Fall Is Here, Hallelujah, Now What's On the Menu?

Let me start by stating for the record that pumpkin spice is overdone, the shark has been jumped, people. There is no need for pumpkin spice cookies or pumpkin spiced sausage. Yes, these are both real things that should never have been brought to market. Your pumpkin spice shampoo and room freshener can go too. As far as I'm concerned there are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe that pumpkin tastes like spices, and those who understand that pumpkin tastes like nothing without the spices which normally accompany it. What most people like is the taste of those spices; cinnamon, clove and allspice, but I digress. When late summer/early fall rolls on our calendar it really brings out the best in our gardens and on our menus. There are tons of yummy things to eat coming out of the ground this time of year.

The first week of September brings glorious, beautiful late season tomatoes. Many heirloom varieties ripen right about now, and Black Krims are one of my favorites. The best thing you can do with these is almost nothing, just season with good salt and fresh pepper, some good Extra Virgin Olive Oil and some vinegar if you're feeling extra saucy. A good tomato has so much flavor it needs little else.

Sweet corn is in abundance this time of year as well and I love it so much, I can eat it raw right on the cob with nothing on it. Growing up in the mid-west, I remember eating this at almost every meal. My family even had a stick of butter with a dip in the middle on which we rolled our hot ears of corn. Two of the unique ways I like using corn is, I puree the kernels with some cream or milk and use it as a base for pancake batter, making sure I save some roasted kernels to use for garnish. The second way I use corn is like plopping some schmaltz on top of mashed potatoes, it's one of those magical moments in my life when I wondered why I hadn't done it sooner and lamented the lost time. After I remove all the kernels off the cobbs, I don't throw the cobbs away. I save them all and make corn stock. Stupid simple, just cobs, mirepoix and aromatics of your choosing. This stock is a great base for corn chowder and other chowder types of soup, a stock made with something you were going to throw away. Brilliant. Also, if you have some time on your hands, and I know most chefs do (sarcasm) reduce that stock real slow (to avoid excess cloudiness) to make a corn stock concentrate. Use it as a base for a butter sauce. You're welcome.

Now lets talk about squash, shall we? I love Karobuta squash. First off, the skin is completely edible, which makes it unique in the squash family. It also brings a nice contrast to your dish in both texture and color. Pie pumpkin I use for soup. I make a royale (per se) of equal parts Vermont Maple Syrup, butter and Jack Daniels; heat it until the butter melts and pour into the cavity of the pumpkin. Then I make soup out of the pumpkin and the royale. Its a spectacular soup, not for my taste, but maybe it's that I have been making this soup for over 30 years and I am just tired of it. People in my restaurants used to main line that shit. You gotta give the people what they ask for.

Fall also brings game back onto your menus. Venison, elk and bison are very popular up here in the PNW but my love for game starts with those that fly. I love little birds; quail, duck, squab; nothing is better but you gotta know how to cook them. With duck I cook the breast med. rare, making sure I rest it before I slice it. The legs beg for confit, (cooked in its own fat), an old world style of preservation that thankfully is still practiced in the best kitchens every fall. Once those duck legs are confit, then the ways to use that delicious fatty meat are endless. Rillette, Thanksgiving stuffing, or Cassoulet, you cannot go wrong.

You can roast the whole bird and glaze it, a la orange or the like, but I prefer to cook duck in parts, each part is served best when you cook them separately, same with squab. For home cooks, for the love of all that is holy, do not throw the carcass away. Use it for making stock. Throwing away a carcass, or for that matter, the remains of a shellfish relieved of its exoskeleton, are akin to blasphemy in my book. Everything can be used to build my stock. My stock is my secret ingredient, and it is constantly evolving. My practice involves constantly fortifying my stock as the year goes on, so by the time I really need a good amount of stock for my holiday meal, I have a stock so gelatinous it can bounce off the floor like a super ball. When it comes to stock, the more gelatinous, the better. Remember kids, fat is flavor, and this particular gelatinous goo is just one more piece of proof around why this mantra has stood the test of time.

I have wet dreams about Cassoulet, no lie. If there is a more delightful wonder of a dish when frost first appears on the grass let me know because I haven't found it yet. I use two different kinds of pork, duck, and some garlic sausage, all cooked with flavorful white beans and tomatoes. Just listing the ingredients here makes my mouth water. Choucroute Garni (sausages, sauerkraut and potatotes), is another of my seasonal favorites. No wonder fall is my favorite season, it's not only our birthday season, the food is delicious.

If you are fortunate enough like I am, to live in an agricultural hub, there is the ever-present and glorious spectacle of the bodacious gardens growing all around you as you walk down any block in the neighborhood during any season but winter, believe it or not. Summer days are filled with snacking on a myriad of berries as I walk down the humble streets of my little town. I marvel at stunning artichokes, ready to be eaten but not quite ready to flower. I excitedly watch as apples, pears and plums blossom and eventually bare fruit. as well, tomatoes and pole beans. To the chagrin of my wife, I love to sample the local neighborhood produce. I don't take enough to make a meal, I think of it more as a snack while I walk. There is nothing like indulging in the flavors of one's neighborhood.

That reminds me.... I have to take the dog out for a walk right now.

Until next week,


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