Entertainers say to always leave the audience yearning for more. As autumn kicks in, that's what you can do with your family and/or dining guests. Just give them a taste of the seasonal ingredients that are going to be bombarding them in the next months, and they'll be clamoring for more.
Sure, later in the season, they may be presented with dishes starring ingredients like pumpkin, cranberry, apples, pears and sweet potatoes. Think of this as audition time for such treats. After all, the fresh versions of goodies like pumpkins and cranberries haven't invaded markets yet. This is the time to crack open a can of pumpkin or drizzle a few dried cranberries into (or onto, like as an ice cream topping, for instance) other crowded recipes so as to deliciously whet the appetite.
Whip up the following muffins for school-day breakfasts and the hint of pumpkin and pecans, and scent of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, will be enough to make the lucky eaters know they're treading into autumn, if not fully engulfed in it yet. They are also not as heavy as holiday items that will undoubtedly crowd gatherings later in the year, since they are wisely free of added sugar and utilize reduced-fat ingredients.
The brisket that follows also shows how easy it is to introduce always-available seasonal products that provide that early autumn flair. Cranberry juice cocktail livens up the meat and dried cranberries are part of a mushroom sauce.
Pumpkin Pecan Muffins
1 Ω cups all-purpose flour
Ω cup sugar-free baking blend (such as Splenda)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Ω teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Ω teaspoon ground ginger
º teaspoon ground nutmeg
Ω teaspoon salt
Ω cup chopped pecans
1 Ω cups canned pure pumpkin
2 eggs, lightly beaten
º cup, plus 2 Tablespoons, (preferably low-fat) buttermilk
º cup, plus 2 Tablespoons, reduced fat sour cream
2 Tablespoons canola oil
Yields 12 muffins.
Preheat oven to 350∫F.
Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray, set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar-free baking blend, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Stir in pecans.
In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, buttermilk, sour cream and oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the pumpkin mixture. Stir until just combined.
Spoon into the prepared muffin cups and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Turn out the muffins onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Brisket with Portobello Mushrooms
and Dried Cranberries
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup canned beef or chicken broth
Ω cup frozen cranberry juice cocktail concentrate, thawed (see note)
º cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Ω Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (4-pound) trimmed flat-cut brisket
12 ounces medium Portobello mushrooms, dark gills scraped away, caps thinly sliced
1 cup dried cranberries (about 4 ounces)
Yields 8 servings.
Preheat oven to 300∫F.
Whisk wine, broth, cranberry juice cocktail and flour to blend in medium bowl; pour into 15-by-10-by-2-inch roasting pan. Mix in onion, garlic and rosemary. Sprinkle brisket on all sides with salt and pepper. Then place brisket, fat side up, in roasting pan. Spoon some of wine mixture over. Cover pan tightly with heavy-duty foil.
Bake brisket until very tender, carefully basting with pan juices every hour, for about 3 Ω hours. Carefully transfer brisket to plate; cool 1 hour only at room temperature. Thinly slice brisket across grain. Arrange slices in pan with sauce, overlapping slices slightly. (Brisket can be prepared up to two days ahead. Cover tightly and refrigerate.)
Preheat oven to 350∫F. Place mushrooms and cranberries in sauce around brisket. Cover pan with foil. Bake until mushrooms are tender and brisket is heated through, about 30 minutes (40 minutes if brisket has been refrigerated).
Transfer sliced brisket and sauce to platter and serve.
Note: Substitute æ cup cranberry juice cocktail if necessary.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including
Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook and The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook. CNS photo courtesy of VeryBestBaking.com