Fall Feast Dessert: Apple Tarte Tatin served with Pumpkin Ice Cream

Sometimes creating a feast, such as our Fall Feast, is all about planning: planning the menu, planning the shopping list, planning time to shop and prep and cook, planning the table setting and decor. A person doesn't always have time to use original recipes for every single dish, nor should they have to. Somewhere in the "planning the menu" stage is research, or actually looking at some of those cookbooks one has on his or her shelves. For this particular dessert, we relied on Emeril and Williams (-Sonoma, that is).

Emeril Lagasse's take on the classic Apple Tarte Tatin, which was published in Food Network Favorites (2005) produced a sweet-tart, very caramel-icious dessert that was a nice change from apple pie. It was a bit time-consuming (making the caramel), but had its easy components (using frozen puff pastry as the top, well, technically bottom since you flip it). To make it ala mode, we made our own Pumpkin Ice Cream using the recipe in Williams-Sonoma Ice Cream manual. Also a bit time consuming, if one is making their own pumpkin puree (we did), but full of warm spice and pumpkin flavor with a hint of bourbon that paired very well with the apple tarte.

This brings us to an end of our week of Fall Feast posts. It surely was a feast, fit for the season as well as for the wonderful guests for whom we cooked it. To us foodies, nothing says "We love and appreciate you!" like a specially-made homecooked meal. So hey, Mom, Dad, Kate, Chris, Elizabeth...we love and appreciate you. And thanks for all the compliments to the cooks!


Fall Feast Extras: Bread and Veggies (or, where we cut corners)

Our Fall Feast needed a little rounding out. For instance, where is the vegetable? And how's about some bread? Here's where we cut a few corners for the sake of time and sanity...
For our vegetable dish, Chris made his famous "Sweet Carrots and Onions." In this "recipe," Chris cooked about a pound carrots cut into rounds and one large onion (chopped) in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of unsalted butter and a few tablespoons of granulated sugar. He covered the pan and cooked the vegetables over medium heat, stirring often, until the carrots begin to caramelize. This method makes carrots taste like candy. In fact, Amy's dad (who claims to hate carrots) had two helpings and pronounced them his favorite dish of the night!
A few weeks ago, Amy bought a cute pumpkin-and-maple-leaf silicone muffin pan at the Christmas Tree Shops for a mere $2.99. To make bread for the Fall Feast, she mixed up a batch of Jiffy Cornbread (yes, from a box!) and baked them in this pan. So cute!!!


Fall Feast Stuffing: Grandma B's Stuffing

Amy’s mother graciously offered to serve as “Guest Chef” and brought the stuffing to our Fall Feast. For what is a turkey dinner without stuffing? This recipe is the one her mother, Amy's grandma, taught her. Mom makes it in a slow cooker because there never seems to be room in the oven on Thanksgiving. Soft, full of spicy seasoning, and never dry, this one is a family favorite. Sure beats Stove Top! Thanks, Mom!

1 stick salted butter
1/2 large onion, diced
1 1/2 large stalks of celery, chopped (include leaves if possible)
1 package (12) stale hamburger or hot dog rolls
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 -3 teaspoons Bell’s poultry seasoning, to taste
1 14.5-ounce can chicken broth

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add diced onions and chopped celery (including leaves), then the chicken broth. Cook over low heat until onions are clear and celery is soft. In a large stock pot, break the bread into ½-inch cubes, then add salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Mix well, then pour warm onion/celery mixture onto bread pieces and stir well. Grease the inside of an slow cooker with butter, cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Stir well, then continue to cook on low for 2 to 3 hours.


Fall Feast Potato: Aligot

We had never even heard of aligot before. Then one day, we were watching America's Test Kitchen (ATK) and they were making aligot and boy, did it sound delicious. Aligot is a dish from Southern France in which potatoes are mixed with cheese to produce a smooth, almost stretchy consistency. Sounds weird, but, it's potatoes and cheese...how can it be bad?

Since we have TiVo, we paused and re-wound and fast-forwarded through this particular episode of ATK until we were sure we had the recipe down. Then we decided to make them as the potato dish for our Fall Feast. Elizabeth, our 4-year-old niece, said they were "Cheesy!" and "Yummy!" Indeed, they were. And not too difficult to make. We loved them, but be forewarned...they are quite rich.

Here's the "recipe" we came up with, based on the show, to which we offer all credits.

2-3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 tablespoon salt
water to cover and boil potatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt to taste
1 cup whole milk
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Peel the potatoes and cut them in 1/2-inch slices. Place them in a large pot with a tablespoon of salt. Add water to cover the potatoes over an inch. Bring to a boil and cook for fifteen minutes. Drain the water. Put the potatoes in a food processor with the minced garlic, salt to taste and the butter. Pulse a few times, add the milk, and pulse until smooth. Return the mixture to your pot and turn heat to medium. Slowly add the cheeses, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon while doing so, over a period of 3-5 minutes, until stretchy consistency is reached. Serve hot.


