QT 86 – Fall Flavors

QT 86 – Fall Flavors

Why Hello there, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophe Quick Tips, where we dissect some facet of food to fit it in our Frankenstein-style food blog. I’m your Mad Scientist of Mad Fryin’ Shit, Jon O’Guin. Today’s post is, as the title says, going to be an inspection of the flavors that make Fall fun and…finger-lickin’ good? Sometimes the effort I put into making sentences alliterate is clearly not worth it. Anyway, we’re going to be unpacking some fundamental flavors of fall, and giving you some ideas for ways to make them a little more fancy, unexpected, or just plain new.

And before anyone bitches about it: No, I’m not just talking about Pumpkin Spice. I already DID that, since pumpkin spice is just a mixture of cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg, and sometimes ground ginger. Literally 4 of those 5 are covered in the Winter Spice post. No, I’m going to be talking about something more broad. There will probably be a COUPLE herbs and spices in here, maybe. We’ll see if we get to it. (Despite wanting to have this on the site in a little over 13 hours, I don’t know how long this is going to be.)So let’s stop dawdling and dive on in.


Stewing on Something

One of the fundamental changes in flavor between summer and fall is, somewhat paradoxically, that the texture of the food changes. As the warmth of summer gives way to chill nights, people start changing how they cook. The grills get scraped and stored for the season, as the ovens and stoves perk up. Fall is a time for stews, roasts, braises, and baked goods; which made marginally more sense back before we invented central heating and air-conditioning.

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If only there were some way we could USE this heat.

It’s an intuitive thing, when you take a moment to reflect on it: as I write this it is currently 37 degrees in Leavenworth, meaning that it is colder on the other side of the front door than it is on the other side of the fridge door. Thus, a long-cooking source of heat in the kitchen while it prepared food simply made sense. It still DOES in many houses. Where a 45 minute roast at 400 might have made the kitchen unbearable in July, in October it makes it “cozy”.

Thus we see chilis, stews, big casseroles and more all start showing up come the orange leaves of fall. Bringing warmth into our kitchens against a cooling world. And with that shift in cooking techniques, we also have a shift in cooking ingredients, spices, and more. Hence why, to discuss the flavors of fall, we first had to discuss its texture.


The Washington Wonders

Two foods that I PERSONALLY heavily associate with Fall are potatoes and apples; This is kind of a no-brainer when you think about it, as Washington state is famous for apples, and, while not famous for it, is also a huge producer of potatoes. And late summer and early fall are the prime harvest times for them, so it makes sense that my part of the world would be rich with them around this time. This is why I, like some, have always associated apple cider with fall more than pumpkin spice. A statement that I make in full knowledge that it is glib, patronizing, and, upon inspection, facile to the point of offence: Spiced Apple Cider uses cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and clove…meaning it’s the same damn spices, just on a different fruit. I am literally mocking people for liking THE SAME THING as me. Which to be fair, means they’re agreeing with me, which is often a pretty dumb move.

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Jon out here…spilling that tea? I’m still learning the whole “tea” slang. I don’t even know if I SHOULD be using it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, onions. Well, you didn’t know that, since I hadn’t said it yet. Lotta layers to this bit. Like some sort of alium. Anyway, onions are another ingredient that is ready for harvest right around this time, and ALSO has a solid production capacity in Washington. (I mean, one of the prime varieties of supermarket onions are “Walla Walla”. They’re literally NAMED for here.)

And these three ingredients play very nicely with the first point we discussed: the new ‘texture’ of foods. All three of them (as well as the soon-to-be harvested pumpkins) are essentially big vats of carbs, as far as their plants are concerned. Meaning they’ve got a lot of energy stored in them, and take a while to break down. Roasts, stews and braises almost all beg for either potatoes or onions to be tossed into the pot, and even those that don’t often end up paired with some kind of potato on the plate.

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Average fall day’s menu.

In fact, Fall, even more than the harsher bite of winter, is really a time of carbs, when you think about it. If it doesn’t have potatoes, it has pumpkin, or butternut squash, or acorn squash. Or it’s served with stuffing, or hot rolls. Sweet veggies, plenty of pastas, and breads fill our plates. The air gets cold, and the bread gets rolled, as it were.

Of course, it’s not JUST carbs and fiber. Oh no. Protein can be hunted down as well.


Messing up the Meat Up

Fall is a particularly exciting time for meat, in that it tends to edge a little weirder and wilder. And I mean wilder at least partly in the literal sense: The start of Fall also marks the start of Deer Season in Washington, and Duck season.

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Maybe wabbit season too.

It also, traditionally, has marked a time when pigs were slaughtered, putting many families in mind for pork and sausage. The similarity in timing between the two is part of the reason apple is often an accompaniment to pork, in fact: pigs eat the apples in the last weeks of ripening, and then get served with them.

