Putting Fall in Your Face

There are few things I adore more than seasonal food.  The first couple of weeks of weather changes in any direction send me scrambling for all of my favorite things available.  Fall is certainly no exception.   Pumpkin spice everything, amazing braised meats, stews and soups waiting their turn for the weekly menus, apples and pears so sweet and crisp- I am in love all over again each season.

The weekly menu planning continues here on Payne Street and this week's menu gave me immeasurable pleasure to plan.  I am consistently keeping our food budget right around $100-$125 a week and our meals home have left us making better "going out" decisions.  Much of what we are eating out is just not good so when we do go out, it is going to be a sure thing.

I am a creature of habit for breakfast and usually for lunch unless I have some great leftovers.  In this effort to eat clean, my lunches are actually one of three smaller snacks at work.  Breakfast is either yogurt and granola or (this week) a fantastic slow cooked steel cut oatmeal.  Snack one is an apple and cheese and snack three is usually a protein and veggie of some sort.  Think tuna and arugula or veggies dipped in peanut butter.

Let's get to the dinners for this week.

Three "R" Pasta

Braised Chili Rubbed Pork over Polenta
Arugula Salad with Pumpkin Seeds, Queso Fresco (or feta or goat cheese), and Lime Vinaigrette

Pork and Fish Tacos (Leftover Pork from Tuesday) with Cilantro Lime Slaw
Fresh Guacamole
Homemade Refried Beans

Breakfast for Dinner
Scrambled Eggs with Cheddar
Maple Peppered Bacon
Homemade Biscuits with Pumpkin Butter

French Onion Soup
Wild Mushroom Bruschetta with Fresh Arugula

Out to Dinner

Dinner at moms

A hundred years ago (okay more like 15 or so, but sometimes it feels like 100), I worked at Stage One Children's Theater with some amazing folks- too many to count actually.  Many of whom are my dearest friends to this day.  One of them took me under her maternal wing and brought me into her family dining experiences frequently.  She was a fantastic cook and her brother in law that lived with them was a professional baker that had worked for a very high end bakery in NY when he was there.  He was a master in the kitchen.  A Master.  I loved eating the concoctions that came out of his kitchen (his cobbler recipe is the best I have ever had and I still use it to this day).  I would marvel at the gorgeous and unlikely things he would marry together in a dish and, breathless and eyes closed after the first bite, I would always ask, "How do you do that?"  He would always answer the same way with a crooked and humble smile, "JB, cooking is just chemistry."

When I finally began to get my head in that space and started to research what ingredients had the chemical properties I needed, I started to create some magic of my own.  The recipe below is their family's pasta recipe.  Three "R" Pasta is "Random Refrigerator Refuse" or whatever is left just throw it in there.  It is a good dish to do when you only have a half a jar of something or a cup of shredded chicken rom Sunday's roaster.  This becomes a great dish when you actually stock your fridge with good things frequently.  The chemistry magic in this dish is the pasta water.  Listen to me when I say it is like magic fairy dust for pasta dishes.  That starchy water brings it all together in the blink of an eye.  This was tonight's recipe.

Three "R" Pasta
Jennifer Brian Cheek

1# Fresh or Dry Pasta
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 small Shallot, Chopped
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine
2 cups Shredded Chicken
4 Small Tomatoes, Chopped
1/3 cup Sicilian Olives, sliced
2 Tbs Capers plus any brine in jar
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
3-4 Tbs Pasta Water
Salt and Pepper

Bring 2 quarts water to boil.  Add 1 tsp salt.  In a saucepan, heat olive oil.  Add shallots and garlic and saute until translucent and pan begins to brown.  Salt and pepper.  Add wine and deglaze pan.  Add chicken, tomatoes, olives, and capers.  Heat thoroughly and reduce heat to low.  Cook pasta to al dente.  Drain and reserve pasta water.  In a bowl, add a serving of drained pasta, a huge scoop of the chicken mixture, and 3-4 Tbs pasta water.  Add shredded cheese and toss.  Salt and pepper to taste.  This can also be mixed all together in the pan and then served from there.  I do one serving at a time so everyone has the amount of goodness they want in their bowl.

Braised Chili Rubbed Pork

1 5-pound boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
3 Tbs Paprika
3 Tbs Ancho Chili Powder
3 Tbs Ground Cumin
3 tsp hickory smoked salt
2 cups flour
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2 whole coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tsp whole allspice
1/2 tsp whole cardamom
1 12-ounce bottle Negro Modelo or other dark beer
1/2 cup coffee
1 quart Chicken Stock

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Pat meat dry.  Generously salt and pepper meat.  In a small bowl, combine next four ingredients.  Liberally rub the spice mixture into the meat.  You may allow meat to sit overnight in fridge.  If you do, bring meat to room temperature before continuing.  Place flour in a large bowl.  Dredge meat in flour, shaking off excess.

Heat oil in a large dutch oven or other oven safe lidded pot.  Place meat in pot and sear on all sides (this may be done in batches.  Be careful not to crowd meat in pot).  Remove meat from pot.  Add onions and garlic and saute.  Add ground cumin and all liquids to pot, deglazing.  Place whole allspice, cardamom, and coriander in a tea ball.  Add tea ball and bay leaves to pot.  Add meat back to pan.  Braising liquid should come up about 2/3 of the way on the meat.  Bring to a boil on the stove.  Cover and place pot in a 325 degree oven for 4 hours or until meat shreds very easily.

Serve over creamy polenta with pan drippings as a gravy.  Leftovers happened here as tacos and they were to die for.

The next one is just a classic; French Onion Soup.  It's simplicity is part of what makes it utterly divine.  Caramelizing the onions is the primary level of the deep flavor in this soup.  Also good wine and stock are critical.  When you only have few ingredients, you make sure they are good.

French Onion Soup
adapted from Julia Child

3 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Olive Oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 Tbs Flour
3 quarts good beef or veal stock
4 or 5 Tbs Cognac, Armagnac, or Brandy
1 1/2 cups good white wine
4 Tbs good sweet vermouth

Place butter and oil in large pot over medium high heat.  Add onions, salt, and pepper and caramelize onions (about 30-40 minutes), stirring frequently, until they are a deep brown.  Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook, stirring constantly, another 3-4 minutes.  Add white wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all of the browned bits.  Add beef stock and all other liquors.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover loosely, and simmer at least 1 1/2 hours more. 

Ladle soup into oven proof bowls and top with a toasted crusty artisan bread and shredded Emmentaler cheese.  Place under broiler until cheese is bubbly and begins to brown at edges.  Serve immediately.

The week brings a much needed break from work, more fall menu planning, and preparations for a friend's visit that I am giddy simply thinking about.  Let me know your weekly menus and what fall goodness is happening in your kitchen.

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