Fall

beet-horizontal-1-300x225I work at home. Translation: I love a distraction. The kitchen? Definitely the number one destination for diversion.  Even on days when recipe developing is not on my to-do list, I like to wander in to my favorite room and concoct a little something every few hours. Something quick, something that might work for our dinner later.  Even better, something that might last for a few days.

Roasted baby beets (so ruby-red pretty) are the ultimate in quick-to-make,  slow-to-cook vegetable condiments.  By vegetable condiments (no, I haven’t lost my mind) I mean stuff like caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes—things that are so great to have in the fridge for tossing in salads, onto pizzas, into tacos—that sort of thing. Okay, so maybe roasted beet wedges are not quite as versatile as roasted tomatoes, but they do juicy-up a salad and give you a great excuse to warm up goat cheese or to toast pecans (just add arugula and lemon vinaigrette). Plus, maybe you’ve got excess CSA-beet syndrome like me. Remarkably, mine (wrapped in a damp cloth and stored in a zip-top bag) have kept for months in the veg drawer of my fridge.

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brusselslemonsFall produce isn't just about pumpkins and squash, which is what most people assume. Other vegetables, too, reach their prime in the fall. Right now you'll find a host of cabbages in season, including the entire family—cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, which are my personal favorite. These mini cabbages are so adorable—I just wish more people liked them.

When it comes down to it, you either know how to cook Brussels sprouts or you don't. Those that don't know how to cook them ruin it for everyone else. A pot of over-boiled sprouts never could make anyone like the vegetable (kids liken the smell to stinky feet). The correct cooking method is key to coaxing out the natural sweet flavor of sprouts. No other method can do that better than roasting.

The simplest way to prepare sprouts for roasting is to toss them with oil, salt, and pepper. Then just roast until tender, about 25 minutes. You can customize the basic recipe to suit your own tastes, e.g. add some herbs or vinegar or even lemon juice. For this recipe I utilize preserved lemons I made earlier in the year. Thin slices of the lemon rind along with some of the briny juice give this dish a noteworthy zip. You will love sprouts prepared this way.

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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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roastedtomatosoupEven though summer is considered the pinnacle of tomato season, in many parts of the country the last fall harvest before the first hard frost brings some of the tastiest and meatiest fruits to market.

And this is a recipe that gives those end of season tomatoes a last hurrah in a hearty dish perfectly suited to fall…Oven Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup.

Best of all, this version lightens up the calories and the clean up!

The original recipe from the Barefoot Contessa calls for 6 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter…which adds 920 calories and 104 grams of fat.

Instead, we’re using fat free half-and-half to add the creamy richness…which cuts the calories per serving by more than half and removes virtually all of the fat.

And while the original recipe requires roasting the tomatoes in the oven for 45 minutes, then transferring them to a pot and cooking them on the stove for another 45, you can now cook everything in the oven….which frees you up to do other things and saves you the trouble of washing another pan.

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appletarteThere are plenty of reasons to enjoy apples this season. For me it's because they make the best desserts. With apples so plentiful at farmers' markets and supermarkets this time of year, I love to make tarts. There's just something special about an apple tart particularly apple tarte Tatin, one of the most classic of the French tarts. It's a dessert that can be called both comforting and elegant. Supposedly, as the story goes, the Tatin sisters invented the dessert by accident while attempting to make an apple tart to serve their hotel guests. The dish became so popular that its fame spread throughout the Sologne region. It's now known throughout the world. It seems that the best things are almost always invented accidentally.

Traditionally tarte Tatin starts out by melting butter in a skillet and adding sugar to make a caramel. Then apple quarters are added and cooked until tender. A round of pastry dough tops the apples and the whole skillet is placed in the oven. In my adaptation, I use brown sugar for its fullness of flavor, and add a pinch of cinnamon and a dash of brandy for that extra bit of goodness. Instead of cooking the apples in the caramel, which either tends to overcook them or burn the caramel, I just place the apples in the pan, cover with pastry, and bake. Serve a slice warm with a dollop of crème fraîche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it's the perfect dessert after a cozy dinner or any time when the caving hits.

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