Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top Five Food Items to Bake this Fall

As you can tell, I'm really feeling the Top Five list lately. Why? I love lists. I work best off a list--just ask my boss who keeps them coming all day long (she is out of the office this morning, which gives me ample opportunity to write this). So when planning to enjoy my favorite season, I feel like I have to have one just to get everything done and properly enjoyed. Is that weird? There is something to be said for spontaneity, but I think I may have left that behind at around 23 or 24.

Fall is probably my favorite season. That is a popular feeling these days, as anyone with a Pinterest account can attest. Everywhere you look, people are posting pictures of golden leaves and pumpkins and everything flavored with pumpkin that you can possibly think of. I get it people--as a nation, we like pumpkin. Fall is also a very twee season, I think. Gone is Summer's blaze and the bikini-body-onslaught that defines it and we're not quite to the overall grandeur of the holiday season. Fall is stuck in the middle, being all cutesy and enticing with its sweater layers and homey appeal. There is no pressure in Fall, I don't think. It is a time to enjoy the outdoors but get used to the pleasantness of the indoors again. It is a liminal time, exalting in its being stuck in the middle.

Fall is definitely my favorite time to bake. I love baking year round, and holiday baking definitely has its own attraction, but there is something lovely about being in the kitchen in the fall. The ingredients that abound are amazing tasting with all the freshness of summer but the warmth of a winter fire.

To carve out time to take part in baking (as well as running and very possibly learning to ride a bike--more on this later), I took the step this weekend to start a weekly (or even biweekly) "Cooking Sunday." "Cooking Sunday" is a day for me to assemble meals and put them in the freezer for easy access during the week. This is something I've always thought of doing, but never quite got around to. This past Sunday, I made a huge batch of chili (that we had for dinner, with some of the leftovers stocked in the fridge for lunch this week and the rest frozen), cilantro lime chicken for tacos, carnitas, and chicken kiev. We had the chicken kiev last night, and despite a small hiccup with a (much) longer baking time than expected, it was delicious. And easy. And in fact, I spent a large portion of last night, sitting on my bed, wondering what I could possibly get into with my newly found spare time. Tonight, I plan to use that spare time to make blueberry muffins (which I meant to make on Sunday but didn't because I went to two parties instead!), stir together some homemade salsa, and perhaps, if I'm feeling spry, make some of my truffle cookies for Alice, who keeps looking at me with her huge eyes and saying "Choc-wate....COOKIE!." (I should note that this is a huge step for Alice, verbally, as until very recently, she called chocolate "Fuck cat." As in, when at a restaurant, my grandmother asked if she wanted some ice cream and she yelled, "YES! FUCK CAT!" and I had to say loudly and uneasily, "CHOCOLATE! SHE WANTS CHOCOLATE SUNDAE! HA HA!") Other days I plan to use that spare time to sit around on my couch and do absolutely nothing or to, you know, keep my daughter from becoming some kind of deranged pre-teen outlaw clad in gray jeggings and hair feathers who attacks Tokyo after she doesn't get enough "Likes" on her perfectly crafted Facebook status.

But, without further adieu (or rambling), here is a list of other things that I can't wait to make this fall:

1). Maple Walnut Fudge. I really like fudge, as the good people who staff Kilwin's in Gatlinburg, TN can tell you. Of course, the chocolate variety is my favorite, but I also love my grandmother's peanut butter fudge. And chocolate is kinda "done" too--my mom and I always make a batch to take at Christmas time, using the recipe she got off of the back of a Nestle package when she was my daughter's age. I'm really digging this stuff because it is different and oh so Fall. Plus, my grandmom always finds some great fresh walnuts that she passes on to me during Fall. Here is the recipe I plan to use, although I haven't done any other research to see if I have a different recipe (with pictures--always a plus when making candy!) in a cookbook at home.

2). Sourdough bread. I have been wanting to get a starter going forever, and this just might be the time. I'm really seeing this made into panini or with a big pot of soup. Planning on using the recipe set forth in The Cheese Board: Collective Works cookbook, from the shop/cafe I so adore in Berkeley.

3). Focaccia. Focaccia is delicious, and though I've made it a few times, I don't think I've ever really gotten the hang of it. I really plan to this time around. I feel like I've seen this in a Barefoot Contessa cookbook that is hanging around in my kitchen, although I could be vastly wrong. If all else fails, I will go with Joy of Cooking on this one--just a good basic to get me started.

4). Pumpkin Roll. Every cook in the South, it seems, has a day set by to just make pumpkin rolls. I am a glorious exception, because I will admit that I have never made one. My mom has made many of them in her day, maybe even sold a couple. I have made a Buche De Noel a few times, so I know the rolling technique, so perhaps I am well prepared for this task. Perhaps not. I would really like to find a kind of off-kilter pumpkin roll, maybe with cinnamon cream cheese in the middle. I really adore cinnamon cream cheese on red velvet cupcakes (just enough to say "HMMMMM...."), and feel like it is a natural here.

5). Classic Apple Pie. I have made many, many apple pies in my day, a lot of them for my Uncle Ricky who hides them and won't allow anyone else to have one. I always use the same recipe for his, from an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook my mom got as a wedding present in 1973. When I make them for my dad, I like to use Granny Smith apples and a healthy slug of bourbon. My late grandmother preferred her apple filling on the top of a thin cheesecake with a vanilla wafer crust. This year, though, I want to perfect the art, maybe with some local apples. I've even considered perfecting a French tart while I'm at it, with a pate brisee crust. And when I do it, the pie will be all mine. No sharing allowed.

Does Fall bring out the cooking bug in you? If so, please share your recipes and secrets!


  1. I have to admit that I do not bake. Like, ever. I don't have a sweet tooth, for one thing, and it just seems like a lot of work for some reason. That said, I like to cook fall foods! My big favorite is chili, which I often make vegetarian. I have a great just-dump-cans-into-the-Crock-Pot recipe for one kind. Roasts, chicken, Italian beef (!!!) are all good, too. Basically, fall is Crock-Pot time. I mean, I sometimes use it in warm weather, too -- why use the oven, right? -- but I use it a LOT in cool/cold weather.

  2. I agree whole heartedly. Mine had a nice layer of dust on it when I pulled it out on Sunday to make chili, but I'm already using it again today. I make a great pot roast, and I'd really love to convert it to a slow cooker recipe so we can have it on weeknights too--right now it is relegated to the Sunday only pile. Any ideas I'd love to hear!

  3. Girl, do you have that Weight Watchers Crock-Pot cookbook Word document that was floating around a few years back? It has literally hundreds of recipes. For whatever crazy reason, I've never tried any, but I should probably change that, no? I can send it to you if you'd like.

  4. I don't have it, but I'd love to. Thank you so much. My email address is on my Facebook if you want to send it that way. I would give it to you hear, but if Lifetime movies have taught me anything it is that the internet is a wiley and dangerous place!

  5. Oh my Lord--Lifetime is eating my brain just as it is honing my danger-sniffing-out skillz. Here not hear.