Fall

creamybeetsoupBeets are like paint bombs. Deliciously sweet, red, flavored paint bombs, so intensely colored they stain your fingers, bleed into the sink, tint the cutting board, you name it. When cooked, they aren't so much red as deep magenta. When mixed with sour cream they turn paler shades of magenta to pink. The color, like the flavor is either something you love or you hate.

Beets get a bad rap from the low carb police, but they are actually quite healthy, filled with antioxidants, low in calories, they have significant amounts of fiber, folate, manganese and potassium. I know some people find beets too "earthy" tasting, but both Lee and I love 'em. Especially in beet soup.

There are an unbelievable number of recipes for beet soup. It's commonly served all over Eastern Europe. There are versions that are cold, hot, vegetarian, with meat, chunky, smooth, with tons of vegetables, with no other vegetables.

Lately I've been experimenting with "less is more". I've tried stripping down various recipes to the barest of basics to see if I could coax the ingredients to shine through. This is one of those recipes. In my experiment to get to the essence of the beet, I developed a recipe that has little more than beets in it at all. A pinch or two of sugar perks up the flavor and the broth and sour cream add body and richness.

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Image The slight chill in the air, longer nights, and gray skies are all telltale signs that fall is finally here. As soon as the season turns, I put on my sweater and slippers, and gather my recipes for comfort food. Dishes that warm me up and make me feel right at home are on the menu now. One of my favorites around this time of year is a bowl of fluffy meatballs. Seared first and simmered in sauce, then served atop spaghetti, it's the classic Italian-American comfort dish. But there's always room for a twist on tradition.

This is my modern—but no less comforting—take on spaghetti and meatballs. My recipe removes almost all the carbohydrates by replacing the pasta with spaghetti squash. Simply roasting the winter squash results in tender flesh that can easily be removed with the help of a fork to form thin pasta-like strands. The slightly sweet flavor and tender bite of the squash "pasta" makes it a wonderful base for this chicken meatballs recipe. Plus you can have dinner ready in 45 minutes, the time it takes to roast the squash, make the meatballs, and the quick marinara sauce.

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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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ImageSalads don't always have to contain green lettuces, like basic iceberg or bibb, other colors, textures, and flavors can make an interesting combination. I love bitter lettuces, such as purple radicchio and white endive. Add pungent cheese, sweet and juicy pears, and crunchy walnuts to the mix, dress it in a Dijon-maple vinaigrette, and it becomes a festive fall salad that can be enjoyed as an elegant appetizer. Roasting the pears with a drizzle of maple syrup creates another level of flavor and intensifies their sweetness. I use Seckel pears, which are a small and quite firm variety of pear. They work extremely well when cooked and don't lose their texture at all, making them ideal in this salad.

Texture is what this salad is all about: the interplay of crunchy, crinkly, smooth, creamy, and crispy. Radicchio, with its deep purple and white leaves, adds color and crinkly texture to the salad. Endive is firm and crunchy in its texture. Both lettuces have a slight bitterness that contrasts well with the sweetness of the pears and of the maple vinaigrette. Further play on texture comes from the creamy Roquefort bleu cheese and crunchy toasted walnuts. Those unfamiliar with such a unique flavor combination might think this salad would be too strong, but it's truly complementary.

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Image What cooking method can be more primal than roasting? When humans discovered fire, it was by roasting over an open pit. Today we simulate this method of indirect cooking in the oven, achieving the best taste by concentrating flavors, retaining interior moisture, and creating a beautiful brown exterior. In gastronomy-speak, this caramelization is known as the Maillard reaction, which is the basic chemical reaction all food undergoes when cooked. But the cavepeople didn't care how sugars reacted with amino acids, all they knew was that fire made things taste good.

I often roast almost anything during the autumn months. Once October comes, roasting is my favorite activity. Meats are of course among the favorite items to roast. Just think of a luscious roast chicken or roast beef. But many seem to forget that pork and vegetables also make wonderful roasts.

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