Meat Free Mondays – Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chowder

Of roux, Gravy Master and bread bowls.

You and I need to have a serious talk. About roux.

Roux is a thickening agent made out of any kind of fat and any kind of flour. The two are whisked together to make a thick paste and cooked until the flour taste is gone. When roux is added to a soup or sauce, the flour and fat granules abosrb the liquid, resulting in a thicker, denser product.

Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chowder

Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chowder in a Bread Bowl

You can make a slack roux and tight roux (ie soupy or stiff), blonde roux and brown roux (ie light or dark), depending on what you are making with it. The proper proportion of roux is 2 parts fat to 3 parts flour.

For today’s recipe, I made a tight, dark roux out of vegetable shortening and all-purpose flour. It cooked it until it was just short of burning because I wanted it very dark.

I wanted the chowder to have the caramel color and denisty of a good gumbo, even though it obviously is not a gumbo because it lacks any kind of meat protein, file (pronounced FEE-lay, a thickening agent made out of ground young sassafrass leaves), or okra. I got pretty close, but I still had to add a few drops of Gravy Master, a magical meat-free chef’s secret liquid used to darken soups and sauces.

Bread bowls are a great way to increase the “wow factor” for when you make soups and stews. They are surprisingly easy and inexpensive to make. I made a simple rye bread dough and formed it into small round loaves. After the bread was cooked and cooled, I hollowed out the loaves and brushed the interior with EVOO and returned them to a 350F oven for 15 minutes. The oil forms a kind of seal that keeps the soup from oozing out when you fill it.

For this recipe, I used the last of the Farmers Market corn, which I soaked in water for about 30 minutes then grilled in the husk for about 20 more minutes, then cut from the cob when it cooled. This gives the corn a nice smoky flavor. But you could use canned corn kernels.

Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chowder

30 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups cooked corn kernels

2 TBS EVOO

1/2 white onion

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

2 serrano peppers, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 TBS cumin

1 TBS chili powder

4 cups vegetable stock

2/3 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup all purpose flour

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 TBS fresh thyme (or 1 TBS dried)

Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

A few drops of gravy master (ssshh, that part’s a secret!)

1/4 cup cilantro leaves (for garnish)

Fat-free sour cream (for garnish)

Tortilla chips (for garnish)

To build the roux, heat the vegetable shortening (or butter) in a sauce pan just until melted. Whisk in the flour until it forms a tight paste, then continue whisking until it turns a dark, chocolatey brown. This will take about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.

In separate pot, heat vegetable stock. When boiling, quickly whisk in the roux and continue whisking until liquid tightens significantly, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put a soup pot on the fire. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, stir in onions, carrots, celery and all the peppers and cook until onions translucent, about 10 minutes. Add beans, corn, garlic, cumin and chili powder and stir together. Add thickened vegetable stock, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the lime juice and thyme and adjust color with Gravy Master, if necessary. Season with S&P to taste.

To serve, ladle into bread bowl, sprinkle with cilantro leaves, top with dollop of sour cream and a single tortilla chip.

What are some of your favorite meat free recipes? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

South Side Grocery Bargains, Week of Oct. 12-18, 2011

Before we get to this week’s best bargains, I wanted to point out this op-ed peice by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman.

Normally, the food writer is among the least politically outspoken people in any newsroom. But Bittman is not shy about expressing his support for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and his disgust with some of their critics. Whichever way you come down on this issue, it makes for some interesting reading.

On another note: For 40 years, I’ve been throwing away those junk mail Valuepak coupon envelopes. But the sorry state of our economy has forced me to reconsider every aspect of our spending. And guess what: There’s actually some really good deals in there, and it’s very localized as well.

Unlike the coupons in the Sunday papers, which seem to be targeted at a national audience, the Valuepak envelopes contain discounts from businesses in my neighborhood. It’s a pretty good deal. Check it out!

Another item: Has anybody else noticed how food prices, especially meat pricing, are creeping higher and higher? I’ve found that even the toughest, throw-away cuts of beef are priced at $2.49/lb and above. Scary.

Anyway, enough with my rant. Let’s start saving some money!

In the meat section, Cermak Produce has chicken leg quarters for $.59/lb. Fresh Pick Market has bone-in chicken breast for $.69/lb and whole chickens for $.79/lb. Freshline Foods has beef shanks for $1.99/lb, contrary to my ranting above.

