Fall produce offers options to many dishes.

Fall produce – butternut, acorn, pumpkin and other winter squashes. Kale, brussel sprouts and other greens. Apples, pears and cranberries.

Need new ideas for cooking these wonderful old crops? Read on…

Apples and butternut squash cooked together make a delicious soup, with thyme, sage, or warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. A little blue cheese adds a unique flavor. Roasted squashes are sweet on their own, or pureed into a dip with garam masala and a little tahini. Add cubed roasted squash to a lasagna with a bechamel sauce and asiago cheese for a fall inspired dish.

Acorn squash is great baked with maple syrup, or stuffed with quinoa, feta, sunflower seeds and cranberries. Apples, sausage, currants and cornbread make a hearty filling too. Steam squash halves over boiling water or microwave whole (pierce well to avoid exploding gourds) for a tender option to baking. Cube squashes into your favorite stew recipes for color and antioxidants.

Spaghetti squash is a low carb alternative to pasta, and roasted pumpkin seeds are just a tasty benefit of the orange globe. Pumpkins are edible in savory or sweet recipes, adding vitamin A to your dishes. Think cake, bread, stews and risotto. A hollowed out pumpkin provides a festive serving bowl – just skip the Jack-o-Lantern cutouts.

Kale, collards and other greens can be bitter, pairing nicely with sweet raisins, apricots or roasted garlic. A touch of balsamic adds extra depth and a little tang. Add greens to soups, stews and even baked pasta dishes for an extra kick of calcium. If the bitter flavor turns you off, drop your greens in a boiling water bath for 1-2 mins, drain and saute to cut down the bitterness.

Apples or pears and cranberries are a natural pairing for applesauce, pie fillings, chutneys or strudels. Pears and pork are wonderful, cooked slowly with honey, broth and herbes de Provence. If you prefer, use thyme, cream and shallots.

Braise chicken or pork in apple cider or use to poach salmon. It is wonderful for basting your turkey, adding a sweet flavor to your Thanksgiving gravy.

Heat cider with cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peel for a warming drink and homey room freshener.

Poach pears in simple syrup infused with lemon, orange or vanilla beans. Use red wine for a more dramatic presentation, adding orange peel, sugar, cinnamon stick and cardamom for more flavor. Bake apples filled with nuts and honey, orange zest, or an oatmeal raisin and brown sugar filling.

Sliced apple with a little peanut or almond butter is a quick energy snack, or chop an apple into cottage cheese with cinnamon and raisins for a great breakfast. Slice pears in a salad with blue cheese and pecans. Dip pear slices in chocolate for a decadent dessert or add moisture to a favorite spice cake recipe with chopped apples or pears.

Enjoy fall produce, eat local, and be creative! Good eating and happy holidays.

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Bobby Flay went up against a Brooklyn firefighter with a culinary background and a tight budget on this Throwdown. Cacciatore, or hunter’s style chicken is a classic, and Bobby knew he couldn’t mess with a classic for this challenge. Keith Young, a Brooklyn fireman, graduated from Johnson and Wales, worked in multiple restaurants before he became a fireman. He has also published a book called Cooking with the Firehouse Chef in 2003.

Keith had a traditional cacciatore with onions, green and red bell peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms. He floured his chicken before browning, which helps thicken the sauce. A little white wine, oregano, fresh basil and red pepper flake rounded out this dish.

Bobby chose to not flour his chicken, and used mushrooms, yellow bell pepper and tomatoes as well. He pureed his tomatoes, added chicken stock and red wine as well as rosemary and thyme. Bobby finished his dish with fresh basil and capers.

Both dishes started with browning the chicken, then the veggies, adding the liquids and tomatoes, and simmering everything together for 30-45 mins. The end result – Keith’s chicken cacciatore was a bright red, fresh tasting and very classic dish (at least from my memory of my mom making this dish as a kid). Hearty in the vegetables, moist tender chicken, and mild seasoning.

Bobby’s dish had a deeper brown color to it with a definite rosemary flavor and richness. His chicken was moist, and capers added a hint of saltiness. The tomato flavor did lack in Bobby’s, but the dish was delicious and hearty. The judges ruled in favor of Keith on this challenge, and for the sake of tradition, we had to agree. The tomato and pepper freshness of his dish was unmistakably the Italian classic.

On a side note – the second night, we both chose to have Bobby’s chicken and the flavors developed wonderfully….a great dish, but not the traditional. Call it hunter’s stew – and it is the winner in my book. Who knew these challenges were so tough to judge!