31 August 2008


I was good this month and actually made my challenge early instead of waiting until the last minute like I usually do. This month the challenge was eclairs, hosted by Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey? and Tony. When I saw what the challenge was I felt sort of ambivalent. I had a vague feeling that I didn't actually like eclairs but could not remember if I'd even ever had one so, like any Daring Baker, I decided to give it the old college try.

A few things did intrigue me about the recipe before I got started. One was that the eclairs are made using a pate a choux, a type of French style dough that involves dumping flour into boiling mixture of milk, water and butter and 2) that the eclairs were to be both filled and topped with chocolate. I love chocolate, but would topping and filling be too much of a good thing?

I started with the pate a choux, which proved remarkably easy to make. Simply boil, dump and stir, and stir and stir and then make Zach take a turn stirring when my arm gets tired and then stir again. Once the eggs had been incorporated into dough, I spooned it into a ziploc bag (still no piping set in my kitchen) and piped out the eclairs, then baked them. I had read that eclairs tend to go soggy, so in an attempt to circumvent sogginess, I immediately made a small hole in the side of each eclair when they were done baking to let out the steam and set them back into the warm oven to cool. This didn't help at all as when the eclairs cooled, the air inside condensed, sucking the eclair with it, forming flat little logs that were rather tricky to cut apart.

With step one done, I proceeded to the filling and topping. The filling was a chocolate pastry cream, and while I had never made a pastry cream before, the recipe was clear and it proceeded with no problems. The cream used cornstarch as a thickener and it did indeed do the job, producing a very firm cream somewhere in the consistency range of a jello pudding.

The chocolate glaze was a bit more complicated. It called for first making a chocolate sauce, which would then be used in the finished glazed. It seemed rather fussy to me, but I had the time so I made it and then had a little taste. Good, but not outstanding and not worth the time to make it again. But then on to the glaze. Made like a traditional ganache by melting chocolate into heavy cream, it called for the chocolate sauce and additional butter to be stirred in. Again good, but I just don't think the additional steps of adding the butter and chocolate sauce did anything for the finished product. Well, I take that back. It did seem to make the glaze a bit softer and shinier than a traditional ganache but not by very much.

I assembled the eclairs right before serving, as directed in the recipe and we all had a taste. They were chocolaty. Very chocolaty. Almost too chocolaty. And this is from someone who loves chocolate. One eclair was more than enough, but that was actually a good thing. One small portion of dessert that is very rich and satisfying is much healthier than eating a bigger quantity of lower quality sweets. I did have some extras that I refrigerated overnight and everyone agreed that we liked the taste better chilled, rather than at room temperature.

Bottom line- I did not love these eclairs. I think that I might have liked them better if the eclair shells were slightly crispy (how they are supposed to be) than the soft flat pancakes mine because and if I had used a different flavor pastry cream for the filling. I am really happy that I got to try making pate a choux for the first time and might be trying desserts with it in the future.

If you would like the recipe you can visit Meeta or Tony at the links above.

29 August 2008

Drop Biscuits

As I said previously, two recipes on Flexitarian Menu inspired me last week and I made both of them twice, for the same meal. To go with the summer gratin, I made lemony biscuits with sage and rosemary, except I didn’t use lemon, sage or rosemary. Add in the course of making this recipe twice, I changed so many things that I think it is rather fair to call it my recipe now. So, if you would like to read about the tale of two biscuits, click the link to the right.

I love biscuits. Who doesn’t love biscuits? Flaky, tender, piping hot out of the oven, with a bit of melted butter and a hint of honey, they may be the best quick bread ever. The recipe that I’m writing about though, it not really a biscuit, even though it pretends to be one. A true biscuit involves cutting cold fat (butter or lard) into the flour mixture, then adding the wet ingredients and lightly kneading before cutting out circles for baking. This recipe is really actually for a muffin, for reasons we will get to in a minute.

The first time I made this biscuits I followed the recipe more or less. I used 50% whole wheat flour to add some fiber and I had forgotten to buy a lemon so went without. I knew I needed to add in an acid of some kind to help activate the baking soda, so I used 1 T. of vinegar instead, which had the added bonus of helping to quickly sour the milk (a poor substitute for buttermilk, I know, but it works). I also used parsley and oregano in place of the rosemary and sage since that's what I had on hand. The last substitution I made was to use a bit of yogurt in place of the low-fat mayonnaise the recipe called for. Mayonnaise in a baked good just seemed a bit odd to me. I mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in the other, and then combined the two exactly according to the Muffin Method of Mixing taught to me by my eighth grade home ec teacher. The biscuits baked up quickly and we had them straight out of the oven with dinner.

