By Dotti Hydue, Levy County Kitchen author & Editing Consultant.
WELCOME to the Levy County Kitchen. The cooler weather we’ve been enjoying lately has me browsing recipes for soups, stews, and other cool weather favorites. This is also the time to crank up my oven and get back to baking pies and cakes. My freezer is full of fruits and vegetables from the garden waiting to be turned into luscious meals and desserts. One of my favorites is versatile pumpkin. After trying to grow standard varieties with no luck at all, this year I planted Seminole Pumpkins and was rewarded with over a dozen of these tasty, tan-colored fruits from just two rambling plants. They are small, about six inches in diameter, and weigh about two to three pounds each. Made for eating not carving, these pumpkins were cultivated by the Seminole in the 1500s and produce well in our hot, humid, disease-prone climate.
After harvest cut them into large pieces, scrape out the seeds, and bake or steam until tender. Then cut off the skins and mash or purée the flesh in a food processor until smooth. You can also smush the cooked pulp through a sieve for a velvety texture. For future use, measure cupfuls and mound in muffin tins. Freeze until hard, then pop them out and wrap each chunk in plastic wrap or wax paper and store in containers in the freezer. I always make my husband a pumpkin pie at Halloween and can easily measure the amount I need (two chunks).
Pumpkin pie is a true American dessert, appearing in our country’s first cookbook, Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery, in 1796. Besides pies, pumpkins shine in quick breads, cookies, and muffins. For a quick side dish, gently heat the puréed pumpkin with a little milk or cream. Add a dash of cinnamon, black pepper, and some brown sugar. Stir often to prevent scorching. For a delicious soup, heat pumpkin purée diluted with enough chicken stock to achieve a soupy consistency. Add spices of your choice. Cinnamon and brown sugar yield a sweet soup, but consider using curry powder, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, or Southwest seasonings for a bolder flavor. Stir in a little half and half just before serving for a creamier soup.
Be sure and use pumpkins that are the eating variety. Jack-o’-lantern types are too stringy and have a flat flavor. If liquid puddles in your pumpkin purée, drain it (in a sieve) before using it in recipes for baked goods. What will you make with pumpkin this winter?
This recipe makes two large loaves but I like to make small ones to give as gifts around the holidays. The finished loaves also freeze well.
1 cup vegetable oil
2 and 2/3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups pumpkin purée
2/3 cup water
3 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9 x 5-inch bread pans.
In a large bowl, cream the oil and sugar. Beat in eggs, pumpkin, and water. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add to the creamed mixture and stir to blend well. Mix in the vanilla, nuts, and chocolate chips.
Spoon into prepared pans and bake about 1 hour until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pans on rack. When completely cool, wrap in plastic wrap and store overnight before serving.
DID YOU make it to the Cedar Key Seafood Festival this year? What a wonderful celebration of local products harvested from waters unspoiled by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The oyster harvest is down this year, so I won’t tempt you with my Oyster Rockefeller Casserole recipe. But clams are available year ’round and deserve a place on your menu on a regular basis. Although my favorite way to eat oysters and clams are on the half shell with a squeeze of lemon or lime and a dash of hot sauce, I also enjoy these succulent treats in a multitude of other dishes. Here’s my recipe for clam cakes that won first place at Cedar Keys’ Clamerica Celebration in 2010.
This makes 6 cakes, but the recipe can be easily doubled.
For the cakes:
1 cup cooked, shucked clams (about 3 pounds
or 24 clams, depending on size)
3 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 strip bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash or two hot sauce, to taste
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon your favorite barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 6 cups in a muffin tin and set aside.
Chop clam meat and mix in a bowl with the bell pepper, onion, crumbled bacon, Cajun seasoning, and black pepper.
In a small bowl beat egg with the Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Stir into clam mixture, then gently mix in the bread crumbs.
Fill muffin cups about half full, pressing to level each cake. Bake 15 to 18 minutes until edges start to brown. Remove from oven and run a knife around edges of each cake and pop out of muffin cups.
While cakes are baking, mix sauce ingredients together and serve alongside the cakes.
I’VE BEEN busy in the garden lately, planting second crops of beets, scallions, lettuces, radishes, carrots, and greens. Fresh bok choi, collards, kale, radishes, and mixed lettuces have already graced my table and I look forward to more vegetables all winter long. What is your favorite winter vegetable and how do you prepare it?
THAT’S all for now. Check back before Thanksgiving for some recipes to be thankful for! Until then, the kitchen is closed.