Getting the jump on the changing seasons.

The nights here in Ohio are finally growing cooler, so I’m going to pretend that its autumn and that it’s appropriate to cook some of my favorite seasonal dishes – even if the nights are only a few degrees cooler and basically, it’s still stiflingly hot most of the time. 

It’s not like we’ve turned off the air conditioning and throw open the windows.  The leaves are still on the trees and about the only real signs of fall are the gaggle of kids headed to the school up the street and an even greater than the already high normal saturation of Ohio State football-themed clothing. 

I love autumn less for the falling leaves and the flannel and the football than for the food.  Give me bratwurst drenched in spicy mustard hot off a grill that’s precariously mounted to the back of some guy’s truck.  Give me apple cider, hot or cold.  Give me apples dipped in caramel, or that fried dough – in any form, but definitely dusted with sugar of some sort – from a county fair or an autumn festival.  And please, I beg you, give me all of the delicious braised and roasted things that are an option once we can turn our ovens on again. 

So that’s this week’s menu.  An entre to fall entrees.  Me, hoping for Autumn.

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Chevre Stuffed Poached Figs with Bacon and Caramelized Onion Jam

There are a few really great things about this recipe, but the standout is that in the end you’ll have more of the bacon and caramelized onion jam than you really need for the recipe itself.  This is not an error.  First, there’s not really a good way to further reduce the recipe.  Secondly, it’s jam made from bacon and caramelized onions – two of the most delicious things you can put on things.  Basically, it’s the burger topping of your dreams.  So, once you’re done with this fancy presentation that pairs well with a nice French wine, slather that leftover jam on a burger and enjoy it with and ice-cold malt beverage of your choice.

We’ll poach dried figs in wine and water for this recipe, but if you have access to fresh figs (they’re still sort of in season in some places) they’ll be even better.  I couldn’t get my hands on fresh figs this week, so I went with dried.  The advantage of the dried figs is that … well, they were in my pantry.  They’re available year-round.  You could also make this same recipe with prunes in place of the figs.  I know that’s easy to make fun of, but I promise it’ll be delicious.

1 large white onion
4 strips bacon
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ cup white wine
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp fresh thyme
¼ cup white vinegar
12 dried figs
4 tbsp plain goat cheese
Olive oil, fresh herbs, and crunchy finishing salt as garnish

Peel, trim, and thinly slice the onion.

Cut the bacon into thin strips.

Fry the bacon in a pot large enough to hold the onions.

Remove the fried bacon once crisp, and discard all but 1 tsp of the rendered bacon fat.

Add the onions to the bacon fat and cook – stirring frequently and occasionally deglazing the pan with very small amounts of water – over low heat until well caramelized.  This may take up to 45 minutes.

Once the onions are fully caramelized, add the vinegar, thyme, and brown sugar to the pan, return the bacon pieces to the pan, and cook until the sugar is dissolved.

Transfer the mixture to the container of a food processor and process until the mixture is as smooth as possible.

Return to the bacon onion mixture to the pan and cook until thick.

Allow to cool completely and refrigerate.

Place the figs, wine, and enough water to cover in a thick bottomed pot.

Bring to a low simmer, and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until figs are soft and plump.

Using a chopstick or the handle of a small wooden spoon, make a hole in the base of each fig.

Stuff pieces of goat cheese into each fig.

Spread a thin disk of bacon and caramelized onion jam on the plate.

Arrange the figs on the plate, scatter with small additional bits of goat cheese.

Garnish with fresh herbs, good olive oil, and a scattering of crunchy finishing salt such as Maldon.

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Spinach Salad with Pecans Chevre, and Pickled Onions

This is a simple spinach salad – and one you can build on if you so wish.  Don’t be afraid of the pickled onions – they’re not particularly oniony, add gorgeous color and a nice acidic crunch.  Pecans and some goat cheese round it all out.  You can add bacon or diced crunchy apples if you’re looking for a little more complexity, or if you’re looking to turn this into an entree salad, but bacon and apples sort of felt like gilding the lily given that they appear in other recipes in this week’s edition.

