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Cooking with Mike: When You’re Finally Sick of Pumpkin, Give These Other Fall Flavors a Try

We’re well into autumn now (you know, the season that goes by two names where really just one would be adequate) and guess what that means – pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin! I’m sure most of you are in “pumpkin overtime” right now, feverishly mixing that beautiful canned mush into as many different dishes and desserts as you can. 

Now, I should tell you that while I certainly love pumpkin-flavored [insert food or drink category here] as much as the next sane person, I think our big orange friend has been getting way too much attention lately.

Amateur and professional chefs dig this time of year because of all the fresh produce that comes rolling into farmers’ markets and supermarkets across the country, which means that when you grab a can of pureed pumpkin from the store shelf instead of something (anything) fresh and local, you’re not really taking advantage of the season’s bounty.

Therefore, in the true spirit of autumn, here are a few recipes, tips, and ideas that feature “the other guys,” those seasonal flavors like apple, pear, and mushroom that often go unnoticed while Princess Pumpkin hogs the spotlight. And just so you don’t think I’m a total grinch, I may have stuck one or two pumpkin recipes in at the end. You’ll just have to read through and find out. Now, on with the recipes!

1.) Apples – I know, I know. But hey, apples are a fall fruit too, and they certainly can’t help it if they’re available in the grocery store all year round. Truthfully, though, now’s the time to be eating apples. Locally-farmed apples are cheap, plentiful, and taste a great deal better than anything you can buy at the supermarket during the winter months.

As the temperature continues its downward spiral you’ll probably want to put away the milk and cereal and dig into something warm and gooey for breakfast instead. Baked apples make the perfect morning meal (you can prepare just one half or both – up to you) and they come together in minutes.

Everyday Food (marthastewart.com) has several great ideas for toppings you can add to your baked apple that’ll make it more filling and more nutritious – well, sort of. For Walnut-Raisin Baked Apples, top 4 apple halves with the following ingredients: ½ cup chopped walnuts, ¼ cup raisins, 2 tablespoons orange marmalade, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon butter.

Or, for Ham and Cheese Baked Apples use these ingredients instead: handful of diced deli-style ham, ¼ cup shredded cheddar, 3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon butter. Bake the apples at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. They don’t require much supervision (just make sure they don’t burn) so you can shower and prepare for the day while your apples bake away in the oven.

2.) Pears – Admittedly, there isn’t too much you can do with a pear besides eat it plain. That being said, pears are so delicious this time of year that it’s perfectly fine to eat them plain or sliced up and tossed over salad with chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, and crumbled blue cheese. Or, continuing the warm and gooey trend, I recommend thinly slicing a baguette and topping each slice with a drizzle of olive oil, two or three pear slivers, and a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese. The baguette slices can be toasted on a baking sheet in the oven at about 400 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on how melty you like your cheese. (Make mine extra melty, please.)

3.) Mushrooms – Either you love ’em or you hate ’em. I happen to love them. I made this Gorgonzola and Portobello Mushroom Risotto last winter for a date and it turned out great (the risotto, I mean – the date ended disastrously). If you’re not familiar with risotto it’s a type of dish that involves simmering long-grain rice over low heat in a combination of chicken or vegetable stock and wine. The technique is time-consuming and can be a little tricky to pull off the first few times, but the payoff is incredible, and any boy you make this for will fall in love with you instantly. It’s a guaranteed promise. Follow the link below to get the recipe:


4.) Walnuts – Clearly you can’t make an entire meal out of walnuts (unless you’re a squirrel or something), but they add great flavor to a variety of dishes this time of year. I mentioned above that you can add them to salad with sliced pears and dried cranberries, but you can also mix walnuts into banana bread and chocolate chip cookies (about ½ cup, chopped).

5.) Squash – Squash is one of the most versatile vegetables around and the most commonly consumed varieties are butternut squash, acorn squash and spaghetti squash. The simplest (and tastiest) way to prepare butternut or acorn squash is to cut the vegetable in half, top with salt, pepper, some brown sugar and a few tablespoons of butter and roast, cut side up, on a baking sheet in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Roasted squash makes a great side dish for pasta or grilled chicken. I encourage you to go search cyberspace for more squash recipes – the possibilities are endless.

There. You see? Why limit yourself to just pumpkin when there are so many other fall flavors to experiment with? The best way to figure out what’s in season right now is to take a walk through your supermarket’s produce section. Sometimes it helps just to go grocery shopping with an open mind and look for recipes based on what’s fresh (or cheap) that week.

What’s that? Oh, right. I promised you pumpkin recipes. Well, I lied. But something tells me you already have all the best ones bookmarked in your laptop’s browser.

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