The first rounds of Tribune Cooks were easy.
We had a Taste of Home cookbook. We picked something that sounded good. And we wrote about it. The lack of options made it simple.
For this go round, we could fall back on Taste of Home, but we also had the option to make a favorite family recipe. In the house I grew up in, there was no shortage of those. But I also wanted to reflect the season and how I try to eat today.
Pumpkin cake is a family favorite, and it is seasonally appropriate. But since canned pumpkin is available all year round, there’s no reason to limit pumpkin recipes to the fall months.
That made for too many masters to be served by one dish.
So here are two. Something old, something new. Some ideas may be borrowed, but there's absolutely nothing that's blue.
I'll start with dessert first, which is both a family favorite and appropriate for the season, not that it ever mattered to me. My birthday is in May, but for at least half of those celebrations, I had a pumpkin cake.
It makes no sense to limit pumpkin intake to that two-month window from Oct. 1 until the Thanksgiving Day leftovers are gone. Many pumpkin dessert recipes, including this one, call for canned pumpkin, which is available all year long, so use it.
According to my mom, the recipe came from a friend at her church in Middletown, but it's been in our family now for at least 35 years.
A cup of oil, along with the canned pumpkin and eggs, makes for an incredibly moist cake, and it's a simple recipe. It's one of the first cakes I ever baked for myself.
I hadn't baked it for awhile and was surprised how fast it came together (I actually made two - one for home and one I brought to work).
I'm a big pumpkin fan, but even I'd admit the real star of the cake is the cream cheese frosting. Everything is better with cream cheese frosting. It probably would be good on steak, not that I would ever waste perfectly good frosting to find out.
I cut the fat and calories somewhat by using neufchatel cheese over full-fat cream cheese. There is fat free cream cheese, but it has a slightly different texture and mouth feel to it, so I would be hesitant to substitute that, even with all that butter and sugar in there to compensate.
Make sure the cake has cooled completely before trying to spread the frosting. And because of the cream cheese, the cake should be refrigerated. But that also means it will keep longer. I had the last piece nearly a week after baking the cakes, and it still tasted mighty fine.
For the other dish here, there is no recipe, because there are no guidelines beyond personal preference and imagination.
Nearly every weekend that I've been in town for the last three months, I make a trip on Saturday morning to Gazebo Park in Howland for its Farmer's Market (the final one is this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Along with Bob Abruzzi's hot peppers in oil, fresh baked baguettes from French Street Cafe and cage-free brown eggs from Miller's Livestock, I would pick up whatever vegetables caught my eye.
And a great way to use that farmer's market bounty is to roast them and serve them over polenta.
For the dish that is pictured here, we used baby eggplant and red onions purchased at the Howland farmer's market, a large zucchini and red and green peppers I picked up at a farm market when I was in Sandusky and a butternut squash we picked up at the grocery store.
Don't like eggplant? Substitute yellow squash instead or just use more of the other veggies. Like I said, this is a dish with no rules.
Chop the veggies in a one-inch dice, toss with olive oil and season to taste. We tried a rosemary and garlic seasoning that complemented the flavors well.
Roast the vegetables in a single layer in the oven for about 20-25 minutes at 450 degrees. While the vegetables are roasting, cook the polenta according to the instructions on the package. Spoon the cooked polenta into bowls, cover with the roasted vegetables and top it with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
It's a hearty, vegetarian meal that's perfect for fall. And here's the best part: After eating all those veggies, I feel less guilty about cutting an extra large slice of cake.