But with the onslaught of autumn and the great produce I find weekly at the North Market, my culinary interests are budding again.
Yesterday I dug out my copy of the Book Club Cookbook that I received for Christmas a few years ago (via Barnes and Noble gift card). For someone like me, who loves cooking and reading, this is a perfect blend. The book has recipes for some favorite dishes from novels--ambrosia from To Kill A Mockingbird; a trifle from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; honey cake from The Secret Lives of Bees (a fantastic recipe!), and others. There's also the Jane Austen classic Negus--spiced wine--that I must try when it gets cold this winter!
To date, I'd only made the honey cake for a New Year's Eve dinner, since honey and New Year's are often paired. On Sunday, I made Griet's Vegetable Soup, adapted from the novel Girl With a Pearl Earring (which I love). The first time I read the book, I was 19 and my cousin Cheryl had invited me to her book club meeting in Vienna, VA. We were staying with her family for a week, touring Washington, and generally catching up with a side of the family we don't see very often.
Cheryl has three kids and has a degree in architecture. I felt like I was going to a very grown-up and exclusive gathering (exclusive might be the right word--there was wine and perrier for beverage choices. I'd never had perrier before.). As I made the soup, I remembered curling up in one of their big leather chairs and reading the novel, kids and dogs running around and a beautiful Virginia day outside.
The soup was also the first time I'd worked with leeks or turnips. Leeks, to my surprise, turned out to be just like celery, except bigger. I cut off the top and bottom, soaked the remainder for 15 minutes (to loosen any grit or sand, even though I saw them being washed at the stall), and then chopped them up.
The turnips were another story. The produce stall didn't have regular turnips, so I bought two Japanese ones. These are bright purple, with roots and who knows what else, at the tops and bottoms. So first I trimmed them. Then I peeled them. That was a bit difficult--the thick purple skin took about three passes to get off completely. Then I chopped them. I don't know how anxious I am to work with these particular turnips again.
But, the soup was divine. Wonderfully seasoned, warm, filling and healthy! It made two extra quart containers, one of which is in my freezer, and the other I gave to my parents. Soup is such a great winter meal--take it out of the freezer, extract from container, and heat. Mmmmm.
Right now I am making meat sauce. I had an extra carrot left over from the soup, so I decided to turn it into meat sauce. The recipe I use has 1 lb. meat, extra-virgin olive oil, 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 3-4 garlic cloves, along with 3 cans diced tomatoes and oregano, thyme and rosemary. It's all simmering away right now and will be great to have when it's cold and I'm out of Prego (my bottled sauce of choice).
If you have a favorite fall recipe, post it in the comments!