They were rather too wheaty and not herby enough but I thought they had potential and decided to try again. The second go around I reduced the whole wheat to white flour ratio, added about a quarter cup of chopped fresh basil and a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese for added flavor. I skipped the yogurt and used one tablespoon vegetable oil for added tenderness. I baked half of the biscuits just after I had made them, and put the other half in the fridge to bake up the next day. This round was much more successful than the first- a pleasant but not overwhelming wheat flavor and a hint of basil and Parmesan to make it interesting but the best results came the next morning. After sitting overnight in the fridge the basil permeated the batter and the biscuits had deeper flavor. They were truly delicious. So, if you had a little time, make this batter ahead of time and let it sit for a few hours before baking.

Though they're not really biscuits, this drop biscuits are my new go to recipe for a dinner carb- quick, relatively healthy and way more interesting than spaghetti and way healthier than real biscuits.

Drop Biscuits
Inspired by Flexitarian Menu
Yields 12, 2-3 in. biscuits

Dry Ingredients
1 and 1/3 c. white flour
2/3 c. whole wheat flour
1 T. baking powder
fat pinch salt
1/4 c. fresh basil, finely chopped
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Wet Ingredients
1 c. lowfat milk
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. vegetable oil

- Preheat oven to 400F (if you are baking immediately). Grease a cookie sheet. Measure out the milk and add the vinegar to it.

- Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl till evenly combined. Make a well in the center and add the milk mixture and oil. Stir until just combined. Proceed immediately or let the dough rest for up to overnight.

- Drop the batter into 12 even portions on the cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.

26 August 2008

Summer Gratin

After a weekend of eating beach food (read fried things, ice cream and brownies) I really needed some vegetables. I happened to come across a new-to-me blog, Flexitarian Menu, and was immediately inspired to make not one, but two things from it, starting with this summer vegetable gratin. The recipe was so simple it took hardly any time at all to put together and the simplicity highlighted the flavors of the fresh tomatoes, squash and zucchini.

I modified the original Flexitarian recipe quite a bit (both because I forgot to print it out and was looking to cut the fat.). The sliced veggies (which you can see above) rest on a bed of sauteed onions and where the original recipe called for olive oil for sauteeing I used butter. While this does add a bit more saturated fat, I decided to do it to follow Marcella Hazan's (the best Italian cookbook writer ever) principal of not mixing olive oil and cheese and because onions cooking in butter may be the best kitchen smell ever.

Once the onions were softened I spread them out on the bottom on the gratin dish and arranged the other vegetables on top, sprinkling some parsley, oregano, salt and pepper on each layer. The original recipe called for liberally topping the dish with olive oil before sprinkling on the breadcrumb and cheese topping but I wasn't sure that would actually improve the flavor and skipped it entirely. For the topping, I used a combination of panko bread crumbs, fontina and Gruyeres cheeses and it baked into the most deliciously crispy crust.

This recipe will easily feed four for a main course and has only 1 T. butter and a little more than half a cup of cheese (shredded) but tastes so good, you'd never think it was a lower-fat dish. The onions on the bottom get caramelized during baking and add a hint of sweetness to balance the tang of the cheese and the oregano adds just a hint of flavor. If Zach will happily eat this for dinner without a piece of meat in sight, I think you'll like it too. I served it with a whole wheat drop biscuit, which I will be posting about later this week.

Update: I liked this so much I've made it a second time using eggplant in place of the squash and basil in place of oregano- also delicious.

In the recipe below I've given approximate measurements for the vegetables but it really depends on the size of your baking dish and the size of the veggies.

I'm submitting this post to Bookmarked Recipes hosted by Ruth at Kitchen Experiments a roundup of recipes that one has been meaning to make...

Summer Vegetable Gratin
Adapted from Flexitarian Menu
Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side

1/2 large onion, sliced (about one cup)
1 T. butter

3 tomatoes
1 small zucchini
1 small squash (or eggplant)
fresh oregano (from about 5 stalks)
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1/2 c. panko
1/3 c. fontina cheese, grated
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese, grated

- Preheat oven to 350F. Heat a skillet on the stove with the butter, add the onions and cook till softened, about 10 minutes.

- While the onion is cooking, slice the vegetables into rounds about 1/4 in. (1/2 cm) thick. Mix the cheeses and panko in a small bowl. Mix the parsley and oregano together and add 1 T. to the cheeses and mix again.

