Fall is, believe it or not, upon us. Despite Houston’s best attempts to remain ninety degrees, October is just around the corner and the season of all things pumpkin spice is in full swing. With the arrival of (slightly) cooler weather, bike rides, parks, and being outdoors for more than a collective twenty minutes becomes a reality once more.
Among my most anticipated autumn traditions (right after pumpkin spice lattes, I admit it) are the visits to local farmer’s markets. In Houston, my favorites include the Rice University and Urban Harvest Farmer’s Markets. Located on Rice Campus and off Richmond, respectively, each market features between thirty and fifty vendors, each with shining baskets of wine-red cherries, sweet smelling peaches, and a stoplight-colored assemblage of peppers. It is impossible, I maintain, to not over-purchase at a Farmer’s Market. Inevitably, I retire with an impossibly large bag of produce, including something like rutabaga, which I have never cooked in my life.
This is not an uncommon problem. Darren McGrady, the personal chef to Princess Diana, dedicates a whole section, or arguably, a whole book, to solving this conundrum. In his book Royal Chef at Home, McGrady devotes his recipes to both elegance and simplicity, often building a menu around the time of year to cater to the seasonal goods available. His fall menu is brimming with photos of impossibly vibrant produce and mouthwatering recipes like baked fig and goat cheese. Other highlights include sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream, crab beignets, and a vegetable soup with tarragon cream that utilizes those rutabagas I don’t know how to prepare. Each recipe is a testament to both his experience as a royal chef, and his understanding of the family dynamic—meaning no recipe is too complex or time-consuming to tackle in an afternoon. Take, for example, McGrady’s lavender shortbread:
1 ½ cups of flour
¾ cup of cornstarch
2 teaspoons of lavender flowers, fresh or dried
1 cup powdered sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter
Zest of 1 lemon
You can have posh and delectable lavender shortbread. Simply combine the flour, cornstarch, lemon zest, lavender, and sugar in a bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces, and rub the mixture between your fingers until it begins to form a ball of dough. Finally, roll the dough to half an inch thick, slice, and bake for twenty minutes at 350 degrees. Top with more lavender flowers and a sprinkle of sugar.
Adjust the recipe to your own tastes with lavender, cinnamon, or other fresh spices from your local market. Either way, enjoy these buttery shortbread cookies with a hot cup of tea or a locally roasted coffee and pretend that the weather is already colder. Darren’s book, Royal Chef at Home: Easy Seasonal Entertaining, is available now on Bright Sky Press’ website, and available on Amazon.com November 1st.
Bright Sky Press: Where Texas Meets Books the Seasons