Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Great Pumpkin Experiment

Yes indeed, we’re into superlatives.

For qualifiers, I’ll begin by simply stating that I have succeeded in creating The Great Pumpkin Bar. This may be of no consequence to those uninterested in pumpkin matters, but to the rest of the world, it's a very big deal.

I am one of those who adore anything that includes pumpkin: ice cream, pasta sauce, you name it.  I don’t understand why it takes the age of Halloween to roll around before my thoughts automatically shift to pumpkin, but every year it comes on strong.

In years past I have tinkered with pumpkin bars and I’m always quite happy with the results. This year, however, I wanted to bake a bar that was just a little different: not the cheesecake/swirl type, or the gingerbread/pumpkin sort, or the mini-pie affairs.

I knew what I didn’t want.

The results are an indescribably-delicious-dense-heart-warming-ginger-spiced pumpkin melange resting between a crumb crust and topping.

You be the judge, and may the Great Pumpkin be with you, too.  Happy Halloween.

The Great Pumpkin Bars

Crumb Crust and Topping
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, moderately cold, in chunks

Pumpkin Filling
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar, a combo 1/2 c. granulated and 1/4 c. brown is good
15 ounces canned pumpkin pulp
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts, hazelnuts or walnuts are good
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line and spray 9x13 pan.

For the crumb crust: place the dry ingredients in mixing bowl, and mix well with paddle. Add butter and continue to mix until crumbs form. Remove about 2/3 cup for topping. Spread the remainder in baking pan, press down. Bake until the crust begins to color, approximately 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare filling: wipe out mixing bowl, add the eggs and beat well; add the oil and continue to beat until light. Add the sugar and continue beating; add the spices. Separately combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Blend about 2/3 of dry into filling, add the crystallized ginger and raisins, and then stir in the remaining flour mixture until combined. 

Spread the filling evenly over the baked crust. Add the nuts to the crumb topping and sprinkle evenly over the filling. Bake 35-40 minutes, until sides pull away from pan. Remove from oven and cool on rack. Cut into about 25 bars.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Veritable Quandary

No, this is not a review of that legendary Portland Restaurant.  I’m referring to my state of mind upon a first appraisal of my bumper crop of green tomatoes. I am learning that this is one of the benefits and challenges of a successful garden. The zucchini plight, I understand, but what about all those green tomatoes?

I dashed outside between rainstorms this past week and gathered up a big bowlful of green plum tomatoes that were still clutching onto their vines. Ever the unengaged gardener, I had to reach this point before I could fully confront the obvious: what do I do with all these green tomatoes? Now, there are the old stand-bys--like Fried Green Tomatoes or Green Tomato Pie, but they seem just a little too pedestrian for my first foray into a new and exciting food realm. Well, of course. It’s my best rainy day default: Soup.

Peppered bacon gets all the credit, because that’s what started the ball rolling. At Food Network, Emeril and I seemed to be thinking along the same lines: I imagined a sort of BLT in a bowl. This lovely bright soup is so yummy that admittedly, I had a second sampling just to make certain it was that good. Emeril suggests a drizzle of Cilantro Oil, which I passed on; it just doesn’t need any further embellishments—beyond a healthy smattering of peppered bacon.

Spicy Green Tomato Soup
Inspired by Emeril Lagasse, Food Network

2 slices pepper bacon, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
2 yellow Hungarian or banana peppers, or others such as Anaheim, or poblano, seeded and diced
1 3/4 pounds firm green tomatoes, cored and cut into eighths and chop
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons hot sauce

In a soup pot cook the bacon until crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bacon, and drain on a paper towel. Remove all but 2 tbsp bacon fat from pot.

Add the onion to the pot and saute until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf and peppers, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock, salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook soup for 10 to 15 minutes or until the tomatoes soften.

Remove the bay leaf, and using a handheld blender, lightly puree the soup leaving a slight chunky texture so that ingredients are still identifiable. Stir in the lemon juice and hot sauce to taste. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish with reserved bacon. Serves 6 ~~

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Picked Passel of Peppers

For the past week or so I have been volunteering at our community GrassRoots Garden. Merry, the wonder woman in charge there encourages young and old to come, visit, work, or simply savor whatever the garden offers up that day.

The 2 ½ acre garden started about 18 years ago as a partnership between the Master Gardeners, Food for Lane County, and our local St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Since then, it has become a glorious setting that teaches earth-friendly gardening and self-sufficiency. Over time the garden has evolved and taken on its own personality: it’s inviting, energizing, and healing.

It’s harvest time, and there’s heightened activity to bring in the crops before the rain and frost arrives. I’ve been assigned to pulling up tomato plants and cages – it’s back breaking work, but totally rewarding. On Friday, I returned in time to join the volunteers for lunch. The food team that day had prepared a big pot of wheat pasta tossed with a freshly cooked tomato sauce, loaded with peppers, onion, and garlic. As we sat under the grape arbor sheltered from the afternoon sun, there was a relaxed calm. For many, this is regarded as a safe place, a sanctuary, and retreat from life’s hardships and challenges.

That day I met a woman 3 months pregnant with twins, a severely handicapped man, a 7’ professional basketball player, several teenagers, an elderly man and his dog, and a couple of women that had arrived by bus from across town. We all chatted as we worked and enjoyed the coolness of the fall afternoon.

I left the garden with a big bag of mixed peppers. On the drive home I suddenly felt emboldened by my afternoon experience--and moved to face one of my biggest fears: canning. 