In produce, Fresh Pick Market has green cabbage for only $.19/lb, bananas for $.29/lb, cauliflower for $.59/lb, and Romaine lettuce for only $.69/head. At Freshline Foods, broccoli crowns are only $.69/lb. Cermak Produce has celery for only $.39/lb and Hass avocados for $.33/ea.

Ultra Foods has iceberg lettuce for $.50/ea, limit 2.

Over at Pete’s Fresh Market, Bartlett pears, bosc pears, lemons or red delicious apples all for $.14/each. Also at Pete’s avocados are only $.58/each and pie pumpkins (the medium sized ones for cooking, not the larger ones for carving) are $.98/each. Meanwhile, at Tony’s Finer Foods, limes are only $.05/ea, and the carving pumpkins are $1.99/ea.

In the grocery aisle, Food 4 Less has Campbell’s chicken noodle or tomato soup for only $.60/can. At both Cermak and Freshline, 8 oz cans of tomato sauce are only $.33/ea. Cermak also has 15 oz cans of diced or stewed tomatoes for $.79/ea.

Tony’s has 20 lb bags of Riceland rice for $6.88, or $.34/lb. Cermak has El Gallito dry pastas for $.33/lb. And F4L has 4 lb bags of sugar for $2.25.

In the dairy department, F4L has Kroger yogurt for $.40/each.

Bachelors take note: In frozen foods, Tony’s has Jack’s 12″ pizzas for only $2/ea.

Finally, for this week’s Bargain of the Week we go to an unexpected place — Menard’s, which has a 24-pack of Microwave Popcorn for $3.99, or less than $.17/bag.

Join the growing community of bargain hunters. When in your travels you notice a great deal, share it in the comments section below. And make sure to subscribe to my blog so you can get the best prices at area grocery stores every week. It’s free and easy; just click on the button at the top.

Thanks for looking at my blog!

Homemade Egg McMuffins

Okay, here’s the deal with me and McDonald’s: I don’t eat it.

It’s not because I don’t like their food. I do. A lot. I love it, in fact.

But how could anyone who has watched “Super Size Me” ever step foot in a McDonald’s again? That movie pretty much put me off most fast food forever.

The problem is that I grew up eating McDonald’s and I still occasionally crave it. This morning, I was driving around trying to find a Farmer’s Market (closed for season, sadly), when I had a strong desire for an Egg McMuffin and hash browns. Even though I drove past at least three McDonald’s restaurants, I was strong-willed.

And when I got home, I had to make homemade Egg McMuffins and hash browns. Turns out they are fun to make and pretty good, too.

So here’s what I did:

First, I preheated the oven to 375F. Then I sprayed two ramekins with pan spray and cracked an egg in each.

Don't they look like googley eyes?

Don't they look like googley eyes?

Then I heated a small cast iron pan. While that was warming up, I grated a baked potato that was left over from the other night.

Before

Before

After

After

A little oil in the pan, add the grated potato with a generous amount of salt and cracked black pepper. You want it to taste authentic, right?

Mm hmm, that's right

Mm hmm, that's right

Then I used a rocks glass to cut cotto salami into circles the width of an English Muffin. If you want authenticity, use Canadian bacon, but I didn’t have any.

Then I did the same thing with two slices of fat-free American cheese. The McDonald’s version are not fat-free. Actually, it may not even be actual cheese. I also toasted two whole wheat English Muffins. Again, not the McDonald’s spec.

Cotto Salami, Whole Wheat English Muffins, and Fat Free American Cheese

Cotto Salami, Whole Wheat English Muffins, and Fat Free American Cheese

Once the oven was at temp, I put the eggs in the oven for 12 minutes. They came out perfect.

Baked Eggs Turned Out Great

Baked Eggs Turned Out Great

Then all I had to do was assemble it and pop it under the broiler for a minute to melt the cheese.

I garnished it with a little apple (Chef’s hint: Always garnish breakfast plates with fresh fruit. It’s cheap, easy, and people expect it). And there it is: Homemade Egg McMuffins! How fun was that? And delicious, too!

Homemade Egg McMuffin

Homemade Egg McMuffin

Have you ever tried to recreate your favorite fast food dish at home? How did it turn out? Tell your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Red Beans and Rice

I am a New Orleanian trapped in a Chicagoan’s body.

