Relax and celebrate autumn with this make-ahead menu, ideal for casual get-togethers.
Credit: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Close your eyes and imagine the beauty of gold and red leaves, the feel of warm blankets and crisp air, and the sound of a creek murmuring nearby. Though we haven't perfected that recipe, we have used an idyllic mountain cabin as inspiration for a richly satisfying autumn menu that you can prepare unrushed.

"Retreat" is more a state of mind than a place. Whether you're headed for the mountains or have simply staked a claim to your weekend at home, feed that feeling with satisfying, beautiful food at a pace made for pleasure.

Beginning with the creamy Red Pepper-Cheese Dip, almost every recipe on the menu may be made partly or entirely ahead. After a leisurely appetizer, move on to your choice of soups: the dramatic color and clean flavors of Savory Beet Soup (a dish to tempt even people who don't love beets) or the earthy elegance of porcini mushrooms and sherry in the aptly named Rich Mushroom Soup. Both pair beautifully with our Country Rye Loaves; the recipe is easy enough for a beginner and produces two crusty loaves-one for dinner and another to slice for sandwiches the next day.

You also have a choice of chicken or pork entrees. Each recipe uses an overnight brining technique to infuse flavorful herbs, spices, and cider to ensure juicy results. While the entrée slowly roasts, you'll have plenty of time to set the table and toss sweet potatoes in sugar, salt, and peppers for the Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges recipe.

While the chicken or pork stands before slicing, pop the sweet potatoes into the oven, and toss the Fall Green Salad with its make-ahead Parmesan vinaigrette.

All that's left is to open a bottle of wine, gather some friends, and enjoy the tastes and heady aromas of the season.

There is one more thing: a moist Pumpkin-Orange Cake crowned with cream cheese frosting and set with jewel-like mandarin oranges and pomegranate seeds. Make this cake a day ahead, then serve it right from the refrigerator for a dramatic finish without any last-minute fuss.

Get Ahead

Country Rye Loaves: Make sponge two days ahead. Bake bread a day ahead. Cool completely on a wire rack; store in an airtight container.

Make Red Pepper-Cheese Dip a day ahead; cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Prepare soup according to recipe (except for sour cream swirl in Savory Beet Soup or parsley in Rich Mushroom Soup). Cover and chill for up to a day. Reheat, covered, in a saucepan over low heat until thoroughly heated. Add garnishes to each serving.

Prepare brine for Cider-Roasted Chicken or Cider-Roasted Pork Loin up to five days ahead; refrigerate until ready to use. Brine chicken or pork overnight.

Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges: Peel and cut potatoes into wedges while meat cooks.

Prepare vinaigrette for Fall Green Salad a day ahead; cover and chill.

Prepare Pumpkin-Orange Cake a day ahead; cover loosely and refrigerate until ready to serve.