Cooking with Kay: Cooking in high gear as summer’s end nears

By Kay Harrod Published:

Unofficially summer is over – at least that’s what the TV weather folks tell us citing Aug. 31 as the end of meteorological summer, with the beginning of fall set for Sept. 22.

My house has been filled with a virtual concerto of flavors and aromas this past week as I have had a marvelous time in my kitchen doing what I love – cooking.

Red peppers have been the centerpiece of my canning. Filling my kitchen table now are jars of red pepper relish and red pepper jelly. The smell of cider vinegar, peppers and spices greet me when I awake in the morning or when I return to the house from walking my dogs.

To confuse my senses I’ve also been cooking Italian, making potato salad, a coca-cola cake and even a pecan pie. I love the pecan pie recipe that “Dear Abby” printed years ago – it is from the old Phoenix Hotel in Lexington and the only change I have made is to add an extra cup of pecans.

I had one setback. I am not a pie crust maker and find that Pillsbury pie crusts in the refrigerator section do quite nicely to put the luscious filling in. But alas in my shopping, I forgot to purchase a package and found myself making one.

Help!

I need a lesson from someone who is adept at making those perfect crusts. Even with my mother’s bread board and rolling pin as inspiration, for the life of me I can’t roll a round crust. Mine looks juvenile when I finally get it into the pie pan. Fortunately the filling covers the mistakes.

As for flaky crust, I used Crisco. There is, however, by cooks all over Food Network, a resurgence in the popularity for using lard. It is available on grocery shelves and I think I am going to purchase a small container and spend a day practicing on pie crust making. Lard is also recommended for making crispy cookies.

Please don’t recoil healthy eaters.

Farmers Market still going strong

As the song lyricist wrote, “As these days dwindle down to a precious few,” I am still at the Farmers Market with of list of ingredients for dishes I want to prepare before these wonderful fresh vegetables are gone.

Everything is still available and pumpkins, squash of all varieties and other cooler weather crops are making an appearance. You can also stock up on all those vegetables that will store well such as cushaw and potatoes, both white and sweet.

As for those potatoes, please believe me locally grown, or as I am inclined to say, “home-grown potatoes” have so much more flavor. Mashed or whipped, whichever you call them, potatoes are amazing. Baked, they are a culinary delight. So for now, bypass those nasty Russets in the store and head to the Farmers Market.

A true sign of fall at the FM is when colorful field-raised mums appear, ready to bring beauty to your yard. Every color is available now and will be this month, but don’t wait too late if there is a particular color you are looking for.

Today I’m giving you some tasty recipes to prepare while you can still find the fresh vegetables that make them so good.

The first may be a surprise, but for those now finding yourselves with an abundance of green tomatoes, this breakfast cake will amaze you.

Speaking of green tomatoes, Addie Stokely recently brought me a jar of her “green tomato relish.” It is beautiful and I can’t wait to try it. This relish reminds me of the one my mother used to make that we loved dearly.

Green Tomato Breakfast Cake

1/3 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 green tomatoes, cored and cut into eighths, if tomatoes are small you may need three

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preparation: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a round cake pan with cooking spray.

Combine butter and sugar and beat with a mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt and sift into the butter mixture. Beat well.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Arrange green tomato slices in concentric circles over batter. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

Bake 50 minutes or until cake is firm and golden.

CREAM OF CORN SOUP

Note: I freeze corn in three-cup measures to have in the winter to make this recipe, but you can enjoy it now as well while corn is deliciously fresh. Also, if you like a thicker soup, add one tablespoon flour to the simmered onion.

3 cups fresh corn simmered in 1 cup of whole milk

Chop one medium onion and simmer in 3 tablespoons melted butter until tender, but don’t caramelize.

Make a mixture of one cup milk, three more tablespoons melted butter, 1½ teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg. Pour all into corn. Stir well.

Add one cup half and half, 1½ cups milk and cook all just until boiling point. Turn off heat.

Serve with any or all of the following – chopped chives, parsley and crisp bacon.

Basil Pesto

with Walnuts

For those of you with an abundance of basil, make pesto now to enjoy or freeze. Basil will quickly disappear with the first frost. This recipe is nice served with crostini or served over hot pasta.

3 medium garlic cloves

1¼ cups packed fresh basil leaves

¼ to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup freshly grated Parmigianino Reggiano cheese

½ cup toasted walnuts

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Coarsely ground black pepper

Preparation: Place garlic and walnuts in a food processor and pulse to finely chop. Add remaining ingredients, except olive oil and pulse until smooth. Stream garlic oil into blender using about a fourth cup. Check for consistency and if it seems too stiff, add more olive oil about a tablespoon at a time. This will make about one cup of pesto.

Note: If you are going to freeze, put pesto in a plastic container, cover with a film of olive oil, about one to two tablespoons. Cover pesto with plastic wrap and then with plastic lid.

Creamed Spinach

While I have come to love sautéed spinach – it is delightfully easy and goes great with a grilled chop or steak, creamed spinach is a treat. This recipe does better with the leafier, more mature spinach than it does with the baby spinach that I sauté. If you use the baby spinach, you will definitely need more than the recipe calls for.

2 pounds fresh spinach, washed and tough stems removed

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup freshly chopped shallots

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ to ¾ cup heavy cream

Preparation: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the spinach and cook for two minutes. Remove from heat immediately and drain in a fine mesh strainer, pressing with a large spoon to release as much water as possible. Remove from strainer, finely chop and set aside.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until fragrant about a minute. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Add the spinach and cook, stirring just until the liquid is released. Add the cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook until the cream is reduced by half, about four minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Green Pepper

Casserole

This recipe comes from my mother’s cooking files, written in her own hand. She even made a note on it at the time that “Kay’s oven cooks slow.” Wonder which one that was?

4 green peppers chopped

Cook in a cup of water and a teaspoon of salt. Boil 10 minutes, but not hard.

Drain and save juice.

Butter a casserole dish. Put peppers in it.

Cover top of peppers with slices of American or Velveeta cheese.

Cover well with crushed Ritz crackers and dot with butter, 1/3 stick.

Beat two eggs in the juice you save. Add one cup of milk. If you have less than a half cup of juice, add more milk.

Pour this over everything in the casserole and cook in oven at 350 degrees for 30 or 40 minutes, depends on oven (she writes, and this is where she made her note about my oven).

“Bless her heart,” as all we southern women say.

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