August 27, 2006

Zucchini au Gratin


2 cups zucchini, sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced thinly
3/4 cup sour cream*
3/4 cup white extra sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350. Meanwhile, in a large pot, boil zucchini and onion until tender. Drain thoroughly and arrange in a medium sized casserole dish. Mix together sour cream and milk and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over zucchini and onions. Sprinkle with cheese and bake uncovered about 20 minutes until bubbly and hot. Serve hot by removing the zucchini and onions with a slotted spoon, it is quite saucy, in bowls.

*low fat or even fat free is fine.

My thoughts:
This was one of my most favorite foods when I was little and I still enjoy it made with fresh from the garden zucchini. We actually just called it "zucchini with sour cream" but zucchini au gratin makes the recipe seem more legitimate, don't you think?

August 26, 2006

Carrot Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated, raw zucchini
1 cup carrot, grated
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour or 1 1/2 cups AP flour and 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cardamom
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts*

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour or spray with cooking spray with flour two loaf pans. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Add sugar, oil, zucchini, carrot and vanilla. Mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add to zucchini/carrot mixture. Mix until well combined then fold in walnuts. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 1 hour. Cool on rack for 10 minutes then remove from pan. Delicious warm or at room temperature.

*optional, I personally enjoy my bread walnut free. In baked goods, walnuts kind of remind me of baby teeth.

My thoughts:
If zucchini bread is good, then carrot zucchini bread is even better. Just as moist but with pretty orange flecks and hint of sweetness. Very good spread with cream cheese.

August 19, 2006

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, cut length-wise
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt


In a small saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla bean together until the milk just boils. Remove from heat and let cool for about 1 hour. Then remove the vanilla bean. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them to the milk. Discard the remaining bean pod. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350. In a medium bowl, whisk together the salt, flour and baking powder. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Alternately add the flour and milk mixture until well combined. Divide batter into about 20 lined or greased cupcake wells. Bake 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the middle cupcake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and then ice.

My thoughts:
Today is my (27th!) birthday and my sweet husband made me these vanilla bean cupcakes. They are so bursting with vanilla flavor it is hard to even put into words their incredible vanilla-ness. He frosted them with pink cream cheese icing.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup cocoa
6 tablespoons apple sauce
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients then thoroughly mix in all of the remaining ingredients. Fill 12 greased or papered cupcake wells 3/4 of the way through and bake 15 minutes or until A toothpick inserted in the center cupcake comes out clean.

We sprinkled ours with confectioners' sugar.

My thoughts:
Today is my birthday and we invited a couple of friends over cupcakes after dinner. One of them is vegan so my husband made these vegan cupcakes. We had never made a vegan baked good before and were pleasantly surprised. They are very moist and chocolate-y. We didn't miss the eggs or butter at all. This cupcakes completely debunk the myth that vegan baked goods taste bad. I don't think most people would be able to tell the difference between these and traditional baked goods.
We sprinkled ours with confectioners' sugar but you could also frost these with a traditional buttercream icing subbing margarine in for the butter.

August 17, 2006

Eggplant Marinara

1 large eggplant, peeled and diced small
1 onion minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot minced
36 oz canned peeled tomatoes (crushed by hand)
1/2 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp crushed hot red pepper


In large sauce pan, heat the oil and then saute onion, garlic, crushed hot red pepper, and carrot for about 10-15 minutes or until soft and fragrant. Add eggplant and saute another 15-20 minutes until tender and darkly colored. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir. Add tomatoes and cook for about 30-40 minutes. Serve over hot pasta.

My thoughts:
This was the best eggplant/tomato sauce I ever tasted! The eggplant was really tender and absorbed the yummy garlic and onion flavors. We served this with some chicken and a sprinkle of Parmesan, but it would be good all on its own.

August 16, 2006

How to make Perfect Chicken Cutlets

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

Cut the chicken breasts cut horizontally into 2 thin pieces each. Sprinkle each side with salt, pepper and oregano. Press spices into chicken. Dredge in flour. In a medium pan, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the chicken and cook until brown on both sides. Slice or leave whole.

My thoughts:
Simple but tasty addition to sauces, sandwiches, salads any place you might want to add chicken.