The red pickled onion recipe below makes far more than you’ll likely need, but they keep well and are a great topping for nachos, tacos, even pizza – almost anything where a sweet & sour kick works.

5 oz baby spinach leaves
¼ cup pecans
4 tbsp Chevre
1 tsp minced shallot
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp ground black pepper

Heat a dry pan over medium low heat.

Add the pecans and toast, stirring or shaking constantly, until they begin to take on a bit of color.

Remove the pecans from the pan and allow them to cool, then chop into smaller pieces.

Wash and drain the spinach leaves.

Add the shallot and vinegar to a non-reactive bowl and allow to rest 5-15 minutes.

Add the mustard and black pepper.

Whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion, adding a few drops of cold water as necessary.

Toss the spinach in the dressing to coat well.

Arrange on a plate with pecans, bits of chevre, and slices of red pickled onion (below).

Red Pickled Onions

1 small red onion
1/3 cup white vinegar
2/3 cup water
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp granulated sugar

Peel, trim, and slice the onion from end to end.

In a non-reactive bowl, sprinkle the onion slices with the sugar and salt, and toss to coat evenly.

Allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Add the vinegar and water to a pan and bring to a boil.

Pour the water and vinegar mixture over the onion and allow to cool.

Transfer to a lidded jar or container and refrigerate overnight before using.

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Maple and Mustard Cured Pork Tenderloin with Cider Vinegar Sabayon

Pork tenderloin is one of the most versatile and easy cuts of pork to work with.  It works with all sorts of different seasonings, and it’s fast and easy to prepare. 

So of course, I came up with a way to make it slow and a little fussy.  Not a lot, but a little.  My one complaint about tenderloin is that it can – even when cooked to the pink side of where most Americans eat pork – be a little mealy.   Lightly curing it fixes that problem, but it does mean planning a head a day or two.

A simple cure of mustard, salt, garlic, and maple, plus a day or so in the refrigerator gives you a firm, slightly sweet, flavorful pieces of meat that’s as good on the next day’s sandwich as it is at the center of the plate.  Somehow, this entire menu has become about the leftovers.

This week, I settled that roasted pork onto a pile of soft cabbage – fried in butter with apple sauce – and topped it with a cider vinegar sabayon, but you can simplify it as much as you want.  It’d be great with just mashed potatoes and some pan drippings.

2 cloves garlic
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
1 tbsp stoneground Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Peel, trim, and crush or microplane the garlic.

In a small non-reactive bowl, mix the garlic, salt, maple syrup and two mustards.

Add the cure mixture to a zip top bag with the pork tenderloin and refrigerate at least overnight, and up to 48 hours.

Smoke, or roast the tenderloin at 350°F until the internal temperature reached 135°F.

Allow to rest before slicing.

Serve over Butter Fried Apple Sauce Cabbage and top with Cider Vinegar Sabayon (both below).

Butter Fried Apple Sauce Cabbage

4 cups shredded or chopped green cabbage
¼ cup apple sauce
4 tbsp butter
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp kosher salt

Add the butter to a pan over medium heat.

Once the butter is melted, and has stopped foaming, add the cabbage and apple sauce and sauté until the cabbage is soft and the apple sauce is beginning to caramelize.

Season with salt and pepper.

Cider Vinegar Sabayon

¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup water
1 clove garlic
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 small sprig thyme
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk

Peel, trim, and crush or microplane the garlic.

Add the water, vinegar, thyme, mustard, garlic, and ground pepper to a pan over medium heat. 

Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid has been reduced by one half.

Strain out and discard the solids.

Allow the liquid to cool to room temperature.

Once the liquid has cooled, whisk in one egg yolk.

Over a pot of boiling water or holding the bowl with a towel over the edge of an open flame, whisk vigorously until the sauce is warm and foamy.

Spoon over roasted pork tenderloin.

Crispy Whole Creamer Potatoes

I love the soft creamy texture you get in potatoes that have been long cooked, skin on, in heavily salted water.  Upstate New York “salt potatoes” are phenomenal, and the salty skin perfectly contrasts that creamy center.

But you know what else is great?  Fried potatoes.  Fried potatoes are inarguably great.  So why have not both?

