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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: Fall is in the Air; Seasonal Specialties Moving to the Front Burner

There is a distinct feel in the air today, and from what we’re hearing and reading, it must be because the official arrival of autumn is on the horizon. And, maybe because the atmospheric pressure is transitioning, especially with all the activity in the Atlantic.

Family vacations are over, for the most part, for those on traditional school schedules, anyway; even that last long holiday weekend of summer has now passed. The calendars are filling up quickly with fall ball games, practices and a hint of color change can be seen in the leaves. I’m not sure why we’re surprised by any of this seasonal change every September, but it does seem to sneak up on us rather quickly.

Those with gardens are clearing most of their plots, with potatoes, cabbage, late-summer squash and pumpkins holding on as long as they can. The apple trees seem to be producing well in these mountains, which is always a good thing.

 I hope you read about the Coffey Grounds in this month’s High Country Magazine. The Coffeys and their fellow-apple growers should have plenty of apples from which to choose in the coming weeks. It’s always a great adventure for many families to head out to the local orchards for one of natures’ best gifts around this time each year.

While we’re in a season of transition, it’s a perfect time to put to good use some our early autumn recipes to get us all in a different frame of mind. Pretty soon, chili, soup and other comfort foods will be moving from the back burner to claim the spotlight. I hope we’re ready for what follows!

Pumpkin Ginger Soup

2 lbs. pumpkin or squash, peeled, cubed

1 large sweet (Vidalia or Sweet Spanish) onion, peeled

2 large cloves garlic, minced

3-4 cups low sodium chicken broth

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon or 2-3 sticks whole

Sea salt to taste

Ground black pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced

1 cup plain yogurt

1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

Paprika (optional)

Remove seeds from pumpkin and save for roasting, if desired.

Boil peeled and cubed pumpkin in salt water until tender with onion, garlic and cinnamon stick (if using).

In a colander, drain well (while still steaming hot) saving broth. 

Discard onion, garlic and cinnamon stick, or save for later use.

Puree pumpkin and ginger in a food processor or hand blender. Add broth and cinnamon to taste, taking care not to add too much.

Heat in medium saucepan. Stir in yogurt. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley. 

For a little extra color, sprinkle on a bit of paprika.

Stuffed Autumn Acorn Squash    

2 acorn squash

1 stick butter, melted

1 lb. mild Italian sausage

1 box stuffing mix

1 ½  cup chicken broth

8 mushrooms

½  cup chopped onion

½ cup corn

¼  cup red bell pepper

¼  cup toasted pine nuts

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Cut squash in half and hollow out inside stings and seeds. Save seeds for roasting, if desired.

Bake in a pan with 1-inch of water, cut sides down, for 20 minutes at 350°F.

Meanwhile, sauté onions, corn and bell pepper until softened, add mushrooms and garlic half-way through.

In a bowl, mix together raw sausage, uncooked stuffing mix, broth,  melted butter, sautéed vegetables, pine nuts and parsley. 

Season if needed, but stuffing may be sufficient.

Remove squash from oven, drain pan, flip squash and brush with melted butter. Fill with stuffing mix.

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour or until squash is tender;

Remove foil and bake uncovered for about 15 minutes.

Mom’s Busy Day Casserole

A great way to use leftover vegetables; use whatever you have on hand!

1 lb. ground hamburger

2 Tbsp. butter

1 med. onion, sliced

1 small head of cabbage, shredded

1 carrot, peeled and shredded

1 (15 oz.) can green beans, drained

1 (15 oz.) can corn (cream style or whole kernel)

1 (10 oz.) can your choice cream soup (celery, mushroom or chicken)

1 (15 oz.) can beef broth

1 tsp. garlic powder or 2 tsp. minced garlic

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 cups prepared mashed potatoes, homemade or packaged

Preheat oven 375. Add ground beef, garlic, salt and pepper to a skillet. Cook until browned; drain grease. Transfer to casserole/baking dish. Place skillet back on stove on medium heat. Add butter, stir until melted, seasoned to taste. Add onions, sautéed until translucent. Add cabbage, which will cook down, so keep adding until all of cabbage is in the skillet. Add carrot, stirring for 5 minutes.

Empty skillet vegetables on top of hamburger in baking dish. Add drained green beans, corn (if using whole kernel), soup and broth. Stir to combine. Smooth out mixture and  with aluminum foil.

Bake at 375 for 40 minutes; check for tenderness of cabbage. If not done, cook until cabbage is soft. Remove from oven.

Turn oven up to 425°. Spoon prepared mashed potatoes on top of filling. Return to oven until potatoes are lightly browned and warmed.  Watch closely to prevent from burning. Remove from oven and serve.

Easy Apple-Oat Crisp  

4 cups cooking apples

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/3 cup flour

1 cup oatmeal, uncooked

½  cup brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

½  tsp. salt

1/3 cup melted butter

Peel apples; slice into 9×13-inch buttered pan. Sprinkle lemon juice over apples. Combine dry ingredients. Mix melted butter with dry ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes or until apples are tender.