I really, really love Fall. It’s my favourite. I love the crispness in the air, the changing leaves and the cooler, darker weather with the promise of the holidays and then shortly after, spring. Mostly though, I love cooking in the fall. I love the farm to table inspiration of the harvest, I also love slow cooking where the bulk of the work is done by the oven or a heavy, simmering pot. For me, Fall and Winter are the most ‘traditional’ seasons for cooking, not surprisingly because of the holidays and the ideas of big family meals garnished with tradition and steeped in expectation. Hmmm, there’s good stuff there, but also, a colossal amount of pressure. Shouldn’t cooking be a fun and rewarding activity? I tend to think so. We have to do it, so we may as well make the most of it. If the prospect of a ‘traditional’ family meal centers around a turkey, (not everyone’s traditions are the same, I realize), then I might have just the thing for you: a departure from what Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners of yore may have looked like, but also a nod to the classic turkey and every good feeling that comes from slow roasting meat with herbs and serving it with finesse.
If you grow nothing else in your life, grow yourself an herb garden. Of all the things that our whole garden can grow, I think the herbs are the most fulfilling to me. There’s just nothing like needing a bit of parsley or basil and being able to just step out the back door and snip it. Need some thyme for your chicken? Snip it! Rosemary for your potatoes? Snip it! Sage for your mushroom risotto? Don’t make me say it again …
If you’ve never made risotto, don’t be afraid. Don’t succumb to the rumors that risotto is terribly challenging or takes a million years to cook. It hardly takes longer than cooking rice the regular way, except it is much, much, tastier and requires a bit more care. Even so, it is not hard to do, especially if you are organized and have all your ingredients ready to go. I quite enjoy making risotto; the slow stirring and gradual addition of stock and wine – there’s something meditative about it. Just get zen with your rice! Let it do the work!
This recipe capitalizes on both fresh and dried sage. The dried has that musky, earthy “turkey” smell and taste to it which makes for a great bass note with the browned onions and mushrooms. The fresh sage has a bright, rich taste to it that chirps along with the white wine, building more and more layers of flavors within the dish. If you really want to add some depth, add some dried wild (and re-hydrated) mushrooms to the mix.
Or just make it as is. Wasn’t I just saying that risotto shouldn’t stress you out?
Sage and Mushroom Risotto
This risotto doesn’t take terribly long and has a simple list of earthy, rich ingredients. Made without cream, the only true indulgence is the cheese, which you can pare back if so desired. This dish combines beautifully with Bacon Wrapped Tomatoes .
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Cup arborio rice (or other short grain Italian rice)
1 medium red onion, diced
1 lb mushrooms, chopped (button, cremini, or whatever you have on hand or like best)
½ tsp dried sage
½ tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves (about 8 large leaves)
4 C hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 C dry white wine
1 C finely grated Parmesan cheese
Prepare your onion, mushrooms, herbs and cheese, set aside. In a medium sized pot, heat the stock until it is almost simmering. Have a ladle on hand so you can easily add it to the rice later.
In a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium, heat the olive oil until it begins to shimmer but does not smoke. Add the rice, all at once, stirring immediately. Cook the rice until it becomes fully opaque, but not browned, about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion and mushrooms, continue cooking, stirring regularly until the mushrooms are browned and the onion is fully cooked through. De-glaze with the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to just below medium. The wine will quickly cook into the rice. Add the salt and dried sage. As the rice mixture begins to ‘dry’, add a ladle of hot stock. Allow the stock to be fully absorbed before you add another ladle. Stir often to agitate the rice and encourage its starch to mix into the stock. Repeat until the stock is gone and the rice is firm but fully cooked. The rice should be creamy and fluid. If it seems dry or thick, add a bit more stock or water until the right consistency is achieved. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the cheese and fresh sage. Serve immediately.
These little treats are the perfect size: 4 bites. More than a mouthful but not enough to merit the need for a fork and knife. They are perfect finger food and always welcome at a party.
The last time I made these was not for a very festive party but for my grandfather’s memorial, or as our family likes to call them: a celebration of his life. It was an overcast afternoon, as most June afternoons are in Vancouver. After much debate and searching we had decided on a handsome, rustic hall in a beautiful cedar-filled park that was by the ocean. It had a quiet, simple dignity to it. Pleasant and humble, not entirely unlike Bert.
