Fall Ingredients: Chestnuts, Cranberries, Fennel, Pumpkin

Believe it or not, I haven’t only been eating fruit and steaks lately. Fall brings out all sorts of great ingredients, and there are a few others that I’ve particularly enjoyed. Wanting to make sure I enjoy them as much or more next year, here are a few notes.

Chestnuts

Chestnuts: Were such a good farmer’s market impulse buy that I tried for more the next week and was sorry to find them gone. I made good use of the pound or so that I got, though. For starters, I roasted them (cut an X in the flat side of each one and let ’em go for about half an hour at 425). I could have easily just eaten all of the roasted chestnuts, actually, but I was determined to make chestnut truffles for some reason, so I saved about half of them for that project.

Not to pat myself on the back too much, but these truffles turned out to be pretty top-notch, especially for something completely improvised. I broke up the roasted chestnuts and simmered them with rum and heavy cream for a while, and then food-processed them into a truffle filling with a little maple syrup and some sugar. I balled the filling and put it in the freezer for a half hour or so and then rolled them in melted 60% cacao chocolate chips. Next time I would consider adding some vanilla and perhaps a dash of nutmeg, but they were awfully good as they were.

Bottom line: more chestnuts next year. There are several large chestnut trees in my neighborhood, but I suspect they’re horse chestnuts. I have heard rumors of an untended local tree that grows edible chestnuts, though, so I’ll have to work on my tree identification for next fall. I got some starter tips from a few websites that look like they have varying levels of reliability and clarity, such as this one, this one, and this one. Thank you, Google.

Cranberries:They’re not just for Thanksgiving, folks. I greatly enjoyed them in my Red Fall Chutney-Relish (I’m still waiting for feedback on which category that falls into), which I mentioned in my apples post. They’re also great just chopped up in the food processor with a little lemon juice and sweetened to taste for a sauce on anything. And they were great in apple butter, too. I just really like these little guys. I want to come up with more uses for them.

Fennel: To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what fennel looked like before this year, but I was very pleased to finally make this muppet-like vegetable’s acquaintance. The tufts, it turns out, provide a great flavor without any crunch in scrambled eggs and frittatas, and the rest of it is quite tasty roasted or sauteed in any number of combinations. I put it in cabbage and apples, combined it with brussels sprouts and hazelnuts, cooked it up with chicken and onions, (though that ended up a bit bland) and probably did a few other things I’m forgetting about. Good stuff.

Chantrelles: Oh, joys of living in the Northwest, you are many. And Chantrelles, you are one. The first ones of the season were foraged while wandering on Mt. Hood with some (luckily, quite knowledgeable and trustworthy) friends. Those got sauteed with leeks and thyme in butter and were so good that I bought some more at the farmer’s market the very next week and did it again. Honestly, I feel no desire to come up with any other way to prepare these – they are just so good cooked simply. I do resolve, though, to get more into mushroom gathering next year so I can eat more of them than really makes sense at $18 a pound.

Pumpkin: I made pumpkin cream cheese frosting for some muffins and I also made a pumpkin cheesecake from this recipe, used a small fresh roasted pumpkin rather than canned and almond meal for the crust. It was a decent first attempt at a cheesecake, but I overcooked it, so it cracked and the sides were higher than the center, even though I checked it 10 minutes before it was supposed to be done. I also heard that putting a pan of water in the oven with the cake can help with cracking. Things to look out for! That almond crust was good, though. I put extra cinnamon in it.

In both cases, I used standard the standard pumpkin-complementing spices – cinnamon, cloves, a little nutmeg, a little ginger – and sweetened with maple syrup, and…there was just something a little funny going on. I don’t know how to explain it, exactly. When seasoning that frosting to taste, I started mixing in honey, but then thought maple might be good, so I added some, and it just changed the flavor in a kind of weird way. I finished off the sweetening with sugar and didn’t think much more of it, until I tasted my cheesecake batter, which I sweetened with maple syrup, according to the recipe. It wasn’t bad, but….there was just something a little funny. It’s either the maple-pumpkin combo, the maple-cinnamon combo, or maybe the maple-cream cheese combo. Not sure. Calls for future investigation. Any ideas?

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