Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Good Season for Getting Out and Eating In

(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
October 2009

If the bright and lively days of summer energize and invigorate us, then the temperate days of autumn are meant to be both respite and sustenance.

By October, nature’s seasonal shift is in full swing. No matter where we go, there are reminders we have fallen back into our routines of school, fall sports and outdoor activities. And while most of us are far removed from lives centered on foraging or growing all of our own foods, we still welcome the end of summer and find joy in fall traditions.

Autumn offers something for everyone in Southern Illinois -art and craft fairs, harvest festivals, football, soccer, parades with floats and marching bands, raking leaves and any other excuse we can find to be outside. Who can resist a scenic drive to experience the changes in the landscape, or a day trip just to get out and enjoy the wonderful weather along the Shawnee Wine Trail?

The harvest marks the change of seasons for the land. Work in the summer garden winds down. Every last fruit of the vine is plucked and savored, or put by for months to come. Canning, freezing, and preserving are finished up, and the garden is made ready for winter’s rest and renewal.

The foods we crave now reflect these seasonal changes too. Cooler temperatures mean warming soups and stews. Fragrant smoke wafting up from burning leaves reminds us of curing ham and pork. Crisp cool days are perfect for apples, grapes, meats and cheese with a glass of wine. Football fans and tailgate parties cheer for bratwurst and beer. Bonfires are for toasty marshmallows and hot chocolate. Hayrides set off in search of cider and donuts. Frost settles on pumpkins.

We’ve been out and about lately, with grateful thanks to the early return of milder temperatures and lower humidity. Our late summer guests enjoyed visits to two of our newest wineries – Walker’s Bluff and Monte Allegro. One day we drove to Ava and paid our first visit, but certainly not our last, to the Shawnee Country Store. Another day we drove to Kimmswick, Missouri to a nursery that offers a dazzling array of big, beautiful chrysanthemums. And finally, after a lifetime as a Southern Illinois native, I’ve finally made the twenty-seven mile trip to see a little spot on the map named Cora.

As usual, the inspiration for this month’s recipes has come from our recent wanderings and experiences. I’ve been reading Amish and Midwestern cookbooks all summer and have come to appreciate the faith, courage, and strength required to live a simple life, especially raising and preparing enough food for a family every single day of the year. Anyone who has even a small garden can appreciate the endless work of farm life.

Driving the back roads this time of year, I’m always mindful of our region’s tradition of farming. The patchwork of orchards, vineyards, dairy farms, grazing pastures, and fields of various crops, providing food for both livestock and humans, is especially beautiful this time of year. The visual inspiration sent me straight to the kitchen with thoughts of traditional dishes made with apples, beans, cabbage, pork, sweet potatoes and winter squashes, many of which draw on the German heritage of many of the farmers in our area.

Jaeger Schnitzel is one of My Favorite Husband’s favorite dishes, reaching back to his Air Force days. Every time he returned from a trip to Germany, he would wax poetic about the “tender meat and the delicious gravy.” After many years of exhaustive pre-Internet searches for the perfect Jaeger Schnitzel recipe, and failing to “nail it” each time, I learned he actually ate this at the Ramstein AFB Base Ops cafeteria, of all places! So that explains why I have two recipes – one is the more authentic version, and the other is closer to the actual slap-dash cafeteria version he remembers. I leave it for you to decide between them!

The braised cabbage recipe is from my sister-in-law, who comes from the heritage of the German communities in nearby Clinton county. Her family is one of my main resources for really good recipes. And Butch, whose name goes with the Fresh Apple Cake recipe, is her father. Gail’s tells me her mother also makes wonderful sauerkraut, and as soon as she has time to share the recipe with me, I’m going try making some. I’m telling you, these people know good food!

So enjoy this season of change in Southern Illinois. October is the month to celebrate with others the cultural and historic traditions of living life simply, even as time marches on. Be glad for the light, the heat, the rain, the land and the opportunities they give us to raise our families and our gardens in this beautiful place. And always take time, in this and every season, to share your blessings with all who gather around your table.

Jaeger Schnitzel
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
all-purpose flour
2 eggs
panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
2 tbsp. finely chopped shallots
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
4 tbsp. olive oil
4 tbsp. butter
4 oz. sherry
8 oz. beef broth
1 tbsp. tomato paste
4 oz. cream
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Slice tenderloin into 2-in. wide pieces. Place slices flat between two pieces of wax paper. Use meat mallet to pound slices to 1/4-in. thickness. Combine flour with salt and pepper in a flat dish. Beat eggs in a second flat dish. Spread panko in third flat dish. Dredge both sides of pork in flour; dip in egg and coat with panko. Heat olive oil and butter in large sauté pan and brown pork on both sides. Remove pork from pan and keep warm. Add onion and mushrooms to pan and sauté over medium heat until softened. Add sherry and scrape pan to deglaze. Add beef broth and tomato sauce and stir to blend completely; heat for until bubbly. Lower heat; add cream and continue to heat, but do not boil. Stir in parsley. Serve sauce warm with schnitzel. Note: pounded chicken breasts, turkey mignons, veal cutlets or cube steaks may be used in place of pork.