I say this not to be bloody-minded, or to hurt the feelings of any vegetarian or vegan readers, but to show there’s a logic to the pairings: a long-standing maxim in holistic cooking (ie, cooking focused on a more complete understanding of ingredients, seasonality, etc) is “things that grow together, go together”, and that’s part of the logic behind many standard ingredient pairings: people just mixed whatever they had right then, and it worked out.

So that’s why pork chops, tenderloin, and so on become cheaper and more popular in the fall: it’s time to harvest the hogs.

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No, not those kind. You’ll chip a tooth.

On top of the various meat options, you get another prominent protein come fall: Cheese. In the same way that we start grabbing complex carbs, we also start getting more complicated proteins and fats. Cheese is EVERYWHERE in fall: it pairs well with applies, pasta, carbs, etc. Specifically, it’s the harder cheeses and more complicated ones: Mozzarella, for instance, doesn’t get aged, so it was available back in spring. But this is when the blue cheeses and cheddars, the goudas and swiss, start coming out.

Let’s see, we’ve covered meat, veg, and a hint of starches…Let’s hit one last batch, and then wrap it up.


Sugar, Spice, And Everything Nice

The first point here is the easiest: we’ve already talked about how people start getting more carb-heavy in fall, and if they’re not doing it with starches, they’re often doing it with sugar. People are baking cookies, breads, and pies; you start seeing maple syrup, molasses, and brown sugar in all sorts of recipes.

And with those sweet tastes also comes earthy warmth in the spices and herbs of the season. IF there are three quintessential Fall Spices, they’d be Cinnamon, Sage, and Rosemary. Sage and Rosemary are both excellent paired with the proteins of the season: both chicken and pork have some great recipes using either herb. Cinnamon similarly pairs with pork, but it’s more common in the baked goods of the season, warming up the sweets. That’s where the appeal of the “Pumpkin Spice” blend comes from: it tastes warm, and that makes it nice and comforting on brisk fall days.

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Nice and warm. Not at all repetitive.

Interestingly, you don’t see as much straight up HEAT in fall cooking, at least in my area: the ghost peppers and habaneros taper off for red chili flakes and paprika. I think that this is for a couple reasons: firstly, to return to our holistic food/natural growth explanation,  hot peppers grow just a LITTLE bit sooner than the other vegetables, starting in mid-to-late summer. Which ends up meaning that, by the time October rolls around, the best and freshest peppers are gone, BUT, the dried peppers are still an option. (I also think the effects of really spicy foods are less desirable in the Fall and Winter: it’s fine to break out in a sweat in the warmer months, but less enjoyable when it’s under 40 outside.

Mixing it Up

So, I promised some new ways to work with the aforementioned flavors, so let’s dive into some options there before we call it a day. As you can see, we’re dealing with a lot of foods with high thermal capacity (stews, casseroles, braises, etc), a lot of starches, and a variety of meats and spices, but an overall trend toward ‘warmth’, sweet, and starch.

What are some ways you can play with these parts? Where, here’s an “easy” one: Ravioli.

Seriously, look at all the things we talked about: cheese, pumpkin, onion, squash, chicken, rosemary, sage…ALL of those work together well, and work in Ravioli. In almost ANY combination: Pumpkin ravioli in sausage and sage sauce? Sounds fine. Chicken and Rosemary in brown butter? Sure.

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Nutella filled ravioli with mint? Sure!

Hell, get even weirder! Make dessert Ravioli! Apple and Cinnamon filled ravioli are basically tiny apple pies. Walnut and blue cheese filled ravioli in an apple sauce. Ricotta ravioli in chocolate sauce as a funky riff on cannoli? Sky’s the limit.

Sounds too hard? I get it. I don’t think I’ve ever personally made ravioli. Shit. Now that I’ve SAID that, I think I have to do it soon. Great. But you can also explore other pastas. Years ago we made French Onion Pasta. That was a fun time and a solid meal. Apparently you can make Pumpkin Alfredo sauce for pasta. Almost any casserole can be made into skillet pasta for faster/ new takes.

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This is not pumpkin pasta, but it LOOKS like it.

Maple syrup is an easy ingredient for glazing things, or changing flavors. Maple-brushed pork tenderloin, maple-apple sauce for chicken…There’s probably a way to pair it with the earlier ravioli ideas… Breakfast sausage ravioli with maple sauce? OH SHIT! Fried Chicken Ravioli with maple syrup! IT’s chicken and waffles in mini-form!

Jon’s clearly going off the rails here, so we’re going to call it now. We hope you all got some ideas for foods you could cook this fall, and maybe learned something during his sleep-deprived ramblings. Have a great weekend!