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Posts Tagged ‘fall’

November has come, and we’ve been treated to a few simply glorious days. The sunshine is most welcome here, since October winds and rain stripped the trees barren before we had our customary chance to oooh and ahhh over the coloful glory. The tone of the land is now that of bleached straw and flat brown; the deer that roam our neighborhood melt into the backdrop like a thief, vanishing in a blink.

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This little guy was quite languid and uninterested in my trespassing on his sun-bathing path. He even let me stroke his leathery skin before he casually twisted his way into the leaves to continue sunning himself.

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Yet even with these brilliant sunshine-y days, Daylight Savings Time and the calendar both make the late afternoons chilly, and those warm cozy meals are even more appealing.

I’m not one to think that feeling under the weather is all that productive -who does?-  but on a recent day, I found myself feeling uncharacteristically blah and lacking energy to do much, which resulted in a long period of time under a blanket on the couch, a cat curled up contentedly on me while I precariously balanced my computer to occupy myself with recipe searches. An hour and a half later, I did manage, with some appropriate groaning and sighing along with the displacement of one unenthusiastic feline, to pull myself to a sitting position, and there was a stack of papers almost an inch thick on the printer that made all that time worthwhile. That’s the kind of down-time productive one can appreciate. And one of those highly anticipated papers, the best kind that float around my kitchen, papers lush with promise and anticipated flavors and not a payment of some type being sought by the outer world, this thick and comforting stew filled that early afternoon darkness with warm and intoxicating smells, a bubbling pot of seductive chunks of squash and flavorful stewed beans that managed to make me feel a lot better, at least in returning some of my energy.

Mike always knows that something wonderful is happening in the kitchen when I haul out this old and beautifully seasoned cast iron stockpot. Just dragging it out of the cupboard is quite the workout. I think if it wasn’t on a upper shelf I might not be so fearful of it.

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This recipe calls for using dried beans, but rarely do I have enough foresight into my dinner preparations to put a bag of beans to soak the night before, so I used canned pinto beans instead. And although I did have to put myself through that most tedious kitchen task of peeling the acorn squash, I approached it calmly and without the usual hair-pulling hysteria that surround the words “Peel and chop one medium hard squash” Can somebody out there give me an amen? Thanks. I know I’m not the only one who despises certain culinary obligations. That probably includes soaking dried beans, since I hardly ever do it.

This recipe, with it’s canned bean option, comes together really fast if you don’t count tackling the squash. A quick saute of onion and garlic, then you stir in the rest and let it simmer until the squash is tender. When the quinoa shows you it’s adorable little curlicue thread, call out the diners to gather and spoon up a thick and fragrant bowl.

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Andean Bean Stew with Winter Squash and Quinoa
from The New York Times, Recipes for Health and Nutrition, Nov. 2008

1 winter squash of choice, peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks
2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T. sweet paprika
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, with liquid (use regular if you don’t have these available)
1/2 c. quinoa, rinsed well
1 bay leaf
3 T. chopped basil or parsley

In a sturdy stockpot, brown the onion in oil of choice, about 10 minutes or so. Add the paprika and stir to coat, cooking for a minute. Add in garlic and stir, cook for 30 seconds or until very fragrant. Add in tomatoes and their juice and cook for a few minutes to combine flavors. Stir in the beans and squash. Fill the tomato can with water and empty into the pot. The solids should be only just covered with liquid. This is a thick stew. Add more if necessary and put the bay leaf in the pot. Bring to a boil and then allow to simmer, covered, until the squash is tender, but not thoroughly cooked- 30 minutes or so. Stir in the quinoa and simmer until the grain is translucent and the tiny thread appears- about 10-15 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with basil or parsley.

This stew, like many, becomes more flavorful as it sits. It also thickens substantially. Add a little water when reheating.

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{{{I’m doing my first guest post over at The LoveFeast Table today! Yeah!}}}

Apple Crisp is so Fall, so perfectly suited for the October-November loop, and so willing to apply anyone’s simple signature to it’s luscious ingredients that it has sort of gone beyond being a favorite dessert, becoming more like that old dear friend that never fails to bring sunshine to a dreary day.

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The smell of apples and cinnamon baking is a comfort that threads itself under your skin. It’s no surprise that the most popular of pies and scented candles are usually ‘Apple Pie’, long celebrated as All American and breathing remnants of home and Mom. Apple Crisp is simpler than pie, ready with a few turns of the peeler and knife, chunks of cold butter cut into crumbly flour and brown sugar to bake into a delicately scented crunch atop soft and juicy warm apples.

