Braised chicken thighs with apples and bacon / Photo by Anne Braly

Though summer is barely in our rear-view mirror, there's a promise of crisp autumn evenings ahead. And it's this time of year, as the heat of summer gives way to the cooler months of fall, that we begin looking forward to a change.

Sandals give way to boots and sundresses go into storage. We'll be eating a little differently, too. Soon you'll find heartier fare — classic stews, braised meats, roasted vegetables, casseroles and desserts brimming with the fruits of fall — on your menu.

"Whether it's the change in produce, the relative cool in early morning and evening, or the shift in the light that turns golden and casts such long shadows late in the afternoon, something in our subconsciousness registers that fall is on the way and triggers a craving for heftier flavors and heartier, stick-to-the-ribs fare," says Georgia-based food historian and author of numerous cookbooks Damon Lee Fowler.

The lingering summer fruits and vegetables become heavier and sweeter, and those that we traditionally associate with fall begin to mature and come into their own, inviting us to embrace their deeper flavors. Or perhaps, Fowler adds, it's simply that we're fickle when it comes to foods we crave.

"After a long, hot summer, we're worn out by the steady litany of cold meats, salads, grilled food and cold soups like gazpacho that are the staples of summer dining," he says. "We begin craving traditionally cool-weather fare long before it's cool enough for a fire on the hearth."

So prepare for the cooler weather ahead and tuck into an autumnal feast with our seasonal collection of recipes, all entrees that are perfect for when the cooler air draws in.


Autumn Beef Stew

This dish demands crusty bread served on the side to sop up all the deliciousness.

What you need:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 pounds boneless beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

2 strips bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips

Canola oil

2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch wedges

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

2 tablespoons tomato paste

5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

2 cups less-sodium beef broth

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 pound potatoes, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

4 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks

2 stalks celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

What you do:

1. In a large plastic bag, combine flour, salt and pepper. Add beef; shake to coat evenly.

2. In a Dutch oven or large heavy pot, cook and stir bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels using a slotted spoon.

3. Add enough oil to bacon drippings to equal 2 tablespoons. Add half the beef to pot, first shaking off any excess flour. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. Remove beef with slotted spoon. Repeat with remaining beef.

4. If pot is dry, add 1 tablespoon oil. Add onions; cook and stir for about 4 minutes or until starting to brown. Stir in garlic; cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste. Return beef, bacon and any remaining flour to pot. Stir to combine. Add chicken and beef broth, wine, bay leaves, thyme and paprika. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender, stirring occasionally.

5. Add potatoes, squash, carrots and celery. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove lid and simmer about 15 minutes more or until vegetables are tender and liquid is desired consistency. Remove bay leaves and stir in parsley right before serving.


Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

Maple and pork are a favorite fall pairing.

What you need:

2 (12- to 14-ounce) pork tenderloins

2 teaspoons crumbled dried sage leaves

1 tablespoon butter

6 tablespoons pure maple syrup

6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

What you do:

1. Rub pork tenderloins all over with crumbled dried sage, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot and bubbling. Add pork tenderloins and cook until brown on all sides, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until thermometer inserted into pork registers 150 F, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer pork to platter and cover to keep warm.

3. Whisk 5 tablespoons maple syrup, 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and Dijon mustard in small bowl to blend. Set aside.

4. Add remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar to skillet and bring to boil, scraping up any browned pork bits. Reduce heat to medium-low. Return pork and any accumulated juices to skillet. Add maple syrup mixture and turn pork in glaze just until coated, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer pork to cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

5. Stir remaining 1 tablespoon maple syrup into glaze. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange pork slices on plates and spoon glaze over pork to serve.


Braised Chicken Thighs With Apples and Bacon

Beautiful red apples shine in this rustic dish made even more appealing when served tableside in a cast-iron skillet.

What you need:

4 slices bacon, chopped

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 1/2 pounds total)

2 medium tart red apples, cored and cut into wedges

12 ounces apple cider

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups (about 12 ounces) fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

What you do:

1. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan, reserving drippings in skillet.

2. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook 10 minutes or until browned, turning once. Remove from skillet.

3. Add apples to the skillet and cook 4 minutes or until browned on both sides. Remove from skillet, then drain and discard drippings from skillet.

4. Add cider, thyme, mustard and salt to skillet, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Return chicken to skillet. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts. Cover and cook 5 minutes. Add apples and cook, uncovered, 3-5 minutes more or until chicken is done (at 165 degrees).

5. To serve, divide chicken thighs, Brussels sprouts and apples among shallow bowls or plates. Spoon cider mixture over top and sprinkle each serving with bacon.


Eggplant Moussaka

This recipe is the essence of autumn. Use ground lamb if you can find it for more a authentic taste. If not, ground beef is a good substitute. This moussaka takes a little bit of time, but it's worth every minute of your labors.

What you need:

3 pounds eggplant

3 tablespoons olive oil

For tomato meat sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 pounds ground lamb or beef

1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (canned is OK)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper

For bechamel sauce:

3 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups whole milk, divided

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten

What you do:

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut eggplant into 1/4-inch-thick disks, sprinkle with a little kosher salt and let sit in a colander or bowl for 20-60 minutes. Eggplant will start to release liquid, making it less bitter.

2. Rinse well, pat dry and brush each side with olive oil. Place on a greased sheet pan and roast in preheated oven until golden, 20-30 minutes.

3. While eggplant is roasting, make the meat sauce: Saute diced onion in oil on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic; turn heat down to medium-low and saute for 8-10 minutes or until onions are tender. Add ground lamb, turn heat up to medium-high and brown, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Drain fat. Add the rest of the meat sauce ingredients; stir, cover and let simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes.

4. Make the bechamel sauce: Melt butter. Whisk in flour and let cook for 2-3 minutes on medium heat, stirring often. Whisk in 1 cup milk. Whisk well, then add the remaining milk. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and then let simmer on low for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add nutmeg, 2 tablespoons cheese, salt and pepper. Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, lightly beat an egg and set aside.

5. To assemble, divide eggplant slices into three stacks, reserving the largest pieces for the top and bottom layers. In a greased 8-by-13-inch pan, place one layer of eggplant. Add half the meat sauce. Add another layer of eggplant and the remaining meat sauce. Add the third and final layer of eggplant. Whisk the beaten egg into the bechamel sauce until nice and smooth. Spread bechamel over the final eggplant layer and sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Bake at 350 F for 50-60 minutes or until top is golden brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.