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Of Recent Note

PHOTOGRAPH BY ROSECRANS BALDWIN

Fall Food

From wild mushrooms to alcoholic tea, Thanksgiving casseroles to the perfect pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, here are the TMN writers’ favorite foodstuffs for autumn.

Ah, autumn—there’s so much to love. The scenery, the scarves, the old-fashioned look of a street covered in leaf piles. Sure, it’s cold in the mornings and boiling by midafternoon, and occasionally those leaf piles create unimaginable parking hazards, but look at all the pretty colors! Even better, look at all the food: pumpkins and squash, apples and sprouts, and of course the complete Thanksgiving spread. In short, fall is a good time to eat. Here, the TMN writers share a few of their favorite edible, autumnal delights.

Morels taste like fall to me. This summer I got some fresh from a Chapel Hill farmer’s market, sautéed them in olive oil and then spread them on toast. One Saturday lunch a few weeks ago, my wife ordered a superb roast chicken leg with morels at a little café near the park Buttes-Chaumont in Paris; we recreated it the following day for dinner. Woodsy, spongy, morels taste to me like a compound butter made from roots. I’m waiting for the day when I can order a morel hot dog at a high school football game; that would be the ultimate fall treat.—Rosecrans Baldwin




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Fall is chili season. The version I’ve come to love contains two crowd-pleasing ingredients: beer and bacon. So: brown a pound of salted and peppered ground beef in a big pot, drain the fat, and set aside. Wipe out the hot pan, and render a finely diced slice or two of smoked bacon. When the fat starts to come off the pork, pour in a small diced onion and a small diced bell pepper. Saute until soft. Return the meat to the pan, plus a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained, and a couple of 15-ounce cans of your favorite chili beans, also drained. Crack open a beer and pour it in. Add another, if necessary—the liquid should just barely cover the solids. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and cumin to taste. Let simmer on low heat for an hour, or more, until you have a lovely stew. Serve according to your regional foodways: over cornbread, spaghetti, rice, or crackers.—Liz Entman

 

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For several years now, I’ve been experimenting with squash. Acorn squash are old hat for me by now, and last winter, I cooked my first spaghetti squash, but when the butternut squash showed up at the farmer’s market two weeks ago, I pounced on the chance to try something new. And what fun it has been! Butternut squash has a thin, easy-to-cut skin and balls its seeds up at one end, meaning there’s lots of spare flesh that’s easy to get at. The other night, I cubed a quarter of one, browned it for just a few minutes in a bit of butter with some toasted walnuts and then tossed it with some whole-wheat linguini. Now that’s a great way to eat your vegetables. —Katherine Schlegel

 

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Here’s a soup so good that I’ve never served it to anyone and not had them ask for the recipe. It turns out a very nice warm pumpkin color, perfect for autumn, and while I suppose the recipe qualifies as vegan, I’m not vegan and I still like it a lot: Soak a cup of split red lentils in water for ten minutes. While they’re soaking, chop up a good-sized onion and 2 red peppers. In a pot big enough to make soup, fry the onion at medium heat in some oil with half a teaspoon of nutmeg, about an inch of grated ginger and 2 teaspoons of chili powder. When the onions are soft, add the red peppers and fry everything for a few more minutes. Drain the lentils and add those. Keep stirring, otherwise the lentils will stick. After about 5 minutes, add a cup and a half of veggie stock and let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Then add 2 cans of coconut milk and simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Blend it in a blender until smooth. Season. Eat.—Pasha Malla

 

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My new-agey nutritionist friend tells me that eating seasonal, local foods helps you feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter. For Northeasterners (and for people living in any other pumpkin-growing area), this is yet another reason to consume pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin milkshakes this fall. Unqualifiedly delicious and—except maybe the milkshake—warming too? I’m going to marry this food, especially its most awesome part—its seeds.

After you’ve carved your pumpkin into an adorable and/or scary orange hole-face, don’t throw out that stringy goo with the seeds stuck in it. Instead do this:

1. Rinse pumpkin seeds under cold water and pick out the pulp and strings. (This is easiest just after you’ve removed the seeds from the pumpkin, before the pulp has dried.)

2. Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, stirring to coat. If you prefer, omit the oil and coat with non-stick cooking spray.

3. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 325 degrees F until toasted, about 25 minutes, checking and stirring after 10 minutes.

