Posts Tagged ‘fall’

indian summer

I would like to tell you what I did yesterday: I wore a skirt and T-shirt and floated around in flats drinking cold cider. On Tuesday I rolled the car windows down, threw up the house’s storm panes, and let my hair air dry. And on Monday I bought four pounds of wild caught gulf shrimp and crabs from a fresh-never-frozen seafood truck. It’s in the seventies. It feels like summer.

Don’t look now, but it’s November 11.

Fabian Seafood, this fresh-never-frozen seafood truck is a grand idea. And yes, I’d be pressed to invent a sketchier place to pick up Gulf shrimp than a Dairy Queen parking lot, from the back of a refrigerated truck.

Did you know saying that out loud makes it sound even sketchier than saying it in your head?

But listen! Family owned business, selling seafood direct to the public since 1975. Direct from Galveston, Texas to the Midwest and Plains states, like Iowa of course, but even up to the Dakotas. When they swung through on Monday, they were peddling Gulf shrimp, from medium all the way up to jumbo sized; blue crab meat; and shucked oysters (the one offering we did not purchase, because I am either snobby or uneducated enough to believe the best oysters come from Brittany or P.E.I., and always in its shell). They don’t post delivery schedules, because their deliveries are a function of daily catches and coastal weather systems. (You’ve just got to divine their delivery days.)

A word on Gulf seafood, vis-a-vis the BP oil spill: I believe it’s safe. I’m buying it. (Them. The story that it’s safe, and the shrimp. I am buying both.) I believe the independent labs, FDA, and yes, I believe the integrity of Fabian’s product. I like buying shrimp from a Galveston fishing family, rather than commercial farms in Thailand, and I think you should, too. (And I will let you know if petroleum starts spontaneously gushing from my ears.)

(It won’t.)

So the Fabian folks handed me that wad of crab meat, and shoveled three pounds of medium-sized shrimp, at around $10/pound, into a paper bag. Back at home, I followed the instructions for freezing the two pounds — storing them away for cold January nights, if it ever gets cold that is, when fresh Texas seafood has faded to a golden memory — submerge completely in water and freeze in an air-tight container. I used those outrageously high-tech, pump-out-the-air Glad vacuum bags. Watch out! And with the remaining pound: de-shell, de-vein, rinse clean, pat dry. Then I brought out a recipe from our sips and apps party, a new one for you guys: Citrus-Coriander Shrimp. Whisk together lime juice, orange juice and zest, garlic, mustard, salt, and a whole lotta coriander, and marinate for four hours. Broil in the oven. Skewering to resemble lollipops: optional.


what to do with applesauce

And so we begin daylight savings fall as we left equinox fall: with applesauce. Once you’ve cooked and blitzed your fall haul into a velvety puree (review the how-to here — quite as easy and luscious as it looks), what’s to be done with it? I put forth one suggestion, which isn’t to say you couldn’t freeze it until some black January morning, when the stores are filled with parsnips and potatoes, but nothing like an October apple perfumed with fresh lemon peel.

I suggest you make applesauce spice cake instead.

I wanted to make this the second I saw it on Smitten Kitchen, lured in by the promise of “October in a buttered square cake pan”. In the full swing of November, this should give you a rough notion of how long I’ve been plotting an applesauce spice cake Saturday. The cinnamon, the cloves, the ground ginger all lend a sweet, sharp bite, and the applesauce acts as a guarantor against dryness even, I would bet, if you left it in the oven a couple minutes too long. It has the look and taste of an everyday cake, the same crumb as banana bread or carrot cake, rather than a fancy party’s tiered and sugary confection. I like its light, moist casualness, which not only tastes delicious, but — marvelously — whisks away the notion that you need a reason to bake a cake.

Spiced Applesauce Cake

For the cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8 or 9 inch square cake pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in applesauce and walnuts, if using.

Slowly mix in the flour mixture until just combined. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick stuck through the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen it, and invert onto a plate to continue cooling.

For the frosting:

  • 5 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract together until fluffy. Sift confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon over wet ingredients and stir until fully incorporated. Store in the refrigerator until cake is cooled and ready to frost.


falling back

Did you remember to set your clocks back last night? Or did you get that sweet treat of looking at your bedside clock and suddenly remembering, Oh, I have another hour? The days are darker now, but no colder yet. Enjoy the first real fall Sunday, and enjoy the poems below, happily lifted from this weekend’s Falling Back: Poems for Fall column in the Times.


Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?
So let us go on

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

— Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author, most recently, of “Swan: Poems and Prose Poems”

. . . . .

Light Verse

It’s just five, but it’s light like six.
It’s lighter than we think.
Mind and day are out of sync.
The dog is restless.
The dog’s owner is sleeping and dreaming of Elvis.
The treetops should be dark purple,
but they’re pink.

Here and now. Here and now.
The sun shakes off an hour.
The sun assumes its pre-calendrical power.
(It is, though, only what we make it seem.)
Now in the dog-owner’s dream,
the dog replaces Elvis and grows bigger
than that big tower

in Singapore, and keeps on growing until
he arrives at a size
with which only the planets can empathize.
He sprints down the ecliptic’s plane,
chased by his owner Jane
(that’s not really her name), who yells at him
to come back and synchronize.

— Vijay Seshadri, author of “The Long Meadow”

how do you like them apples

I was a little bummed when I realized, several weeks ago, that we missed the fall’s apple picking season. (Yet again!) But our visit to Wilson’s Apple Orchard, located on both sides of the Rapid Creek valley, proved that there’s still fun to be had on the farm, even if it doesn’t involve telescopic, clawed apple-picking baskets like this. The orchard comprises several acres of beautiful land, itself worth a twenty-minute drive. On weekends, there are regular tractor rides through the property — a perk we didn’t take advantage of, since the swell of land by the parking lot offered a lovely view anyway.

Inside the shop, Wilson’s offers (alliteration alert!) pie pumpkins for purchase, whole apples galore, cider, baked goods, recipe books and gift baskets, soaps and lotions, and yes! hay barrels to sit on. We got a little of everything: a pumpkin for gutting, roasting, and whirling into a pie; a half-gallon of cider; a couple pounds of Fujis; and two piping hot turnovers for immediate noshing. Oh, those turnovers . . . let’s just say that when I told the gal I babysit that I was going to Wilson’s, she commanded, “You have to get an apple turnover. You will just not believe how good they are.”

And they truly are delicious. On that (baking) note, I’d hoped to have enough apples to make a spiced applesauce cake, but they lend themselves so well to whole snacking that, well, there just aren’t enough anymore. Sigh. I guess it’s back to the orchard!

in which we keep hee-haw-ing southwest

We just can’t stop with the south of the border cuisine here, people. First we had Bobby Flay’s distinctly Mexican beef and black bean chili, then the next night — the very next night! — we baked up some enchiladas. Not just any enchiladas: Ultimate Enchiladas. (I don’t make this stuff up. Take it up with Food Network.)

And ultimate they are. Pulled chicken simmered with cumin, onions, and cilantro, doused with stock and homemade roasted tomatillo-chile salsa, all rolled into a tortilla with some jack cheese and baked until crisp. Because these are the Ultimate Enchiladas, though, we also make black beans and yellow rice, and top the whole thing off with tomatoes and sour cream. And more cilantro. (An obvious head’s up: if you are among those genetically predisposed who find cilantro akin to eating soap, maybe sit this one out.)

For the rest of you: invite friends. This is a lot of food. We halved the recipe, and eating my share of it on Friday night left me incapacitated on Saturday. I dragged myself around mumbling “lemon water” and “lettuce.” Except it was Halloween weekend, so I ate candy instead, and basically you don’t want this to be you, so invite friends.

Ultimate Enchiladas
(From “Tyler’s Ultimate” on the FN)

Makes 10 enchiladas, which I would put at serving 6-8

Roasted Tomatillo-Chile Salsa

  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked
  • 1 white onion, peeled and quartered
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 jalapenos, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 lime, juiced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking tray, roast whole tomatillos, onion, garlic, and jalapenos for 12 to 14 minutes. Pulse in a food processor with cumin, salt, cilantro, and lime juice until well combined but still chunky.

Keep the oven at 400 degrees for the enchiladas.


  • olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 deli roasted chicken (about 3 pounds), boned, meat shredded
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 10 large flour tortillas
  • 1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • Chopped tomatoes and cilantro leaves, for garnish

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil. When hot, add onions and sautee until soft, around 7 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook a further minute.

Lower heat and sprinkle in flour, stirring to ensure it doesn’t burn. Gradually add chicken stock. Stir continually until sauce thickens and no longer tastes of flour. Fold in shredded chicken, half the tomatillo salsa, and some additional chopped cilantro. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Smear the bottom of a large baking dish with some of the tomatillo salsa. Take a large flour tortilla and briefly flash it over the stove flame, to make it more pliable. Put a scoop of the chicken-tomatillo mixture in the tortilla. Top with cheese and a little more salsa. Fold the tortilla over the filling and roll like a cigar. Place in the baking sheet. Continue until all the tortillas have been used up. Top the dish with tomatillo salsa and some more cheese.

Bake uncovered in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, until brown and crispy.

Garnish with more tomatillo salsa, chopped, tomatoes, cilantro, and a scoop of sour cream. Serve with black beans and yellow rice (recipes follow).

Spicy Black Beans

(Maybe I’m just not much of a bean girl, but I didn’t feel like this added much, and intend to omit next time.)

