Warm Fall Squash Dip—Different and Delicious

Back in the 1990s while working on First Impressions, a book of appetizers, I created a recipe for a warm fall squash dip served with sliced apples and sautéed sausages. The main ingredients in that simple recipe were pureed acorn squash, curry powder, and sour cream. For years, I served this colorful starter when autumn arrived, but then somehow the dish fell off my radar screen—until this year when I decided to give the recipe a facelift. 
For my 21st century version I roasted and pureed cubed butternut squash, and seasoned it not only with curry powder, but with rosemary and thyme as well. And, in place of sour cream, I substituted crème fraiche, which has a more complex flavor.

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Brussels Sprouts Star in a Great Fall Side Dish

For years I overlooked Brussels sprouts when teaching or writing about food, mainly because I was worried that most people just didn’t like these small green spheres that resemble mini-cabbages. That is certainly not the case today. Countless chefs and home cooks have discovered how creatively this vegetable can be used.
For instance, a recipe for Sautéed Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Apples has become a favorite for many readers of my book, Sunday Roasts. For this dish, which takes only about a half hour to assemble and cook, sprouts are halved, blanched, and then sautéed along with sliced Golden Delicious apples and bits of salty bacon. The assertive taste of the Brussels sprouts, the sweet note of the fruit, and the salty hint of bacon form a winning combination.
This dish would be a colorful and delicious accompaniment to roasted chicken, pork, or lamb. Or, you might try it with grilled sausages or sautéed turkey cutlets. The days are getting cooler and crisper, and the choice of vegetables fewer at the produce counter, but verdant little Brussels sprouts are plentiful this time of year. Don’t’ let them go unappreciated!
Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Apples
1 pound Brussels sprouts
Kosher salt
4 ounces thick bacon slices (4 to 5 slices), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, halved, cored, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
1. Cut off and discard the bases from the Brussels sprouts, then halve the sprouts. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the sprouts and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook until the sprouts are tender but not mushy when pierced with a small, sharp knife, for 8 to 10 minutes or longer. (Cooking time can vary depending on the size of the Brussels sprouts.)
2. Strain the sprouts in a colander, then place them (still in the colander) under cold running water until completely cool. Pat them dry and set aside. (Brussels sprouts can be prepared 6 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)
3. Sauté the bacon in a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat until browned and crisp. Remove it with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Pour off and discard all but 2 teaspoons of the drippings in the pan. Return the pan to medium heat and add the butter. When hot, add the apples and cook, turning often, until softened and just lightly browned, for about 5 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts and bacon to the frying pan. Stir and cook until all ingredients are heated through, for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
4. Mound the vegetables in a serving bowl and sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot.
Serves 4
Cost: Inexpensive
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Start to finish time: 35 minutes
From Sunday Roasts by Betty Rosbottom (Chronicle Books 2012)
Photo by Susie Cushner     

Hearty Soup and Fall Weather–Definitely A Winning Combination

After one of the hottest summers I can remember, autumn has at last arrived in New England.  Temperatures have started to drop, there’s a crispness in the air, and days are getting shorter.  I’ve even noticed that my fellow New Englanders–typically reserved and quiet–have broad smiles on their faces and are uncharacteristically chatty, initiating conversations with “Fall is here!”
So, along with taking out my sweaters and jackets, and setting the thermostat to warm instead of cool, I’ve pulled out my recipes for robust dishes. Among them is a Tuscan-style white bean soup topped with crusty croutons. A breeze to make, this hearty Italian “zuppa,” assembled with cannellini beans, carrots, onions, celery, and kale plus a hint of bacon, is perfect for the new season. 

