carrotmashedpotatoesAlthough they’re often a favorite side dish staple, sometimes mashed potatoes need a little inspiration.

Root vegetables make a perfect addition to potatoes, and I particularly like the sweet flavor of carrots in this recipe, but parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, and celery root will work just as well.

Yukon Gold potatoes are a great choice because of their rich, creamy flavor. It’s important to rinse the potatoes well to remove excess starch, which can make the mixture gluey.

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apple-banana-oatmeal-cake.jpgYears ago I made an oatmeal cake that was moist, dense and delicious with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting slathered over the top. When we had out-of-town friends staying with us last week, I thought of that cake that I haven’t made in years when I served baked oatmeal for breakfast one morning.

I flipped through my recipe file and found the cake recipe that I’d clipped from a newspaper many years ago. I added a seasonal touch to the cake with the addition of chopped, locally grown apples. Since I had a ripe banana in the freezer, I stirred that into the batter, too. A bit of cinnamon added to the cream cheese frosting turned the cake into an autumn treat.

Oatmeal, tart apples, cinnamon and banana paired with cream cheese — can’t get much better — unless you add some toasted chopped pecans. I shared the cake with others and discovered that a short length of cinnamon stick poked into each piece of cake worked well as a support for plastic wrap, preventing the plastic from sticking to the frosting and ruining its attractiveness. Once you taste this cake, you may choose not to share.

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ImageOne of my favorite things about Fall is apples…and trips to the apple orchard. This year, without a trip to one of my favorite apple orchards in the Twin Cities area marked on the calendar, I was beginning to think it would be the first time in many, many years that I didn’t get to an apple orchard. The sign along Highway 10 that made me turn my car down a winding country road in search of my favorite fall fruit, turned into a wild goose chase. But then, an angel appeared and offered me all the apples I could possibly want or need.

With the big bag of apples I brought home, I made an apple tapioca sauce with a handful of the fruit. I could have moved on to the apple crisp that has been a family-favorite for years. But, I decided to pull a church cookbook off my shelf. I have a bunch of them that I’ve collected over the years. I randomly pulled a book from the tightly-packed row lined up on the shelf. I paged through the one that wound up in my hands: The Centennial Cookbook (1887-1987) from St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Devils Lake, North Dakota. I stopped at Swiss Apple Pie Cake that was submitted by Berdelle Nelson.

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baked-sweet-potato.jpgI fell in love on February 1, 2009. Two days later we got into our first and only fight. About root vegetables, specifically yams.

Before I continue I should say that I consider myself well versed in the subject. For six months in high school, I refused to eat anything but yams for dinner. Baked yams with butter. Baked yams with bananas. Yam fries. Boiled yams. Mashed yams. My mom could have thought my behavior toddler-esque the kind of thing my three-year-old cousin does “I no eat green things.” But my mom doesn’t know how to cook. So for her, my phase turned out to be pretty convenient. Poke some holes in it. Pop it in the oven. Forty minutes later, kid’s fed.

I grew out of the yam craze around the time I started making out with younger boys and failing AP Calculus exams. I have no idea if the two are related.

The point is. Yams and I have a history.

Cut to five years later.

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ImageNow that we're headin into Fall, it's now time for full-fledged autumn salads.You know, the kind with thick slabs of roasted squash, wedges of spicy persimmons, and robust dressings made with maple syrup and heady herbs such as rosemary and sage.

While most fall salads include apples, pears, and fresh figs, not many include of one autumn's most popular fruits: grapes. Perhaps that's because like bananas, grapes are available in our supermarkets year-round and don't seem to have a specific season. Well, they do. Most grapes in the US are grown in California and are harvested between August and December. They're also available at San Diego farmers' markets right now.

I wish I could have you taste some of our local grapes. They're like nothing you've ever tasted from the supermarket. That's because no matter the variety – Champagne, Thompson, Concord, Flame – the grapes aren't picked until fully vine-ripened, which makes them dizzyingly plump, juicy, and flavorful. When you bite into some varieties, they release bursts of juice so intense, you'd think you're drinking wine.

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