Fall Notes and Quotes

September 24, 2011 at 1:44 am Leave a comment

“Autumn is a season followed immediately by…looking forward to spring.”

Doug Larson 

That pretty much captures my beloved stepmother’s view of the season at hand, portent that it is of “winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind” (Roy Bean); “winter, when every mile is two” (George Herbert).  I’m  fascinated by how strongly – and diversely – we respond to the inevitable pressing on of days that delivers us from one quarterly astronomical period to the next. 

I have two cherished long-time friends, one who detests the cold and could never be lured away from her temperate Florida existence, and the other, who would dearly miss the distinct seasonal phases built into her northern Illinois locale.  I myself may rant a bit in the midst of a particularly frigid winter’s darkest, shortest day, but I am also flooded with inspiration at the sight of a bronze-leafed tree or the pristine glimmer of newly deposited snow.  

“Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it,

and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

George Eliot a.k.a. Mary Ann Evans 

Thus far autumn’s eve is being ushered in by cold, damp winds and darkened skies – this, of course, following a 90 degree day succeeded closely by the first frost warning – but we still hope to be treated to a spell of classically mild, clear, sunny-crisp days in the weeks ahead.  As the local ducks rehearse formations for their mission of seeking eternal summer somewhere other than cruelly fickle Minnesota, neighborhood squirrels are aflutter with home-bound activity, as if to say, “You can’t fool me with this ‘Indian summer-not’ routine.”   

While I won’t go so far as the pseudonymous George Eliot, whose fervor over the movement of the sun across the celestial equator betrays her gender in a single phrase, I do find joy in the favorable jogging weather and the chameleon-like display as plain green leaves take on rich hues of goldenrod and fire-red, virtually over night.  But then a certain French philosopher says it better than I: 

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf’s a flower.”

Albert Camus 

A fleeting flower, to be sure, but glorious nonetheless – and valued all the more for its transience.  I, for one, can’t wait for the spectacle to begin. 

Throughout it all – suspense; anticipation; spine-tingling exhibitions of God’s incredible artistry; the challenge of bearing up under the harsher conditions to follow – we must, of course, keep up our strength.  As you may have noticed, the stoking of the human furnace is a mission this writer does not take lightly, warm weather or cold.  And since it’s been a while, I have a collection of enticing dishes to share with you, held together by no particular thematic thread, but poised to chase the chill from the most blustery autumn day. 

For that purpose, may I suggest Baked Chicken with Black Beans and Rice served with a simple tossed greens salad, Homemade Whole Wheat Flat Bread, and Ginger Snap Ice Cream Sandwiches or perhaps a menu of Crock Pot Pulled Beef with Dr. Pepper Barbecue Sauce served on toasted Homemade Ciabatta Buns, and along side Cole Slaw Lite, Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries, a melon basket, and Brownie Hot Fudge Ice Cream Bombé.    

For the final note and the last quote, non-foodies may jump to the last two paragraphs.

 The BHG.com web site offers great ideas from the pros at Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and I go there often for new ideas.  Then I take off on my own, tailoring my finds to meet my personal requirements for higher protein, reduced fat and sugar dishes.   The following chicken with black beans derives from that process, with my substituting soy flour and skinless poultry, and deleting the original two tablespoons of oil, among other minor tweaks. 

1/4 cup soy flour                                 1 tsp chili powder

1/2 teaspoon salt                                 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2-1/2 pounds meaty chicken pieces    cooking oil spray

2 C black beans, soaked and cooked  14.5-oz can diced tomatoes

2 TB minced white onion                   1 cup V-8

1 C whole kernel corn                         2/3 cup long grain rice

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 2 cloves garlic, minced

2 TB minced green pepper                  ½ tsp cumin 

In a deep pie pan, whisk together the soy flour, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Dip skinless, boneless chicken thighs, legs, and breast meat (cut into 3-inch wide strips) into mixture to coat well, then brown in a large skillet, coated liberally with canola oil spray, over medium heat for five minutes per side. 

Remove chicken and set aside. Add beans, undrained tomatoes, V-8, corn, uncooked rice, cayenne pepper, garlic, green pepper, and cumin to the skillet. Bring to a boil. Transfer this mixture to a 13x9x2-inch baking dish (I used a slightly smaller one with good results).  Arrange chicken pieces on top of rice, cover pan with foil, and bake at 350° for about 50 minutes. Serves four generously at my table, perhaps six more reasonable appetites. 

I arrived at this recipe for whole wheat flat bread by combining the best of several I found online. 

2-1/2 C whole wheat flour                  1 tsp salt

1 TB olive oil                                      1 C water plus 2 TB

2 TB flax seeds 

Combine flour and salt; add oil, water, and flax seeds and combine well, using hands and adding more water if dough feels too dry.  Knead dough for ten minutes, cover with a dish towel, and let rest for at least 30 minutes. 

Divide dough into ten pieces and roll each piece into an 8” circle on a lightly floured surface.  Heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat and cook one flat bread at a time for one minute on each side, or until light brown and slightly puffed.  Serve with salt and pepper-seasoned ricotta cheese as a spread. 

