Thoughts on Regional Autumn Experiences and Cooking Fall Delights!

Don’t you love this time of year? I do and I’m in love with fall this year. In the past few years, I’ve felt a little cheated in the fall. You see, our amazing NorCal weather generally lacks a bit in the autumn and winter departments…particularly as compared with my former home-cities of Cambridge, MA and Seattle, WA. I complained endlessly about the weather in both places, but there’s no denying New England fall colors! I do miss watching the rowers in the Head of the Charles Regatta, going apple picking and watching the leaves change from green, to auburn to flaming red. NorCal has nothing on that!

And Seattle’s Pike Place Market is a whole other level of apple delights. Walking through the market on a crisp fall day (the one time of year when it didn’t seem to rain EVERYday!) made me crave clam chowder and fresh salmon. They have so many varieties of apples to taste – it blew my mind. What was really interesting to me about Seattle’s food is how sophisticated it is. Given that Seattle is the “most educated” city in the USA, I suppose it makes sense that their food seems more intellectually evolved as well. Have you ever had, “balsamic strawberry ice cream”? You can find that seasonally at Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. How about potato-rosemary pizza? Also a seasonal item, available (via delivery only!) at Pagliacci’s Pizza. Generally, I found Seattle’s food to be inventive and creative and I LOVED that their sweets were generally less sweet. Maybe it was just having come from New England (or maybe I was just way behind food trends) but I found the flavors of sweet treats to be more dynamically expressed via the use of more salt and less sugar. In fact, I experienced my first salted caramel apple pie in Seattle and was forever changed by the experience.

That said, Northern California does not lack in the amazing food department and this year, our fall actually seems to have fallen…temperature wise. It’s very cool in the mornings and evenings and the afternoons have an essence of autumn that’s unmistakable. The leaves are changing in beautiful but slow ways. It’s race season, it’s pumpkin season, it’s apple season…what is not to love?!? I went for a beautiful run this morning along the Iron Horse Trail in Alamo. I felt so grateful to get to be out there breathing the fresh air and seeing the beautiful fall day. I don’t usually pause for photos but I took this one. That photo makes me want to find out what’s beyond the bend.

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So I’ve been baking and roasting a lot to indulge my love of this fall weather and the farmer’s market bounty. I’m generally in the mode of trying to bake “cleaner,” meaning that I’m trying to find good substitutes for fats, oils, sugar, etc. This is a really fun venture but it has produced some major fails. For example, my oatbran-pumpkin-chocolate chip bars were pretty weird (I’m just not a big coconut oil fan it turns out!). (I subbed Trader Joe’s oatbran for flour – that didn’t work out very well texture-wise either.)

I have also been roasting a lot! A new favorite is roasted heirloom cherry tomato and onion soup. I’ve been replacing the cream with pureed white beans and it is absolutely amazing! We’re having friends over for dinner tomorrow, one of whom is allergic to wheat and a host of other items (including lemons). I’ll be roasting a chicken with butternut, delicata and acorn squashes…along with some yummy onions. I’m going to try roasting the chicken with limes in the body instead of lemons. Wish me luck!

Last weekend, I wanted to bring a pie to our friends’ house for dinner. After a lengthy discussion and a stroll through the farmer’s market, my hubs and I decided it would be an apple pie. [Sadly, I’ve lost the recipe for the salted caramel apple pie (but you mind find it if you click around http://www.fourand20blackbirds.com, where I took the class to learn to make it!)] I used the good-old-fashioned Betty Crocker cookbook with a frozen Trader Joe’s crust. It was divine…but way too sweet! Next time, I’ll use the half the sugar and add some sea salt. This is why I love baking! I can test new flavors all the time and I’m learning what works. Let’s be honest, even a too-sweet apple pie is STILL AN APPLE PIE! Throw some vanilla ice cream on there and munch it down. Or, my favorite is homemade whipped cream…I whip heavy cream with the immersion blender and leave out the sugar. The cream picks up the sugar from the dessert and the texture is incredible.

Today I made Zucchini-Sweet Potato Muffins. My recipe is adapted from Savoring the Thyme – my changes are based on the ingredients I actually had on hand.

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Zucchini-Sweet Potato Muffins
Ingredients:
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 salt
2/3 cup agave nectar, light (I used dark)
3/4 cup sugar (I used “Sweet Tree’s” blonde coconut palm sugar because I’m out of brown sugar today)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce, no sugar added
3 eggs
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup grated zucchini (I didn’t actually measure how much I put in. And I grated these and sweet potatoes in the food processor, which makes it much easier)
1 1/4 cup grated sweet potato
2 tablespoon ground flax seed
2 tablespoon chia seeds
1 cup chocolate chips
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Spray muffin tin with baking spray.
3. Sift first six ingredients together in large bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, beat nectar, sugar, oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla until combined.
5. Mix grated potato and zucchini into wet ingredients (after grating, I cut more as they were long strips)
6. Add dry ingredients to wet and fold to combine.
7. Fill muffin pan-makes about 15 muffins or just overfill one pan to make 12.
8. Add a few chocolate chips on top of each muffin.
9. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes (I made mini-muffins, which I baked for 14 minutes.)
8. Test doneness by inserting a toothpick and making sure it comes out clean
 
What are your favorite things about autumn? 
 
Do you have a favorite fall recipe? Share it with us!