I’m not exactly sure why I have avoided canning all these years; perhaps I don’t completely trust my ability to safely pull this off. Although I have no problems eating commercial products, I’m a bit skeptical of the home canning process; things like salmonella and botulism concern me, a lot. My daughter has also been bit by the canning bug this year, and has shared her successes with me; with her added encouragement I prepared for a pickled pepper canning challenge.

Armed with my daughter’s advice and my trusty standby, Helen Witty’s Fancy Pantry, I proceeded. Their ideas were surprisingly similar, so I felt I was on fairly solid ground. The peppers are not peeled or cooked ahead; they are packed into jars, covered with an easy brine and seasonings, and processed in a hot water bath. How simple is that?

According to Helen they should stand a couple of weeks before sampling, so I am unable to make any further pronouncements at this time. Stay tuned!

Pickled Peppers
Inspired by Helen Witty’s Fancy Pantry

2 1/2 pounds small peppers, red, orange, yellow, washed, seeded cut into 1/8s or wide strips
7 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, peel, sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
8 dried red peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil

Wash, rinse and drain eight 1 pint canning jars, lids and bands.
Pack sliced peppers into jars, add a few slices of garlic, a sprinkling of oregano, 1 chile pepper to each jar.

Combine the water, vinegar, salt and bring it to a boil, stir to dissolve the salt. Pour the hot liquid over the peppers leaving approx. 1/2" headspace, and drizzle each with approximately 1 tsp. olive oil.

Top with lids and bands and process jars in boiling water bath for 20 minutes, or according to manufacturers directions. Remove from heat and let stand uncovered for 5 minutes, remove to baking sheet and cool undisturbed for about 12 hours. Tighten the lids and allow to stand for 2 weeks or longer. ~~

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lost and Found: Hollywood Diet Bread

Recently during a conversation with my daughter I was teasing her about being partially made of Hollywood Diet Bread. While I was pregnant back in the 60’s, my body experienced a complete reversal, and tragically I could not bear to be around food. The idea of it, let alone the smell of it -- made me miserably sick. I was one of those rare pregnant women, who instead of gaining too much, lost weight.

Fortunately, early on I discovered that two slices of toasted Hollywood Diet Bread, along with a couple of soft boiled eggs would soothe my queasy stomach and perk me right up--it was just about all I could keep down! It became quite the joke-- even a pregnant woman could loose weight on Hollywood Diet Bread! Nevertheless, I loved being pregnant and I associate this bread with fond memories. Since it holds a very special place in my heart I’ve always liked having a loaf salted away in the freezer--for those moments of nostalgia. Sadly, over the years it has become increasingly difficult to find.

When I mentioned this to my daughter, she suggested that I should try making my own. Huh, what concept. For those who may have missed this venerable institution, Hollywood Diet Bread was hailed for having only 46 calories per slice—plus it contained carrots, sea kelp, cabbage, and other mysterious vegetables and healthful ingredients. In spite of all these additions, it had a light texture, was mild tasting and surprisingly satisfying. Mostly, I remember one key element: the characteristic sesame seeds on top.

With that in mind, I went to work on this seriously daunting challenge, and I’m pleased to report my first results in developing an updated version of this beloved bread. Based on my incredibly high expectations, the loaf turned out amazing well! The texture and crumb are that of a fine sandwich loaf, the flavor is mild, well balanced with a slight sweet nuttiness from the wheat and sesame seeds. I’m still a bit puzzled by the color which is caramel with a faint tinge of green. Some might find this questionable, and it could be adjusted by deleting the kale, but since I like everything else about it, why mess with a good thing? I suspect the color of the loaf will be affected by the type and size of vegetables included. Note that I used one medium plum tomato; a larger one may make all the difference… or maybe a beet…

What I do know, is that I feel like an old best friend is back--with a face lift! I think I’ll try another piece...

Final wrap: This is a very easy loaf to make since it is a no-knead dough that beats about 7 minutes in the mixer. The vegetables need to be cooked and pureed, which is key to the success of this bread. For speed, I used the microwave and was done in a flash. A quick pulse in the blender with the rest of the liquids and you are ready to go.

Harvest Wheat BreadMy version of “Hollywood Diet Bread"
1 envelope yeast, rapid rising
1/4 cup warm water
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium plum tomato, chopped
5 medium kale leaves, or comparable spinach, or other green leaf, chop
1/2 stick celery, chopped with leaves if available
1 tablespoon parsley, or other mild herb
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, divided (save about 1 Tbsp. egg white for glaze)
1/2 cup milk, or other liquid
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1 1/2 cups enriched white
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

In mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast on top of water and let stand about 7 minutes until it begins to bubble. Spray a 9x5" loaf pan.

Microwave the carrot and tomato until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add kale, celery, parsley and sugar and microwave until kale is wilted, another 2 minutes. Allow to cool briefly and puree the vegetable mixture in blender along with oil, egg and milk. There should be about 1 2/3 cup of this thick mixture.

In mixing bowl, add the flours, salt and vegetable mixture to the active yeast. Combine all and beat for about 7 minutes until it forms a shaggy dough. Scrap into loaf pan and smooth evenly with floured fingers if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap, sprayed; let stand until it reaches the top of the pan, about 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make a glaze with reserved egg white and about 2 tsp. water. Brush the top of the loaf with the glaze and sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds. Bake about 45 minutes until it is nicely browned and has pulled away from the pan. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Makes 1 loaf ~~


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