Home Taste Food & Spirits Autumn Days and Ghoulish Nights

Autumn Days and Ghoulish Nights

Autumn is upon us; leaves are falling, the nights are growing colder, and the stores are filled with Halloween decorations. I must admit, fall is my favorite time of year. The air is crisp with the sweet, earthy scent of leaves on the ground. It makes you want to go for long walks in the woods and nestle up to a bonfire at night, sipping hot cider and nibbling on candied apples.

Fall lends to the strong desire for those warm comfort foods like chili and baked bread. As the weather changes, we are all a little more inclined to step back into the kitchen and crank up the oven and break out the crockpots. I always find I become a bit of a cooking fool this time of year, as I want to make every comfort food around.

Autumn’s harvest is as brilliant as the leaves on the trees; vibrant orange and auburn, deep rust and purple, bright yellow and reds. The smell of the fall air is as intoxicating as the autumn inspired food slow cooking in the kitchen. I also tend to get a little carried away about Halloween, one of my favorite holidays! The kids may be grown, but my holiday heart remains that of a child.

This month in the kitchen, we are playing with all things October: pumpkins, squash, apples, chili, and Halloween. The great news is the farmer’s markets are open through the end of the month, as well as many local apple orchards and pumpkin patches. Most of this month’s recipes are easy to make in bulk and freeze.

Baked Apple
It is peak apple season and there really is nothing quite as delicious as an apple plucked right from the tree. Apple picking is a great childhood memory I have. Back in the 1970s, my parents would drive our big, old station wagon down the orchard isles and my brother and I would climb on the roof to get the apples from the tops of the trees. Those days are long gone, but apple picking is still a great fall family excursion. The question is, what on earth do you do with a peck of apples? Of course, you have apple pie and apple sauce, but we thought we would bring back the classic baked apple and an easy apple turnover, sure to please children and adults alike.

6 Granny Smith apples (around the same size)
1/2 tsp. of cinnamon
1/2 tsp. all-spice
1/4 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tbs. of salted butter cut into 6 pieces
1 cup apple cider
Fresh mint for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

Combine cinnamon, all-spice, nutmeg, and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Core apples, making sure not to puncture the bottom of the apples so that the juices will remain. Remove skin from 1/2-inch around top of apples at the opening. Fill each cavity with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Top each apple with a teaspoon of butter. Place apples in casserole dish and pour apple cider around them. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 45 minutes to one hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Garnish with fresh mint, and serve. May we also suggest trying this dish a la mode with the ice cream of your choice. Salted Caramel is a delightful companion.

Easy Apple Turnovers
1 package of puff pastry sheets, thawed (in freezer section, we use Pepperidge Farm)

1/3 cup granulated sugar (organic is always best)
1 tbs. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
4 cups of tart apples (Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, and Pink Ladies are our favorites), peeled, cored, chopped, and tossed in a tablespoon of lemon juice to reduce browning

3 tbs. butter, melted
2 tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Add chopped apples and toss to combine. Set aside. Roll out puff pastry sheet into a 12-inch square. Cut each sheet into four squares. Spoon roughly 1/2 a cup of apple mixture into center of each pastry square. Fold squares diagonally and press edges together to seal. Place on parchment paper, allowing space to expand.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, and brush over pastry. Place in oven and bake for 12-16 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for three to five minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or at room temperature. Yields eight servings.

Butternut Squash Soup
Another hearty and often under-utilized fall produce is butternut squash. This squash beauty is an all-around great fall addition to your kitchen, high in vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, and rich in potassium. Butternut squash soup warms your soul and tickles your tummy.

3 lbs. butternut squash (about 1 large squash), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 onion (we prefer a sweet Vidalia or Mayan if available), halved and sliced about 1/2 inch thick

1 1/2 tbs. of vegetable oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3 cloves of garlic, minced (approx 1 1/2 tsp.)
1/4 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 whole bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Adjust oven rack to upper middle and lower middle positions, allowing maximum circulation. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Toss squash and onions with one tablespoon of the oil and a half teaspoon of kosher salt, then spread mixture out evenly between the two baking sheets. Put both baking sheets in the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 35-40 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly.

Heat remaining oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add the vegetables from pans and cook, stirring often, until squash begins to break down, about three to five minutes. Add garlic, stirring constantly to keep from burning, for about 40 seconds.

Add wine, scrapping the bottom to release those tasty brown bits, and simmer until the wine is nearly evaporated, approximately one minute. Add in the two broths and the bay leaf, stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook about seven to ten minutes.

Remove bay leaf and use either a hand held emulsion blender to puree the soup in the pot until smooth, or allow soup to cool and puree in a blender, in batches, until nice and smooth (hot soup can and will pop the lid of a blender, so let the soup cool and ALWAYS keep a towel and firm grip on the lid of the blender).

If using a blender, have a clean pot standing by to add each pureed batch into.

Once smooth, pour heavy cream into the center of the soup, and using concentric circles, stir until fully combined and soup is a beautiful shade of orange. Cook ever so gently over medium-low heat until the soup is hot.