I just realized this as I sit here streaming traditional New Orleans jazz on WWOZ-FM while a pot of Red Beans and Rice slow cooks in the kitchen, filling the house with the spicy, smoky aroma of a lazy Monday afternoon in the Crescent City.

Red Beans and Rice

Red Beans and Rice

You see, red beans and rice is traditionally made on Mondays using the leftovers from Sunday’s dinners. I have an old Times-Picayune cookbook that says this tradition that goes back to the city’s colonial days, when ham was what was for dinner on Sunday, and the scraps and leftovers were boiled with a pot of beans all day Monday, while the washing was done.

It is a dish still closely identified with New Orleans. When you visit the city, you will see it on a lot of restaurant menus, and a big pot of it is cooked whenever people gather together to watch a Saints game, for Mardi Gras or second line celebrations, or any other festive occasion, from what I’m told.

Red beans and rice was Louis Armstrong’s favorite dish. How cool is that? Also, how cool is it that the city’s airport is named for Louis Armstrong?!  What a place! (Can you imagine naming O’Hare after Chicago musicians? Buddy Guy International Airport? Styx Field? Wait, I actually kind of like both of those.)

You can put a lot of things in red beans and rice, besides the titular ingredients. Traditionally, there’s a mix of vegetables and ham or sausage in a tomato-based sauce, but there are really no limits. If you serve it with jalapeno cornbread, please call me because I will be there.

I like to mix all the ingredients the night before in the crock pot, then refrigerate it until the next morning. Before going to work, I pop it into the slow-cooker, set the timer for 8 hours on low and when I get home the house is filled with magic. Must drive the dogs nuts.

If you’re home, you can also cook it on the stovetop over a low flame for several hours. Just give it a stir once in a while when you walk past it.

If you buy one of those boxes of Zatarain’s red beans and rice, your heart is in the right place, but you’re not doing it right.

Red Beans and Rice

16 oz package Polska Kielbasa (or Turkey Kielbasa), sliced into medallions

1 medium white onion, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

3-4 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2-3 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, diced

15 oz can whole peeled tomtoes, hand crushed

12 oz can diced tomatos and chiles

2 cans red beans, drained and rinsed

1 bay leaf

1 cup Spicy V-8

2 cups cooked rice

Combine all ingredients, except the rice, in crock pot. Stir together and cook on low for 8-10 hours, stirring occasionally.

To plate, press rice into a ramekin and invert in the center of a soup bowl. Ladle the red beans mixture around the rice, and garnish with parsley or cilantro sprigs.

Serve with jalapeno cornbread or any kind of fresh made bread, turn on a little Professor Longhair and you officially are an honorary New Orleanian.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Share your Crescent City favorites in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

The Whole Enchilada

Did you every make something just so you could make something else with the leftovers? I do that all the time so we can have one of our favorites — enchiladas.

Enchiladas are kind of like open-ended burritos that are baked. They always include a traditional sauce made out of a variety of roasted peppers pureed together, and they usually include some sort of cheese.

Chicken, Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas

Chicken, Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas

Whatever else they are filled with is up to you.

I have collected recipes for enchilada sauce, but it’s one of those things that is just easier to buy. It’s not really very expensive and you can get it in a 14 oz can, which is just the right amount. Its very flavorful but not all that spicy.

We like to stuff our enchiladas with leftover chicken, pork or just beans and corn if that’s all we have. I almost always make a little rice to bind it together, but I’ve also made it without rice.

I have a wonderful rice steamer, which is soooo easy to use — you just pour in the rice and liquid, turn it on and forget about it! But I have been making brown rice lately because it’s healthier and I’m trying to weed out our overflowing pantry. Brown rice needs to be made on the stovetop because it takes a lot longer to cook.

I haven’t used instant rice ever since I learned that nearly all the nutritional value is leached out when they pre-cook it then dehydrate it. Yuck.

Whenever I cook a chicken, beef or some sort of pork, I almost always plan on making enchiladas with the leftovers a day or two later. I can justify spending money on the meat if I know I’m going to get at least two meals and probably a lunch out of it.

If you only have a little bit of leftover protein, you can stretch it out with extra rice or beans.

Enchiladas are also another excuse for us to have our favorite homemade guacamole. I also serve it with (fat free) sour cream and our special salsa blend, which is made with two parts regular salsa (any kind) and one part chipotle sauce, which has a wonderful smoky flavor but is much too spicy to eat on its own.

