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As the leaves change from green to vibrant shades of orange and red and the last long days of summer fade into memories, thoughts turn to chillier nights and warm, satisfying meals to share with friends and family. Although many of the vegetables and fruits of summer are dwindling in the produce bins, there are autumn selections that enhance a variety of slow-roasted and braised meat and poultry dishes and add unique flavors to breakfast and lunch.
Starting the Day
Since autumn temperatures vary so widely, keep a wide range of fall breakfast foods on hand to match the weather and your mood. Apples and pears are abundant in the fall and add texture and flavor to hot cereals sweetened with sugar or honey. A dollop of homemade applesauce turns simple pancakes and waffles into a breakfast treat. If Indian summer brings warm mornings to your area, make a fruit salad with fresh grapefruit sections, grapes, cranberries, and kiwi. Let some bananas get dead ripe and bake a loaf or two of hearty banana bread, a satisfying breakfast choice when lightly toasted and topped with peanut butter.
Whether you’re eating in or packing brown bag lunches for the family, hearty sandwiches are always welcome for fall lunches. Start with slices of sturdy multigrain bread to hold up to fillings and put a lettuce leaf on each side to keep the bread from getting soggy. Fill the sandwiches with leftover roast chicken or roast beef, add a thin slice of your favorite cheese and a smear of mustard or mayonnaise, and you have a filling and delicious sandwich eaten fresh or hours later. Add a Clementine or orange as a naturally sweet accompaniment. A cup or small thermos of homemade vegetable soup is a good sandwich mate on chilly days, as is chicken and rice soup with a silky homemade broth.
Take the edge off cool fall evenings with slow cooked fall dinner entrees. Pot roast cooked in a slow cooker or in a 300 degree oven for several hours becomes fork tender and if you add chunks of potatoes, carrots and onions to the pot, you have a complete meal. Slow roast a pork butt roast riddled with garlic cloves and enjoy a pulled pork dinner with sides of cole slaw and twice-baked potatoes. Stuff a chicken with lemons and onions and roast it at 400 for a couple of hours until the skin is crisp and the flesh is juicy and succulent. Add a side of garlic mashed potatoes and green beans with almonds to complete the meal. Dig out your old family recipe for meatloaf and serve it with cheesy au gratin potatoes and buttered peas for a comfort food meal.
Fall vegetables are easily transformed into tasty fall side dishes with minimal time and effort. Baked butternut squash seasoned with a little maple syrup and butter is an excellent pairing for pork. Roasted beets go well with spicy fried chicken and parsnips sautéed with russet potatoes are great sides for beef, pork, and chicken. Sweet potatoes don’t have to be reserved for Thanksgiving. Whip them up like regular mashed potatoes, swirl in some soft butter, and stir in a healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper. The pepper brings out the natural sugar of the sweet potatoes. Cauliflower and Swiss chard are plentiful in the fall. Serve the cauliflower lightly steamed with cheese sauce or melted butter and braise the chard on top of the stove in a little extra virgin olive oil.
Casseroles have earned an undeserved bad name in some circles but some of our most cherished dishes fall into this category. Family favorites include lasagna, shepherd’s pie, scalloped potatoes with ham and tamale pie, all of which make satisfying dinners and taste even better the next day for lunch. For a change of pace, prepare stuffed bell peppers or cabbage rolls, both full of healthy vegetables and enough ground beef to satisfy the family carnivores.
Fall desserts conventionally incorporate apples into recipes. Baked apples are the simplest option, followed by apple crisp and apple brown betty, both easy to make and quick to bake. For a change of pace, make a cranberry cake or a pumpkin cheesecake to give other fall foods center stage. Pumpkin cookies spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg or rich shortbread cookies make great companions to after dinner coffee or as a midnight snack with a cup of tea or glass of cold milk. If you’re cooking for a crowd, make an apple sheet cake with Granny Smith or Pippin apples and serve it topped with melted vanilla ice cream and toasted walnuts. For smaller gatherings, bake an amaretto flavored Bundt cake sprinkled with powdered sugar, a rich pound cake served with sweetened thawed sliced strawberries, or a raspberry cream cheese coffee cake.