Playing in the maple leaves
Food for the Neighborhood
Monday, November 05, 2012 9:19 AM
The big fluffy maple leaves from my front yard tree have fallen. Like last year they turned a lovely lemon yellow late in the fall.
Previous years I only remember them becoming an ugly brown before falling. They are the last leaves in my yard to loosen from branches and fall to the ground.
As the tree has gotten bigger, so has the size of the leaf pile beneath the tree. They are fun to rake up, as my grandson Noah was the first to notice - so I offered him bags to put the leaves in.
Others visiting had other ideas for the leaves. They preferred Noah creating a giant pile for jumping into (this did not please Noah, who was intent on his bagging task). When the dads came outside they suggested having a ladder to make jumping into the middle of the leaves easier. Then they decided it needed to be higher, so a stool was added to climb onto after climbing the step stool.
After the dads had left for a project of their own, the kids asked the moms if they could take the step stool outside again. Oh no, said one mom, that isn't safe.
On another weekend, when some of the same cousins were gathered, they were flopping themselves in a pile of maple leaves that had already fallen outside the cabin. Such fun! They invited Grandma outside and rained leaves on her. Leaves followed Grandma back inside the house and stuck in her hair.
As fall comes, I have difficulty accepting that the growing season is over. No more tomatoes ripening in the sun or fresh basil to pick for making pesto - not to mention that fresh basil is a staple in my summer stir-fry cooking or added in the final step when canning marinara sauce.
I didn't get as much basil harvested and frozen as pesto as I would have liked. I'd even thought I could shelter my basil plants in our backyard greenhouse, but then found a heavy frost while I was up north had affected the less hearty plants in the greenhouse. All but a very few potted basil plants were left as sticks with brown leaves.
But I recently discovered something new to use for flavoring simple soups or stir-fries of fall vegetables. Late in the summer I tried a recipe for rosemary infused sea salt. It was really quite simple - chop up about a fourth cup of fresh rosemary leaves, then work it into a pound of fine-textured sea salt.
Line an oblong cake pan with foil, pour the salt with rosemary into the pan, and then put it in a low temperature oven. After about an hour, when the rosemary is dry, break up the clumps and put it into airtight containers.
Since creating rosemary salt I have used it as a chicken rub for roasted chicken breasts, seasoned mixtures of fall type vegetables and tonight added it to a veggie mixture cooked in broth, to which I added cooked tortellini.
Perhaps one has to lose something, like my fresh basil, before I am willing to explore a new taste. The rosemary sea salt can also be made in my kitchen during the cold months as I now have two large plants of rosemary I am over-wintering. Rosemary makes a perfect pot plant throughout the winter. As it ages, it becomes a woody plant that is tolerant to drier indoor conditions. When the warm temperatures return - rosemary plants can be moved back outside.
Fall takes away fresh garden vegetables like snap beans, pea pods or green peppers, but in its place there are still garden crisp, sweet carrots to slice thin, beets, and late pickings of cauliflower, broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Chard and kale are tolerant to the early frosts, as well as secondary pickings of cabbage.
Tonight I took a leek, which I chopped and browned in olive oil. Then I added thinly sliced garden carrots (only scrubbed, not peeled), some small chunks of cauliflower, halves of Brussels sprouts and a quart of chicken broth with a sprinkling of the rosemary salt. As I cooked this I boiled tortellini pasta in a separate pot of water.
Since thyme is still growing outside, I stripped several branches of leaves, adding the leaves to give the soup more flavor. While the vegetables cooked, I added some sliced portabella mushrooms, a few chopped chard leaves and some chopped cabbage from a mini cabbage (secondary growing).
Once the tortellini was cooked and drained, I added that to the mixture, along with freshly ground pepper. It was thick soup. Once in bowls I added some shredded Parmesan cheese and snipped parsley from plants we have growing inside under lights.
So that was supper tonight - and will be lunch for a few days too, as I made plenty and dished the rest into individual plastic containers that can go to work with me.
In my last column I talked about cooking with cranberries and apples. I had not found a cranberry recipe to share with readers until after the column had gone to my editor. If you recall, after attending the Cranberry Fest in Stone Lake, Wis., I had been trying a variety of recipes using the two five-pound bags of cranberries I'd purchased there.
Cranberry catsup, cranberry relish (two recipes) and two batches of cranberry apple jam went into canning jars. Later I cooked fresh cranberries into a wild rice salad and baked cranberry squares.
The last recipe came from a cookbook published in Maine, which I had purchased on my honeymoon eight years ago. While I was trying to find more ideas for using up the cranberries, I thought of that cookbook and sure enough, it did have cranberry recipes. Not only do they grow in Wisconsin, they are also grown in Maine!
Enjoy this easy dessert recipe that uses fresh cranberries -the kind you can purchase in 10-ounce bags in Minnesota this time of year. The recipe comes from "Coastal New England Fall Harvest Cooking," by Sherri Eldridge.
2 cups cranberries, halved
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter, slightly cooled
2 tablespoons safflower or similar oil
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9-inch square baking pan with non-stick oil. Mix cranberries, walnuts and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Spread evenly in baking pan.
Mix together remaining cup of sugar and all other ingredients. Stir until smooth. Pour and spread over cranberry mixture. Bake 40 minutes, or until the top crust becomes light golden brown. Cool somewhat, then cut into squares. Serves 12.