I don't watch TV.
I just can't be bothered to flip through 900 channels to try to find one that might be of interest to me.
But I do have a secret obsession with any cooking show that features Jamie Oliver.
There is something about the rustic appeal, preparing a meal over an open fire, or outdoor in the garden, plucking fresh herbs as needed, with glimpses of golden-hour light and the local fauna and flora.
Even his set design features items that I've seen at my grand-parents' hunting camp (who, by the way, would laugh if I told them that their chipping-enamel white colander from the 1940's is featured on a popular UK cooking show).
I am not alone and the culinary world as a whole seems to try to recreate a sort of rustic homeliness that our clean, sterile meals of the early 2000s sorely lacked.
Nowadays, you would do well to serve a posh pot pie to Sunday dinner guests, especially if it is paired with a crusty, rustic bread.
Even pickles seem to have made a resurgence on the backs of the probiotic movement.
I, for one, embrace the rustic. It is a chance to bring back and polish some of our ancestral recipes.
From ragout to baked beans, and ratatouille to french onion soup, there are plenty of opportunities to make the old new again.
In some cases, a mere adaptation does well. Instead of pie crust, one can use puff pastry or philo for the pot pie.
Fresh home-cooked pumpkin instead of the canned stuff, and local honey instead of the sugar. Coconut oil in pie crust. I can attest that all of these are fine substitutes for pumpkin pie.
And however tempted you may be to do so, it is never wise to brag to your elders that you've improved upon a family recipe.
Keep your gloating, and new recipes, for your friends and colleagues.
Squash The Late Summer
It's no coincidence that your first winter squash of the season will arrive on the first week of autumn.
There is no greater pairing than that of cool fall weather and dinnertime meals featuring the cornucopia of the produce world.
Each type of squash seems to offer something different, and while they register similarly on the palate, their outward appearance are as varied as they come.
Growing up on the farm, fall was always such a magical time of the year.
The hustle and bustle of canning.
The feeling of a job well done as the last of the hay was put away for the winter.
Pumpkin pie spice.
Ok, that last one wasn't actually a part of my childhood, but it has become a staple and will surely be a part of our little one's recollection of the season :)
Around here, winter squash is the type of thing we appreciate. Unlike certain vegetables that have been coming in steadily for the past 4 months, this special cucurbit makes us wait until the very last minute, culminating in one large harvest.
Come December my eyes might start glazing over the squash safely stowed away in our cold storage, but for now, they light up at the endless list of possibilities.
Delicata squash alone has done wonders to bend the limits of convention, being featured in lieu of onion rings by one, an accoutrement to a kale salad by another, and, a dessert pudding by the last (vegan version, which features a basic pumpkin pie spice, here).
The possibilities are so vast, but you know what the best thing about winter squash is?
They taste sublime just as they are, cut in half, and roasted in the oven with some type of heat-resistant oil (think coconut) and a pinch of salt. Scoop out the seeds, grab a spoon, and dig in.
Meant To Be
One of my all-time favourite culinary sayings is "What grows together goes together."
This may refer to the idea of terroir, where, for instance, a certain regional wine may successfully be paired with a cheese produced nearby.
It also applies to two different things which like to grow in the same climate, such as tomatoes and basil.
Far from being an unbreakable rule, I believe that this sort of advice lends itself nicely to cooking by inspiration.
Another fantastic way to create meals off-the-cuff is to pair produce of the same family.
All one needs is a basic knowledge on the plant families of certain vegetables.
For instance, have you ever wondered why parsnips and carrots pair so beautifully in a roasted vegetable dish? Or why dill and parsley seem to enhance the greatness of a carrot? It just so happens that they are from the umbelliferae family.
Bell peppers and tomatoes, which seem like they were made for each other in dishes like this Peperonata, are both solanaceae.
And who can forget the classic liliaceae duo of onions and garlic?
By following this logic, you might come up with plenty of tasty combinations, including spinach and beets, which will both be featured in your share this week.
Our household makes this classic beet salad every year from September until snow falls since it is a great way to make these two peas in a (cheno)pod shine. Vegan friends may try this delectable recipe instead.
And while one doesn't necessarily need to learn how to pronounce the latin group names, one may choose to see it as a fun bonus.
Breaking The Rules
Have you ever noticed how engrained certain culinary notions are?
Ideas about the right way to prepare a certain ingredient run deep, forcing us to dismiss a recipe outright, possibly fuelled by the imagined notion of how terrible the dish may be.
I used to be like that with lettuce soup, or as Ricardo likes to call it, Potage Choisy (french recipe only). Then I made said soup, and promptly ate my words.
Fish sauce was another ingredient that I refused to use. The pungent aroma is to be used sparingly, to be sure, but it can quite literally transform a dish so that it is more well-rounded on the palate.
And while I don't suggest you go out and buy fish sauce, I do think that there is an opportunity to make something totally different, and equally delectable, to break those ingredient biases.
Just the other day I was reminded that, as a distant relative to the tomato, ground cherries can be a sweet addition to a savoury dish. One of my favourites is a fresh ground cherry salsa, which would pair beautifully with tomatoes, peppers, and the ancho hot pepper you will receive again next week.
I've also heard of eating it as part of a hearty salad with a healthy, ancient grain like farro in the mix.
So while we can take the savoury route with ground cherries, we can also take the sweet route with tomatoes, which are a fruit, after all.
This Tomato Cake with Tomato Glaze is sure to please, especially if you let your guest take the first bite before revealing the secret ingredient (further erasing the above-mentioned bias). For my vegan friends out there, I have heard good things about these Tomato Cupcakes with Balsamic frosting.
My all-time favourite twist of ingredients, however, has to be the Chocolate Beet Cake I made for our little M's first birthday last November. I swapped the sugar for a little over a cup of honey and not only was it enjoyed by the adult folk in the group, but it passed the test on a 1 year old and 4 year old with flying colours!
Breaking the rules has never tasted so good.