Cider brined pork roast, yet another reason to love autumn

Cider Brined Pork with Roasted Onions and Potatoes

Cider Brined Pork with Roasted Onions and Potatoes

Every fall I buy a bottle of Applejack as my way of welcoming in the season. Last weekend I not only bought the requisite bottle of booze, somehow I also ended up buying three half-gallon containers of different apple ciders. I just couldn’t help myself. Every store I went to seemed to have cider for sale and I am (clearly) incapable of refusing it. Even though I knew I had a full gallon waiting at home, I still bought a final jug as a reward for surviving the Haunted Corn Maze on Saturday night.

Side note: If you want to know what type of person you are deep inside, go through a Haunted Corn Maze in the dark. I discovered I am the type of person who will sacrifice their friends in order to get away from the guy with a chain saw. I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth.

At any rate, a fridge full of cider is never a bad thing. In fact it allowed me to make this beautiful dish which was a delicious way to fully embrace autumn’s arrival. Since cider is unavoidable this time of year, it only seems right to also use it in a brine.

This particular recipe is the October cover recipe for Bon Appetite and I’ve been staring at it for a few weeks waiting for a good night to make it. Maybe all that cider was getting to me — I just couldn’t hold out any longer.

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Flavors of Fall: Squash and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Acorn squash and ricotta stuffed shells

Every September I can tell when autumn is on its way because my friend Jenna is on Pinterest constantly. After months of being pin-free she’ll suddenly show up in my feed, pinning anything and everything that has to do with Halloween crafts, autumn foods and yes, even Christmas cookies.

I’d give her a harder time about it, but I am a year-round Pinterest user. There is not a month that goes by that I am not pinning pumpkin-spice treats, summer BBQ ideas or yet another macaroni and cheese recipe. One such pin, from early this spring, was a dish that I have been determined to make the second the weather turned cold:  jumbo pasta shells, stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach and roasted squash, topped with sage and brown butter.

From the cheesy baked pasta to the brown butter sauce, it’s practically impossible to come up with a more “autumn” dish. (Unless you’re the guy who wrote this — I’m sure he could come up with something.)

And let me tell you, with every bite I found myself missing the sunshine a little less and looking forward to Halloween, roasted chicken and cuddling on my couch with my kitties. The squash adds the right hint of the season without being too sweet, the lemon zest brings some brightness and the copious amounts of cheese are there just to make you feel loved.

So if you’re still having a hard time adjusting to the fact that it’s almost October, you should make this very soon. I promise it will help!

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Do the Puyallup! Fall at the Washington State Fair…

Growing up in Alaska, I missed the memo about the Puyallup Fair (renamed this year to the Washington State Fair). This was the fair my mom’s family has gone to for years. My grandma even remembers when the famous raspberry jam-filled scones were only a nickle a piece.  My older cousin, who grew up in Tacoma, went every year without fail until he moved to Texas to get married.

I, on the other hand, was completely unaware of the fair tradition until I moved to Portland after college. My first experience was a bit ambivalent — I knew I would enjoy it but I had no idea what awaited me. One bite of a slightly greasy fair burger smothered in grilled onions and I was hooked. Now I can’t imagine a September without a trip to Puyallup and a bag full of hot scones for the car ride home.

Freezing Cold with a Chance of Split Pea Soup

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Split Pea Soup with Ham

As a kid, one of my favorite books was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” For some reason I didn’t own a copy but a friend of mine did, and every time I would visit her house I would spend a good portion of time pouring over the pages. The illustrations were the best part — the one image I remember most vividly was where people dining in a roofless restaurant ran around catching hot dogs as they “rained” down from the sky.

Another part that has been stuck in my head since childhood was the rolling in of a split pea fog. I don’t recall ever eating split pea soup until much later in life — maybe even after high school or college — but I was always curious about it after reading that book. When I did finally try it (hesitantly I might add because the color is not so visually appealing) I was surprised at how tasty it was. Those little chunks of smokey salty ham with creamy pureed peas made for a wholly satisfying bowl of soup.

Ever since that initial tasting, I occasionally get a craving for split pea soup and it seems like I cook up a pot each winter around this time. It could be because post-Christmas is the only time I happen to have a ham bone laying around, or it could just be the fact that it is usually freezing cold outside and I get an urge for something warming.

Both of those things were true last weekend. Thankfully there is still no snow here in Portland, but the viciously cold wind is making my bike commute pure torture. Getting to sit down to a piping hot bowl of this goodness for lunch almost makes up for it. At the very least, its warmth helps thaw me out — from my head to my toes.

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A bone from a Nueskes spiral-sliced ham made this broth fantastically smokey

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Triple Threat Ginger Cookies

Ginger three ways: freshly minced, crystallized and ground.

I love ginger in all forms but it seems to really taste best when mixed with butter and sugar. Well, to be fair, most things seem to taste best that way.

These ginger cookies were made because it was a Saturday and I had just bought some crystallized ginger. Yes, it really was that simple. I had been craving ginger and spice since I read this delicious blog post by Dinners for Winners and finally I had all the ingredients needed to make some yummy ginger treats of my own.

Or at least I thought I had all the ingredients. *Sigh*

It always seems to happen that I’m missing something. In this case it was a few things — though nothing important enough to prevent me from baking. I settled on a basic recipe, one I’ve used before and enjoyed, these Triple Ginger Cookies from Bon Appetite. They are from the Dec. 2009 issue, which by the way, had a pretty incredible pictorial spread of holiday cookies. There were cardamom crescent cookies and peppermint bark squares all very whimsically placed in a winter wonderland. I kept that issue around for much longer than necessary. It was just so fun.

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The Apple of my Eye: Applejack-Braised Chicken

Braised Chicken in Applejack

If I added up the amount of times I have used the word “Applejack” in recent posts, I’m sure it would be ridiculous. But it’s the season for deliciously boozy apple-flavored things. It’s called being festive!

So given my deep love for chicken, it only seemed natural to use both together in one fabulous dinner. I saw this recipe for chicken braised with apples, onions and Calvados in a recent issue of Food & Wine and it sounded perfect. I made it for the entree course of my harvest dinner party a few weeks ago, but I tried it out prior to the party to make sure it was sufficiently tasty.

I made it almost entirely as written though, as you  might have guessed from my first paragraph, I used Applejack instead of Calvados. While I’m sure Calvados would have been amazing in there, Applejack was certainly just as delicious. I also omitted the caraway because I think it is disgusting. It’s the spice that ruins “everything” bagels — the smallest amount in my food makes me angry. Since I had some fresh thyme and sage, I used them instead — they are two herbs that get along famously with apples so it seemed like a good addition.

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