These are basically salt potatoes that have been peeled and deep fried – then resalted.  They’re a different creature altogether, but they’re equally great.  These are the Cadbury Cream Eggs of fried potatoes.  They’re crispy on the outside, and rich and creamy inside.   

Here, of course, I’m serving them as a side, but they’re great as a snack with almost any kind of dipping sauce.  So, have at it.  

Unlike the other dishes this week, I’m not going to include some comment about leftovers.  You won’t have any.

1 lb white or yellow baby “creamer” potatoes
1 stick unsalted butter
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Oil for frying

Clean the potatoes, removing any eyes.

Add the potatoes to a pot of heavily salted water and cook until almost all the water in the pan has evaporated. Choose a pot large enough to hold all the potatoes in one layer, and fill to cover the potatoes by a ½ inch of water.

Plunge the potatoes into a bath of ice water.

Remove the skin from the potatoes and allow them to dry out in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Prepare your fryer or a Dutch oven filled with enough neutral oil to completely cover the potatoes.

Heat the oil to 350°F.

Fry the potatoes whole until a crisp brown skin has formed.

Remove the potatoes and drain briefly on a paper towel or a rack.

Season with salt and serve immediately.

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Pecan Pumpernickel Bread Pudding with Maple Toffee Sauce and Bourbon Whipped Cream

Bread pudding is one of my favorite deserts because there’s no possibility of making it pretty.  No matter what you do, it’s going to be a delicious blob, scoop, slice, or bowl of eggy custard-soaked bread. A deconstructed loaded French toast.  That means I don’t have the opportunity to fail at twee presentations and artfully plated sweets.  Just drench it in sauce and pile it high with whipped cream and somehow it becomes a thing of beauty.

Normally, you probably wouldn’t make bread pudding with pumpernickel.  When someone says “pumpernickel” your mind probably goes straight to pastrami or corned beef, pickled herring, or something like that – at least after your inner child stops snickering at the word pumpernickel.  Let’s face it, it’s a hilarious word.  It’s a grandpa word.

Pumpernickel is inherently sweet, and already has all the toasty caramelly notes of some of my favorite deserts built right in.  So why not make it into a dessert?  It’s an experiment worth doing.

Oh yeah, because it’s turned into an accidental theme this week:  you will have leftovers.  Throw ‘em in a waffle maker for tasty slightly sweet pumpernickel waffles.  They’ll be delicious topped with some bacon and a poached egg.

1 loaf or 6 cups pumpernickel bread cubes (1/4-1/2 inch cubes)
8 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
½ cup chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cut the pumpernickel loaf into ¼ to ½ inch cubes.  You’ll need approximately 6 cups of ¼ inch bread cubes or the equivalent.

Add the pecans and bread cubes to a large non-reactive bowl.

Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.

Add the vanilla, milk and heavy cream, and whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold together.

Allow to rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, to allow the bread to absorb the custard mixture.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Pour the bread and custard mixture into a large well buttered loaf pan and cover tightly with foil.

Prepare a bain-marie by placing the covered loaf pan in a 9x11 baking pan and adding near boiling water to the pan until it reaches 2/3rds of the way up the loaf pan – or within ½ inch of the top of the baking pan.

Bake in the bain-marie for 45 minutes, or until the pudding is fully set and not wobbly – or until it has reached an internal temperature of 155°F.

Allow to cool to room temperature, then chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

To serve, top with Maple Toffee Sauce and Bourbon Whipped Cream.

Maple Toffee Sauce

½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup maple syrup
8 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream

Add the butter, sugar, and maple syrup to a thick bottomed pan.

Slowly bring to a boil and cook until the liquid appears to have reduced by one half.

Add the heavy cream, stirring well to integrate, and cook for approximately five minutes, or until thick.

Keep warm until serving or reheat by adding a few drops of water and bringing to a simmer while stirring.

Bourbon Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ oz bourbon whiskey

Whip the cream until stiff peaks have formed.  Starting slowly and speeding up once the cream begins to thicken will result in a smoother and more stable finished product.

Fold in the whiskey.