We probably have enchiladas at least twice per month. It’s a night we look forward to because it’s super delicious and easy to make. It can even be made a day ahead of time if you know you are going to be busy, or you can even freeze it for another time.

Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas

8-12 oz leftover chicken, white or dark meat, diced

15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

14 oz can enchilada sauce

1 cup cooked rice

1 cup cooked corn, canned or fresh

1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar and Monterey Jack mix preferred)

5 whole wheat tortillas

Assembling the Enchiladas

Assembling the Enchiladas

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 9″x9″ baking pan with pan spray.

Combine chicken, beans, rice, 3/4 of cheese and 3/4 can of the enchilada sauce in mixing bowl and stir together. Lay out tortilla on cutting board, fill one side with 1/5 of the mixture, roll up tightly and place sealed side down in baking dish. Repeat with remaining four tortillas. Drizzle remaining enchilada sauce over the top, then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover with foil and cook for 35 minutes. Remove foil and cook another 5-10 minutes to crisp up the top.

Serve with guacamole, sour cream, salsa and tortilla chips. Also goes great with beer.

The Mystery of Foccacia Bread

One of the things that inspired me most to become a chef was bread.

Bread is alive. It eats, it breathes, it grows, it changes shapes. I was drawn to the mystery of how all those things happened.

Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Even after studying the scientific facts of bread, and memorizing lists of what each ingredient adds to the equation, and reporting on bread faults and what causes them, I’m still filled with a sense of wonder about the whole process.

I understand how it works. I just like to think about why it works because it’s beautiful and magical.

Baking bread is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve written before about how I wish more people would bake their own bread, and how easy and rewarding it is. The aroma of baking bread fills your house with goodness.

So when I came across a recipe for focaccia bread — an oil-rich Italian flatbread that is a relative to pizza — on the wonderful Hungry in Milwaukee blog, I knew I had to try it.

Foccacia dough is stickier than other bread doughs

Foccacia dough is stickier than other bread doughs

Focaccia dough is stickier than most bread doughs I usually work with. It reminded me of coffee cake dough with its tacky texture.

The inclusion of a sponge starter — a little bit of yeast, water and flour made the night before that helps foccacia to get a running start on fermentation — means it will have holes of various sizes, rather than than uniformity, when you cut it open. I like that.

But the real attraction for me is that you can pack foccacia with cheese, olives, onions, tomatoes, you name it, and it is strong enough to not only hold everything together, but stand up to the flavors and not let them overpower the bread.

A side note: Normally I can find sun dried tomatoes at one of the local grocery stores, but for whatever reason there weren’t any this week, so I made my own oven-dried tomatoes. Just cut some plum tomatoes in half, use your finger to pull out the seeds, salt them, let them drain face down for about an hour, then flip them over and roast them in a slow (200-225F) oven for several hours. The result is a tomato with a highly concentrated flavor, perfect for this recipe.

Sun Dried Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Foccacia sponge

1/16 tsp active dry yeast

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup plus 3 TBS all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and water and let rest 5 minutes. Then add bread flour and stir. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 12-24 hours. Sponge will become thick and bubbly.

Foccacia

1-1/4 cup plus 2 TBS water

1/2 cup EVOO

Focaccia sponge

1-3/4 tsp active dry yeast

2 TBS plus 3/4 tsp corn meal

3-1/3 cup all purpose flour, more if needed

1 TBS sea salt, plus more for sprinkling over loafs

4 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2″ cubes

4-5 sun dried or oven dried tomatoes, slightly rehydrated, rough chop

1 tsp dried thyme

1. Combine water, 1 TBS EVOO and sponge in bowl of Kitchen Aid mixer (or mix in bowl with wooden spoon if you don’t have one). Combine yeast, corn meal and flour in another bowl. Using dough hook, mix on low and slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture.

2. Add the salt and increase speed to medium. Mix until dough starts to pull away from the walls, about 6-8 minutes. Add additional flour if dough is too damp.

3. Pour TBS of EVOO into a clean mixing bowl, then use a napkin to spread the oil throughout the bowl. Turn the dough out into the bowl, then cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it sit undisturbed in draft-free, warm place until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

4. Gently dust a counter with flour, then turn dough out onto counter. Acting as if the round has four sides, fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Sprinkle a little more flour on top, flip the dough, then return it to another clean, greased mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let double in size again, about an hour.

