Pear & Candied Ginger Muffins

Pear & Candied Ginger Muffins

I have a strange stubbornness when it comes to turning my furnace on for the first time each fall.  I try to hold out until November 1st, telling myself we could totally get another run at 75° sunshine.  I need to believe al fresco dining isn’t out of the question for the next 6 months, that I won’t soon be wearing long underwear.  I can’t give in; I can’t let go of summer and I can’t acknowledge that winter’s knocking at my door.  

So I avoid the truth and spend the month of October shivering.  Shivering and shivering and…

…baking.  I spend a good deal of time baking.  A hot oven helps with the chattering teeth and a warm treat with a cup of coffee makes most situations tolerable.

My latest attempt at baking away my October shivers was a batch of pear and candied ginger muffins and they provided just the warmth and comfort I was looking for.  The muffins bake up impossibly light and fluffy.  They’re loaded with chunks of ripe pear and candied ginger and a spicy ginger-lemon glaze puts them firmly in the “can’t wait to make them again” recipe file.

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Wild Mushroom Risotto

Wild Mushroom RisottoIf you were to ask my nearest and dearest what my “signature dish” is, the answer would probably be some sort of bean soup or risotto.  I know, I know…beans or rice–boring.

But is it really?  No way; simple beans can be coaxed into velvety, comforting deliciousness and a pot of risotto made with care can taste like a total luxury.

This mushroom risotto is no exception.  It’s a little bit splurgy, loaded with wild mushrooms and enriched with creamy mascarpone cheese.  It’s cooked slowly and thoughtfully, the kind of dish that demands you stay in the kitchen, sipping wine as it comes together.  You’ll eat it, enjoy it, and have no regrets about giving it signature dish status in your kitchen too.

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Roasted Endive with Walnut Vinaigrette

Roasted Belgian Endive with Walnut VinaigretteI cook a lot (obviously!), but can be a bit of a slacker when it comes to side dishes.  Normally, I just throw some greens in a bowl, toss a little oil and vinegar their way, and call it a day.  It’s a fine approach until I do make the effort to compose an actual vegetable side.  When I finally do, I normally end up getting waaaay into it, hardly bothering with whatever the supposed main course is.   

This was the case with last night’s side dish.  I made roasted Belgian endive dressed with walnut vinaigrette and I would have happily eaten the entire plate pictured above, all by myself.  Just put me in a dimly lit dining room with a plate of that sweetly bitter roasted endive and a hunk of bread and you’d be looking at a very happy girl.

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Celery Root & Apple Soup with Crispy Pancetta

Celery Root & Apple Soup with Crispy PancettaThis celery root soup seems like the type of thing a cooking magazine would suggest as an elegant way to begin your family’s Thanksgiving feast.  I can picture it, served tableside out of a gorgeous soup tureen, as a family of beautiful people gather around a beautiful fall table.  The mood is festive, but serene.  They’re all so happy just to be spending the holiday together.

But that’s fantasy-land and your family’s Thanksgiving is probably more like mine (at least that’s what I’m telling myself).  Dogs will be racing around the house, adult siblings will be fighting, wine will be spilled, and someone will be having a nervous breakdown over a turkey that just won’t cook.  As you look around and realize half of the group hasn’t bothered to change out of their pajamas and the opulent table you had imagined is actually covered in dirty mixing bowls, you’ll wish it was just a quiet Monday night and you were sitting down to a bowl of this soup with a hunk of bread and a glass of red wine.

And that’s how I enjoyed my celery root and apple soup.  In perfect family holiday land, it would be a wonderful Thanksgiving first course, but in reality, it’s better appreciated at the kitchen table on a weeknight, garnished with a couple crispy pieces of pancetta and a mess of roasted Brussels sprouts served on the side.

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Roasted Chicken with Apple Cider Pan Sauce

Roasted Chicken & New Potatoes with Apple Cider Pan SauceRoast chicken with potatoes ranks pretty high on my list of things I like to cook, as I bet it does with most home cooks.  It’s simple, it’s easy, and yields heart-warmingly delicious results, every time.  Who wouldn’t love that?

This time around I took a very minimalist approach with the chicken, just rubbing the skin with salt and pepper and stuffing a few rosemary sprigs and sage leaves in the cavity.  I roasted it in my (beloved) cast-iron pan over new potatoes and wedges of onion and made a quick apple cider pan gravy to serve alongside.  The result?  Total comfort food bliss and a beautiful dinner that tasted like I went to a lot more trouble than I actually did.

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