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Comté Cheese Makes a Fall Salad Even Better

A few weeks ago while admiring the bountiful display at the cheese counter of my local Whole Foods, I spotted one of my favorite French fromages!  There, in full view, was a wheel of Comté, a hard, ivory-hued cow’s milk cheese with a slightly sweet, nutty flavor from the  east of France. I was even more surprised later that month when I discovered that two local supermarket chains were selling Comté as well.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out how to use my purchase. Since fall weather was arriving, I decided to include it in an autumn salad.  I combined beautiful deep wine- and green-hued leaf lettuce with Belgian endive for the base, then added thinly sliced pears, toasted nuts,

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Extra Spicy Black Bean and Corn Chili

You can’t believe the mercurial weather we had here in New England last week. I’d compare it to a seesaw. For the first few days everyone was savoring that last hint of summer when temperatures climbed into the mid-eighties. But, by week’s end the thermometer had dramatically dropped more than 20 degrees, and people were scrambling to find jackets and sweaters to stave off the chill. 
I confess, I adore this first brush of crisp, cool, cool autumn air because it signals that it’s time to change from light warm weatherdishes to much more robust fare. I didn’t waste any time in creating a fall chili, one that has plenty of heat and an enticing smoky scent from a generous addition of chipotle chili powder.

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The Pear Season Arrives!

Bartletts, Boscs, Anjous, Comices—all are among the glorious varieties of pears omnipresent in our fall markets. I’ve been thinking about pears this week because on Oct 4th I’ll be showing students how to poach pears in red wine and spices. (To find out how you can join the cooking class, click here.) Bartletts, which change from green to a gorgeous yellow when ripe, are perfect for eating raw or canning. Long, slender, and russet hued, Boscs are the right choice for cooking since they hold their shape well. Anjous, available in either green or red shades, are tasty all-purpose pears. Comices, more rounded and typically green, often with a red blush, are considered the best pear for savoring uncooked.  (The Pear Bureau Northwest, a nonprofit marketing organization has a great website with photos and details about these and other varieties of pears.)
In the autumn I use pears in myriad ways. When perfectly ripened and juicy, they are without equal for a “guilt-free” treat or an irresistible addition to a salad composed of mixed greens, bits of blue cheese, and walnuts. Sometimes I cut pears into wedges, drizzle them with olive oil and a few drops of balsamic, then roast them to bring out their sweetness. Prepared this way they make an excellent garnish to pork or chicken. But, my favorite way to utilize pears is to poach them gently in wine scented with aromatic spices.
In the following recipe, adapted from one I sampled at the Paris Cordon Bleu, whole pears are cooked slowly until tender in a fragrant mixture of red wine, cassis (black currant liqueur) sugar, spices, vanilla, and fresh mint. For poaching, it’s best if the pears are just slightly under-ripe as they will become soft as they simmer in the flavorful liquids. These glistening, deep crimson pears, served warm with scoops of vanilla ice cream, and a sprig of mint, make a striking presentation. I like to use Boscs because of their sleek tapered silhouette, but, of course, you might like to try some of those other types.
These pears are going to be the grand finale at my class at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Northampton, Ma. (Of course there are a couple of tricks that I can’t tell you here, but that I’ll be showing my students!)


Fall Pears Poached in Red Wine, Cassis, and Spices

6 Bosc pears, just slightly under-ripe
One 750 ml bottle red wine
1 cup sugar   
Juice and grated zest of 1 large navel orange
Juice and grated zest of 1 large thick-skinned lemon
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise with seeds removed and saved for another use
2 star anise, crushed slightly
2 whole cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves lightly packed, roughly chopped plus 6 sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup cassis (black currant liqueur available where wine and spirits are sold)
1 pint best quality vanilla or ginger ice cream
Cut a slice from the bottom of each pear so that it will stand upright without wobbling. Then peel the pears with a vegetable peeler, leaving their stems on.
Place the wine, sugar, and orange and lemon zests and juices in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and bring to a gentle boil.  Add vanilla bean (but not the seeds), star anise, cloves, and cinnamon; cook a minute more Then stir in the mint and cassis.
Add the pears and bring mixture to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat, and cook at a gentle simmer until the pears are deep crimson and tender when pierced with a knife, 25 to 40 minutes or longer, depending on the ripeness of the pears. Turn pears several times as they poach. (Pears can be poached 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate.  Reheat, uncovered, over medium heat to warm.)
Serve each pear on a dessert plate napped with a little of the sauce. Garnish with a scoop of ice cream and a mint sprig.  Serves 6.