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The addition of crystallized ginger in this recipe is wonderful; a gentle hint of warmth and a touch of it’s sweetness made the crunchy topping extra flavorful. I’ve been making Apple Crisp since I was barely old enough to see over the top of our stove, and had to stand on a chair to be able to work the peeler, my Mom by my side watching to make sure I didn’t hack off a snippet of skin here and there. She showed me how to peel an apple whole, with a long dangling strip, and how to carefully carve out apple cores and slice them uniformly so they would bake evenly. Now I have a device that peels and cuts your apples all in the turn of a crank, making any kind of apple dish quick and easy. So when I was faced lately with a chilly night and an unidentifiable need in me to seek a little comfort, a good book and a warm plate of this crisp seemed to be in order. Just taking in the first thin whiffs of the aroma seeping from the oven took the edge off whatever empty spot had formed inside.  Apple Crisp was always a prominent item in our Fall kitchen, topped with cold ice cream releasing a thin river of creamy white over the still warm fruit. It’s a memory that tastes like home, if memories come with flavor which almost all of us know that they do. And maybe that night, I needed a memory to soothe me, the feeling of someone by my side watching over me. I know Mom would have loved this version as well.

I’m a nut for almonds – ha! pun intended- but there is little in terms of dessert items that I don’t think can be helped and favored by the addition of chopped almonds. For this recipe, I scattered chopped almonds over the apples in the pan before sprinkling on the topping, and also sifted the fine almond flour from the chopped pieces into the topping mixture to add even more flavor. To do so, just pour the chopped almonds into a wire sieve and shake it over whatever you wish.

Fabulous apple and almond flavor pours through every bite, whether topped with ice cream, whipped cream or yogurt……

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Or not……

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And yes, I did eat it for breakfast. Wouldn’t you?

Apple Crisp with Crystallized Ginger Topping
adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, via The Heavy Table

Kate’s Advice- Make the topping first. Your apples won’t turn brown that way.

Heat oven to 375°. Butter a 8″square baking dish, or equivalent and set aside.

For the topping:

3/4 c. AP flour
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. white sugar
2 T. crystallized ginger (I chopped mine fine- it would have been WAY chunky otherwise)
1/4 t. salt (omit if you use salted butter)
1/2 t. cinnamon
4 T. butter, cut into chunks

Mix all ingredients except butter in a bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it’s relatively chunky. Don’t mix it down to a fine sand. Chill until ready to use.

5 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 T. white sugar
1 T. AP flour

Toss apples with flour and sugar and place in baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the apples and bake for 30-40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and top is browned.

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I should have known. Us Minnesotans wrote the book on the phrase ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.’

Right on time, at the heels of my dreary October report, came a smashingly beautiful Fall day; just in time to lift spirits across the city, to pour sunshine down on the deprived and saddened. It was blinding. It felt hot. Car interiors warmed up and jackets were shed. Lots of skin came out to say ‘Hello’, to welcome the sun.

And while most of the city wandered around in a daze, strangers smiling at each other with lots of contented sighs, I escaped.

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Just a few short months ago, that deck was covered in soggy footprints, soaked towels, half empty sunscreen bottles, juice boxes, a few toys, often a stray lifejacket and maybe a wet child or two. It held chairs that held bodies that held hair off their warms necks and cold drinks in hand. The deck groaned under the weight of languid summer days, resplendent in the hot sun. And the lake laughed up at the blue sky, at the boats skipping across it’s surface and popped up a turtle or two to take stock, or a loon that just as quickly dove for cooler waters beneath. At night, the waters slept, still as glass, covered occasionally in a gentle fog, as the rubber band snap of bullfrogs sang harmonious shoreline lullabies. Idyllic barely does it justice. And it always ends far too soon.

But now, it’s just empty, save for the few hardy anglers, a lazy boat or two that holds tight to the remaining light and good weather and maybe the eagle, if he’s fishing today. Still, in it’s emptiness, and the solitude that tends to follow Labor Day like a reluctant puppy, Loveless Lake retains it’s beauty in entirely different ways, and offers a means to escape just once more before it settles down for a long winter’s nap.