Fall Feast Condiment: Cider-Sage Gravy *Award-Winning*

Clearly, our trip to Vermont a few weeks back acted as inspiration for some of our Fall Feast dishes. For example, we used a Vermont-made gouda in our gougères. Next up, using apple cider from the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in our gravy. We used the following basic ratio for gravy for this recipe; we're not sure where we learned it, but it works well.

Basic ratio per cup of gravy:
1 1/2 tablespoons fat
desired seasoning
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup liquid

After removing the turkey from the roasting pan, we set it on a cutting board to rest. In the meantime, Amy got the ingredients together for the gravy and put her sister, Kate, to work as the gravy-stirrer. We set the roasting pan on the stovetop over two burners that were on medium heat. In the pan were the drippings from the turkey which acted as the fat. We added 4 or 5 fresh sage leaves for seasoning and allowed the drippings to heat up and start to stick to the pan. To deglaze, we slowly added some apple cider as the flavoring liquid of our gravy. Finally, we whisked flour into some chicken stock, as the thickening liquid of our gravy. Kate patiently stirred for many, many minutes while the gravy thickened to our desired consistency. It was very tasty - even without additional salt or pepper, and the sage really enhanced the herb flavors already in the turkey (from the dry-brine and herbed butter).  

Therefore, our gravy ingredients:
3 tablespoons fat
sage leaves
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup apple cider
1 cup chicken stock


Fall Feast Main Course: Dry-Brined Turkey

The star of our Fall Feast was the turkey. It's not just for Thanksgiving, you know! We admit to using one from our grocery store - a 14-and-1/2 pounder from Shady Brook Farms. At the butcher's suggestion, we soaked the bird in cold water for an hour to release some of the salt in which the meat had been processed. We wanted to dry-brine it, and adding brine without soaking could make it too salty.

After soaking the turkey, we dried it well with paper towels and placed it in our roasting pan. We then rubbed the brine, a salt-and-herb mixture (see below), all over the skin and inside the cavity of the turkey. After wrapping the entire turkey/pan package with plastic wrap, we placed it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, we prepared the turkey for roasting. We first rinsed off the salt/herb mixture and patted the turkey dry once again. We made an herbed butter (see below), loosened the skin and rubbed the butter both under the skin and over it. We stuffed the cavity with a bundle of fresh herbs (a few sprigs each of thyme and rosemary, as well as a small bundle of sage leaves) and one peeled, halved onion and put it in a 350-degree oven for the recommended 15 minutes per pound. We roasted it with the breast side down for the first two hours to allow the juices to soak into the breast and ensure that it wouldn't dry out, then we flipped it for the remainder of the time. We also basted it a few times, when we thought about doing so.

The end result was a turkey that was moist and tender. The herbs imparted a wonderful flavor to the meat that we amped up with a tasty cider-sage gravy (next post!). The skin was nicely browned and crispy, and all parts - legs, wings and breast - were evenly cooked. Naturally, what is the one thing we neglected to photograph during our Fall Feast? The turkey before it was carved. Instead, we have a platter filled with the meat for serving. For once, perhaps, it's not about presentation...

Got leftovers? Try our directions for Turkey Pot Pie.

For the dry-brine:
5 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons each of dried thyme, rosemary, marjoram and savory (or your choice of herbs)
1 teaspoon pepper
3 bay leaves, crushed into small pieces

For the herbed butter:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, mostly melted
1 tablespoon dried herbs de Provence (or your choice of herbs)


Fall Feast Appetizer Course: Gougères

On Sunday, we hosted Amy's family (mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and 4-year-old niece) for a fall feast. Our backyard maple tree complied, with leaves ranging from harvest gold to scarlet red. It was warm but overcast, with just a slight chill in the air. We started prepping on Thursday, since we were making several dishes, with all new recipes, and our hard work and effort really paid off. When asked what their favorite dish was, each of our guests had a different answer! That must mean everything was delicious!!! This week we will do daily posts about our Fall Feast, with recipes (or links to them) and photos.

Today, we'll start with the appetizer. We had brought home a beautiful wedge of maple-smoked gouda from Taylor Farm in Londonderry, Vermont around the same time that we saw a recipe for gougères here on epicurious.com. Our idea was to make these savory cheese puffs with the maple-smoked gouda, and what a great idea it was! The puffs were light, airy and cheesy, with a nice hint of smokiness. The recipe (which we highly recommend!) seems difficult but is actually quite quick and easy, as it is just choux pastry with cheese mixed into it. We had never made choux pastry before, but now will include it among our "easy yet elegant entertaining" ideas. These made great start to our Fall Feast!!!


