Nine Reasons to Say Yes to Fall

It was late in the day on the left coast when I realized Miz Summer had officially handed the baton to Autumn, who made her appearance at 10:44 a.m. ET yesterday.

apples"
(Kim O'Donnel)

As many of you already know, I’m a woman of the sun who’d rather cool off under a tree than thaw my toes by the fire.

I must admit, however, that as I get older, I warm up to autumn a little bit more with each passing equinox. After all, it is an exciting time of year to cook; like falling leaves, fall produce is a showcase of reds, yellows, oranges and funky shades of green, like you might find in an oil painting. For many of us, fall is a return to the indoor kitchen with the windows creaked shut and the oven going full blast, filling the house with olfactory fairy dust. It is a time to slow down as the sun sets earlier and the air crisps up like an apple as you crunch your way across a pile of leaves that need attention.

Fall is romantic. There, I said it. The light at this time can inspire poetry – and three-course feasts. There’s still time to play, says Mother Nature, and the edible choices are many and great.

So, yeah, I guess I’m getting soft. The old girl likes fall. Below, nine reasons why it whets her appetite. (I'm sure I'll come up with one more to make it an even 10.)

Apples. A Casa Appetite favorite from now until spring, the apple makes its way into our lunch boxes, on the cheese plate, into pie with rosemary and pinenuts and of course, into applesauce, quite possibly Mister MA’s all-time favorite. Here’s my ode to the apple, with lots of apple-y recipe links

Pears. For me, the pear is autumn’s peach. Unripe, it’s a taste mouthful of skin and no sugar, but at its peak, the flesh morphs into nectar and the space around you is perfumed. I love them poached in red wine, sugar, vanilla bean, star anise and a cinnamon stick (a great low-fat dessert, by the way). They’re also great companions for stinky and/or blue cheese. I’m partial to a salad of arugula with pears, walnuts, a smidge of gorgonzola and a squeeze of half a lemon. Oh, and don’t forget my dark ‘n’ stormy pear crisp, a KOD original.

Sweet potatoes
. Now here’s something I didn’t learn to love until I was an adult. When I’m on my own for supper, I love nothing more than roasting a sweet potato and seasoning it with garlic and chiles. With a glass of red wine, sometimes that's all I need to make my way into the evening.

Winter squash. Their armor-like skin makes cutting into a winter squash a real workout, particularly if that knife gets stuck in the middle. Nonetheless, winter squash is a versatile gem and loves being roasted, pureed, braised and steamed. While you’ve got your hand in a web of squash seeds and string, remember all that beta-carotene you’re about to have for supper.

Cranberries
. Fall would be incomplete without North America’s native berry, and I love to get my hands on them as soon as they show up at the supermarket, well before Thanksgiving. In fact, because they seem to disappear right after the last turkey has been sold, I like to keep a bag of cranberries in the freezer for when the urge strikes. For sauce: The juice of a few oranges and their grated zest, good quality maple syrup and the berries. Bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until desired texture.

Parsnips. The gentler kinder cousin of the often bitter turnip, the parsnip looks like a skinny white carrot in need of a hot meal. They roast beautifully, sweetening up just after a wee bit of time in the oven, but I also love to smash them with a few boiled spuds for a tasty twist on the classic mash.

Brassicas. You know -- cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli -- all those food-as-medicine cruciferous powerhouses. For the cook, they’re an autumn dream come true, as they all love to be roasted and aren’t fussy about seasoning. If you’ve never roasted florets of brocc or cauli, there’s no time to waste. You won’t believe how you’ll want to eat the whole thing. Seriously.

Soup. My green four-quart Le Creuset just sent me an e-mail, asking me about our date this weekend. If I had known how easy it is to make your own soup in my 20s, I would have stopped chomping on all those chips (well, maybe). Soup is better than good food; it might be the best.

Roast, Braise and Simmer. That’s the dance I do all autumn long. Now’s the time I roast a chicken, simmer a pot of red lentils or braise a pot of lamb shanks until they’re coaxed off the bone. Now’s the time I close my eyes and inhale every drop of oven perfume.

