Home Cook
Sep 2009

Sweet Pumpkin Treats

Autumn is here, which gets me thinking pumpkin, one of my favorite foods. I’ll be cooking with it a lot now through spring. When I was younger and more ambitious, I would cook a pumpkin from scratch for the puree, but frankly, I’m just as happy if not more so with a can of organic puree. There are only so many hours in the day.

Calling these treats "bars" makes them sound more substantial and cookie-like than they are. In fact, the result is very light and cakey. They might be more bar-like with more oatmeal, which is not in the original recipe.

I'm not sure where the recipe came from; I hand-copied it from someone else's handwritten copy maybe 20-25 years ago. Of course, I never make it exactly as written. Here's the way I made them yesterday:

Pumpkin Bars
  • 1 c white whole wheat flour (or regular whole wheat; I happened to have white whole wheat)
  • 1 c brown rice flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
Sift together and set aside.
  • 1 c vegetable oil (I use canola—don't use olive oil)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c white sugar
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 c chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 c oatmeal
In a large bowl, whisk the oil and eggs together until fluffy. Whisk in the sugars, then the pumpkin.

Add the flour mixture by thirds, stirring only until completely moistened. Add the in the walnuts and oatmeal. The batter will be rather wet.

Pour into an ungreased 15" x 10" x 1" sheet pan (jelly roll pan, cookie sheet with sides--whatever you call it) and pop into a 350º for 25-30 minutes. They should be lightly brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

My old recipe suggests frosting them—which I never do—or topping with cinnamon sugar. I used a combination of powdered sugar and cinnamon. Either way, cut into squares and serve.

Lentils and Sausage

As promised on Facebook, last Friday night's dinner:

Lentil and Italian Sausage Soup

From the Nyack Farmers' Market:
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage (hot would also be good)
  • 1 or 2 onions, diced
  • 1 clove organic garlic
  • 4-5 ribs of organic celery, with leaves
  • 1 small bunch of organic carrots, or 3-4 large carrots
  • 1 bunch organic purple kale

From the grocery and pantry:
  • 1 lb organic dried lentils
  • 1 bottle lager
  • 1 can (or two) organic diced tomatoes
  • bay leaf
  • salt
  • pepper

From the garden:
  • several sprigs of thyme
  • a few basil leaves
  • sprig of oregano
  • sprig of rosemary
  • 1 bell pepper
  • tomatoes

Take a large pot, larger than you think you'll need, and heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in it.

Remove casing from sausage, if desired, chunk it up into small pieces, maybe the size of half-inch meatballs, and saute in the oil over medium heat until it doesn't look raw anymore. Then toss in the onions, stir and cook until onions are soft but not brown. Mince the garlic and add to the onions. Cook for a minute or so.

Rinse off the lentils and toss into the pot. Add a bottle of lager, a couple of bottles of water, and the canned tomatoes, enough liquid to cover plus about an inch.

Tie the herbs with a bit of string or into cheesecloth and toss into the pot. Alternately, strip the leaves off the stems, mince all but the bay leaf and toss into the pot.

Bring pot up to a boil for a minute or so, then cover and reduce heat to simmer.

While it’s simmering, chop the carrots and celery into small slices. Mince the celery leaves. Dice the bell pepper. Toss each into the pot as they are chopped. If there are any garden tomatoes left, dice a couple and toss them in, too. Return to a simmer after each addition.

The kale you’ll need to clean in several changes of water, especially if it’s from the Farmers’ Market. Otherwise, you’ll be adding a lot of sand, dirt and grit to the pot. Once it’s clean, strip the leaves from the toughest part of the stem. Roll into cigar shapes, slice and slice again crosswise. Add them to the pot, too.

If it looks like it needs more liquid, add a little more water, broth, or beer, or another can of tomatoes. It should be soupy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, the lentils have been simmering for maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Cover and simmer another 45 minutes or so until both the lentils and kale are tender.

Fish out the bay leaf and the twiggy herbs, ladle into big bowls and serve.

We had some leftover rice, so I added a bit to the bowls. You could also add pasta, something like a small shell shape, in the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. Add the pasta (not too much) bring soup up to a boil, then return to a simmer.

Next time, I might use less water and more tomatoes, or even tomato juice. As usual, it will depend on what I have in the pantry.