Adjust final seasonings of salt and pepper and serve.

Take this soup to the next level by sautéing a sliced Granny Smith Apple in two tablespoons of butter and sprinkle with 3/4 tablespoon dark brown sugar, stirring judiciously, until golden brown and caramelized. Once tender and caramelized, spoon onto bottom of soup bowl, then spoon butternut squash soup over apples. Finish soup with a swirl of cream and a twist of fresh pepper.

Serves six people.

LAF Power Up Salad
We have a lot of vegan friends who are always looking for a meal that is not only sustainable, but is filled with protein and nutrients and will get them through the day. When we partnered with Sara Post and Inspire Cafê to create their opening menu last year, we wanted to create a salad that really met these needs. This dish did not disappoint. Even Carolyn, my meat-loving wife, found this salad to be extraordinarily flavorful! If you can get a meat lover to appreciate a vegan, grain-based salad, right on! This salad may seem huge in its portions, but the beauty of this salad is it tends to be an extended meal, that you can nosh throughout the day for your nourishment.

1/2 cup brown rice (prepared according to the instructions)
1/2 cup quinoa (prepared according to the instructions)
1/2 cup kale, cleaned and chopped
1/2 cup roasted butternut squash, peeled, seeded, chopped, and roasted
1/2 half a ripe avocado, cut into chunks and drizzled with fresh lemon juice to reduce browning
2 tbs. of organic flax seed
2 tbs. of toasted organic walnuts
Lemon thyme vinaigrette

Roast the squash in a 450-degree oven. It is easiest to roast a whole squash you have peeled, seeded, and diced. Toss in a tablespoon of good quality olive oil, place on a parchment paper-lined, rimmed baking sheet, and roast for 35-40 minutes until tender and golden. Store leftovers in a sealed container.

Toss grains, kale, and squash in a bowl. Add dressing to your liking – I start off with a 1/4 of a cup of dressing (grains absorb liquid), toss well, and adjust dressing. Spoon onto a plate and add roasted squash, flax seed, and toasted walnuts. Season to your liking, adding additional dressing if needed.

Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
cup lemon juice
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Put all ingredients in a jar, put lid on tightly, and shake. Adjust seasoning to taste. Store left over dressing in fridge.

I like a slightly more acidic dressing, so I use a heavier ratio of lemon juice to oil in this vinaigrette because of the density of the grains. I find they need more of an acidic pop to really make the salad shine. Do not hesitate to add a little extra lemon juice and feel free to play with the amount to your liking.

If you like this salad, but find it too complicated to make, visit Inspire Café in the warehouse district and let them make it for you! Tell them Carolyn and Angela sent you.

Pumpkin Bread
Since we are talking squash, we must address the proverbial “squash in the room” – pumpkin! How can you look at October and not acknowledge pumpkin? Well, you just can’t. Although we adore carving them out for Halloween and enjoy a good pumpkin pie, there are more options available. This is a pumpkin bread recipe I have been using for over fifteen years. It is one I got from the mighty Martha Stewart when my children were young. We, as parents, had revolving snack days. When it was our snack day, I made these mini-pumpkin breads for our daughter’s classrooms. It was a huge hit then and it is still a huge hit now!

12 tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tbs. molasses
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2/3 cup orange juice
2 cups pumpkin puree
3 1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup currants or raisins (golden raisins are delicious)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 9x5x3-inch loaf pans

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, molasses, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Beat mixture until light and lemon-colored. Add orange juice, pumpkin puree, and mix well. Remove from mixer. Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add flour mixture, a half cup or so at a time, stirring well with a wooden spoon. Be sure there are no streaks of flour. Stir in currants/raisins and mix well.

Spoon mixture into prepared pans and bake for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan for ten minutes then turn out onto cooling rack to fully cool.

Makes three large loves or 12 mini loaves that freeze beautifully.

Vegetarian Three Bean Chili
Now let’s get to the heart of what fall is all about – FOOTBALL! Whether it’s college or NFL, if you love to host game day, this is a perfect chili recipe to keep your buddies in food heaven! No one will ask “Where’s the beef?” and your veg/vegan friends will be thrilled!

Since this is a three bean blend, use whatever mixture of beans you like. We used light and dark kidney beans and black beans. You can also serve over rice, but we found it was not necessary.

2 tbs. of vegetable oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup chili powder
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
tbs. cumin
1 tbs. paprika
1 tsp. cayenne
good size garlic cloves
3 (14.5 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes
1 cup of vegetable stock or water (stock is always better)
2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, minced
4 cups of dried beans, prepared per package instructions or 4 (15.5 oz.) cans of beans in any combination you like.
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, bell peppers, chili powder, paprika, cayenne, and cumin. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about seven minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 15 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, water or stock, chilies, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes over medium-low heat. Add beans and continue to simmer, uncovered, until the chili is slightly thickened, about another 30 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

This chili can be prepared up to the point where the cilantro is added, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to one month. Reheat over low heat, adding additional water or vegetable stock to adjust the consistency.

