Recipes that Make Me Happy it’s Fall

No doubt about it, cooking is a lot more fun in the cooler months. Without summer heat and long sunny days where all I want to do is be outside, I can stew, roast, simmer, braise, and bake to my heart’s content.  What’s better than soup or stew with lots of oven-warmed French bread when the clouds dredge the mountain top where I live at 8500 feet and the air smells like first snow?  Or Sunday mornings, spent in bed with coffee, the New York Times and a baked pancake with lemon zest and berries? 
Food is, of course, seasonal.  Can’t eat lasagna when it’s 90 degrees any more than I’d order an ice cold beer in a blizzard.  Every fall, I shake out a fist full recipes, ones that both take advantage of what’s in season and my body’s penchant for food that does more than simply fuel and cool.  Fall food is like a cozy blanket and a good movie watched in the arms of someone you love:  it just makes you feel good.
Over the next few weeks—through Thanksgiving—I will share some of my favorite fall recipes.  So get comfortable, and stop by any time to see what’s cooking.

Crème Brûlée for Dia de los Muertos

This recipe is a traditional French Crème Brûlée with a Dia de los Muertos twist.  It’s so creamy and smooth, it’s like falling in love or fantastic sex.  Food does not get more sensual than this.

(Recipe  adapted from James Peterson)

2  small sugar pumpkins, seeded and scraped out, wrapped in tin foil
1 ½ cups heavy cream, brought to a simmer in a heavy sauce pan
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg yolks, room temperature
¼ cup + 2 TBSP sugar
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375. 
Lightly but briskly whisk the egg yolks with vanilla, nutmeg, and sugar until they begin to fade to a creamy yellow.  Into this goes the hot cream added gradually with a vigorous whisking.  Careful not to cook the eggs.  Pour the mixed custard into the pumpkin shells (tops off) and put them in a bain-marie (hot water bath) in the oven.  Seal with more tin foil over the pan. 
The trickiness of this recipe is learning to judge when the custard is done.  It should ripple loosely on top when shaken. Begin checking your custards at 45 minutes, but don’t be surprised if your recipe needs twice as long.  Cooking times will vary according to pumpkin size and thickness.  Once you get the hang of it though, like so many other worthwhile things, you will go back again and again.
Cool and then chill the pumpkins thoroughly (at least 2 hours).  To finish:  Either sprinkle with sugar and either torch or broil to make a brûlée  or (my favorite), caramelize sugar in a non-stick pan by dissolving ¼ cup sugar in 2 tbsp water.  Bring to a boil, brushing down the crystals that form on the sides.  If the mixture solidifies, you’ve managed to boil crystals into the mixture– simply add a bit of unsalted butter, a dab at time until the mixture liquefies.

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