Fall. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height that my soup ladle can reach. Pumpkins and apples and harvest goodness abound. Chard, potatoes, rutabagas, onions and spinach are in farmers markets and groceries and roadside stands. This is the most glorious time of year to be smitten with food.
It's not only all the options and earthy comfort foods that are available. It's also that the weather is just cool enough to make baking an especially attractive option. Steaming soup pots and warm, toasty scents waft from the stove. Wandering into the kitchen and warming your hands over the stovetop sounds like a great idea, and if you just happen to drop the tines of a fork into a pan of something or other cooking in butter, well, you'd best eat whatever is skewered on that fork.
It's the right thing to do.
I can't think of anything I'd rather do on a drizzly, grey, cold fall day than bake up a pan of our favorite snacks to nibble on while watching a classic movie or television show on DVD. My kids and husband oblige by being as fond of Laurel and Hardy, "I Love Lucy" and Victor Borge as I am. Side-clutching laughter, cozy blankets and great nosh are the perfect foil for awful weather. I admit I look forward to the particularly nasty days because they're a ready-made excuse for staying in and cuddling.
My 10-year-old, in fact, has decided to dress as Stan Laurel for Halloween. He's positively charmed by Laurel's idiotic sweetness. I'm not sure how many folks will be able to figure out who he is supposed to be. If, perchance, a little blonde-haired blue-eyed kid is doing wandering around your neighborhood in a bowler hat and bow-tie, just give a wink and say, "Here's another mess you've gotten me into!" It'll make him happier than any candy bar ever could.
Of course, he'd probably take the candy bar, too, if you'd let him.
It's the right thing to do.
Cheesy Spinach Puffs
Moist, spinach-studded, cheese and egg puffs get toasty, crispy bits around the edges and taste great alone, but really sing when dunked in warm marinara or pizza sauce. This is a favorite movie-night snack at our house and has won over even the most ardent anti-green vegetable protesters in our family. The smaller you chop the spinach after squeezing it dry, the easier it is to get it past picky eaters.
4 T. unsalted butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped or grated on a cheese grater
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed
1 c. ricotta cheese
2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 c. grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
½ c. Italian style breadcrumbs
1 lb. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove as much liquid as possible
½ t. salt
Optional: warm marinara or pizza sauce for dipping
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Generously spray 48 mini-muffin wells with non-stick cooking spray.
Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan or frying pan. Stir in the grated or finely chopped onion and cook on low, stirring frequently, until the onions are very tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Remove the pan from the burner and set aside.
Put the squeezed-dry spinach on a cutting board and chop a few times with a knife to separate the spinach and make the pieces smaller.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Whisk in the ricotta cheese until smooth. Switch to a wooden spoon, add the remaining ingredients — including the cooked onion mixture and the chopped spinach — and mix until evenly combined.
Divide the mixture between the mini-muffin cups. Bake the puffs until set in the center and lightly browned around the outside edge. Let them rest in the pans for about 3 minutes before trying to remove. If any of them stick, run a butter knife around the edge to loosen them.
Serve warm or room temperature with marinara or pizza sauce.
Pan-Fried Apples and Onions
This may sound like an odd combination, but there is no more natural pairing than tart apples for the sweet qualities that onions take on when they cook. Frying them in butter lends a little nutty, toasty flavour to the party.
4 large tart, firm apples (Use a variety good for cooking, such as Cortland, Spy, Gala or Granny Smith)
2 large cooking onions, ends trimmed and peeled
3 T. butter
Pinch of salt
Cut the onions in half, end-to-end. Cut each half in quarters and then each quarter in half again. Set aside.
Peel, core and halve the apples. Cut each half in quarters and then each quarter in half again.
Melt the butter over medium high heat in a large frying pan. Add the apples and onions all at once to the hot pan. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the apples and onions and toss gently to coat with the melted butter. After the pieces are coated with butter, let them stand without stirring them for 1-2 minutes or until the pieces get a little color to them. Toss again and cook — stirring occasionally — until the apples and onions are crisp tender. Serve hot or warm as a snack or an accompaniment to roasts or sausages.
For a heartier helping of Foodie With Family, go to www.foodiewithfamily.com. Write to Rebecca at email@example.com.