Yes, we do things besides eat around here. You just wouldn’t guess it from the blog since this is the fifth food post in a row. October’s cooking notes are below, to be updated throughout the month as usual. One change this month came when I started looking at lists of seasonal produce and realized just how many fruits and vegetables I ignore when menu planning. We eat pretty balanced meals (even though I don’t often list the vegetable sides in the cooking notes) but I tend to default to the same vegetables unless it’s a special dish or meal. Salad, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and broccoli are the most common. Onions, garlic, and shallots go into many dishes. Cauliflower, spinach, celery, carrots, potatoes (do those count?), mushrooms and others follow in increasingly smaller degrees. I set myself a new goal – incorporate several “new” fruits or vegetables outside the routine each week, and try as many new in-season produce items as well. Fall is a hard time to start – I hate squash – but so far it’s going well and we’re enjoying more varied meals. I’ll note any vegetables used in the notes for each dish.
One help is that a neighbor dropped off a big paper sack of produce her daughter received in her regular farm box and couldn’t use up. Two kinds of eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and three or four varieties of squash all sitting on the counter begging for attention.
You can see previous months’ Cooking Notes here.
Baking and Desserts
- Rosemary Squash Spoon Bread – This recipe showed up in the October issue of Southern Living. If you haven’t had it, spoon bread is similar to corn bread, but a bit more dumpling or souffle or bread pudding-like in texture. Pureed squash and diced rosemary from the garden stirred into the dry ingredients with heated buttermilk, then gently folded with egg whites beaten to stiff peaks and baked. Even though I messed up by halving three of the ingredients and putting in the full amounts for the rest, it turned out very well and we both loved it. Definitely a keeper for fall and disguising that evil substance, squash. Produce: Squash, Rosemary
- Artisan Bread – Basic recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Makes three loaves.
- Buttermilk Biscuits – My normal recipe from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. However, since I had Gingerbread Cake in the oven at a different temperature, I tried pan-frying these for the first time instead of baking, using instructions from The Joy of Cooking. They turned out well, but I prefer the oven kind because a) they don’t need to be fried in a greased pan (healthier), b) they all cook the same way at the same time (more consistent), and c) there is no standing over the stove flipping dough while you try to manage the rest of dinner (easier).
- Gingerbread Cake – Scroll down a bit for the recipe. Quite tasty with vanilla ice cream and mugs of hot spiced cider. It wouldn’t be fall without jugs of fresh-pressed cider on hand from the orchards. I simmer it with a cinnamon stick or two, some cloves, and occasionally a sprinkle of nutmeg or ginger, then pour it through a sieve into mugs. Mmm. That was one funny thing about living in Europe – people didn’t seem to know what fresh pressed apple cider was, but I had my first introduction to the alcoholic kind there. Tasty.
- Banana Bran Muffins – Unimpressive. That’s what I get for taking a recipe off a cereal box. “And a generic cereal box, at that!” as Carl helpfully chimed in.
Main Dishes and Sides
- Butternut Squash Soup – I didn’t follow a specific recipe, just sprinkled a halved seeded butternut squash with salt and pepper and roasted it cut side down in an oiled pan for about an hour at 350. Meanwhile I boiled two or three peeled and diced potatoes until soft and sauteed a quarter onion in butter until golden and translucent. Scraped the roasted squash out of the peel and added it to the onion pot with the drained potatoes and about two cups of chicken broth. Simmered ten minutes, pureed with a hand blender, then added additional chicken stock to the desired consistency. Sprinkled in a little cumin, curry, nutmeg, and ginger. Simmered a couple more minutes. Added a splash of cream and salt and pepper to taste. Served over a small spoonful of sour cream in each soup bowl, with a side of fresh artisan bread. This was a very tasty fall soup, and a nice way to disguise squash if you’re not a fan of strong squash flavors. You could substitute an extra squash for the potatoes. Produce: Butternut Squash, Potatoes, Onions