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Fast and Easy Jaeger Schnitzel
pork tenderloin slices, pounded flat
all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
2 eggs
panko breadcrumbs
4 tbsp. olive oil
¼ c. chopped onions
1 c. chopped mushrooms
brown gravy mix

Place flour, salt and pepper in a flat dish. Break eggs in second flat dish and beat. Pour panko into third flat dish. Dip pork pieces to coat in flour, dip in egg and then coat with panko breadcrumbs. Heat olive oil and butter in large sauté pan. Brown pork on both sides; remove and keep warm. Add onions and mushroom to sauté pan and heat until softened. Prepare brown gravy mix according to package directions. Use slotted spoon to transfer onions and mushrooms to brown gravy mix. Serve sauce warm with pork.

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Maple Spice Butter for Roasted Sweet Potatoes or Winter Squash
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup real maple syrup
2 tsp. orange zest
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Fresh whole sweet potatoes or winter squash (acorn, butternut, etc.)

Prepare Maple Spice Butter by mixing all ingredients except sweet potatoes or squash. Refrigerate for up to three days before using. Prepare your choice of winter squash or whole sweet potatoes for roasting. Bake in oven preheated to 375 degrees for about 1 hour. Serve Maple Spice Butter spooned into hot roasted sweet potatoes or squash.

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Gail’s Braised Red Cabbage
1 small head of red cabbage
2 slices bacon
1/2 medium onion
1 large tart apple
3 tbsp. red vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
1/8 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)

Quarter and core the cabbage. Slice thinly crosswise and immerse in cold water. Chop bacon and brown in a dutch oven on low, until fat is rendered out. Chop and brown onion in bacon fat. Drain cabbage and add to bacon and onion, along with chopped apple, vinegar, honey, salt to taste (and caraway seeds, if you wish). Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Add boiling water during cooking, if the cabbage gets dry or sticks.
Note: This recipe is very forgiving; even if you don’t measure, it always comes out fine.

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Homemade Baked Beans
1 lb. dried white navy beans
pinch of baking soda
1 cup real maple syrup
2 tsp. ground mustard
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. molasses
½ cup chopped onion
¼ lb. salt pork

Rinse beans in a colander. Place beans in a large pot and cover with water, at least 4 inches above the beans, and soak them overnight. Drain the beans and cover with fresh water. Bring pot to a boil and skim off any foam that forms on top. Add the baking soda and continue to simmer, placing lid to partially cover pot. Beans should be tender in 30-60 minutes. Test by blowing on beans – skins should split. Avoid overcooking beans so they won’t get mushy. Drain when cooked, reserving liquid. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease the inside of a large dutch oven or heavy casserole dish; add beans. Stir in the syrup, mustard, pepper, molasses and onion. Place the salt pork on top and push down into the beans. Add reserve bean water to completely cover the beans. Cover the pot and bake for 6-8 hours. Beans should be deep brown and tender. Add additional water while baking, if necessary. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

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Party Rye Sandwiches
8 oz. Swiss cheese, shredded
8 oz. sliced ham, chopped
8 oz. can sauerkraut
1 c. mayonnaise
1 loaf party rye bread

Combine cheese, ham, sauerkraut and mayonnaise. Spread butter on one side of each bread slice. Spread cheese mixture on one bread slice and top with a second slice to make sandwich. Note: Make hot party open-face appetizers by spreading small amount of cheese mixture on each bread slice and heating under broiler until bubbly.

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Butch’s Favorite Fresh Apple Cake
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups diced, peeled apples
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9 x 13-in. pan. Blend eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla in a large bowl. Mix flour, salt, soda and cinnamon together in second bowl. Toss apples, coconut and chopped nuts in a third bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, alternating with apple mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes. Cool completely before icing.

Icing for Apple Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
6 tbsp. cream
1 box powdered sugar

In a saucepan, cook butter and brown sugar over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Add cream and powdered sugar. Mix well and spread over apple cake.

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Slow Cooker Apple Butter
12 cups Jonathan apples, peeled, cored and sliced
6 cups sugar
6 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground allspice

Place all ingredients in a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 6-7 hours. Remove lid and continue to cook for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally until apple butter thickens to desired consistency.

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Pepper Jelly
1 cup chopped red or green bell pepper
½ c. chopped fresh jalapeno pepper
5 cups sugar
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
1 package (6 oz.) liquid pectin

Remove stems, veins and seeds from the peppers – leave a few jalapeno seeds in for extra heat. Chop peppers in food processor. In a large pot, combine peppers, sugar and vinegar. Bring to a rolling boil; continue boiling for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes. Stir constantly while adding liquid pectin. Allow mixture to cool for 2 minutes. Stir for another minute. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and place sterilized lids on top. Secure lids with bands and allow jars to cool at room temperature. Jars should develop a vacuum seal. Note: This jelly is delicious served with cream cheese and crackers. Small jars make nice hostess or holiday gifts.

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1 comment:

Dannie said...

Could you use sweet potatoes instead of apples for the slow cooker apple butter? Depending on the potatoes and their sweetness might change the amount of sugar also do you think I should use use some additional spices? When I make sweet potato pies I mix the potatoes quite a bit to get out the stringy textures so I would do that as well. Dannie