Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday October 21st 2014

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by Ashley Hardaway

Hear that? It’s the sound of women throughout town unpacking forgotten sweaters from the tops of closets and of men silently rejoicing that their business suits will no longer be drenched after a brisk walk from the car to the office. Fall has arrived!

For me, it’s that magical time when my stove is no longer seen as an evil heat-producing monster (making my summertime kitchen hotter), but a valued friend. It’s the time I remember I have an oven, and suddenly think, ‘yes, I love casseroles!’ The season of fall-food favorites is back. So fire up those forgotten burners, because while sweaters may cozy up to your body, comfort foods hug your soul.

Pumpkin Soup

Don’t make the mistake of choosing the ubiquitous field pumpkin to cook with – leave that one for the Jack-O-Lanterns. The ones you want are called sugar pumpkins, or cheese pumpkins. Their dense, sweet flesh makes them perfect for cooking or baking! And pumpkins keep well. In the fridge (uncut) they last for three months. Cut up, they’ll last for five days. But no worries, you won’t have any problem using them up with this recipes.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 apple, peeled and diced
2 cups fresh pumpkin, roasted and diced
1 tablespoon sage leaves
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cut pumpkin in half and discard the seeds and stringy fibers. Then cut pumpkin into quarters and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender. Allow to cool and peel away skin.
Later: In a stockpot over medium heat, melt butter and saute onion, carrot, apple, roasted pumpkin, and sage until all are tender, about eight to 10 minutes. Puree in a food processor. Return the puree to the stockpot, add chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the cream and simmer for five more minutes. Do not boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chicken Pot Pie

Remember that thing below your stove? Yeah, the one you used this summer to heat up that piece of pizza. Well make your oven feel loved again with this fantastically easy chicken pot pie. The perfect way to use up leftover turkey or rotisserie chicken — this is great for the day or two after a holiday party, when all the guests have left, but somehow the food hasn’t.

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked, chopped chicken
1 1/2 cups of your favorite frozen veggie mix (I like the carrot, green bean, pea mixture, myself)
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 frozen double pie crust (no judgment)
Combine chicken breast and veggie mix; set aside. In medium saucepan, melt butter. Sauté onion until clear. Whisk in flour and cook until bubbly and slightly brown. Then whisk in broth and milk.  Do not stop whisking, for fear of clumps. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened. Stir in seasonings. Pour over chicken-vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Line a pie plate with bottom crust. Pour in filling. Top with second pie crust, leaving a vent. Brush crust with milk or egg and bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 375.  Bake until crust is brown and the filling is bubbly, or about 50 minutes more.

Crock-Pot Grits with Andouille and Shrimp
My mother used to make these for us on Sundays. Cheesy grits with andouille sausage and shrimp — a southern cold-weather specialty for sure. Bust out your crock-pot and let it do all the work for you, while you get an early start on Sunday-Funday.

Ingredients:
2 cups Jim Dandy Quick Cooking Grits
6 cups hot water
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s  (or any cajun) seasoning
1/2 pound chopped sausage links cooked and drained of oil  (we use Conecuh Sausage)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 onion chopped and cooked until translucent
1 pound of peeled shrimp rinsed well
cheddar cheese for garnish

Directions:

Add first seven ingredients in crock pot and stir well. Cook on high four hours (temperatures vary on some pots so check after two hours and turn to low if needed). Add shrimp 30 minutes before serving (they’ll cook in the grits). Top each serving with additional cheddar cheese.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

No evening of comfort is complete without dessert. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a new take on an old classic.

Ingredients:
1 (nine-inch) pie shell
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
4 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:
Combine sugar, corn syrup, and butter or margarine in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Allow to cool slightly. In another bowl combine eggs, bourbon, vanilla, and salt. Slowly pour sugar mixture into egg mixture, whisking constantly. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 to 55 minutes, or until set and golden.

Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about Halloween. Simply serve guacamole and call it “guaca-moldy” and put some twizzlers — I mean “guts” — in some cupcakes at your party and you’re golden. But one thing that can never be absent from any Halloween festivity is the Bloody Mary.  And the gag is already taken care of for you!

Bloody Mary
2 ounces vodka
3 ounces of your favorite Bloody Mary mix (I like Zing Zang)
dash of Worcestershire sauce
dash of hot sauce
pinch of salt and pepper
fresh grated garlic and horseradish (if you please)

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a glass over ice. Stir well to combine (or shake). Garnish with celery, pickled green beans, olives and lemon wedge. If it looks like a salad, you’re done!

Food News:

1St Annual Great Southern Bake-Off to Support Breast Cancer Awareness
Great Southern Restaurant Group—aka The Fish House, Atlas Oyster House and Jackson’s Steakhouse—are hosting what might just be the biggest and best cupcake bake-off all time. There will be over 1,000 cupcakes there for you to taste and judge. The tasting fee is $5 and 100% of that will be donated to the American Cancer Society. Oct. 25, 5 p.m., The Deck Bar at The Fish House, goodgrits.com

Vic and Ike’s American Bistro
Vic and Ike’s has rolled out their new fall menu. Stop on in to try their new Kobe burger, pan roasted tabbit and rosemary mint chicken along with your favorite standards.

Jackson’s Hops and Harvest
Tired of wine dinners? Then Jackson’s Hops and Harvest is for you! Five courses paired with five different beers. Patrons will enjoy delights like boneless, roasted quail with mushroom chorizo dressing, paired with Southern Tier’s Pumpkin Ale and Dolce’s dark gelato paired with Pensacola Bay Brewery’s Lighthouse Porter Ale.

Grand Marlin
Grand Marlin is changing with the season and has unleashed new specials like baked barbecued oysters topped with pepper jack cheese and barbecue butter sauce, and “cracklin” pork shank, slow roasted with Grand Mariner glaze. Oct. 27, 5:30 p.m., $55 per person; for reservations call 469-9898.

600 South Italian Eatery
Start the season off right by easing in to fall at 600 South’s wine dinner. Take a tour with Chef Nick through Italy’s 11 splendid regions as you delight in seven courses paired with specifically chosen wines. Oct. 26 at 6 p.m.; for information and reservations call 434-7736.