- Indian Chick Peas with Brown Rice – Wish I could claim I made this from scratch, but actually it was a last-minute “we’re out of fresh ingredients for dinner and Carl needs me to bring him supper at the hospital” meal pulled from the pantry. Out of curiosity I’d picked up a package of Punjab Chalee at Trader Joes during a summer trip to the “big city”. It was pretty tasty served with brown rice from the rice cooker and leftover tomato-avocado salad. Produce: Chick Peas, Tomato, Avocado
- Breaded Pork Chops – Pork chops dipped in eggs beaten with milk, then again in flour with spices, then pan-fried. Served with biscuits and broccoli for Sunday dinner. Very southern. Produce: Broccoli
- Broccoli-Avocado Salad – Surprised me by being very good. Recipe a few posts ahead. Served with leftover pork chops and biscuits. Produce: Broccoli, Avocado
- Baked-Smashed Potatoes with Basil Sauce – Also delicious, recipe a few posts ahead. Served with (more) leftover pork chops and the broccoli-avocado salad. Produce: Potato, Broccoli, Avocado, Basil
- Lentils with Fresh Bread – I was sick, so we had lentil stew I’d cooked and frozen in the spring with fresh bread (gotta love 5 minute artisan bread when you have a cold!) and a tomato-avocado salad. Produce: Lentils, Carrots, Celery?, Onions, Tomatoes (from the garden! second round of summer crops), Avocado
- London Broil with Sauce Chasseur – London broil with “hunter’s sauce”: sauteed mushrooms and shallots cooked down with wine, beef broth, tarragon, and tomatoes. The recipe came from The 60 Minute Gourmet, a French cookbook. Served with salad and bread the first night. It was supposed to be accompanied by a zucchini-potato gratin the next night, but apparently the zucchini grew legs and walked away somewhere, so I shredded and fried some potatoes with herbs and Carl cut up some raw carrots. A bit random, but relatively balanced: Produce: Mushrooms, shallots, tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, carrots
- Steak Sandwiches – Leftover london broil cut small and tossed with mayonnaise, diced tomatoes, A1, spicy mustard, and a few seasonings, served between whole wheat bread. Easy and flavorful. Produce: Tomatoes.
- A Complete Disaster – This dish has no proper name. It began as sweet potato ravioli with sage butter sauce. Then the store had no wontons for wrappers so I switched to pasta shells. Then as I started to prepare dinner the potatoes turned out to be purple potatoes, not sweet. I should’ve stopped there, but I had a migraine and could only think about finishing dinner. After a series of increasingly hopeless substitutions and adjustments, it ended as baked potato stuffed shells in a tomato-spinach sauce baked like a lasagna with cheese. I’ve had worse meals, but I’ve definitely had better ones. Still not sure how one starts with “sweet potato ravioli with sage butter sauce” and ends with a meal that doesn’t contain a single one of those ingredients. Produce: NOT sweet potatoes, but purple potatoes, tomatoes, spinach.
- Egg Salad Sandwiches – A picnic in the car on the way to a two day stay at the shore. We both had full work days before leaving so I boiled the eggs and whipped up the egg salad between tasks, and brought sliced apples and leftover cucumber-tomato salad for an easy dinner. Nice to have a semi-healthy start before two days of non-homemade food. Produce: Apples, Tomatoes, Cucumbers
- Roast Parsnips and Apples – Another new Southern Living recipe: quartered peeled parsnips and apples tossed with diced fresh sage, salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, then roasted in the oven for half an hour. Very good with nice textures. Carl loved it. I liked it, but discovered I’m not a big parsnip fan. I’ve never cooked them myself, and they taste too much like cooked carrots for my liking. I served myself extra apples and Carl extra parsnips and we both got what we wanted. Served with Rosemary Squash Spoon Bread. Produce: Parsnips, 3 kinds of Apples, Sage
- Eggplant Parmigiana – Served with leftover roast vegetables and spoon bread the second night as a meaty side. This is an old favorite from a French cookbook The Sixty Minute Gourmet. I hadn’t made it since our move a year ago. Thick eggplant slices spread on both sides with mashed together butter and parmesan (equal parts), sprinkled with salt and pepper, and baked 15 minutes at 400 until tender. Very easy, very flavorful and good. Produce: Eggplant
- Beef Stroganof – My usual recipe from Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Get Real Meals. Carl has loved every dish I’ve ever made from this book, so it has the satisfying man-food vote of approval. I appreciate that the meals are reasonably fast, but not plain, and that they’re still from scratch rather than “a can o’ this, a can o’ that” quick fixes. Served over sliced boiled potatoes with a side of tomato and cucumber salad whipped up in a hurry when I brought dinner in to Carl at the hospital. Produce: Onion, Potato, Tomato, Cucumber