Red Monkey Foods Contest Results

Today we learned that our recipe for "Sweet-n-Spicy Lamb Lollipops" using Red Monkey Foods All-Natural Stone Ground Spicy Mustard Seasoning won first place in their "Feisty Flavor Recipe Challenge, Appetizer Division." Earlier this month, we had posted our trial recipe making these as a main dish served with potatoes and green beans. We are very excited because we think these chops kick butt and apparently, we are right! Check out Red Monkey Foods for more information on their tasty (and not at all expensive!) organic and all-natural seasonings. Thanks, Red Monkey Foods!!!


A Foodie Fall Weekend in Vermont

Waterbury, Vermont. Home to Ben and Jerry's and the Cold Hollow Cider Mill. These sights and the fall foliage beckoned us to the area over the Columbus Day holiday where we enjoyed a fabulous foodie fall weekend. And the foliage wasn't half bad either! Here is our "best of" version.

Best BBQ: We love BBQ, and that's been made clear a number of times on this blog. But BBQ in Vermont? How could way-up-North-erners know how to make good ol' Southern food? We don't care how, but they do! The Cider House BBQ and Pub is a fantastic BBQ joint in Waterbury, VT that does BBQ right. We were heartily welcomed by a friendly server (whom we happened to run into later on that weekend). After bringing us  mini-loaves of tasty cornbread, he suggested a pint of local hard cider and named some of his favorite dishes. We could barely finish everything we ordered (which was quite a bit). We started with BBQ shrimp done in the New Orleans style, and mopped up the buttery sauce with grilled bread. Chris had St. Louis ribs dripping with mildly spicy bourbon sauce that he paired in a combination plate with tender pulled pork in tangy Carolina mustard sauce. To accompany his meat feast, he chose fried okra (where did they find okra up here?!?!), and horseradish mashed spuds. Amy was enticed by the amazingly crispy buttermilk fried chicken that was served up with smooth, creamy grits and mac-n-cheese made with local VT cheddar. Oh. So. Yummy. Every bite.

Best Breakfast: Perhaps we were still on a Southern kick, but we had to go to Penny Cluse Cafe, up the road a bit in Burlington, to try their "Sleepy Nate's Biscuits 'n Gravy." We read about this dish in Food Network Magazine a few months ago. All we can say it, it was well worth the wait (and apparently, there's always a wait at this corner spot). Flaky biscuits swam in a creamy gravy that was so full of herbs it was practically green and had the freshest herby-est flavor. The Smoked Salmon Plate was huge and a nice change of pace, as it was served with grilled baguette and chevre rather than the usual bagel and cream cheese. The Zydeco breakfast (not pictured) - eggs served with super-spicy andouille sausage and black bean - rocked our souls.

Best Romantic Dinner: On a weekend such as this, we had to have one special occasion, not-so-casual, romantic, fancy meal. Everything we researched seemed to point us in the direction of a place called Hen of the Wood. That's all fine and good unless you call too late and can't get a reservation since everyone knows about it and it's one of the heaviest tourist weekends of the year in VT (oops). In the end, it was a blessing, because we completely fell in love with our "second choice," The Kitchen Table Bistro, where we had an exquisite dining experience. The Kitchen Table is all about preparing and serving local, sustainable, seasonal foods; in fact, their list of local suppliers is very impressive. Also notable is their willingness to serve half-portions so there is less waste. We really enjoyed the appetizer special of steak tartare served on crispy potato chips with pickled vegetables. Chris loved his quail dish - a lovely little roasted bird served over risotto with root vegetables. Amy's grilled VT pork was perfectly cooked and fork-tender; it was served with crispy herb spaetzle, braised chard and roasted apples - a wonderful fall meal. For dessert, an "open-faced chocolate-coffee sundae" made with homemade ice cream and topped with plenty of crunchy candied almonds. Having this artfully prepared local food in a 1795 brick homestead house only added to the comforting ambiance.

Best Dessert: The best dessert we had was the one-scoop sample of Ben and Jerry's "Cho-COW-late Chip" we received at the end of our tour of the Waterbury plant. Great fun, indeed! However, the crisp-on-the-outside, warm, fresh cider donuts from the Cold Hollow Cider Mill came in a very close second.

Best Snack with a View: After a brisk round-trip ferry ride from Burlington, VT to Kent, NY, we stopped at the Ice House, where we enjoyed a light snack and warmed up with a cup of spiked hot tea. Amy's French onion soup was your typical crock, but Chris's roasted beet salad with goat cheese was a gorgeous and delicious plate. What stole the show, however, was the fabulous view of Lake Champlain at sunset.


