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Today we’re talking fall dishes and I want to share with you my “Five Favorites of Fall.” Most of us have an idea that when the weather starts to change, and different foods become available, that our tendency to cook certain dishes, or types of dishes, increases. Rarely in the middle of a long, hot summer are we heating up the kitchen cooking roasts in the oven. Likely we are out on the back porch grilling, or eating out more, or picnicking, or whatever. But when the days get a little shorter, and the leaves on the trees start their transformation, and the evenings cool down, we bust out the casserole dishes and sauce pots and start cooking heartier, warmer fare.
The following list, to me, epitomizes what that means for the home cook; these are my favorite fall recipes. These are the dishes I think about when fall arrives. I bet one of your fall favorites is here, and I’d love to know what I missed in your opinion.
Probably the first thing I make when the weather turns cool is chili. Almost no other dish means fall to me more. One of the things I love most about chili is that it means so many different things to so many different people. I’m sure you could have a different chili recipe every day of the year and not repeat. Probably more than that even. Because of chili’s versatility, it can be adapted to a wide variety of tastes and dietary requirements. Need vegetarian, or vegan, chili? No problem. Like your chili so spicy it melts your tongue to the roof of your mouth? You can do that. Hate tomatoes and prefer a chili that uses green pepper instead? Got it. Really, the sky is the limit when it comes to chili.
Remember with chili that when a recipe calls for chile powder, they are generally speaking of a chile blend that isn’t spicy. Most chile powder blends you buy in the grocery store will be on the mild side, and if you aren’t sure, ask before you buy. The spice in chili comes with the other ingredients you add in smaller amounts (e.g. cayenne, jalapenos, chipotles, etc.). Remember it’s easy to add heat to chili, but nearly impossible to take out, so err on the side of caution!
My go-to chili recipe is your standard chili con carne (with beef), and it is what most people probably envision when chili comes up. If you want to make this vegetarian, simply substitute more beans for beef (feel free to try other varieties than kidney). Diced Portobello mushrooms would be fantastic as well.
Ah beef stew. When I was growing up on mom would sometimes take a cheap, tough cut of beef, like an eye of round roast, and brown it up then toss it in a pot with some onion, carrots, and potatoes and let it stew in the oven with some liquid for a few hours. The house would smell amazing and you would end up with the ultimate one-pot meal. More often than not she stewed pork, which is why when beef was on the menu it was just a little more special.
While I sometimes make beef stew the way my mom did, I have developed my own method of making stew to create some wonderfully rich sauce and a deep flavor. I cut up my beef into smaller chunks and use beef broth or stock and a hearty red wine to stew the meat and carrots. I like to mash or whip the potatoes separately and then use the beef and sauce over the top. The red wine and stock cooks down into an incredibly rich sauce that I could just eat like soup (seriously). If you didn’t feel like potatoes, this would go very well with nice wide egg noodles.
A couple of easy mashed potato recipes:
3.Chicken and Dumplings
Chicken and dumplings are a quintessential comfort food; it even sounds cozy! Just say the words “chicken and dumplings” over and over and pretty soon you’ll find yourself curled up in front of the fireplace reading a good book while the rain pours outside.
The recipe for this dish looks intimidating, mainly because there is a long list of ingredients. Don’t let that scare you away; the effort is well worth the result. The key to making this dish sing is how you prepare the chicken ahead of time. Some recipes I’ve seen call for boiling the chicken until done, then adding to the dish. Please, don’t ever boil your chicken. Yes it cooks just fine, but the flavor will be sorely lacking, even if you add salt and seasoning to the water. You might as well just open a can of chicken and dump it in. Instead, simmer the chicken in a combination of white wine, chicken stock, rosemary and garlic. You’ll end up with a much tastier base for your dish and the chicken will be much more flavorful as well.
As for the dumplings; in some versions of the dish I’ve had, the dumplings are little more than clumps of dough floating in the broth. For this recipe, you’ll have big, fluffy dumplings to which you can add a variety of ingredients to pack in even more flavor (I like dried thyme in my dumplings).
When fall rolls around there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to apples, especially where I live in the Pacific Northwest. My favorite way to eat apples is right out of hand, but occasionally I get motivated to put them into a dish. I love apple pie, but homemade apple pie can be a real bear to pull off well (my wife is the baker in the family). Apple crisp is a fantastic alternative, primarily because you don’t have to mess with finicky pie crust. Drop a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top of the finished product and no one will be complaining!
Also note that this dish uses “warm” spices which really come into more use starting in fall. By warm spices I mean those spices that aren’t spicy hot, but, well, “warm;” cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, etc. Think of spices that go into a chai latte, or pumpkin spice, and that’s what I mean by “warm” spices. Also be sure to use the right kind of apples. Just like with pie, you don’t want an apple that cooks down into mush. When unsure, opt for granny smiths. They are widely available and never fail in a baked dish.
5.Mom’s Gooey Cinnamon Rolls
I have very fond memories of my mom making these cinnamon rolls around the holiday time, and we kids would devour them. Different than most typical cinnamon rolls, these are baked in a heavy cream/brown sugar “goo” that soaks into the rolls and makes them irresistible. You won’t want to go back to frosted cinnamon rolls after having these! To save yourself time and some frustration, pick up a box of Pillsbury hot roll mix to shortcut to the dough. You won’t gain much by trying to make the mix from scratch. You’ll want to eat these as soon as possible after baking to avoid the goo making them soggy, but I doubt you would have any trouble doing that!
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