- When the onion in cooked, spread it over the bottom of your baking dish (8x8in works, as does an oblong casserole) and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then arrange the vegetables on top in alternating rows, sprinkling with the herb mix, salt and pepper every few rows. When your dish is filled, top with remaining herb mix and sprinkle on the cheese and panko topping. Bake for 45 minutes or until top is golden brown, serve immediately.

The gratin does pretty well as leftovers, especially if you heat in in the toaster oven the next day.

23 August 2008

Changes in Store

I'm going to be attempting a few layout changes on the blog this weekend so if you stop by and things look a little strange, I apologize. I hope by Sunday night everything will be up and running and better looking and more functional than before. Thanks for your patience.

20 August 2008

Peaches and Cream 'Sickles

I'm not quite sure how this idea started, but one day I decided I really wanted an ice-cream maker. Not one of those little electric models either, but an old-fashioned, hand-crank, salt and ice contraption. I know this is not at all practical considering we have a tiny apartment and no outside space, but I kept the dream alive for a few weeks thinking of all the different kinds of ice-creams I could make. Then reality set in and I realized it would be sort of ridiculous to get a massive ice-cream maker but I couldn't let go of the idea entirely. I remembered that my mum used to freeze Juicy Juice in popsicle shaped molds for us and it seemed like the perfect solution. I would get to make frozen treats, but wouldn't need to find room to store a machine and/or buy rock salt and ice.

When we were in New Jersey we went to a big box store and I searched for the popsicle molds but they didn't have them. I was a bit disheartened as it was the kind of place that sells everything and I began to worry that popsicle molds were a relic of the 1980's and no longer in production. I came back to DC with my frozen treat dream slowly dying. Then one day at work a box came (for me!) with a return address of Tupperware, Inc. I had no idea what it could be; imagine my surprise as I opened it- first I saw the tiny sticks with the outline of Mickey on one end, then the little red tray with the slight depressions, then it hit me- popsickle molds!

My dad had remembered me talking about the popsicles and stopped by the Tupperware lady at the State Fare to see if she sold them. She didn't have any in stock but said she could order them and that this year the only ones in production had Mickey Mouse handles. So, he ordered them and they came to my work and I immediately started searching for popsickle recipes as I knew I had to use my new molds that very day. Dissapointingly, the only recipes that came up involved Kool-aid, Jello or both, which doesn't exactly float my popsickle stick. At home, I decided to use the three ripe peaches on the counter, along with a few tablespoons of heavy cream (I happened to have it on hand) for some extra creaminess and a spoonful of Shrubb, both for flavor and to try to prevent the pops from becoming total chunks of ice.

Everything went in the blender and came out a thick, smoothie like consistency. I then poured the mix into the molds and it was very nearly the perfect amount. Then began the fun part as it took me approximately 10 minutes to wrestle the lids onto the molds. Lesson learned- slightly underfill the molds or else the popsickle mixture will come out the sides and top when you try to put the lids on. I was so anxious to try my new creations that I could hardly wait for them to freeze but then the beach intervened and I had to wait 3 days. I took two molds out of the freezer, ran then under hot water for a few seconds and out popped my first popsickles. They were are beautiful soft orange color, with flecks of red from the peach skins and they tasted of fresh peaches with just a hint of creamy background. All in all, a good first attempt but more will soon follow.

Peaches and Cream 'Sickles

Makes 6 popsickles
(you could also freeze these in dixie cups)

3 small ripe peaches
3 T. heavy cream
1 T. orange liquor (optional)
sugar to taste

- Add first three ingredients to blender and puree. Add sugar to taste (things always taste less sweet when ice cold so you may want to add a little extra). Pour into popsickle molds and freeze until solid.

Moussaka Minis

This week in eggplant we travel to Greece. I've really been struggling to come up with some way to use the eggplant that we seem to get in every week's CSA delivery. Some of my past attempts have turned out better than others and I think Zach and I are actually starting to like our purple, egg shaped, former vegetable nemesis. Last week I was trying to find a recipe when I, for the very first time discovered the 'search' feature in my Google reader. I'm sure most of you have done this before, but if any of you haven't, the search feature lets you search all of the blogs you are subscribed to to find key words, in my case 'eggplant'.

As I scrolled through the search results I came across a recipe for moussaka by Allen at Eating Out Loud that he adapted from a recipe by Peter at Kalofagas. I don't think I've had moussaka since I quit my job waitressing at a Greek diner in high school, so I thought it might be time to give it a try again. I checked out both Peter's traditional recipe, and Allen's modified low-fat version and while I did combine some aspects of both, I used Allen's modified topping instead of making a
full on bechamel sauce.