Banana Cake

James Beard once said, "Don't let the lack of an ingredient stop you from trying a recipe." I found that very liberating, although lack of eggs might deliver a strange omelet. Nonetheless, it has been a window to much of my experimentation.

I don't eat wheat much anymore. One doctor told me I was allergic to it, and another told me I was not, but over all I think I do better without it. I find I tolerate spelt pretty well, which is related to common wheat (and does contain gluten, for those of you who are gluten-free) but is an older species.

I found the original of this recipe, Spelt Banana Bread, a couple of years ago. It calls for four bananas, which were sitting enticingly on the table this morning. Of course, I was out of spelt flour. However, I had some white whole wheat (I don't remember why) and barley flour. So here is what I came up with.

(Not Spelt) Banana Cake

  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 2/3 cups white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup barley flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 9x9 baking pan.

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until well mixed. It will be crumbly, not creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla, beat well, then add the bananas. Mix until just blended.

Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the wet ingredients about a third at time, mixing gently with the machine or by hand. Stir in the walnuts.

Pour into the pan, spreading evenly. Bake for one hour, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour or so. If you use loaf pans, you might want to turn them out on the rack after 10-15 minutes; I used the 9x9 and just left it in the pan. Dust the top with confectioners' sugar, cut into squares (or slices) and serve.

It is light, fluffy and delicious. I think you could use two round cake pans, frost it and make a banana layer cake out of it, too, if you were so inclined. I might try that sometime. Might also be good in my Bundt pan.

The folks who posted the original recipe said they adapted it from Joy of Cooking, and now I've adapted it from them. Recipes go 'round and 'round!

TV and Dinner

I love watching cooking shows. I remember watching Julia Child (my second husband did a drop-dead take-off on her in one of his comedy revues) and even before that people like Antoinette Pope. We're talking black and white TV with a round screen with Antoinette Pope--at least I watched Julia on a black and white rectangle.

A lot of the shows I enjoy now are, as another writer expressed, more about eating than cooking. They're using ingredients, techniques and equipment that are unrealistic for home cooks like me, especially in a two-person household. Still, I watch them, both for the vicarious pleasure and the "take aways" (the TV jargon for tips). What the heck, you never know when I might run across a watermelon radish and need to know how to use it.

However, I discovered one of my favorite food shows on a non-food network. I really enjoy Emeril Green on Planet Green . Maybe it's because he's cooking with real people in home-cooking situations, but I find the show very approachable and very doable. Plus, he's more focused on natural foods and healthier cooking methods than most foodie shows. The take aways are very good, too; I was watching for just a few minutes this afternoon and picked up a couple of good tips on wok cooking.

Now to rummage in the freezer and see what fish might be for dinner.

Kale Soup (with a Digression on Chicken Stock)

I never cooked greens until a year or so ago; they just weren't part of my diet growing up, and I really didn't know what to do with them. I started experimenting with them, and now I use them a lot, and will throw them into all sorts of dishes. Here's one from last week.

Kale and Smoked Turkey Soup

Wash well two bunches of flat-leafed kale (might be called Lacinato or dinosaur kale.) Cut off the thick end of the stems, if any, and chop the rest coarsely. Set aside.

Throw some olive oil in a good-sized pot over low to medium heat. Add a diced onion and cook slowly until onion is soft, but not brown. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, minced.

Slice the meat off of a smoked turkey leg. Save the bone for something else. Dice the meat into maybe 1/2 inch chunks. Toss in with the onions and garlic and stir.

Chop up a couple of carrots and a few ribs of celery, including the leaves. Add that to the pot and stir. Let cook for a minute or two.

Add about 4-6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth*, some parsley from the garden, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and toss the kale on top. Cover and let the kale steam until soft.

Take a cup or so of leftover rice from the fridge and stir it into the soup. When rice is warm, ladle into bowls and serve.

*I used homemade broth cobbled together from the soup stock scrap bag in the freezer. All the raw chicken or turkey skin and trimmings that would normally get thrown away get tossed in there, along with rotisserie chicken carcasses and scraps of onions, carrots, celery and parsley. When the bag is full, it goes into the crock pot along with water to cover, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. I let it brood for for the day, strain out all the bits, then refrigerate until I can remove the solidified fat from the top. It then gets divided into one-cup portions in freezer containers. Those go into the freezer for whenever I need stock.

Before the Summer is Gone

Thought I’d better get this uploaded before the summer is officially over:

Late Summer Garden Pasta

Harvest all the ripe tomatoes and bell peppers from the patio pots. Grab a handful or two of basil and oregano while you're out there.