Today is chat day; stop by and see me at Noon ET for this week's What's Cooking.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 23, 2008; 7:50 AM ET Fall Produce
Previous: Meatless Monday: Zucchini “Meatballs” With Red Sauce | Next: Getting Hip to COOL

Comments

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Hi Kim - Back from the fair, did great, house is almost finished, and I have A STOVE!! (At last, after eight months!!)

Although technically they could come under your heading of "winter squash", I would single out the pumpkin for number ten.

I got home from the fair to find organic, locally grown, sugar pumpkins in our little grocery store. Bought two, hope to get the kitchen up and running in the next few days - I still have to move my pots and pans from the old place.

I do my pumpkins in the steamer, quartered or eighthed and seeded. Then, when they are cool, I scrape the meat out into a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and let the excess water drain out. It helps to stir the mash with a spoon a few times. Once it's drained, if I'm not using it right away, I store it in the freezer in 1 1/2 cup portions (the same measurement as a can - ugh).

Fresh pumpkin is HEAVEN!! Linda

PS: My new stove has a bread-proof setting. There will be homemade pizza in the near future. Any fab bread recipes would be appreciated. L

Posted by: lsgc | September 23, 2008 12:36 PM

Pomegranates will come soon.
It's just more fun to cook in the fall. Nothing beats having college football on TV and making up a soup or stew and baking a pie or some bread.

Posted by: Rocky Mountain High | September 23, 2008 2:29 PM

Thanks, Kim, I was feeling pretty drab about the passing of Summer, now I'm inspired again.

Another suggestion for the list--chestnuts! And they pair beautifully with brussels sprouts.

Posted by: TCorner | September 23, 2008 3:05 PM

Do you still contribute to Simply Stated?

Posted by: Nat | September 23, 2008 3:42 PM

and don't forget persimmon (either the native Americans or the Asians), quince, sweet carrots (so much sweeter after some cool weather), celeriac, pawpaws (although that's about over!), and turnips, spinach - and fresh peas again... soon!

This was my first year of growing sweet potatoes. This is going to be so much fun in the kitchen!

I love what each new season brings...

Sylvie
www.LaughingDuckGardens.com/ldblog.php

Posted by: Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener | September 23, 2008 3:48 PM

Do you have a recipe for the delicious sounding apple pie with rosemary and pine nuts?

Posted by: Sarah | September 23, 2008 4:23 PM

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 23, 2008 4:47 PM

Kim, I missed the chat earlier today, but have an answer for a question that is definitely fall-related. A chatter asked about backstraps from game. Backstraps are a common word for the loin. The size of the meat all depends on the animal it came from - antelope is smaller, elk is larger, etc - but prepare as you would any tenderloin adjusting for size. My favorite is grilling a whole loin, and antelope should be on the future tasting menu of anyone who prefers to eat meat.

Posted by: South Dakota | September 23, 2008 6:16 PM

I missed the chat, but would recommend making Pear Preserves (and canning) to the lucky soul with 15 lbs. of pears.

Posted by: Pear Question from Chat | September 23, 2008 7:29 PM

Kim,

I want to share one of my favorite soups of all time. My mother-in-law found this recipe in a Southwest Airline magazine and it is now a family favorite every year at Thanksgiving.

Sweet Potato and Chipotle Chile Soup


Ingredients:

1 oz. butter
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken stock
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ cup honey
½ cup cream
1 tablespoon pureed chipotle chiles
Salt and pepper to taste


Directions:

In large saucepan, melt butter and add onions and garlic. Saute for approximately 5 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for approximately 45 minutes, or until potatoes are soft throughout. Remove from heat and add honey, cream and chipotle chiles. Puree in blender in small batches and pour into large bowl as blended. Return pureed soup to saucepan and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. (Add additional chipotle chile puree, if desired. Watch out – it is HOT!)

Posted by: kdbowie | September 23, 2008 9:19 PM

Dried cranberries, they seem to be available all year round now. I put them in a lot of stuff, salads, rice mixtures.

Posted by: trudy | September 25, 2008 4:42 PM

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