I'm not afraid of bechamel sauce or a bit of fat in cooking but as I was making the moussaka on Friday night and we were going to drive to the beach (yea!) that night as well, I didn't want the extra time commitment of the sauce. I also cut the recipe in half (which was 1/4 of Peter's original recipe) as I only had 4 tiny eggplants and there were just two of us to feed as usual. I didn't think I had enough eggplant to use my casserole dish, so I decided to make 4 individual servings in my 6 oz. ramekins.

For the first step, I sliced my eggplants, brushed them with oil olive and fired up the grill pan. As Zach ran around removing the smoke-detector and putting the fan in the window (this is a rather regular occurence at our house, especially when the grill pan is involved) I grilled the eggplants and started on the meat sauce. Traditional moussaka uses ground beef, and the low-fat moussaka called for ground turkey. I literally stood in the grocery store for 5 minutes debating my choices and ended up going with ground turkey. In retrospect, especially considering each portion only has 2 oz. (before cooking) of meat, I really should have us
ed beef. The turkey was ok but beef would have added a lot more flavor and would (I think) have pushed the dish from just ok to really great. I would recommend that you use beef if you make this, or at least a 50/50 mix of ground beef and turkey. The bit of fat that beef adds to the recipe would be totally worth it, especially considering that the topping is much lighter than the original.

After the meat had browned I added the tomato sauce (I actually had some homemade on hand) and let it cook down while I made the topping. I was a bit skeptical of Allen's faux bechamel (cottage cheese? in a blender?) but it worked out perfectly. I used low-fat cottage cheese and Greek yogurt (for me the added taste it totally worth the calories) and added a whole egg even though I had halved the recipe. Once I layered the eggplant and meat in the ramekins I poured the sauce on top and set everything in the oven to bake.

30 minutes later, the sauce had set and turned a lovely golden brown and the moussaka minis were ready. We liked them, but as I said earlier, using beef would have added more flavor and made the finished product much tastier. The quick, low-fat topping, on the other hand, turned out perfectly and tasted wonderfully creamy. Overall, this was another victory for eggplant and I will be making this one again, but with beef next time.

I'm submitting this post to Bookmarked Recipes hosted by Ruth at Kitchen Experiments a roundup of recipes that one has been meaning to make...

Moussaka Minis

Adapted from Eating Out Loud and Kalofagas
Makes 4, 6oz. ramekins

4 tiny eggplants, or their equivalent
4 t. olive oil, divided
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 c. tomato sauce or tinned tomatoes
1 t. fresh oregano
1 T. fresh basil
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Blender Topping
1/2 c. cottage cheese
1/2 c. Greek yogurt
1 egg
1/4 c. finely shredded romano or parmesan cheese
a few grates of nutmeg

- Preheat oven to 350F. Have 4 ramekins and 1 cookie sheet at the ready.

- Heat a grill pan (or your grill if you're lucky enough to have one) over medium-high heat. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the eggplant slices with 2 t. of the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes on each side or until softened and well grill-marked.

- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium sized skillet and add the onion. Cook for a few minutes until softened then add the garlic and bay leaf and continue cooking for about a minute or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned.

- Add the ground beef and brown, using your spatula or spoon to break it up into small pieces. Add the tomato sauce and cinnamon and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce has reduced and is quite thick. Stir in the fresh herbs.

- Make the blender topping by pureeing the cottage cheese, yogurt and egg until completely smooth. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the nutmeg and cheese.

- To assemble: Place a layer of eggplant in the bottom of each ramekin. (This doesn't need to be exact). Use half of the meat sauce to cover the eggplant and then cover with another layer of eggplant. Spread the remaining meat sauce on top and pour the topping over each ramekin. It should cover the meat sauce but if there are little bits sticking out that's fine to.

- Place the filled ramekins on the cookie sheet and insert into the oven. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the topping is slightly browned and the juices are bubbling up the sides. Remove from oven and allow to set for 10 minutes then serve.

Note- Moussaka minis keep well in the fridge for 2-3 days.

19 August 2008

Purple Basil

Through our CSA, I've been introduced to many vegetables that I've never cooked, tried and occasionally heard off. Some, like eggplant, took a bit of getting used to but other such as summer squash have quickly become staples. Last week, we got this beautiful purple basil with the pickup. I had never heard of purple basil before, and a quick online search led me to some brief facts. Purple basil is just another form of common basil, often cultivated for color instead of flavor. It can be used interchangeably with its green cousin, though often has a milder flavor. Though I just used it with some pasta, it would make a lovely and slightly shocking pesto (I would really like to serve bowls of purple pesto pasta and see the reaction on peoples' faces- would they think it was basil? accuse me of serving pasta with borscht sauce?). I have to confess that I didn't do anything terribly exciting with it, although it did brighten up the kitchen for a little while.