5. Measure out 1/4 cup EVOO, then pour evenly into two 9″ cake pans and swirl around so that the bottoms and walls are completely covered. Dust the counter again, turn out the dough again, then use a knife to cut into two equal halves. Place the halves in the cake pans then cover with a clean dishtowel and let rest about 5 minutes.

6. Use your fingers to poke holes in the dough and fill each hole with a cheese cube or sun dried tomato. Cover the pans with the dishtowel and let rest about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.

7. Just before putting the dough into the oven, brush with EVOO and sprinkle liberally with thyme and salt. Bake on center rack for 30 minutes, then move to lower rack for the final 5 minutes to form a crisp bottom crust. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

You can play around with different cheeses and herbs — cheddar and rosemary are a good combination — as well as vegetables, such as carmelized onions or olives. Foccacia is great on its own, or it goes well with pasta. I served mine with a gemelli in red sauce with grilled Italian sausage.

What bread recipes do you love to cook? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

Meat Free Monday – Quick Quesadillas

Quesadillas, or Mexican grilled cheese sandwiches, are a quick and easy choice for when you don’t have a lot of time to make dinner.

At our house, we almost always have a jar of salsa and some fat-free sour cream sitting in our fridge. And I’ve already written about our passion for guacamole.

Mango, Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas

Mango, Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas

With these three garnishes ready to go, nothing could be simpler than filling a few tortillas with some shredded cheese and whatever your have lying around — leftover chicken, or a couple of shrimp, or just cheese alone.

I love to fill them with fruit, especially mangoes, which happen to be really cheap this time of year.

A mango has a disc-shaped seed running through the center of it lengthwise. To remove it, simply use a paring knife to cut along either side of it. Then take the halves and make cross-hatch cuts, then invert it. From there it’s easy to cut off the diced mango peices.

Add a bowl of tortilla chips and you’ve got yourself a fun and inexpensive Mexican appetizer or dinner!

Quesadillas have been on a lot of menus at restaurants where I’ve worked because people love them and they are very inexpensive and efficient to make.

At home, quesadillas are something we probably have about two or three times per month, so we usually have a package of whole wheat tortillas and some sort of cheese, almost any kind will do, really.

In the past, we’ve used the pre-shredded Mexican cheese from the grocery store because it’s so convenient, but I began shredding my own after I learned those pre- shredded cheeses are sometimes sprayed with chemicals to prevent them from getting dusty. Also, they are more expensive.

Instead, I’ve been picking up a nice piece of Chihuahua cheese from the Hispanic grocery store, or something called “quesadilla cheese,” which is a soft, shreddable cheese that is less expensive, but not as flavorful.

Or I will use cheddar, monterey jack, gouda, mozzarella or combination of whatever cheese I have that I can shred. Whatever will melt nicely will work just fine. Stay away from blue cheese or paremesan, though. Their flavor will overpower the dish.

I usually spray my quesadillas with pay spray and just bake them in the oven, for convenience sake, but in restaurants I will cook them on the flat top griddle because it is faster and they get a nice, brown crispy crust.

If I’m just cooking for myself, I will use my cast iron skillet.

Serve them with little bowls of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, shredded lettuce and some tortilla chips and you’ve got yourself a party!

Mango, Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas

6 whole wheat tortillas

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can cut corn, drained and rinsed (or even better, cut kernels from one leftover grilled corn on the cob)

1 mango, diced

2 cups shredded Chihuahua cheese

1 TBS cumin

1/2 TBS chili powder

Pan spray

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray sheet pan with pan spray and lay out three tortillas. Distribute half the cheese evenly among the three, then the beans, mangoes, corn, then the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with the cumin and chili powder, then cover with the remaining tortillas and spray generously with pan spray. Bake about 20 minutes or until tortillas are crisp. Remove from oven and cut into four slices each. Serve with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, shredded lettuce and tortilla chips.

If you have any cilantro, it’s also nice to use.

Do you have any fast and easy favorites? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

Apple Butter On My Mind

I wish my family had a tradition of jarring our own apple butter every autumn, but we don’t.

I only learned about this sweet, healthy spread a few years ago when I was dieting and looking for an alternative to butter or margarine. But I love the romantic idea of making an annual pilgrimage to the apple orchard, picking a bushel of delicious apples, then taking them home to make apple butter.

