Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fall Up

I mean fall up the way I mean listen up, smarten up, eat up; these things are commands when I say them. Lately I've been shouting in my mind, "Fall up already!" to no one in particular. It's been hot, dry, fiery, and certainly not the autumnal mildness that I crave when I only get to have a few hours of daylight a day. If the sunshine is going away, can't the heat too? I mean, c'mon.

My district gives this whole week off for a much-needed Thanksgiving break, so I've had free time lately to search for the fall that I haven't felt.

I looked closely for it in my garden.

The garden was growing and happy and full of cool-season vegetables, but it wasn't enough to make me feel that autumn was here. Since I had to keep looking, I went for a walk up into the canyon.

The animals all seemed to know that fall is here, but I still wasn't convinced, so I went to my kitchen to try to trick myself that it was.

To force the season in, I braised red cabbage. It was really, really good, but it didn't make fall feel like it was here.

So I kept muttering, to no one in particular, "fall up, fall up, fall up."

Finally, finally, autumn arrived in a way that I believed. Last night, I fell asleep to the sound of the rain falling down.

Darn prepositions.

Braised Red Cabbage with Star Anise
Star anise stole the culinary show on my recent trip to Washington, DC. I ate several dishes at different places where the brilliance of each depended on this star. Inspired, I wanted to try cooking with it at home. Although I often associate it with Asian flavors, this recipe does not really work as an Asian side dish. The star anise takes the traditional French and German side to sausage, pork, and duck to a different place, a place where it can still easily serve as the side to these meats (or grilled salmon, wouldn't that be good?), but it will no longer feel the same. It's like putting sexy undies on under one's flannel pajamas—the combination of comfort and surprise is mighty alluring.

You will need:
2 tablespoons of fat of your choice (butter, oil, bacon or duck fat . . .)
1 small red onion, peeled and diced
1 medium head of red cabbage
2 sweet-tart apples, peeled and diced
2 clementines/tangerines/whatever you call those small, orange citrus in your neck of the woods
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or more, if desired)
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 star anise
1 small bay leaf
salt and pepper

To make the cabbage:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the fat in a large, heavy, ovenproof pot (such as a dutch oven) over medium-low heat. Toss in the onion, stir to coat the onion pieces with the fat, and sprinkle a little salt over the onions.

While the onions are softening on the stove, cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out the white core from each quarter. Slice each quarter across the narrow side (not length-wise) into 1/8 inch strips. When you've finished, toss the cabbage and the apples into the pot and stir the cabbage into the onions and fat. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.

While the cabbage, apples, and onions are cooking on the stove, grate the peel off of the clementines. Place the peel in a small bowl. Juice the clementines and stir the juice into the bowl with the peel. Stir in the red wine vinegar to the bowl with the juice, add the dark brown sugar and whisk to combine, then pour the acidic mixture into the cabbage pot on the stove. Add the whole star anise and the bay leaf at this time as well. Sprinkle a little more salt over all, a twist of black pepper, and stir to combine all the ingredients. Finally place the lid over the pot and remove it from the stove to place it in the oven.

Cook the cabbage for 2 hours. After the first hour, check every 15 minutes to see if you need to add liquid. Most likely, you won't need to—only add a splash of water if the mixture is drying out or sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the 2 hours are up, remove the pot from the oven and taste. The cabbage should have absorbed all the liquid and now be melted into silken, spicy, sweet-tart goodness. If the cabbage needs it, add another splash of vinegar or a sprinkle of sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Eat up.


Unknown said...

I've been bemoaning the lack of fall for several weeks now, here in San Diego. I know JUST what you mean!

Love the cabbage dish..I've made this a number of times, and I'm always pleased with it. LOVE your photos!

Wendy said...

It's full-blown winter here already. Nights below 0oC, snow, frost, bare trees and less than eight hours of daylight. Haven't had to do much searching!

Love this version of red cabbage. Really quite different to my usual version. Bookmarked.

Susan said...

Adore the tree. Looks like an Ent. What species is it?

Lovely, complicated, sweet and sour cabbage.

Christina said...

Toni: Thank you for the kind words. The rain is indeed wonderful, but our garage is flooded. Ah, the joys of home ownership!

Wendy: Brrrrrrr. Seasons here are VERY different than where you are, I imagine. Let me know how the cabbage works for you, if you try it.

Susan: Thanks, I love the tree too. It is a Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), and a very old one--at least a couple hundred years. I have one on the back of my property that isn't as old, probably around 80 years old, but it is a lovely tree too. I love the character of this species--very Ent-like indeed!

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

I've heard lots of "up" terms, Christina. Man up, cowboy up [a personal favorite], even lawyer up. But fall up is a new one on me--and a good one. Hope it catches on.

Brent said...

I made a variant on your version of red cabbage last night and it was good. Your recipe was the inspiration for me. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Oh rain. Lovely, drenching rain. The lengthening of the dry, hot seasons is affecting you too I see. Fall Up indeed.

You must be very happy in your new abode - so close to the beauty of that canyon; a large, productive garden of your own (hooray, finally!) to tend.

Star anise makes my tastebuds dance. How pretty those little cinnamon-brown stars are.

Anonymous said...

It's so funny to me that there's places in the U.S. that don't have fall, in a heat-way. I mean, we kind of didn't have a real fall this year, but in a cold-way. But you would have loved it, the trees were spectacular. I'm glad fall finally came, too bad about the prepositions though ;-)

Matron said...

I wish it was warm over here! We are freezing, cold and dark! Oh to live in Sunny California!

Christina said...

Terry B.: Cowboy up. I've got to start using that one more often.

Brent: I'm glad it turned out well for you.

Lucy: Lovely rain indeed (even though our garage flooded). I still want more of it.

Matron: We're in the dark too, it's just warmer. Don't you hate the short days? I have hardly any time to be outside, and it is making me crazy.