P.S. That's a spring of oregano in with the basil.

12 August 2008

Salad Nicoise

I'm a bit afraid to jinx it by writing anything, but the weather in DC has been amazing lately. Sunny, warm but not hot, and the humidity is actually in a normal and not 'one step out of the house and even the straightest hair will frizz range.' I took the opportunity to get a head start on some baking this weekend as the windows were open and it wouldn't make the apartment insufferably hot and between that and the Olympics, by the time Sunday night rolled around, I really didn't want to do any cooking for dinner. I had picked up a copy of the The Flexitarian Table at the library and had been flipping through it during Olympic commercial breaks when I came across a recipe for Salad Nicoise. The point of the The Flexitarian Table is to give vegetarian and meat options for each of the dishes and for the salad Peter Berley suggests either tuna or cheese with this salad but since I actually like canned tuna (and am slightly ashamed to admit it) I went with the tuna option.

I think I like Nicoise salad so much because of all the contrasting flavors and textures. The crunchy beans and the warm potato, the smooth egg with the flaky tuna and the salty olives make it exciting and way more nutritious than a plain lettuce salad. It's also a great one plate meal since it has all the basics (veg., carbohydrate and protein) on the same plate. My only complaint is that there wasn't quite enough salad dressing but that was completely my own fault, as I decided to just make half the recipe and reduce the amount of oil, as I generally like my salads really lightly dressed. You might want to double the dressing listed below.

Salad Nicoise
Adapted from The Flexitarian Table
Serves 4 for dinner

For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and ripped up
4 small red potatoes
1/2 lb. green beans
4 eggs, hard boiled*
15-20 olives, nicoise if you can find them
1 can (6oz.) tuna, your favorite kind

For the dressing:
1 clove garlic
2 t. capers, drained
2 T. white wine vinegar
1/4 olive oil, your best
2 T. mustard
1/4 t. dried thyme

- Set a steamer basket in a small pot, add water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes and cut them into 1/2in. thick slices. Add the potatoes to the steamer basket and cook for 12 minutes, then put the green beans on top and cook for another 6 minutes.

- While the potatoes and beans and cooking, put all of the dressing ingredients into a blender and have at it, until the capers and thyme are well broken up. Arrange the lettuce on 4 plates.

- When the potatoes and beans are tender, drain them and return them to the pot, cooking for another minute or so to evaporate some of the water. Put the potatoes and bean into a bowl, add 2 T. of the dressing and stir to coat.

- Assemble the salad by arranging the potatoes, beans, olives, egg and tuna on top of the salad. Drizzle on the remaining dressing and serve.

*Peter Boyle gives the most perfect way to hard cook and egg so I will share it with you here. Put the eggs in a pan and add enough cold water just to cover them. Bring the water to a boil, wait one minute then remove the pan from the heat and cover for 11 minutes. Drain the water and shake the pan around (sort of like the eggs are doing the hula hoop) to crack the shells really well. Peter Boyle says to just peel them dry, but I think adding some cold water back to the pan and peeling them underwater makes it even easier. Your eggs will be perfectly cooked and the yolks will be a beautiful pale yellow. This method is definitely a keeper.

11 August 2008

Hot and Sour Eggplant

For the opening ceremony of the Olympics last Friday we were invited to a friend's house for a Chinese-themed potluck. As I found out about the potluck part at two in the afternoon I frantically messaged my friend K* for some advice on what to make. I like Chinese food, but it's not something I really ever cook at home (very often anyway, there are some exceptions) and I was at a loss of what to make. K* sent a few recipe links my way, and the Hot and Sour Eggplant sounded intriguing and would also be a good way to use the two little eggplants sitting in the fridge. Since there would be more than 2 people at dinner, I headed to the store to pick up some additional eggplant and then came home to start cooking.

The recipe called for cutting the eggplant up and soaking it in salted water for half an hour, which is supposed to take away the bitterness. I did it with 4 off the 5 eggplants but forgot about the last one and it really didn't seem to make a difference. It might help with larger eggplants, but I think the tiny eggplants aren't bitter so don't need it. After drying off the eggplant cubes, I quickly fried them in a bit of oil. One of the keys to using less oil when frying eggplant is stirring it constantly for the first minute. This allows all the eggplant to get lightly coated in the oil, instead of the bottom pieces soaking it all up.

