Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Perfect Fall Treat

As it turns out, there is more than one. I

Here are a few samplings. Each of these four pairings has something in common: they each include an ingredient that says "Autumn" like nothing else.


This first is an apple dip that can be made up in about 5 minutes, and everywhere you go, people will want the recipe and guess and guess about the ingredients without getting it right. Jedi Knight loves this stuff so much that when I start buying lots of really crispy new apples this time of year he begins asking for it every day. Years ago, I served it at a book group and when we polished the plate of apples off in about ten minutes, Plantboy came in, and with more than a little snark he asked if we just wanted spoons. I promptly replied, "Yes," and we finished the bowl so thoroughly that you could only hear clinking. We had too much dignity in front of one another to lick the bowl, but I believe if anyone of us had been alone the story might have been very different.

Apple Dip

1. Stir or beat two soft squares of cream cheese until smooth. (There are four here--none of today's pictures are actually mine.)

2. Add half a cup of packed brown sugar, stirring until well blended. The original recipe had a lot more sugar, but I really like being able to taste the cream cheese.

3. Stir in one bag of toffee chips. You can find these at the grocery store in the baking aisle, with the other kinds of chips. Heath sells both plain:

and chocolate covered:

Unfortunately (or not) my grocery store doesn't sell the plain ones. Therefore, we are forced to put chocolate in the apple dip. Too bad.

Any firm apple with some tartness to it works great in this treat. Our favorites are Granny Smiths:

And Yellow Delicious, of which I have to buy about a dozen a week this time of year (also, I said "Granny Smiths" as a plural. Should I say "Yellow Deliciouses?"):

Now wait, don't run to the kitchen just yet. We've got a couple more.

For my book group last week I served apple dip, but I wanted something to go with it. I settled on pumpkin bread. My bread turned out exactly as it was supposed to, and I used this recipe. It was entirely adequate, but not amazing. I cannot even say what it was missing, as the recipe was nearly identical to my zucchini bread, which I love. I even added that not-so-secret pinch of cardamom and it still didn't knock my socks off.

I want a pumpkin bread recipe so great that it makes me want to buy up canned pumpkin in great quantities in the fall so that I have it stockpiled for the off season, or in times of famine. I want it to melt in my mouth and leave me a little bit speechless with joy for the explosion of autumn in my mouth. Still, it was pretty remarkable when topped with the afore-mentioned apple dip. (Face it, dog poop might even be appealing topped with that stuff.) My favorite pairing for sweet bread, however, is with soft, spreadable cheese on it, like Laughing Cow; or in a tribute to my amazing grandmother--a thick slice of cheddar. But I can't bring myself to spread it with butter first the way she does!

This next recipe is for bruschetta. Now don't go scrolling ahead thinking you know all about bruschetta. I'm pretty sure you've never had Plantboy's bruschetta.

You have to start in the spring for his bruschetta--tenaciously hitting local nurseries for odd, heirloom tomato varieties. You have to plant them at exactly the right moment. It must be early enough for them to have the season to ripen, but late enough that the last spring freeze doesn't do in your tender starts. You must also put them in exactly the right spot. They need loads of sun, but you don't want to burn their leaves either. You must water and dig about them with organic fertilizer. You must whisper sweet nothings to them each long summer day.

Okay, maybe not the last, but I swear that is what Plantboy does.

I've had a half a dozen people this year tell me that they have NO tomatoes. Nada. Zip. Our vines are so full that Plantboy has taken to freezing them while we make time to can them.

When your heirloom and red tomatoes are ready to go, then you are ready to create Bruschetta that will make you believe any course beyond appetizer is over-rated.

Plantboy's Garden Bruschetta

2 cups chopped tomatoes (use a variety of types for colors and textures. Grape tomatoes, sliced in circles, are especially lovely!)

2 Tbsp really good olive oil. Costco sells an amazing one, when you unscrew the lid, it smells like a rich combination of flowers and fruit. I always feel like such a geek when I open it and just stand there for a few seconds, transfixed by the wonder and possibility of that smell.

3 tsp balsamic vinegar--the good stuff, old and syrupy

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (and while we are at it, we should just admit that any recipe containing the words "chopped fresh basil" is going to be awesome, and make your kitchen smell awesome. Please put this in your garden next year if you are able. Even the plainest spaghetti from a jar can pass for special if you add this crucial herb.)

3 diced shallots (we've discovered that using shallot instead of garlic still gives a wonderful, garlicky flavor without overpowering the tomatoes as much as raw garlic. And without giving you breath that could drive away any lurking vampires or eager spouses. If you like garlic, throw in a clove or two on top of the shallot, or instead of. I'm not fussy; it is YOUR food, after all.)

Fresh ground black pepper to taste (a LOT! I used to use more salt to flavor things, but the problem with using salt in plant-based dishes is that it causes the food to lose its moisture. The plant cells lose moisture to surroundings that are too salt. This causes the cell membranes to sag against plant cell walls, resulting in limpness. Even vegetables that aren't overcooked go limp if they are salted. Put the salt on the table instead of IN stir-frys, salsas, veggie side dishes, etc.)

Toss everything together and pair with french or artisan baguettes that have been drizzled with olive oil and browned in a broiler. It is just so good.

As for the last dish, you heard me correctly when I said "hazelnuts." These delicious nuts are a real Oregon favorite, and most of the hazelnuts in the world come from the filbert orchards right here in the Northwest. This one might not be quite as easy to have at your house, but I would like to point out that the offer to visit still stands.

This pairing is so awesome because besides hazelnuts,

it also includes, you guessed it, chocolate.

Hazelnut Fudge Ice Cream with Brownies

I have to admit to having no recipe for hazelnut ice cream. There are several recipes on-line, most of which include some cocoa in them, making them pale brown in color.

We bought a locally made hazelnut icecream that has swirls of fudge in it and chunks of hazelnuts. Think tin-roof-sundae-on-speed. I do, however, have a divine brownie recipe:

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

1/2 cup cocoa

1 cup sugar

2 eggs (room temperature)

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup chocolate chips or nuts (or both!)

Preheat oven 350 degrees, Grease an 8 inch square pan. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt butter. Add cocoa and stir until blended. Add sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well. Stir in vanilla, flour and salt, stirring until just blended. Fold in nuts and/or chips. Spread in prepared pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't worry, they'll still be very soft!

Oh, good grief, I'm hungry.


FoxyJ said...

These things all sound so good! I made pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting the other day and they were so good. Last fall I found a bunch of pie pumpkins on clearance after Thanksgiving, so I bought 5 of them, baked them, and then made pumpkin puree. I froze it in ziploc bags and finally used up the rest of it last week. I think it tasted better than the canned stuff. I also am in love with Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice. It has the usual spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves), plus lemon peel and cardamom. It makes things extra yummy I think.

Jenny said...

Your pictures are divine.
Makes me want to run and see what's left of our basil in the garden...
I love Fall foods!

emandtrev said...

I am now officially starving, even though I had lunch about 10 minutes ago.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I haven't found the perfect pumpkin bread recipe yet, either. If you find it first, please do let me know.

Yankee Girl said...

I can't wait to try a few (or all) of these. Thanks!

Brooke said...

Totally drooling. Totally.

I haven't checked in on your blog for awhile, and it was so fun to read tonight. I wish I were as well-spoken as you are. I think YOU should run for office. I would totally vote for you.