Oh, well. I suppose we could start a new tradition, because making apple butter is super easy and inexpensive. It also is very healthy because it is 100 percent natural.

People have been making apple butter since at least the Revolutionary War era. I like to imagine people in tri-cornered hats plucking apples from the tree, then carrying the bushels home to cook them down, mash them, then store them in jars for the long winter ahead.

It’s called apple butter because you spread it like butter, not because it contains any butter or actual dairy products. It is a lot like applesauce, except it’s cooked longer so it is darker, denser and sweeter.

Apple butter is healthier for you than real butter because it contains no fat and no added sugar. All the sweetness comes naturally from the fruit.

Obvioiusly, you can make apple butter any time, but it usually is made this time of year because of the apple harvest. It will keep for months in your refrigerator. It also makes a lovely, handmade gift for you to share with your family, friends and neighbors.

I found these cute little jars at the dollar store. They are just the right size.

It is very inexpensive to make, especially if you buy apples when they are on sale, which they always are this time of year. It’s also a good way to use up apples you pick yourself at the orchard.

You can use any kind of apples you like. I used a combination of a sack of inexpensive red apples I picked up at the grocery store and some green Granny Smiths I had lying around. If you want to take the time to peel the apples, that’s fine. But they are going to get cooked all the way down, then pureed anyway, so it’s not essential.

This time of year brings a lot of changes, from the color of the leaves to cooling temperatures. It sets the stage for all the rituals and traditions of the holiday season, and the long winter that follows. I think I’ll make apple butter one of those annual rites that can make these changes something to look forward to all year round.

Apple Butter

4-5 lbs apples, cored and sliced

1 cup apple juice or cider

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to boil, then reduce to lowest heat possible. Cook until apples turn to mush and are dark brown, about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Cool. Puree using an immersion blender, or mix small batchers in the food processor or blender.

What autumn food rituals does your family enjoy every year? Share them in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

End of the Farmer’s Market Season

Farmer’s Markets are winding down. Today was the final day until next Spring for the one I visited this morning.

This makes me sad because there are great bargains to be found at the Farmer’s Market. Today I spent $3.50 and bought a beautiful baking pumpkin, about 3/4 pound of lovely turnips, a bag of shelling beans, and three ears of end-of-the-season sweet corn.

End of the Farmer's Market Season

End of the Farmer's Market Season

But even when I don’t buy anything, I just love to stroll through the Farmer’s Markets. Where I live, there’s at least one every day of the week from spring until autumn.

All farmer’s markets are different, yet they are all the same. There’s the hectic bustle in the big produce tents contrasted by the serenity of the flower salesman, his wares splayed colorfully on the ashpalt. The plain Mennonite women in their bonnets selling homemade breads and sweets, next to entrepreneurs hawking jewelry, gym memberships or timeshares.

I often see the same two older gentlemen sitting at a folding table selling jars of suspect honey, chatting with passersby. I’ve never actually seen them make a sale, although they must sell something to afford the space rental.

In summer, children run in bursts between the aisles and down the midway, excited by the colors, smells and sounds. By autumn, the kids are safely back in school and their parents return alone or in pairs to pick efficiently through the produce, taking a brief respite from their busy days.

Day after day, month after month, year after year.

Here’s a recipe for one-pot pork roast I made with some of the produce I bought today. It’s an quick and easy dish to prepare on a quiet autumn afternoon. The quantities are purposely vague so that you can use whatever you have or don’t have on hand.

One-Pot Pork Roast

One-Pot Pork Roast

See you next year, Farmer’s Market! Sigh.

One-Pot Pork Roast

3-4 lb pork roast

1/2 TBS sea salt

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

1/2 TBS onion powder

1/2 TBS granulated garlic

1/2 TBS dried thyme

2 TBS EVOO

1-2 white onions, rough chop

3-4 carrots, peeled and rough chop

3-4 white turnips, peeled and rough chop

4-5 red potatoes, quartered

2 cloves garlic, smashed but not crushed

1 cup beef stock (or chicken stock)

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh rosemary

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

Put cast iron pan over heat. Meanwhile, season pork roast liberally with salt, pepper, onion powder, granulated garlic and dried thyme. When hot, pour TBS EVOO into skillet. When smoking, sear pork roast on all sides until dark brown.