After browning the eggplant, a simple sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and chilies gets added (
I omitted the salt called for in the original recipe as I think that soy sauce is quite salty on its on and slightly reduced the amount of sugar called for) and is cooked until it thickens. That's it- it's really that easy. I really liked this preparation of eggplant, which is not something I can say about everything I've made with it. Stir-frying softens the eggplant without making it mushy and the sauce packs just enough heat to make it interesting and the sour vinegar taste adds an unexpected tang. The eggplant seemed to go over well with everyone else too, although I didn't think it could compete with the ma po tofu that another friend made. I don't think any of our humble dishes could compete with the real star of the night- the opening ceremonies, which were truly spectacular.

Hot and Sour Eggplant
Adapted from Allrecipes.com
Serves 8 as a side dish

2 lbs. eggplant, in 2cm cubes
2 T. vegetable oil
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. rice wine vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 little green chili pepper, cut into 4 pieces, seeds removed if desired
2 t. cornstarch
2 t. chili oil

- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. When oil starts to smoke, add eggplant, stirring constantly for the first minute to distribute the oil. Cook for a further 5-8 minutes or until the eggplant is soft and slightly browned.

- While the eggplant is cooking, mix remaining ingredients for the sauce. Once the eggplant is golden, add the sauce and stir until the sauce has thicken, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Keeps for a few days in the fridge too.

08 August 2008

Chocolate and Zucchini Muffin Cakes

At last those muffins that I've been talking about since forever. Before we left for Hawai'i, I had a zucchini in the fridge that I needed to use so I thought 'what better place to find a recipe' than on Chocolate and Zucchini my favorite food blog. I found Clotilde's recipe for Chocolate and Zucchini cake and decided to make it. I made a few alterations to her recipe, as I wanted to make cupcakes since they would be easier to give away (and carry on the plane as a snack). I also upped the amount of whole wheat flour used, and added just a bit of extra zucchini as it seemed silly not to just grate the whole zucchini I had. I skipped the coffee granules (I can't imagine the look on Zach's face if I tried to bring home a jar of Nescafe crystals) and the hazelnut topping since Zach hates nuts (wow- this really makes it sound like I am totally pandering to Zach's tastes but I can assure you, I am not and that I do use ingredients that he doesn't really like on a regular basis).

Everything came together very quickly into a super thick batter. In fact, it looked like shredded zucchini with a thin coating of chocolate goo, but after spooning it into the muffin liners that I had sprayed with Bakers Joy and baking, the zucchini almost melted into the muffin cakes. Why I am calling them muffin cakes? Clotide calls it a cake on her post and the batter comes together like a cake by creaming the butter and the sugar, but the result is more in line with what Americans generally consider a muffin, even though it's not made with the muffin method. I thought of them as cupcakes, but everyone who tasted one commented that the 'muffins' were really good, hence my decision to call them muffin cakes.

Either way, they are delicious. The cocoa in the batter combined with the chocolate chips give the muffin cakes a really deep, rich chocolate flavor. (I did consider briefly not putting in the chips to make it a bit healthier but I'm glad I used them). The zucchini almost melts into the cake, giving it a subtle flavor and keeping them extremely moist. By using half whole wheat flour the muffin cakes are quite substantial and filling, even though they appear deceptively small as they don't rise much. They were really the perfect airplane snack food too. While everyone else was buying airline snack boxes or pulling out half-way smushed sandwiches, Zach and I pulled out fragrant muffins, carefully packed to avoid being pancaked. I think we may have gotten a jealous looks from other passengers.

Chocolate and Zucchini Muffin Cakes
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini
Makes 24

1 c. (120 g) AP flour
1 c. (112 g) whole wheat flour
1/2 c. (40 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temp.
2 heaping cups shredded zucchini (300g)
1 c. chocolate chips

- Preheat the oven to 350. Prep muffin tins with paper liners and grease well using Baker's Joy spray or equivalent.

- In a large bowl mix: flours, cocoa, baking soda and powder and salt.

- Using and electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color. Add vanilla extract and one egg at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.

- Add all but 1/2 c. of the flour mixture and stir well.

- Add the zucchini and chocolate chips to remaining flour mixture. Toss to coat. Fold the zucchini and chips into the batter- it will be really thick so don't worry to much about mixing firmly.

- Spoon into prepared muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

- Pop the muffin cakes out (careful- they're hot) and cool on a wire rack. Eat immediately or exercise your will power by wrapping them tightly in foil- they keep well for a few days on the counter.

