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Friday, December 31, 2010

End of Year Clean Up

It's a quiet day here in the kitchen, a good time to clear out a few things and be ready for a new year of cooking and hospitality.

Sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I bought a lovely little pie pumpkin for $1.88 and had used it as the center of a harvest time arrangement on my new cabinets. When the Christmas decorations took over, the pumpkin was relegated to a back corner, waiting for a time to be baked. The idea had been to tuck it into the oven when baking other things but, somehow, I always managed to forget to put it in. I did bake half a dozen of the mini pumpkins from my daughter-in-law's garden last week, and that went very well, so I certainly needed to get this full sized pie pumpkin baked before it passes its prime. With the oven on all afternoon yesterday for the last of the Christmas (or, now, holiday) sweet breads, the time was right.

Baking a pie pumpkin is really so easy, I don't know why I put it off. Today, the seeds are roasting, another easy thing to do, and timely too, just in time for New Year's Eve snacking.


Pie Pumpkin Puree

When pumpkins are in the market, look for those marked specifically as pie pumpkins for best results. (Jack o lantern pumpkins are edible, but often are more watery and less flavorful overall.) They usually run about two to four pounds each.

When ready to bake, cut each pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. I have found using a fork to run through the centers is the easiest way to pull the seeds out. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place on a baking pan or cookie sheet with sides. If desired for easier clean up of the pan, put a small amount of water in the pan.

Place the pumpkins in a 350 degree oven for about an hour or so, until they are very soft and tender. The length of time can vary depending on the thickness of the flesh and the specific variety of pumpkin. When done, remove from the oven and keep covered until cool.

Using a large metal spoon, scoop out the flesh. Don't worry if some of the edges have gotten a little roasted looking in the cooking; that will just add to depth of flavor. (If charred, however, you probably should remove the dark parts--and turn the oven down a little next time!)

While the flesh can just be mashed with a fork or potato masher, you may also want to run it through a processor or blender for extra smoothness. Measure into one or two cup portions, depending on the recipes you plan to use the pumpkin in, and freeze.

This same method works for miniature pumpkins, but the time in the oven may be only half an hour or so.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

As you remove the seeds from the pumpkin, put them in a bowl and cover with water. Using your fingers, pull the seeds away from the oh so slithery fiber strands surrounding them--this is a great job for kids who are into all kinds of squishy things!

Rinse the seeds and then just cover with water. Stir in about a quarter to a half cup of salt for every two or three cups of water--don't worry about really exact proportions.

Set the seeds aside overnight; there is no need to refrigerate unless your kitchen is very warm.

In the morning, drain the seeds in a colander. Spread on a baking sheet and add about a tablespoon or so of canola oil for every cup of seeds along with seasoning of your choice--garlic or onion powder, a small amount of seasoning salt, even chili powder or cayenne pepper if you like your snacks spicy. Stir the oil and seasonings into the seeds with a wood spoon or your fingers, making sure all are coated well.

Bake at 250 to 275 about 40 minutes, until crisp and golden, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. Store tightly covered.

As the seeds were roasting, I started soaking some black-eyed peas, using the quick method of boiling for 5 minutes and then soaking for a few hours instead of overnight. This is the first time I have ever tried them, but it seemed like a good time to try for some Hoppin' John for New Year's, since I have a beautiful bunch of collards to work with too. I must say that the aroma of the peas is much, much stronger than any of the many variety of beans and lentils I have made in the past. Maybe that is why so many of recipes pair them with strong greens and smoked pork cuts, things that can stand up to what may be a very hearty flavor. We shall see if they become an acquired taste or remain a one-time-now-I've-tried-them-so-I-know-what-they-are kind of dish.

About those holiday breads. I have been experimenting with some photos to add to a blog post to illustrate my "traditional" coffee cakes but I'm not quite ready to include the full recipe. The breads I made yesterday used the same basic sweet dough I use for everything from cinnamon rolls to these coffee cakes, but I made most of the batch into loaves with an apple-raisin-walnut filling--see the recipe below. I rolled out the dough for each loaf into a rectangle and spread it with the filling, then rolled it up like a fat jelly roll and put it in the pan. Each loaf was iced with a plain powdered sugar icing and then sprinkled with red and green sugars to keep it festive-looking. These should make some excellent breads, plain or toasted, for a couple of holiday weekend breakfasts.

The filling would be good in regular cinnamon rolls or in a filled cookie recipe as well. Cooked just a little longer in the microwave, until the apples are very soft, it could also be thinned with a little water and used as a topping for pancakes or waffles too.

Apple Raisin Walnut Filling

3 firmly packed cups apples--core but do not peel and chop finely; I used 2 Honey Gold and 2 Harrelson apples of medium size
1 c raisins
3/4 c sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 c coarsely chopped walnuts

Place all but the walnuts in a very large microwave safe bowl--the mixture will boil up so be sure the bowl is large enough. Cover loosely and microwave for 5 to 6 minutes, until the apples are just tender and the mixture has become quite bubbly. Stir once or twice while cooking.

Stir in the walnuts and allow to cool before spreading on the yeast dough. Makes enough for six to seven full-sized loaves of bread or 3 to 5 coffee cake rings, depending on their size.

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