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And I settle in, pulling a bag of two of food with me and some warm clothing. The furnace kicks out it’s cozy heat and a few candles lead the daylight hours into night. I settle into the profound silence with a good book or two, some music and the need to just be me for a day or two. To hike and sit on a stone overlooking the St.Croix River, or to just stare at the water outside. Maybe I’ll do nothing at all. Stay in my pajamas all day and drink coffee, invite the muse to visit and tap away until it’s satisfied. I might rake leaves and lay among the crunch. There certainly should be a nap on the sofa, a good snack. And a bonfire as the sun disappears over the tree line. The bed is piled with blankets and I turn off the furnace at night, hunkering down under the weight that lulls me to sleep. I think about nothing at all. And everything, but really, it’s nothing. Winter is coming and this will end for several months. I won’t be able to walk down the hill, with the water winking an invitation at me beyond the corner of the cabin. There won’t be the giddy anticipation of a weekend with my nieces and nephews, racing around the water in the boat, dragging an inner-tube with a shrieking child holding on for dear life. It will end, with the last drop of water drained from the water heater, and the final look around before the car door slams on yet another season.

It’s always bittersweet.

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Stone fruits are fickle little things. They can be at once a juicy sweet perfection, and yet also a rock hard, gritty and sour disappointment. They taunt us endlessly with their possibilities, rarely consistent and yet so tempting.

The tiny purple Italian prune plum has the means to bridge this gap between hope and despair in the mere fact that it simply begs to be cooked in order to reach full enjoyment. The flesh when raw is acceptable; it’s fairly sweet with a decent amount of juice, but given just a brief turn in a warm skillet and it becomes something sublime and intoxicating. Poach it with some deep red wine and the experience soars.

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These days I’m needing all I can get to fill the yawning gap inside me, brought about by Harmon’s cancer diagnosis. The turn to Fall is often one choked with melancholy for me; the loss of summer’s warmth and the mountains of fresh produce, the chill in the air and shutting down the flower beds. Our September has been more glorious than imaginable. We’ve been graced with warm and languid days followed by cool crisp nights that begged for open windows and a light blanket. In our semi-rural neighborhood of open fields and ponds, the geese have gathered in massive droves and flown their missions overhead by the hundreds with noisy and eye-catching appeal. The field mice are much more active, giving our intrepid hunter an endless supply of ‘gifts’ to try and bring to us. Baskets of winter squash are appearing in the Farmers Markets. There are shocks of color through the trees as the thick greens of summer give way to Autumn’s richly burnished palate. But I feel like I am in a state of flux. We just have no idea how the last course of Harmon’s life will go, and for me, I just want to be here with him soaking up what remains of our time together. I feel like Autumn will pass by my windows while I snuggle my old friend and begin to consider life without him. It’s slightly ironic, and painfully so that in this transition of seasons outside, within the walls of our life we are transitioning as well from life to death, a golden leaf withering in front of our eyes into the silence of eternal winter.

So the need for something to soothe is evident. I don’t want much these days, wishing for little effort in exchange for nutritional gain. There were delicious and knobby Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins that spoke of Fall, tinged with cinnamon and warmth. I found an extremely deep sense of comfort in a simple hard-boiled egg and warmed cooked potato sprinkled with a dusting of sea salt. A package of tiny gnocchi dumplings became  crispy and soothing after a sear in brown butter and topped with tender sage leaves, and in the midst of the past few days, where my tears have been so close to the surface that most anything can bring them springing to life, a few of these poached plums have been a perfect foil to fill the pit in my stomach that threatens to engulf me. I sneak them from the bowl in the fridge, where they sat silently as their original use for a delicious cake fell to the wayside while sorrow took over. After a few days, and some stealth tactics of enjoyment, I did manage to cook up a quaint and tiny little coffee cake, richly hued in these dark purple slabs, crunchy with almonds.

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This is a coffee cake unlike any coffee cake that I’ve known before. Thin, somewhat crisp, not too sweet and thoughtfully simple, is a lesson in cake’s alter ego, that which doesn’t comprise itself of towering airy layers sporting thick rolls of buttercream. It can shed that cloying nature, throw off the layer-icing-layer makeup and just be fabulous without fuss. You don’t even need rich and succulent wine soaked prune plums to make it; any ol’ plum will do, or perhaps a good firm pear or a gently caramelized apple.