The ginger snap cookies come directly from the web site of our own diminutive local celebrity, Marjorie Johnson.  BlueRibbonBaking.com offers a trove of award-winning recipes, and tells you where Marjorie will be popping in next for a guest appearance.  I made my snaps a little larger and baked them the minimum amount of time for a softer cookie, but you could make the original recipe and serve them alongside coconut flavored home churned or Samoa Cookie Ice Cream, which was my choice for filling my ginger cookie ice cream sandwiches. 

A few more recommended recipe sites provided the foundation for Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce on pulled crock pot beef, with long-time favorite simplyrecipes.com leading the list, closely followed by a more recent discovery, mylifeasadomesticdiva.com.  I have altered each recipe to suit my predilections – especially reducing the fat and sugar in the sauce – and both experiments yielded exquisitely satisfying results. 

1 C diced onion                      1 TB canola oil

1-1/2 C Diet Dr. Pepper          15 oz can diced tomatoes

½ C orange juice                     ¼ C cider vinegar

3 TB honey                             ½ tsp cayenne

salt to taste 

Sauté the onion in the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat for about five minutes or until golden, stirring frequently.  Add remaining ingredients, stir well, cover pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender, cautiously, in small batches), purée sauce, return it to the pan, and simmer, uncovered, for an additional two hours.  

5# chuck roast                                     4 tsp beef base 

4 TB dehydrated onion           1 C water

1 med white onion, diced       pepper to taste

2 TB hot pepper paste    OR   1 tsp Tabasco sauce

2 tsp garlic powder 

Trim meat of all visible fat, dissecting it if necessary, and place in a large crock pot.  (It’s so much easier to de-fat it now, and not let it stew in a greasy broth, than to try to find the fat deposits when it’s hot and covered with sauce.)  Mix beef base (bouillon paste), dehydrated onion, and water in a small bowl and pour over roast.  Add remaining ingredients to pot, stirring to combine.  Cover and cook on low for eight-to-ten hours.  

For the saucing, you have two options:  Add one cup of barbecue sauce to liquid in pot during last two hour of cooking or mix it in with the beef as you shred it with a large fork and transfer it to a serving bowl. 

There are some lovely ciabatta rolls available at most grocery store bakeries these days, or you can search out a recipe on the web.  I found a good one at breadalone.com.  I recommend them in this application because they don’t go soggy at the introduction of the moist, sauced shredded beef. 

The cole slaw is a version that I tinkered with for ages, and finally got perfected a few years ago. 

1 TB freshly grated onion       ¼ C buttermilk*

½ C salad dressing or mayo    1 TB white vinegar

12 drops liquid stevia              1 TB lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt                               pepper to taste

8-1/2 C packaged slaw  OR  8 C grated cabbage plus

½ C grated carrot                 

In a large bowl, blend together onion, buttermilk, mayonnaise (the light versions work just fine here), white vinegar, stevia, lemon juice, salt, and plenty of pepper for punch.  (The stevia is pretty crucial here; there is no issue with dissolving/not dissolving properly and it adds a touch of pure, light herbal sweetening but no empty calories or carbohydrates.) 

Pour dressing over cabbage, mix well to distribute, and refrigerate for several hours to allow flavors to blend.  Set out fifteen minutes or so before serving to allow flavors to develop. 

*If you lack buttermilk, use evaporated skim milk and stir the vinegar and lemon juice into it about ten minutes before mixing the dressing.  

Sweet potato fries are usually made by tossing the cut potato with oil, but I have found that a light spray of my favorite kitchen companion, alcohol-free canola oil cooking spray, works beautifully and produces a less soggy end result. 

3 large sweet potatoes             cooking oil spray

2 TB Cajun seasoning   OR    paprika/pumpkin pie spice 

Peel and slice potatoes into roughly equal size wedges.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray liberally with cooking oil.  Spreads cut potatoes on oiled foil and mist the exposed surfaces with a bit more oil spray.  Sprinkle with your choice of spicy or savory seasonings and bake in a 375° oven for 30 minutes. 

For the brownie ice cream dessert, I hauled twelve previously baked chocolate chip brownies out of my freezer, thawed and crumbled them, doused them with a mixture of ¾ C hot fudge sauce and ¾ C crème de cacao, and let them macerate for an hour. 

Next, I softened a quart of vanilla bean (or you could use coffee or pumpkin) ice cream in the fridge for 60 minutes or so, and pressed it into a glass bowl with a thick layer of the fudgey mixture separating the two ice cream layers.  For details on freezing, unmolding, and serving, you can hop over to the posting titled “Christmas Passed” from 1/3/2011. 

With these offerings, chill of the first day of autumn be banished.  And no sooner do I say that than the contractor emails that we are promised a sunny, 70-ish day tomorrow, and that he’ll repair our leaky room addition roof during that warm window of opportunity.  (Ah, the sounds of autumn:  scampering squirrels and frantic hammering.)  

Maybe the coming temperature hike will reboot whatever climatic mechanisms are needed to twirl fall’s brilliant kaleidoscope into motion.  But then, we already know how this chapter will end, so how’s this for something tender and touching to temper the anti-climax.  

Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.

Robert Browning

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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