To take your game day chili to the next level, let everyone make their chili special by offering a variety of toppings such as avocado, chopped scallions, sour cream, shredded cheddar, crispy tortilla strips, crispy jalapeño strips, diced peppers, chopped fresh cilantro – whatever floats your chili boat!

Now we have pretty much set you up for a hearty and happy month of October, but we must acknowledge what occurs at the end of the month: HALLOWEEN! One of the best food holidays for me, because we get to play with our food. Halloween parties are some of the most fun parties to host, because you are required to be creative. Here are three recipes that we have really enjoyed making without kids for Halloween. They all embrace the ghoulish spirit of the season and are fun for kids and adults alike. If you are thinking of hosting a Halloween party this year, consider adding these recipes to your family fun.

Graveyard Cake
Chocolate cake mix (by all means make your own, if so inclined), baked per directions
Chocolate frosting (bought or made)
1 package of chocolate sandwich cookies, center creme removed, and processed in food processor to recreate dirt
1 package of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies for tombstones
1 tube black decorating gel
1 package of gummy worms
1 package of candy eyes

Bake the cake per the directions and allow to fully cool. Frost the cake with the chocolate frosting and cover the frosting with the ground chocolate cookies, heavily enough that it looks like a pile of dirt. Lay cookies on a sheet pan and, using the decorating gel, write on the tombstones. You will need to stick the cookies into the cake, so don’t write too far down on the cookie.

Place the tombstones into the cake to replicate a graveyard. Add the eyes to the tops of the graves and place the gummy worms around the graveyard, covering them slightly with the “dirt” so they look like they are coming out of the ground.

Now, enjoy your graveyard cake.

Witches Fingers
These gnarly little treats are sure to please and scare the best of Halloween lovers. It is a simple treat to make with your favorite sugar cookie recipe or buy pre-made sugar cookie dough.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. fine salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 package of sliced almonds
Red food coloring
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Place an oven rack in the center of a 325-degree oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside. Place about two teaspoons of red food coloring into a small glass bowl. Lay out the sliced almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer. Using a small paint brush, brush the almonds with the red food coloring and allow to dry.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed, about two to three minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in the flour mixture until a dough forms.

Using about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough at a time, roll the dough between your palms into five-inch-long fingers about 1/2-inch thick. Firmly press a sliced almond into the end of each finger to make fingernails. Make several horizontal cuts, about 1/4 inch deep and 1/2 inch long, in the center of each finger to make knuckles. Press the dough on either side of the cuts to shape the knuckles. Arrange the fingers on the prepared baking sheet and bake until light golden, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer the fingers to a wire rack and cool completely.

In a small saucepan, heat the jam over low heat until warm, about two minutes. Dip the blunt ends of the fingers in the warm jam and arrange on a platter.

Ghoulish Punch
This is a spin on a classic sherbet punch. You will need a non-powdered food grade latex glove or a plastic food server glove, rinsed well. You will also need two plastic bowls, one larger than the other.

1 bottle of cherry juice
1 large can of pineapple juice
1 liter of ginger ale
1 pint of raspberry sherbet
Dry ice (use caution whenever working with dry ice, only an adult should handle dry ice and should never touch the dry ice with bare hands.)
1 frozen hand (recipe follows)

To make your frozen severed hand, take a food server glove or a non-powdered latex glove and rinse it out well. In a glass bowl, add water and then add red food coloring until you get the color desired. Fill the glove with the red water, leaving plenty of room to seal the end of the glove. Twist the end of the glove, releasing as much air as possible. Then secure the twisted end with a rubber band, making sure no liquid can escape (a freezer covered in red water is never fun). Place in a shallow pan, bending fingers if you like, to create a more realistic hand. Place in freezer until frozen (overnight is best).

In a large pitcher, add half the bottle of cherry juice, half of the pineapple juice, and put in the refrigerator to chill. Stick the bottle of ginger ale into the refrigerator to chill. Right before the guests arrive, add the chilled juice and ginger ale into your smaller punch bowl. Place that bowl inside the larger bowl. Remove latex glove from your frozen severed hand and place it in the bowl. Add several scoops of the sherbet to the punch. Now, using tongs, place several pieces of the dry ice around the smaller bowl, inside the larger bowl. To activate the dry ice, pour about a cup of warm water over the ice and start the smoky effect. You can add more dry ice as the effect fades.

Well I think we have given you enough recipes to keep you in the kitchen until November! If you make one of these recipes, we would love to see the results. Share you photos on our Facebook page!

Angela and Carolyn Linton-Canfield
After 18 years working in the food and beverage industries of Chicago and San Francisco, Angela and Carolyn started a private chef and catering company, Life’s a Feast, in the tri-state area. They embrace their passion of cooking, entertaining, and creating one-of-a-kind experiences for their clients. Carolyn and Angela now share their passion with viewers on their cable show Life’s a Feast, available on Mediacom and their YouTube channel, Life’s a Feast LLC. Both share their expertise on food and wine on our website, their website, as well as their Facebook page. Recipes and photos are the copyrighted and intellectual property of Life’s a Feast, LLC.


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