Summer Squash Soup

Lately we've been getting squash in our CSA bag every week and I haven't quite known what to do with it. It's not that I dislike squash, I actually think it's pretty tasty, but I never really ate it growing up and don't really know what to do with it. I made some chocolate zucchini muffin cakes (which I need to actually post about) and we've had sauteed squash and Greek style squash with feta and pasta but with one giant saucer and one little knobbly (squashes that is) sitting in the fridge all week I decided to hit the internet in search of a recipe. I saw one that looked intriguing on a blog that I've recently come across, Vanilla Basil but it was made with sweet potatoes which I really don't like.

I know- you are probably saying, 'sweet potatoes, how it is possible you don't like sweet potatoes?'. I really wish I did since they are full of vitamins and quite healthy. The only answer I can give for my dislike it that they are just too sweet. Not that I don't like sweet things, but for me the sweet potato has an overwhelmingly sugary flavor, without any tartness, acidity or complexity to back it up. So- I went to the source of the recipe, a post on Smitten Kitchen, a blog which I had vaguely heard about but seem to be the only person on the internet who hadn't actually read. Deb's Summer Squash Soup came from a 2006 edition of Gourmet Magazine and seemed simple enough. 2 pounds of squash with some onion, carrot, broth and the dreaded sweet potatoes, which I decided to skip in favor of a few little red skinned potatoes I had sitting on the counter.

The original recipe also called for 6 T. of butter which seemed to me like a ridiculous amount so I started the onions in 2 T. butter than added an additional 1 T. with the sliced squash. I cut back on the chicken stock as I didn't want it to overwhelm the delicate squash and, while the veggies were simmering, decided to add a bit of turmeric for color and some herbs de Provance for flavor though the oringinal recipe called for no seasonings besides salt and pepper. Since we don't have a food processor, I finely chopped the herbs for the pistou (that's that green swirl in the soup) on a cutting board and stirred them up with the olive oil. For a finishing touch after pureeing the soup in the blender*, I added a little dollop of sour cream.

The soup was quite mild and delicate in flavor and I was really glad I had added the herbs and spices or else I think it might have been too bland. The pistou added a welcome fresh flavor of mint and parsley and the sour cream provided a tart counterpoint to the slightly sweet soup. We ate it piping hot last night, but I'm going to try it at room temperature for my lunch today.

One last note- if you wanted to make this super fancy, you could strain the soup through a sieve after you puree it. This would make it really smooth and elegant and I did sort of want to try it, but when it comes down to it, I'm just too lazy to bother.

Update: The soup was excellent slightly chilled for lunch. Soup always seems to taste better the second day, doesn't it?

*Be careful when blending hot liquids. Don't fill the blender container more than half way and remove the little plug in the blender lid and cover it with a kitchen towel folded into a small square, which you hold on top while blending. This will allow some steam to escape so excess pressure doesn't build up in the blender.

Summer Squash Soup
Based on a recipe from Gourmet Magazine
Yields approx. 16 cups or 8 dinner sized servings

For the soup
3 T. butter
1 medium onion, sliced into thin half moons
2 carrots, thinly sliced
2 lb. summer squash, cut into think slices
2-3 potatoes (about 1/2 lb), roughly chopped
1/4 t. turmeric
1/2 t. herbs de provance
2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 c. water
sour cream for topping (low fat is fine)

- In a large soup pot, sweat onions over medium heat until softened, about 8 minutes. While the onions are going, chop the remaining soup ingredients. After the onions have softened, add the carrots, squash and potatoes along with the herbs and spices. Give a stir to coat.

- Add the liquids (they should nearly cover the veggies, if they don't add a bit more water) bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, or till the veggies and potatoes are tender.

- Working in batches, blend the soup until smooth. (Here's when you'd do the sieve thing if you wanted). Pour into soup bowls and top with the pistou and sour cream. Serve immediately.

For the pistou
1/2 c. loosely packed parsley leaves
3/4 c. loosely pack mint leaves
3 scallions
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. olive oil (the best one you've got)
2 T. water

- Using a food processor or kitchen knife, finely chop herbs and scallions. Set in a bowl and mix in remaining ingredients. Swirl 1 T. into each bowl of soup.

06 August 2008

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

Zach and I were up in New Jersey visiting my parents this past weekend and as an added bonus, D- my best friend from high school and her boyfriend came to visit as well. After a weekend spent shopping, visiting the State Fair and hiking it was time to head back to the grind. I wanted our last breakfast to be a bit of a treat (not that the entire weekend wasn't) so I decided to make cinnamon rolls from a recipe I saw Alton Brown make on the Food Network. I did cheat a little bit by using the bread maker to mix and knead the dough, but I think that was ok considering it gave me more time to focus on the game of Squatter, the Australian sheep farming game, which we were playing.

