I know you've gone a while without a recipe.
Sorry to starve you; it wasn't my intention.
I'm in the business of preparing for fall, dear readers, and it is a booming business indeed. Since the late spring and summer have been somewhat unkind to my friend Anne and I, we took it upon ourselves to declare the end of August the beginning of autumn. No matter that I'm still one with my clothing after walking three blocks. If I were living in Tallahassee and not Toronto, this would be perfectly acceptable fall weather, and since Anne resides in the Sunshine State, I'll let her call the shots.
As a girl who never tires of soaking up warm-weather rays, who loves nothing more than to sit on an outdoor patio sipping a drink, who adores beach-combing and house parties and walking around the city without donning a parka and four layers of clothing, whose excitement over an abundant display of summer produce borders on obscene, my cheering on of the next season might come as a bit surprising. But, oh, I'm so ready for it; I'm ready for full-time work, for writing with a cup of hot tea in hand, for baking and roasting and stewing and braising, for bundling up in a cozy sweater, for the onslaught of squash and root vegetables, and for picking apples and eating them, making apple crisps, and applesauce. Turns out there's a lot to love about this thing called fall, a season I didn't get to wholly experience last year when, to my dismay, the leaves on the Northern Florida trees did not change colours. To tell you the truth, while I appreciated the warm climate, I missed my autumn, however short that time can sometimes be in southwestern Ontario. I'm imagining High Park in October, and the fantasy makes me smile wide.
Even if I were to ignore it, there's other signs autumn is already on its way, veering across open roads. I have in my hands Put 'em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook by Sherri Brooks Vinton, Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables by Andrea Chesman, and The Zuni Café Cookbook by the remarkably talented Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Café in San Francisco. I'm lingering a little too long around the tea section of the grocery store. I'm making lists of films I'd like to see. I'm drafting ideas for stories. I'm considering how I might go about throwing a holiday get-together with some friends of mine months down the road, gathering to watch holiday movies and eat popcorn and cookies. I'm even bookmarking promising recipes for candies and baked goods. Did I mention the mulled wine -- Glühwein -- and all of the hot toddies, made with Forty Creek or Crown? It's preposterous.
However, I'm still eating a copious amount of salads, which I love, especially lettuce-based ones. Some I've eaten with chopped avocado, black olives, goat cheese, cucumber, and bacon, drizzled with chipotle-ranch-lime dressing. Some include a chopped, hardboiled egg. I'm dreaming up a salad with chickpeas, grilled vegetables, hummus, kalamata olives, and lemon juice. And yesterday's was probably my favourite: Romaine lettuce, tangy goat cheese, a lemon-oregano vinaigrette, smoky bacon, and baked sweet potato fries tossed in cumin and chili powder.
Let's talk sweet potatoes. Baked and dressed with a brown butter vinaigrette, or roasted with sea salt and rosemary. Mashed with coconut milk and macadamia nuts, or baked with a crispy, brown sugar topping. I especially like sweet potato fries, as I've mentioned, and goat cheese -- mmm. It's a tough cheese to beat in my books. Sure, I love a great vintage cheddar, or Havarti, or Pecorino Romano, or anything, really, that doesn't taste overly barnyard-y. But goat cheese deserves its own line. Its own book. I can't remember quite when I first tried it -- not too long ago -- but it's fantastic on just about anything. I'm sure some will disagree; that's okay. However, I have to say -- if I had a genie in front of me, ala Aladdin, one of my wishes would be to have an endless supply of chèvre. I'd then trot back to my apartment and live happily ever after in my goat cheese-gorging domain. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Now, about tracking down that genie ...
Until fall officially announces its arrival, I'll be taking advantage of the abundance of lettuce still stocked at the stores, and be making salads all live long day. And you should make this one; it's yammy. Har har, I made an awful joke (and worse, it's copied from Big Fat Burrito.)
Salad with Baked Sweet Potato Fries & Goat Cheese
Adapted from Susan Anderson and Kevin at Closet Cooking
1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced into fries
2 oz. goat cheese
2 slices bacon, cooked and roughly chopped (optional)
Two generous handfuls Romaine lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp sea or kosher salt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 juicy lemon
1 tsp dried oregano, or 1 tbsp fresh
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pre-heat oven (I used my trusty toaster oven) to 350°F/180°C. Toss fries with olive oil, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Layer the fries on an aluminum-lined tray and bake for 30-45 minutes, until crisp-tender.
While the fries bake, assemble the vinaigrette. Combine the lemon juice, oregano, garlic, and Dijon, and whisk to emulsify. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Taste, and season accordingly. Set aside for the flavours to mingle and become friendly.
Crumble goat cheese and bacon over Romaine lettuce, and top with sweet potato fries. Taste the vinaigrette one final time, season if necessary, and drizzle over the salad. Serve immediately.