Put large pot over heat. When hot, add TBS EVOO. When smoking, add onion, carrot and turnip. Cook until slightly brown, about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add stock and bring up to boil. Add potatoes, garlic cloves and bay leaf. Place pork roast directly on top of vegetables, throw rosemary and thyme sprigs on top, cover and place in 350F oven for 35 minutes.

Remove from oven, remove roast to cutting board and and let rest, uncovered, 5 minutes.

To plate, spoon vegetables in heap in center of pasta bowl. Slice pork into medium slices and place on top. Spoon a little of the liquid over the top of the pork. Garnish with parsley or fresh herb sprigs.

Head-to-Toe Pumpkin Soup

It’s autumn and pumpkins are everywhere — grocery stores, garden centers, Farmer’s Markets, pumpkin farms.

So what does one do with all these pumpkins? In my case, make a horrible mess. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

First things first: pumpkins are edible. In fact, they are delicious. Basically, you cook them like most other edible squash, such as acorn, butternut, spaghetti. But our culture fetishizes carving them into scary jack-o-lanterns, so many people think edible pumpkin only comes in a can.

Large pumpkins are for decoration. They are purposely overgrown and the flesh is too pulpy. Cooking pumpkins are the medium sized ones, about the size of a large softball. The smaller ones make cute serving vessels.

A while ago, I picked up a cooking pumpkin and a couple of smaller ones to make pumpkin soup, but I didn’t get to it until yesterday. Pumpkin soup is easy, but there are multiple steps. And it can be dangerous, as we’ll see.

A few days ago, I cut the cooking pumpkin in half, removed the guts and seeds, sprayed both sides with cooking spray and roasted it in a 375F oven for about 35 minutes until it was soft. When it cooled, I scooped out the meat, threw away the skin and refrigerated the roast pumpkin.

Yesterday, I pulled out all my ingredients and went about making the soup. All was well until it came time to blend it. In a commercial kitchen, I would use an immersion blender, which is a giant version of one of those blending sticks that used to be popular for making smoothies and such.

Sadly, I don’t own one of these, so I used my blender. I filled it about 3/4 full with hot, chunky pumpkin soup, held down the lid with a dishtowel and flipped it on.

The soup exploded out of the blender and went all over everything — me, the windows, the curtains, the ceiling, the ceiling fan, one of the dogs, everything. It seems when the blades kicked on a burst of steam blew the lid off the blender despite my holding it down. Fortunately, nothing was injured except my pride.

The next batch, I only filled the blender 1/3 full, pulsed the toggle switch, rather than throwing it full throttle, and held the lid down tight. No more trouble.

So while pumpkin soup is not difficult, be careful when blending it. If possible, use an immersion blender. If not, let the soup cool before blending it in small batches. You can always reheat it later.

I’m going to go towel off now. Here’s the recipe:

Pumpkin Soup

2 TBS whole butter

1 medium onion, diced

3 carrots, peeled and medium chop

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 gypsy peppers (only because I had them, not critical)

1-1/2 qt chicken stock

4 cups mashed pumpkin

1/2 cup apple juice

1 green apple, peeled, cored and chopped

2 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 TBS dried thyme

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground allspice

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup sour cream (for garnish)

1. Cut pumpkin in half, scoop out guts and seeds, pan spray then place flat side down on cooking sheet and roast in 375F oven until soft, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool, scoop out meat and refrigerate until needed (can be done days ahead of time).

2. In large pot, melt butter over medium flame. Add onions, carrots, celery and peppers and cook until translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute, then add pumpkin, chicken stock, apple juice, apple, ginger, thyme, cinnamon and allspice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes.

3. Blend with an immersion blender, or allow to cool and carefully blend in blender in small batches (1/3 full). Reheat if necessary.

4. For garnish, whisk together 1/2 cup of sour cream with 1 TBS cold water. Pour into squeeze bottle and zig zag over soup. Add thyme or parsley sprig for a color.

A note on pumpkin seeds: When you clean your pumpkin, rinse the seeds in a colander under cold water. Remove everything except the seeds. Spread out on a sheet pan, pat with paper towel, then dry overnight uncovered.

The next day, cover sheet pan in foil (pumpkin seeds pop like popcorn) and cook in 350F oven for about 25 minutes. Allow to cool. Eat while pitching a baseball game.

Do you have any cool pumpkin recipes? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!