If you’ve never thrown a funeral, let me tell you: it’s a tremendous amount of work, even when its divided and delegated amongst several family members. Like any dignified gathering it was more than a chips and pop event, lovingly catered by our family. I have mentioned before that I am so blessed to be in a family of people who can cook and likes to cook. It makes events such as Bert’s Final Farewell simpler, especially when the homemade-ness is more than welcome amongst the tears. We really did celebrate his life and it was a group effort to bring all the parts of the day together. One of my aunts and her two young daughters made beautiful flower arrangements, everyone cooked, photo albums were assembled and his records and medals from his service in the Canadian Military were on display. He was a voracious reader so another of my aunts made a book mark for each guest to take away with them. Many of his friends and bridge partners attended, and many of them joined family members in telling stories about Bert. Some were tear jerkers; so many of them said such kind and lovely things about him. Others were full of humour, like the one about my Grandad teaching one of my aunts to drive, nervously popping nitroglycerin tablets as she gracefully high-centered the car, stranding them on a country road.
By the time we had thanked all the guests and packed things up we were all smiling, laughing even. We stepped out into sunshine, the clouds had lifted and we stood in the warmth and watched a family of juvenile bald eagles circling through the trees no more than 100 feet above us. They were majestic and silent in their flight and we marveled at their beauty. It was a perfectly peaceful cap to an emotional day and a life affirming reminder, in a way, that we are all in constant flight.
Life has a way of poignantly coming full circle sometimes. It wasn’t until we were driving home and discussing the serenity of our eagle sighting that I remembered the book mark my aunt had made and the line of poetry on it and how perfectly it fit, how it had all come together:
The Bird of Time has but a little way to fly and the Bird is on the wing.
– from The Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam
4 Bite Quiche Basic Recipe
This basic recipe takes no time at all to put together and can be combined with any number of delicious add-ins. I’ve provided the basic egg mixture and its method as well as a list of yummy fillings that you can combine and customize. The sky is the limit!
4 eggs, beaten
1 ½ C milk
1 ½ C grated cheese of your choice, divided
¼ tsp ground black pepper
a scant pinch of grated nutmeg
24 frozen (or chilled fresh prepared) tart shells
Try one or more of the following add-ins:
- 6 strips of bacon, very well cooked and crisp, chopped small
- 1 C diced mushrooms, sautéed
- ½ C finely chopped green onion
- 1 C diced ham
- ½ roasted red peppers, chopped
- ½ C crumbled feta cheese
- 2 small shrimp per tart
Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay out 24 tart shells (still frozen, or if fresh, well chilled). If you are mixing in bacon, onions, etc. spoon them into the tart shells now. Remember, each one only needs a little bit and you want to leave room for the egg mixture.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until well scrambled. Add the milk, pepper and nutmeg and half of the cheese. Pour into tart shells and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until the quiche are puffed and the cheese and pastry are golden. The quiche will ‘deflate’ as they cool – this is normal. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store any leftovers for up to two days in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.
I apologize in advance for not having a photo of the finished dish or any step-by-step photos like usual. I made this dish to take to dinner at my brother’s house and I was in a bit of rush to get things finished and get out the door. I’m happy to say that the end product was delicious and everyone enjoyed it. I’m also happy to have nabbed some pictures of the fiddle-heads themselves, like the one shown here.
I confess: this was the first time I had ever had fiddle-heads! We came across them at the vegetable market; a vibrant emerald pile of tightly coiled spirals in a tray of cool water. If you have never had them, try them! Who knew that these little coils of fern frond would be so delicious. They have a very “green” taste to them, not unlike broccoli, but more delicate. They are not as “unique” tasting as asparagus, but they definitely have their own personality.
If you are familiar with the concept of terroir then the related saying “If it grows together, it goes together” shouldn’t seem like a stretch. In this case, I’m referring to the combination of mushrooms and fiddle-heads. Admittedly I was not, in this case, as committed or as organized as I could have been, sourcing local wild mushrooms to go with the local fiddle-heads but from the point of view of complimentary flavours, these forest floor dwellers go very nicely together. Enjoy!
Quinoa with Brown Mushrooms and Fiddleheads
1 1/2 cups of quinoa
1tablespoon of olive oil
1 to 1 1/2 cups of fresh fiddle-heads*, trimmed of the tough stalk (about 30)
1 lb brown cremini mushrooms (or a mix of your favourite mushrooms – wild ones would be nice!)
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3 fresh sage leaves, minced
1 bay leaf
pinch of salt
squirt of lemon juice
zest of 1/4 of a lemon
Cook the quinoa is cooking in 2 1/2 cups of water until fully cooked. Move from the cooking pot to a large bowl, stirring to cool the quinoa and spreading it up the sides of the bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Saute the fiddleheads and mushrooms with the thyme and sage and the bay leaf. Toss over medium heat until the mushrooms are cooked and the fiddle-heads are tender when poked with a fork or sharp knife. Discard the bay leaf, add the scallions. Add the salt, lemon zest and juice, tossing to combine. Stir the vegetables into the cooled quinoa. Serve immediately or chill and serve. Enjoy!
* if you can’t find fiddle-heads, asparagus or even broccoli, in very small florets would be a nice substitute.