I was so focused on my severe financial distress after having to pay income tax two turns in a row, that I failed to completely read Alton's instructions and ended up dumping all 20 ounces of flour into the bread machine, instead of reserving 3/4 C. to be added only if the dough was too wet, as the recipe called for. Luckily my dad is rather handy with the bread maker and kept adding spoonfulls of buttermilk and water until the dough reached the right consistency while I went back to sheep trading. By the time the dough had risen and it was time to roll out and shape the rolls, I had lost nearly all of my sheep and money and decided to abandon the game for baking as it was clear that I had absolutely no "aptitude for a rural career" as it states in the game instructions.

Then I realized that there was no ground cinnamon in the cupboard (I hadn't even though to check- it seems like one of those things that everyone always has on hand, doesn't it?) so my dad came to the rescue again by taking out his old coffee grinder and grinding up a few cinnamon sticks for me (why he had sticks and not powder on hand, I don't really know) and the recipe was saved. I rolled out the dough to the 12x18in rectangle called for in the recipe (I even used a measuring tape on it), spread the melted butter over it, than patted on the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Rolling the dough up wasn't as bad as I expected and I cut it into 12 mostly even pieces. The dough rose overnight in the fridge and then the next morning I 'woke' the dough up by placing it in an oven with a small pot of boiling water for about 20 minutes, then baked it at 350 until the rolls were a deep golden and we were all salivating from the cinnamony smell wafting through the air.

The rolls came out looking so good I took a picture right away and liked this photos of the naked rolls even better than the ones I took after their topping of cream cheese frosting. The rolls came out much better than I had expected (given the extra flour I had put in) and I might even say better than those at a certain chain whose smell always seems better than their taste. The roll itself was slightly less tender than the chain ones, but the overall taste had just the right balance of sweet to cinnamon to warm bread and judging by the immediate silence which fell over the table when we started eating, everyone else liked them two.

Since I made Alton Brown's recipe exactly (with the help of the bread machine) I won't post the recipe here but you can get it from the
Food Network website.

05 August 2008

Greek Pasta with Tomatoes, Squash, Feta and Oregano

Last Thursday night we were about to drive up to New Jersey for the weekend and I wanted to try to use up the rest of the week's CSA delivery for dinner, but didn't really have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen (I always seem to leave packing to the very last minute). I came across Katerina's Greek Island Pasta and it looked like the perfect way to use up the yellow squash sitting in the fridge along with some leftover feta and a little box of multicolored cherry tomatoes. Of course I forgot to print out the recipe so I just sort of made it up as I was cooking, using what I remembered from Katerina's as inspiration.

The whole dish came together in the time that it took to boil water and cook the pasta. I sliced up the yellow squash, halved the cherry tomatoes and chopped up the garlic while the water came to a boil. When the pasta went in, I sauteed the garlic and squash just for a few minutes then added the tomatoes and cooked the until the tomatoes had given off some juices to make a light sauce but the squash was still crisp. A little pasta water and some crumbled feta gave the sauce some texture and the fresh oregano I popped in at the last minute gave it a Greek flavor. A sprinkle of feta overtop and it was ready to go (and it did pretty well as leftovers too). An added bonus- this was a great way to use the tomatoes we had gotten from the CSA. Neither Zach nor I like raw tomatoes but this quick sauce cooked them just enough to pass the point from rawness to goodness so if you're not a fan of raw tomatoes either, you might want to try this.

Greek Style Pasta
Inspired by Katerina at Daily Unadventures in Cooking
Serves 4 for a light supper.

10 oz. short whole wheat pasta (rotini, farfale, penne)
2 t. olive oil
1 fat clove garlic, minced
1 small summer squash, cut in half and then in 1/8in. half moons
1 C. halved cherry tomatoes, or diced tomatoes
4 oz. feta cheese
10 fresh oregano leaves

- Put the pasta water on to boil while you prep the veggies.

- When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and add the oil and garlic. Sauté for a minute than add squash and sauté until the squash just begins to turn translucent (about 3 minutes). Add tomatoes and increase the heat to medium high. Cook until tomatoes begin to disintegrate a bit.

- Reserve 1/2 c. pasta water before draining the pasta. Add about half of it to the veggies along with half the feta and stir to melt the feta and create a sauce. Add in the drained pasta and oregano and stir to coat, adding more pasta water if it looks dry. Season with pepper and salt (if needed). Crumble remaining feta over the plates of pasta and serve immediately.