Then look your jack-o-lantern in its light-up eyes and say, “Dang, you’re a tasty snack.”—Lauren Frey

 

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I couldn’t possibly give away my special recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, despite the fact that the bare bones of it are widely available on the website of a particular national TV channel devoted to food. My modifications, however slight, you will have to force out of me. I’ve never actually made the recipe their way, but I can assure you, mine is better. The cookies turn out neither overly pumpkiny nor overly sweet, they’re wonderful at any temperature, and they stay soft even after you’ve frozen and thawed them, which is a miracle unto baking that I had not previously witnessed in a cookie. That means they travel well and you can save some for next month. Have you begged me yet? Well, all right, if you insist: semisweet chips instead of milk chocolate, half the salt, regular butter instead of unsalted, add the flour mixture in fourths, and be generous with that cup of pumpkin puree—not too generous, but, shall we say, fall-food generous.—Bridget Fitzgerald

 

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Autumn is when the contents of the vegetable box shift from summer fruits to root vegetables, and the backlog of worthy fare starts to accumulate in the fridge. The answer? Soup. And lots of it. Before we signed up to a weekly delivery of organically grown vegetables, soups were something that came in cartons and make a quick and easy meal when everything else seemed like too much hard work. The cartons have been banished and the recipe books scoured for a few seasonal staples. Chopping and cubing is now the order of the day. Potatoes, leeks, carrots and celery—as well as the more exotic, unidentifiable fare—are all pressed into action for an ongoing series of soothing winter meals, modified by the deft addition of copious amounts of salt, pepper and whatever herbs fall to hand. Recipes? There’s nothing to it—just fry up, simmer, season, and liquefy and even the most unpromising vegetable soon snaps into line.—Jonathan Bell

 

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Come fall, nothing soothes like a casserole. But step away from the cream of mushroom: while a good tuna noodle is improved by the Campbell’s staple, you can make my Thanksgiving leftover casserole without opening a single can. Mix 1 cup of cooked wild rice, 2 cups of cooked white or brown rice (or barley, or even mashed potatoes), half a cup each of dried cranberries and walnuts, and three cups of browned ground or shredded turkey, mushrooms, and onions seasoned with sage and thyme (and salt and pepper, but I don’t need to tell you that, right?). Stir it together with a little chicken stock and a handful of extra-sharp cheddar, pour it into a casserole dish, then top with more cheddar and baked at about 400 until, as Alton Brown says, golden-brown and delicious.—Liz Entman

 

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Summer is no time for breakfast extravagance. I prefer to get up and ship out—not waste time that’s better spent enjoying an impromptu Beach Olympics. Fall deflates all my enthusiasm for quick, sharp starts. A recent birthday brunch, a tradition I heartily encourage, reawakened my hibernating fondness for morning excess. I’m not talking about extravagance, just lots of food, carefully and lovingly prepared. Choose foodstuffs that you can trust to help get you through days when you forget your umbrella and feel empty fighting against the wind. I recommend sharing multiple courses that include words like “hot,” “doughy,” “bacon,” and “syrup”—even if you do have to get up a little earlier. Poorly obeyed summer vegetarianism, begone!—Mike Smith

 

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Stews are always good, and like most, if not all, of my excellent crock-pot recipes, I got this one from my mom. If nothing else, it gives you the excuse to put pork butt on the grocery list. It’s on the label—you’d think they’d go for “pork rear” or “pork behind” or maybe even “pork fanny”—but whatever you call it, it’s what comes with the shoulder and it’s delicious in this pork stew. Hack up a kielbasa and cut the pork into square-inch cubes, and throw it all into the crock pot with a can of tomatoes, two of cannellini beans (drained), a bunch of baby carrots, a fair amount of chopped onion, two cloves of minced garlic, a teaspoon-plus of thyme, and a cup and a half of chicken broth. Add salt and pepper, turn the thing on high, and go do something else for four to five hours. Then eat for a week. You’re welcome.—Bridget Fitzgerald

 

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I have long searched for the perfect chilly-weather libation—something to warm the throat and the heart, and relax the mind and the tongue. I’ve tried hot toddies, Irish coffees, and mulled wines, and while they all have their virtues, the thing I’ve come to love best is chai tea with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Brew your chai really strong, mix it up with honey and Bailey’s to taste, and, if you’re feeling fancy, serve with a thin ribbon of orange zest. (If all you have is black tea, add a cinnamon stick.) The spices make it seasonal, the liquor makes it festive, and the warmth makes it perfect.—Liz Entman

TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers