It's just after lunch on a chilly Sunday and I feel like this is the first moment I've had to collect my thoughts in a good, long while. I hope to coast my way through the rest of the afternoon, with time to stare at the leaves that have caught fire outside my window. Last week there were only sparks of colour flickering amongst branches of green. Now the scene is almost fully aflame.
Whenever the world gets the better of me, I find I rely heavier on the recipes of others. Do you do that too? It's the culinary equivalent of handing over the wheel, and when my mind is taken with the business of other things there's that certain feeling of relief in the ability to relinquish responsibility and to say "here, you drive."
On Thanksgiving there was a Caramel Apple Pie with a boozy applejack and almond crust inspired by Andrea. Believe you me, that pastry was a stunner. Then the other day I tried Nikole's Walnut Oats, which were exactly the thing one should make for breakfast on a grey morning, preferably with your woolen socks on and a broad-bowled spoon at the ready. Later this week I'm making Ashley's Chocolate Chip Cookies and I have a feeling they're going to be tremendous*.
Using their recipes feels like there is a friend with me in the kitchen. I like that.
Even if it is my hands that are doing the heavy lifting, their guidance is there - a voice in your ear through words on a page - and it is a comfort. It is almost as good as having someone there to cook for you. Yes, only almost, but not quite. But it is something.
In case of the circumstance that you too might need similar inspiration, I thought I would tell you about a few the new-to-me books and the recipes that have been filling our table and keeping us fed.
Happy reading. And eating.
* Psst. I made the cookies last night, and tremendous does not even begin to describe how good they are. They are deserving of every superlative imaginable.
Earth to Table (by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann, Random House, 2009)
This book is as much of a treatise on seasonal, local cooking as it is a cookbook alone. And let me tell you, I will solemnly swear my allegiance the succulent perfection of their Braised Short Ribs; they are a lusty, gutsy affair with the braising liquid reduced to lacquer that coats the ribs in thick gloss. The robust combination of wine, port and balsamic vinegar is elevated by the firecracker brightness of Gremolata and the sweet subtlety of Apple and Parsnip Purée.
My adopted Irish roots grew proudly at a taste of Colacannon Potatoes, a shameless combination of potatoes, butter, wine, and bacon folded through with tendrils of Brussels sprout. The Heirloom Beet Salad with Feta and Pumpkin Seeds lives up to the quote from Tom Robbins on the facing page; these roasted beets beets are "the most intense of vegetables, ... deadly serious."
Recipes from Earth to Table
• A selection of recipes, including Roasted Autumn Fruits with Torched Sabayon and Mulled Cider and Cranberry, can be found here.
Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home (by Martha Stewart, Clarkson Potter, 2009)
It takes a lot for me to introduce a completely new, untested recipe to our holiday table. But leave it to Martha to charm her way into a seat at our Thanksgiving spread with her Gratinéed Baked Squash Halves. An acorn squash is cleaved in half and then anointed with sage and garlic infused cream. It's then baked in a shallow water bath, so that the steam turns the thick flesh tender but the dry heat causes the cut edges to curl and brown. Once soft, gruyère is grated over and back into the oven until its all golden and bubbling. Brilliant. It was so delicious that I made some more two days after the festivities for a particularly-sumptuous lunch. (Just so you don't worry about my health I should say that there was a salad of bitter greens as well, but the squash was the main attraction.)
After those days of excess, the Tofu and Scallions in Mushroom Broth was a welcome change. Simple and straightforward, dried shititakes bring character to the broth. Even though The Warm Swiss Chard and Bacon Dip is suggested as a part of a larger menu, it does make a fine, fine addition to a lazy Sunday afternoon of watching movies. An icy beer as its partner isn't a bad thing either. Not that I'd know anything about that.
• A slideshow of menus and recipes from marthastewart.com
• Watercress-Cauliflower Soup
• Chicken Paillards with Walnut Sauce
• Gratineed Baked Squash Halves
Clean Food (by Terry Walters, Sterling Epicure, 2009)
This is the book I wanted to cook from when summer began to wane. Full of healthful recipes and an emphasis on whole foods, it offered the substance sought as the cold sets in, but still with a produce-centric perspective that celebrated fall's harvest. The Refried Pinto Beans with Chiles were a quick dinner alongside the Skillet Cornbread and some chopped tomato and avocado. In the beans, the unmistakable tang of lime brought dimension, the classic match to the grassy notes of cumin. As for the cornbread, the texture was light and bouncy, with only a slight sweetness from a modest pour of maple syrup. Leftovers made a merry weekend brunch, with a fried egg perched upon the beans with fresh pico de gallo, and the cornbread toasted with butter alongside.
The Wild Rice, Barley and Arame Salad is what I'll be eating until the winter comes I think, the hearty combination of grains and nuts is somehow soothing and restorative at the same time. Finally, Walters' mother's Cranberry Chutney was the second untried recipe to make its debut on Thanksgiving Day; full of autumnal flavours of maple and ginger and spice, the addition of apple and celery brings a freshness and subtly that allows its easy pairing with the other dishes of a holiday meal.
Recipes from Clean Food
• A selection of recipes are available on Walters' own site.
I chose to dice all the ingredients so that the chutney cooked into a softly-textured relish. - Tara
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup raisins
½ cup sucanat
½ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup water
1 small onion, chopped
3 medium apples, cored and chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Combine cranberries, raisins, sucanat, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and water in Dutch oven. Place over medium heat and cook 15 minutes. Stir in onion, apples and celery and cook 15 minutes more. Remove from heat, fold in lemon peel, and serve.
Chutney can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the freezer.
Makes 4 cups
Note: Coincidentally, all three books are organized by season; I have only been cooking from the Fall chapters of each. Author biographies and further information about the books can be found through the links provided. Cover art and recipe reprinted with permission from the respective publishers.