August 15, 2006

Corn, Potato & Leek Chowder

kernels from 4 ears of corn
3 stalks celery, diced
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
3 carrots, diced
2 leeks, sliced thin
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon sage leaf

In a large pot, heat butter and oil. Add carrots, corn and leeks. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Remove cover and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then lower heat and cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.
My thoughts:
This is another recipe that really highlights fresh ingredients. The subtle flavors of celery, carrot and corn really shine. I used milk in this recipe instead of the heavy cream usually present in chowder, this gives it a lighter mouth feel that I really think works well and doesn't overpower the veggies.

August 14, 2006

Blackberry Cornmeal Cake

2 eggs
8 oz blackberries
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup buttermilk
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 375. Grease and flour or spray with baking spray with flour one 8 inch square pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the baking powder, sugar, flour and cornmeal. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the egg, butter and buttermilk. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. The batter will be some what fluffy. Pour into the prepared pan and scatter the blackberries along the top. Bake 25-30 minutes or until the top begins to brown. Cool slightly on a wire rack then slice and serve warm.

My thoughts:
We had a bit of blackberries left after making the clafouti yesterday so I came up with this recipe to use the rest of them up. I still had cornmeal on the brain from making those corn fritters last week so I thought I'd see how a cornmeal cake would taste with blackberries. It came out very well, it's a more rustic dish than the clafouti but just as delicious. The texture is a bit coarser than a typical cake but it's not as dense as cornbread. It is actually surprisingly fluffy. The berries do sink to the bottom, if this bothers you, toss the blackberries in a little bit of flour before scattering them over the dough. I personally don't mind, but it would look pretty with the berries sort of suspended in cake.

August 13, 2006

Blackberry Clafouti

3 cups fresh blackberries
3 large eggs
1/2 vanilla bean
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar PLUS 1 tablespoon
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Cointreau
1/8 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 375. Butter or spray with baking spray with flour one 9 inch round pie or tart pan*. Sprinkle the blackberries with the one tablespoon of sugar and arrange on the pan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into a saucepan. Add the vanilla pod, milk and cream and heat until you see small bubbles. Remove the bean pod from the pot and then remove the pot from heat. In a medium bowl, beat together sugar and eggs until light and fluffy. Slowly add the flour and salt and mix thoroughly. Slowly beat in the milk mixture. Finally, stir in the Cointreau. Pour the custard over the berries in the pie pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until puffy, browned and the center no longer jiggles to the touch. Excellent warm or at room temperature. This is best the day it is made.
*A heart shaped pan was used here, but traditionally a clafouti is made in a round tin.

My thoughts:
Clafouti (sometimes called clafoutis) is a French dessert that is typically made with unpitted black cherries. The best way to describe the texture is that it is sort of like baked custard crossed with a fluffy pancake. We used blackberries because they are in season and are our favorite berry. Other berries and fruits would be good as well. My husband had the idea for this dessert almost a year ago and has been waiting until blackberry season to make it. It was well worth the wait, the caramelized bottom and top are delightful and the berries add a welcome bit of tartness.

August 12, 2006

Corn Fritters

kernels from 3 ears of fresh corn
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar


In a large bowl throughly mix together all of the ingredients without mushing up the corn. Heat the oil in a large pan, and drop 1/4 cup dollops of the batter on the oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towel lined plates and serve immediately.

My thoughts:
When I brought home 24 ears of corn from the farm stand I knew it was time to make fritters. I had never made them before but they are really easy, sort of like making blueberry pancakes but with corn. I decided to use half cornmeal half flour for extra corn goodness, but you could also just use flour. My favorite part is how the corn stays sweet and crisp and is a perfect foil to the almost fluffy batter.

August 10, 2006

How to Make Perfect Corn on the Cob

Wait until corn season. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a very large pot. Add 6-10 freshly shucked ears of corn. Cook uncovered 3-5 minutes until just tender. Remove from the water and eat immediately. Serve with lots of fresh butter.
My thoughts:
Making corn is a simple thing but it's easy to end up with tough corn. Look for the freshest corn available and stock up. Corn really starts to dry up once it's picked so produce stands (near farms) or the farmer's marker is your best bet. I like to buy a couple dozen ears, eat some and freeze the rest. Simply cut the kernels off the cob and deposit them in a freezer bag or air tight container. It will keep for months and tastes much better than commercially packed frozen or canned corn.

