Food by the Book: Fall brings comfort food, classic tales

Fall is the perfect time to indulge in tales of the fantastic and supernatural. The changing weather, falling leaves, and chill in the air bring a peculiar foreboding of winter to come. Now author Ransom Riggs presents us with “Tales of the Peculiar” (Dutton, 2016), a new collection of short stories for young teens that takes on an old vernacular. A sort of Grimm’s Fairy Tales meets Edgar Alan Poe, the peculiar tales are not so much edge-of-your-seat scary as they are a collection of moralistic fables about miscreant castaways.

Everything about this little tome is delightful. The engraved illustrations by Andrew Davidson, designer of the etched glass doors at Wimbledon, are nothing short of genius in their intricate modeling of the tales in the tradition of antique volumes. The setup of the stories by fictitious editor, Millard Nullings, Esq., along with his footnotes to the stories, is delightful. The book itself is a jewel.

The stories, while simulating medieval or Victorian lore, can, like any classic tale, actually be applied to modern day events. Here you will find socially unacceptable characters of every kind, such as mild-mannered cannibals who strike a cooperative agreement with a community of misfits whose limbs regenerate. Or, Ymeene, a bird living in the village of Little Disappointment in Oddfordshire, that changes into a girl whose leadership and odd abilities save her community. In this book peculiars may be strange, but they are not averse to the same moral dilemmas that befall so-called normal people.

While this book and its accompanying set of Miss Peregrine novels are written for grades seven through nine, the stories in this charming collection will not be lost on adults. Now is the time for hearty soups that warm the tummy and reassure us that all is well with the changing seasons in our little village. Try lasagna soup with a fall apple side salad and crusty bread to accompany a reading of “Tales of the Peculiar.”

Lasagna Soup

• 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

• 1 medium diced onion

• 1 diced green pepper

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 2 (14.5 ounces) cans diced tomatoes, undrained

• 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

• 4 cups (32 ounces) beef broth

• 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

• 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

• 2 bay leaves

• 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

• 2 cups mini farfalle

• 1/3 cup heavy cream

• 1 cup ricotta

• 5 ounces grated Parmesan

In a large Dutch oven, brown beef, green pepper and onion over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 30-60 seconds. Drain. Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, beef broth, Italian seasoning and bay leaves. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes to mingle flavors. Add farfalle (or 6 lasagna noodles broken into bite-sized pieces). Continue simmering for about 10-20 minutes or until noodles are tender. Remove bay leaves and add cream when ready to serve; stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cheese Topping: In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta and Parmesan. Thin with sour cream, if needed. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve, spoon soup in a bowl and top with a dollop of the cheese mixture. Serve with hearty Italian bread. Delicious. This recipe is readily available online to mix and match with your ingredients.

Fall Apple and Butter Lettuce Salad

• 1 cup walnut halves

• 2 tablespoons corn syrup

• 3 teaspoons sugar

• 1/4 teaspoon cumin

• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne

• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak nuts in 1 cup water for 3 minutes; drain. In a separate bowl combine corn syrup, sugar and spices. Add nuts to mixture and coat evenly. Spread on baking sheet and roast for approximately 20 minutes. Remove and cool.

• 1/4 cup champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• 1 minced shallot

• 1 tablespoon honey

• 1 tablespoon sugar

• 1/2 cup vegetable oil

• 1/2 cup olive oil

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk vinegar, mustard, shallot, honey and sugar. Whisk in oils in a thin stream until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to serve salad.

• 1 head butter lettuce (serves 4)

• 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

• 2 Honey Crisp apples, cored and sliced

• 1 Bartlett pear, cored and sliced

• 1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries

• Salt and pepper to taste

Divide lettuce between four salad plates. Top each with 1/4 of the apples and pears. Divide goat cheese and add. Top each with walnuts and dried berries. Spoon dressing evenly over each plate. This is a delicious salad to serve at fall gatherings.

By Melony Carey, food columnist for CNHI. Adapted from MIXT Salads by Andrew Swallow.