Wine Poached Prune Plums
by Kate

Wash, split and pit any quantity of prune plums- I used a full container from the grocer; it probably had about 1-1/2# in it. In a deep skillet, combine 2 T. chunky fruit jam of choice (I used Thomson’s Sweet Cherry Preserves), 2 T. red wine (I used a syrah) and 2 T. of water. Heat gently to melt jam, stirring to combine everything. When warm and a few bubbles have been seen around the edges, add as many of the halved plums as you can, cut side down. Cook gently, without stirring, for about 5 minutes. Turn plums over. Cook about 2-3 more minutes and remove to a bowl. Add remaining plums and cook, adding to bowl when done. Pour any juices over the plums and gently turn to coat the fruit. Allow to sit as long as you can. The more time, the deeper the flavor. Chill in fridge.

Prune Plum Coffee Cake

3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. sliced almonds (I had whole; I broke them up first)
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
6 T. butter
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sugar and almonds and process until almonds are ground. Add flour, baking soda and salt and pulse twice to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add in egg and yolk and extract and pulse until combined. Spread batter in pan and top with poached plums, pressing them into the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until cake is firm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or more, then release the spring.

KATE’S NOTES:

This cake could be better, I’m sure of it. While always wary of using a food processor to make a batter, thinking that the spinning blades tend towards overkill more than gently combining, I would be interested in doing this in a different method. The cake, while good, was a bit dense. The batter quantity is small, and 40 minutes in the oven resulted in browned and crisp edges. I love that on a cake, but many don’t. It was, with it’s almond base and simple design, an amazing flavor. It might come out slightly better if baked in a loaf pan too. At any rate, there is much to experiment with this recipe.


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Gingersnap Chicken with Apple Compote

1 pkg boneless skinless chicken breast
10-12 gingersnap cookies
1 medium shallot, sliced
2 apples, cored and thinly sliced
6 dried figs, stems removed and thinly sliced
1/3 c. dried raisins
1/4 c. sliced roasted almonds
Oil and butter for saute
Apple cider for deglazing.

Process cookies to a fine crumb in food processor; place on large plate. Pat dry chicken pieces and press crumbs to both sides. Heat oil in large saute pan, add shallot and cook until translucent and slightly browned, remove to small bowl. Heat a little more oil and add chicken, cooking until browned on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side. Remove to plate. Add 2 T. butter and allow to brown, then add apples and cook without stirring for about 5 minutes. Stir, add in figs, raisins, almonds and shallots and mix to combine. Pour in about 1/4 c. apple cider and deglaze the pan. When fully reduced, place chicken on top of compote, cover and allow to cook until chicken is cooked through; about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Serve chicken topped with compote.

Recipe Notes: For a tangier taste, cider vinegar can be used to deglaze. For the apples, use something that will stand up to cooking for best results. Mix up the dried fruit to taste; I think currants would be great in this, or possibly chopped dried apricots too.

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Moroccan Chicken

3# chicken thighs, fat trimmed
4 T. tagine spices
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
4 T. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1/2 c. pitted kalamata olives

Wash and trim chicken, leaving skin intact. Mix spices, garlic, oil, salt and pepper to a smooth paste and pour over chicken, turning to coat thoroughly. Marinate for up to three hours.

In a large stock pot, heat some oil of choice and saute onions until soft. Remove to bowl. Brown chicken on all sides, scrape any marinade leftover in bowl into pot and add about a cup of water. Stir thoroughly. Add in onions and stir to incorporate. Lay lemon slices on top. Bring to a boil, cover and allow to simmer slowly until chicken is very tender but still holds together, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir in olives and remove skin before serving. Lemon slices can be consumed and are delicious.

Notes: I have done this recipe with minced garlic and for some reason it just doesn’t work as nicely. The slices of garlic hold up very well in the cooking process and become very tender and sweet to eat. You don’t need to slice the garlic; I know it’s hard and a pain, but the end result is worth the effort.

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Applesauce Spice Cake

4 T. real butter, softened

1 c. sugar

1 egg

1/4 c. water

1 c. unsweetened applesauce

1 1/4 c. flour (use half whole wheat if you wish)

2 T. ground flaxseed

3/4 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. each nutmeg, allspice and ginger

Blend all dry ingredients together. Cream sugar and butter until smooth then add in egg, water and applesauce and mix well. Stir in dry ingredients and mix until incorporated and slightly fluffy. Spray an 8-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray and pour in batter, bake in a 350d oven 30-35 minutes, or until tested done.

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