October 28, 2013

Right now the trees in Iowa are putting on a spectacular show of fall colors. Everywhere you look there are leaves in shades of vibrant red, orange and yellow.

The color change is brought on by the cooler weather and shorter days. There is less sunlight to warm the leaves, and the process of making food within the leaves stops. The leaves' green pigment is less noticeable, and the brighter colors are on full display.

The weather conditions play a huge role in the changing of the leaves. According the Farmer's Almanac, ideal conditions for the best and brightest colors are a warm, dry summer following by a rainy fall.

This weekend my husband and I had our fill of leaves. We spent two days raking our front yard and filled near 30 compost bags. We have huge beautiful trees in the front and back that fill our yard with soft, yellow leaves.

As the leaves change in color, our taste in food also changes. We start wanting warm and comforting food that's full of flavor.

Fall Spin on Pork Chops

One day as I was opening my email, I noticed this recipe by Women's Day Kitchen that combined the flavors of fall. Thick juicy pork chops, sweet apples and a savory pan sauce make a comforting autumn dinner.

4 crisp red apples, such as Gala or Braeburn, cored and cut into 3/4-inch-thick wedges

1/4 cup fresh sage leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 bone-in pork chops, each about 1 inch thick

Kosher salt


3/4 cup(s) hard cider or dry white wine

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 bunch spinach, thick stems discarded

Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the apples and sage with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork chops with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the skillet from the heat. Transfer the chops to the baking sheet, nestling them among the apples, and roast until the chops are just cooked through and the apples are tender, 5 to 6 minutes.

While the apples and pork are roasting, return the skillet to medium heat. Add the cider and ginger and simmer, scraping up any brown bits, for 2 minutes.

Transfer the pork chops to plates and toss the apples with the spinach. Serve with the pork chops and pan sauce.

Sausage Balls

Country music star Trish Yearwood calls herself a country cook. I saw her make this recipe on the Food Network and knew it would be something my husband, Danny, would love. He grew up in the South and loves biscuits and sausage.

1 lb spicy pork sausage

10 oz Cheddar cheese, grated

3 cups baking mix, such as Bisquick

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sausage, cheese, and baking mix and beat on low speed until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Shape the mixture into 1-inch balls and place them 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake sausage balls for 20 minutes, or until browned. Drain on paper towels, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serve with ketchup, ranch dressing or any dipping sauce your family prefers.

Spicy Chili Dip

As the weather gets colder, it's harder to remember to eat fresh vegetables when all we want is comfort food. This spicy dip is perfect alongside carrots, celery, etc., and the recipe can easily be halved if you don't have a crowd to feed.

1(8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened

2 cups (16 oz) sour cream

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/2 cups picante sauce

1 cup (4 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

fresh vegetables and corn or tortilla chips

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Beat in the onion, garlic, chili powder and pepper flakes. Stir in picante sauce and mozzarella cheese. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve with fresh vegetables and chips.

Yield: about 5 cups.

Ranch Pretzels

My friend Gracie Quijano of Des Moines recently sent me this recipe after she tried it. Munching on crunchy pretzels is a healthier alternative to potato chips.

9 oz bag pretzels

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 oz packet Hidden Valley Ranch Dip

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place the pretzels in a gallon-size resealable bag. Add the oil, seal the bag and toss to coat. Add the dry ingredients to the bag; seal and toss again until all of the pretzels are coated.

Spread the pretzels out on a large baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the oil has absorbed into the pretzels. Cool and store in an airtight container.

Sausage Dip

Jen Tunning of Carroll loves to serve comforting foods to her family and friends. Her sausage dip has a little bit of a kick and is ideal for game day or other get-togethers.

2 (8 oz) pkgs cream cheese

2 pkgs Jimmy Dean sausage, 1 hot, 1 regular variety

2 cans Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies

In a large skillet, brown sausage and drain well. In a large saucepan (or a slow cooker) add cream cheese and tomatoes and green chilies to sausage. Stir to combine and heat through.

Serve with Doritos or Tostitos.