shouts fall. Small phyllo bites of warm, savory caramelized flavors serve as an accompaniment for this starter.

For the main course, long-cooking braised short ribs show that a great meal doesn't require a lot of time in the kitchen for the cook. An age-old starch -- polenta -- dresses up the menu. For the finish, a cranberry-pear version of the traditional apple crisp offers just the right change of taste.

These recipes are from my book, "Come One, Come All/ Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus," a collection of 32 menus that make dinner parties practical for even the busiest of cooks.

Gingered squash soup

Serves 6

Note: You can use any hard-skinned winter squash for this soup, including cooking pumpkin (but not the oversized type used for jack-o'-lanterns). Or use precooked squash (either frozen or baby food). From "Come One, Come All/ Easy Entertaining with Seasonal Menus" by Lee Svitak Dean (Minnesota Historical Society Press)

3 lb. winter squash, such as delicata or butternut (about 4 cups cooked)
1 tbsp. (or more) grated fresh ginger root
3 c. vegetable stock (or water or chicken stock)
Salt and white pepper
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 c. heavy cream
Sour cream, for garnish
Sprigs of fresh thyme or slivers of uncooked squash, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. (If the squash is too hard to cut in half, poke holes in it with a knife and microwave for several minutes to soften.)