Get some fresh spinach from the organic grocer. Wash well, stem and coarsely chop.

Start a generous pot of water for the pasta. I like quinoa spirals, but that’s because I avoid wheat. Use what you like.

Heat a little olive oil in a large pan over low to medium heat. Grab a good-sized yellow onion from the pantry, dice, and toss in with the olive oil. Give it a good stir, then let it cook slowly for a few minutes. You want to "sweat" it, not brown it. Let the onion cook, stirring occasionally, while you prep the peppers.

Seed and dice the peppers. Toss them in with the onions and stir. Let cook while you dice the tomatoes.

Cut cherry, grape or little yellow pear tomatoes (they are so cute!) in half. Larger tomatoes chop coarsely, maybe one-half to one inch pieces. Set aside.

Take a couple of cloves of garlic from the pantry, place on cutting board and whack with the side of a large knife. Peel away the papery skin and mince. Throw in the pot with the onions and peppers. Stir., and let cook for a minute or two.

Add the tomatoes to the pot. Mince the basil and oregano, toss in the pot, and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Dump the spinach into the pot, cover, and reduce heat to low. Leave it alone while you cook the pasta.

By now, the water should be boiling. Put in the dried pasta, stir, and cook according to package directions. Drain the pasta and set aside.

By the time the pasta is done, the spinach will be wilted. Give the the vegetables in the pot a good stir, then dump in the pasta. Toss it all together.

Serve in deep bowls as is, or with a sprinkle of shredded Pecorino Romano.


It Resembles Tabbouleh

Last night’s dinner came out very good; I’ll bring it to work for lunch today.

Quinoa Salad

from the store:
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 2 bunches green onions

from the garden:
  • random number of tomatoes, whatever is ripe
  • a good handful of parsley
  • a basil leaf or two
  • tiny sprig of mint

vinaigrette dressing* of your choice

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Usually, you need to wash it in a few changes of water to get rid of any saponins (responsible for a soapy taste and digestive distress), then cook it like rice, one part quinoa to two parts water for 15-20 minutes. Pop it in a big bowl to cool.

Quarter the cukes lengthwise, then thickly slice. Toss in with the quinoa.

Slice off the root ends of the onions then thinly slice the rest, using all the white and whatever of the green is crisp and bright. Toss in with the quinoa.

Cut tiny tomatoes in halves or quarters (I had grape tomatoes and little yellow pear tomatoes); larger tomatoes should be diced to about the same size as the babies. Toss in with the quinoa.

Mince the herbs. I use a large wooden bowl and a mezzaluna knife; works great. Toss in with the quinoa.

Pour in the vinaigrette and blend everything together. Chill for an hour or two so the flavors "marry." Serve cold or room temperature.

*I am no expert at salad dressings, but I used 1/2 cup olive oil, about 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, juice of the 1/2 lime that was lurking in the fridge, two cloves of garlic minced, plus salt and pepper, whisked together. It was just right.


Simple Spicy Catfish with Veggie Rice

Veggie Rice
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced small
  • 1 bell pepper (bought) and one small banana pepper (grown), diced larger than the onion
  • 1 medium, 2 small, and 5 tiny tomatoes out of the garden
  • 1 surprisingly large clove of garlic, minced
  • 5 ribs celery hearts, including leaves, sliced
  • 1-1/4 cup white rice
  • 2-1/2 cups water (or some sort of broth)
  • 3 sprigs thyme from the garden
  • 1 basil leaf from the garden
  • salt
  • pepper

Throw a good splash of olive oil in a pot or pan. Add onions and stir until they start softening. Add peppers; cook for a couple of minutes, then add garlic and celery. Stir for about a minute, add rice, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add water, herbs and spices and stir. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Let stand until the fish is done, fluff and serve.

Simple Spicy Catfish
  • catfish filets
  • olive oil
  • Zatarain's Creole Seasoning

Drizzle both sides of filets with olive oil, then cover generously with Zatarain's.

When the rice is nearly ready, put fish under the broiler. Time using the Canadian Cooking Method (measure fish at thickest point, cook 10 minutes per inch; double the time if the fish is frozen).

Serve with beer or other beverage of your choice.

The rice could be much spicier, but I kept it mild as a counterpoint to the fish. Leftover veggie rice can be used as a light lunch or as a side dish for another meal.