Fall

porkapplefennelApples are officially in season and I'm excited to get cooking and baking with them. Fall is one of the best seasons for food, just because there's finally an opportunity to make hearty meals that all appeal to our comfort zone. Apples, more than any other fruit, best represent the season. They're combination of sweet and tart flavors, contradictory as well as complementary traits, seem to fit the unpredictability of autumn just perfectly.

Apples also have the trait of being able to go well in sweet and savory recipes. The pairing of apples and pork were almost made to go together. (Just think of how many times as a kid you've had pork chops with apple sauce.) So for a recipe that's perfect for fall, here's a dish of roasted pork tenderloin with sweet apples and aromatic fennel. This recipe is quick for dinner any night and it's even elegant enough for a dinner party.

The secret to a good roast loin is getting it seared as brown as you can get it—the darker, the better it looks and tastes. So to help that along, I spread the loin with an herb butter, which serves two purposes: First, it helps brown the meat and second, it imparts wonderful flavor. Just make sure not to overcook the pork—a bit of blushing pink while cutting in is just what you're looking for.

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pearcake.jpgIt's the same every autumn. Pears sit quietly in the wings while apples take center stage.

It's no wonder. Think about it. Do kids crave candied pears every Halloween? Do moms pack pear sauce in their kids' lunch boxes? Can something be as "all-American as pear pie"?

Pears are good. Some pears, such as Seckel pears – diminutive, super sweet fruits – are surprisingly good. Overall though, they just don't get the respect of apples.

When it comes to baking, however, pears blossom into something special. In fact, I have made this cardamom coffee cake with pecan streusel twice – once with apples and once with pears. You can tell which one I preferred.

Given their mild flavor, pears work beautifully with cardamom, a enticingly fragrant spice. Though a relative of ginger, cardamom has a unique flavor that is difficult to describe. It is intensely aromatic yet not overwhelming in flavor. It has notes of ginger, clove, and citrus, which is why it works so well when paired with fall fruits.

So, go ahead and give pears a little limelight.

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appletartjeApple pie, apple crisp, apple turnovers, apple tart, apple sauce, apple cider—it's the season for apples. I can't think of a better way of enjoying it other than by baking with apples. Who doesn't love a classic apple pie this time of year?

They're worth making from scratch—the dough, the subtly spiced apple filling, warm out of the oven. But when you want to quickly put together an apple dessert, a pie just takes too much attention. That's when this simple tart comes in to play.

Based on a French apple tart, which is made with a pastry dough bottom, this recipe uses store-bought puff pastry instead. It's a shortcut that's worth making. The crisp puff pastry, soft apples, and sweet almond filling all come together to make one amazing dessert that's impressive enough to fool anyone into thinking it took all of your time.

Typically the classic recipe would use applesauce as a base under the apple slices, but that would make this puff pastry tart incredibly soggy. So, instead this recipe uses almonds, sort of like a frangipane tart.

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italiansoup.jpgI love making big batches of soup on the weekend. I store some of it in the refrigerator, and the rest I freeze in quart containers for when I need a quick lunch or dinner. I also prefer using homemade chicken stock, which I also keep in the freezer.

Whenever I have a rotisserie chicken from the market, I throw whatever is left in a pot with an onion, celery, some peppercorns and cover with 3 or 4 quarts of water and boil for an hour or two to create a rich and flavorful stock. 

This traditional Italian soup is one of my favorites – it uses mostly basic ingredients, but is so delicious. The flavors intensify as it sits, so it’s even better the next day.

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poachedpearsWe make a lot of fuss over heirloom peach varieties that date back to the 1960s and tomatoes that go back as far as the 1930s. But did you know that the Bartlett pear, that standard grocery store fruit, actually dates back to the 1770s? The Bartlett, called the Williams pear in England where it was first found, gets its name from Enoch Bartlett, who was the first person to sell the trees in the U.S. in the early 1800s.

"Barts" are the predominate pear grown in California, and there are two growing sites with very different fruit. The earliest pears were harvested in August around the Sacramento delta area. They are fine, but the ones being picked about now from the hilly orchards of Lake and Mendocino counties are much better.

How to choose: The best perfectly ripened Bartlett pears will be golden and fragrant and will have a slight softness at the neck. Don't worry if the fruit shows some russeting -- that's only skin-deep and doesn't affect the flavor.

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