  • 2 cups (about 1 pound) dried black beans, picked over, soaked overnight
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, soak the beans in the refrigerator overnight, covered in water by two inches.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onions,  jalapeno, garlic, and bay leaf and cook over low heat until they begin to soften, around five minutes. Add the beans and their water. They should be covered by about an inch of water, so add more if necessary. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 – 1.5 hrs, until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Yellow Rice

  • 2 cups long-grain rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 bay leaf

Put all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover, and cook until rice has absorbed the water, around 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes. Discard garlic and bay leaf, fluff with a fork, and serve.

the last farmer’s market

Alas and alack, the season’s farmer’s market has come to a close. It runs from early May through the last weekend in October and that, friends, is this.

I love the Iowa City’s farmer’s market, even though it’s only open Wednesday evenings (colliding exactly coinciding with my business class) and Saturday mornings. Since you all know what happens most Saturday mornings in the fall, I won’t waste space re-explaining how woefully ill-conceived such a schedule is. Strangely enough, though, Saturday mornings at the market are always a bustling medley of organic vegetable farmers and hippie beef, pork, and elk (!) vendors, local cheese makers, purveyors of jams, honeys, salsas, and single-variety apple butters, craft stands, baked goods and pastas, enviably flourishing herb planters, and, of course, samples. Samples are key. Samples are how we’ve been induced to buy aged Gouda, hummus, and, from one woman, two kinds of barbecue sauce. If you don’t have samples, you’re not in the game.

If I didn’t know this fall has been unseasonably warm, I’d be griping a lot more about the market closing before Halloween. Some farm stands were still hawking tomatoes! Tomatoes in October! Definitive proof that the growing season is far from over. I’m nearly positive they could keep chugging until the week of Thanksgiving — but maybe that’s just the desire for farm-fresh butternut squash and Iowa turkeys (!) talking. Still, we were perfectly happy to pick up those ugly tomatoes, tiny green beans, a violently orange cauliflower, potted thyme, home-spun fettuccine, and that lovely aged Gouda.

the tao of bobby flay

The Tao of Flay can be summed up thus: Layered. Spicy. Southwest.

Also: fussy.

Since, like my friend B. Flay, I can never leave well enough alone, I figure I am an ideal devotee. And since Billy loves all things layered, spicy, and southwest in the first place, we have basically formed a house of worship here on Melrose Court.

There were the BBQ Chicken Quesadillas with Grilled Tomato Salsa and Buttermilk Dressing, which have never not been a hit, or time-suck. And now, there is the Beef and Black Bean Chili with Toasted Cumin Crema and Avocado Relish. How long are those recipe titles?! It’s never just one thing; there’s always gotta be STUFF on top.

This chili is delicious, but alert: it is not your typical chili. (It’s also the first chili I’ve ever made, so like I care.) It’s not ground meat, but small cubes. There’s a definitively smoky aroma, not a whole mess o’ beans, and real depth of flavor (cumin, chili powder, chipotle, lime, avocado). And in case you didn’t guess from the ingredients list: yes, it’ll take you to Mexico.

The warm temperature and hot spices were the perfect antidote to the first freeze of the season, and I can tell we’ll be pulling it out again and again this winter.

Bobby Flay’s Beef and Black Bean Chili

(Via.) Can’t get excited about the extended time frame? Chili is an excellent candidate for your make-ahead files. The flavors will marinate together all the better.

Serves 6


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 lb beef, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used the store’s “stew meat,” no need for a fancy cut)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large red onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp ancho chili powder
  • 1 tbsp pasilla chili powder (I couldn’t find this, and simply omitted)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 bottle dark beer
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, drained and pureed
  • 1 tbsp chipotle pepper puree*
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 cups cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add meat and sear all over, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. You want the oil very hot so it puts a nice, dark crust on the meat (flavor!) without cooking it through — that’s what an hour in the chili will do later. Remove meat with tongs and pour out all but 3 tbsp of the oil and rendered fat.

Lower heat to a medium flame. Add diced red onion and cook until soft, about six minutes. Add the garlic and cook two minutes (careful not to burn!). Add both chili powders and cumin and cook two minutes more. Add the beer and cook down until completely reduced. It will look like a sludgy witch’s brew: persevere!

Return beef to the pan and add chicken stock, pureed tomatoes, chipotle puree, and honey. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover pot and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add the beans, and continue cooking for 15 minutes. If the chili looks too soupy for your liking, leave the pot uncovered for this period; otherwise, keep covered.

Before serving, add the lime juice and adjust seasoning to taste. Top with a dollop of toasted cumin crema and avocado relish.

* Can’t find “chipotle pepper puree” in your grocery store? You may either: (a) Dump the contents of canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in a blender, and pulse into a puree, OR (b) soak dried chipotle peppers until hot and whiz in a blender with some lime and garlic until smooth.

Toasted Cumin Crema

  • 1 tbsp cumin seed
  • 1 cup Mexican crema or creme fraiche
  • salt and pepper to taste

Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan over a medium flame until fragrant and golden brown. Place in a small bowl and stir in thick cream. Season to taste.

Avocado Relish

  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeno, finely diced
  • lime juice
  • chopped cilantro leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and season to taste.