Fire Roasted Pepper and Sausage Chili

We spent Columbus Day Weekend in Vermont (more about that in a later post, promise!). And when we got home, it was chilly. The temperatures were low, the air smelled of leaves and firewood, and that gorgeous autumn cripsness was in the air, as it had been in VT. This got us to thinking...when it's chilly, it's time to make chili! We changed it up a bit this time, though. We fire-roasted one green and one yellow bell pepper (likely the last of our summer harvest), then peeled and chopped them, adding them to some browned sausage, tomatoes and black beans for a different type of chili that was spicy, warm and filling. The crunchy baguette we bought the previous day at the Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, VT was the perfect accompaniment.

6 thin slices pancetta
1 12-ounce package pork sausage
1 large onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper - roasted, peeled and finely chopped
1 green bell pepper - roasted, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper
1 cup water
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon tomato paste mixed with 1 tablespoon hot water

In a large pot, cook the pancetta slices. Remove when crispy and set aside. In the pancetta fat, cook the sausage over medium heat 8-10 minutes until browned, taking care to crumble it into small pieces. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, salt, and seasonings. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and tender. Stir in the water and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and beans and heat to boiling. Stir in the tomato paste/water mixture, then cook uncovered about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with crumbled pancetta bits.


Garlicky Potato Soup with Pancetta Chips

Amy writes:
It was a chilly, dank afternoon. Last week temperatures were in the 80s, now they are damp low 60s. Work has been crazy. I've been stressed and haven't been sleeping well. Chris had a late afternoon dentist appointment and I knew anything he had to chew was just not going to work for dinner. All in all, I was feeling a bit sluggish and uninspired. Could we have gotten take-out (again)? Sure. But I wanted, no, I needed to cook something. Something new.

So I got in my car and turned on the Top 40 station. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry sang about California Gurls and Pokerfaces as I drove to the grocery store. Surreptitiously, I lingered in the magazine/book aisle and browsed for dinner ideas, soups in particular (since they don't require much chewing). America's Test Kitchen Special Collector's Edition "Best-Ever Recipes" caught my eye. I picked it up and there it was on page 46 - "Hearty Garlic-Potato Soup." Cheap ingredients (pay day is two whole days away), plenty of prep work (my version of therapy), hearty (it's even in the name!), and it's soup, so it's essentially warm and comforting. Folks, we have a winner.

While I'm certainly no one to mess with America's Test Kitchen, nonetheless, I made a few adaptations. Here is my version. We loved it, and it certainly warmed up an otherwise chilly, dank afternoon.

For the pancetta chips:
6 thin slices pancetta

For the soup:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and chopped small (about 1 cup's worth)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 whole garlic heads, top third cut off and loose outer skins removed
1 48-ounce can plus 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
3 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 medium red potatoes, skins-on, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
ground black pepper

To prepare pancetta chips: Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread out the slices of pancetta onto the paper. Bake for 3-4 minutes each side or to desired crispness. Remove to a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

To prepare the soup:
Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the chopped leek and cook 5 minutes until soft.

Add minced garlic and cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add 6 cups of chicken broth, the garlic heads, bay leaves and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium heat for 40 minutes or until garlic is very tender when pierced with a fork.

Add the potatoes, another 1/4 teaspoon salt, and continue to simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Remove and discard bay leaves. Remove garlic heads and squeeze the cloves into a separate bowl. Mash garlic cloves with a fork to make a paste.

Stir the garlic paste into the soup and add the cream and thyme. 

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until creamy with some potato chunks. Add 1/2 to 1 cup remaining chicken broth, to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each serving with a pancetta chip. Makes approximately six servings.  


Sweet-n-Spicy Lamb Lollipop Chops *Award-Winning"

An easy yet elegant meal, our tender lamb lollipops get their sweetness from brown sugar and a spicy kick from Red Monkey Stone Ground Spicy Mustard Seasoning. Chopped fresh rosemary leaves offer a hint of herbiness. For sides, we barely steamed some green beans from the garden, and roasted fingerling potatoes with some herbs de Provence.  Although the meal was easy enough to make any old weeknight, it looked like we were celebrating a special occasion.


6-8 “lollipop” lamb chops, also known as “Frenched rack of lamb”
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Red Monkey Stone Ground Spicy Mustard Seasoning
2 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts

Prepare grill and turn to medium-high heat. In a shallow dish, blend the following ingredients: mustard seasoning, brown sugar, rosemary, salt and pepper. Drizzle each lamb chop with ¼ tablespoon of olive oil, then coat with the seasoning blend. Place chops on grill and cook for four minutes. Turn chops over and cook other side for two minutes. Sprinkle with chopped pistachio nuts and serve with your favorite sides.