August 08, 2006

Key Lime Curd

3 eggs
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup fresh key lime juice*
1 teaspoons key lime zest

Over low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk continuously for about 8-10 minutes or until it forms a custard. Allow to cool then pour into a jar and refrigerate. The curd will thicken considerably as it cools.

*Persian lime juice will work just as well but the resulting curd will be a tad sweeter.
My thoughts:
Every time I see key limes in the store I can't resist buying them. It's a sickness, really. This time it was a bag of about 50 for $1.60 and I couldn't turn down that kind of a deal-normally a much smaller bag runs about $4-5. Anyway, I didn't want to make another pie so we had been using the key limes in place of usual limes (even in our chicken salad) until I thought of making key lime curd. I'd never made any sort of curd before but I had seen a pricey jar of lemon curd in the store and thought it looked like something I could make. It was much easier and faster than expected, it was almost magical how it went from being liquid to custard in just a few minutes. I made this recipe a little lighter than most lime curd recipes which frequently call for 3 or 4 whole eggs plus additional yolks. I think it's better for it, any more eggs and I think the eggy flavor would have over-powered the delicate tartness of the key limes. I can't wait to make some thing with it, it already tastes delicious.

August 07, 2006

Grilled Chicken Salad

2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, grilled and diced
1 red onion, diced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons Old Bay
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lime juice

In a large bowl stir together all ingredients until well combined, add salt, pepper and more mayo to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
My thoughts:
The other night we had the grill going grilling some steak to serve over salads for dinner. We had wanted to make chicken salad for the next day so rather than poaching the chicken breast, we decided to grill it instead. I am so glad we did! The chicken came out with the best flavor, slightly smoky and very juicy. The resulting chicken salad was some of the best I've ever had. I just wish we had leftovers. They would be perfect for a picnic. A picnic? I can hear some of you saying. "But what about the mayonnaise?" This is the biggest food myth floating around during the summer. Store bought mayonnaise does not generally cause food poisoning. In fact, many food experts think that it actually retards the growth of harmful bacteria due its acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar. More likely food poisoning at picnics is the result of improper handling of other foods such as raw meat or using contaminated utensils. You still want to keep it cold (like you would any perishable item) but there is no reason you can't serve this salad or a yummy mayonnaise based potato salad at your next picnic. It's likely this food myth came from the time when most people used homemade mayonnaise which with its barely cooked eggs could potentially cause problems.

August 05, 2006

Dill (Refrigerator) Pickles

1 1/2 lb small pickling cucumbers (like Kirby), cut in half lengthwise
2 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups cold water
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon dill seed*
1 tablespoon mustard seed*
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon celery seed

fresh dill


Evenly divide the garlic, dill and cucumbers among four wide mouthed pint jars. In a large bowl, mix together vinegar, water, red pepper flakes, celery seed, salt, mustard seed and dill seed. Use a funnel to fill each jar with brining liquid.**The spices may float to the bottom, so use a spoon to evenly divide anything that is leftover into the jars. Cap tightly and refrigerate at least one week before eating.

*Before adding the mustard seed, red pepper and dill seed, I crushed them slightly in my hand.

**I suggest you do this over a large bowl. The cucumbers start to float and displace liquid. Add the overflow back into the brining mixture before you fill up the next jar.

My thoughts:
I have always wanted to make dill pickles at home but traditional canning always seemed a little scary. Refrigerator pickles seemed to be the logical solution. These pickles came together super fast and look so pretty in their jars. Judging by how delicious they smelled going into the jar and how pickle-y my hands smell now, they should be fantastic.

August 04, 2006

Spicy Cheddar Crackers

1 cup flour
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons cold water
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 325. Grease or spray with cooking spray one cookie sheet. In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients to form a firm dough. Roll into a 12 inch long log* about 1 inch thick. Slice into 1/4 inch slices**. Arrange the slices on the cookie sheet, leaving about an inch of space between each cracker. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the bottoms of the pennies are slightly brown and the tops are firm. Allow to cool completely before serving.

* If the dough is very sticky, refrigerate until it is firm, then slice.
** This yields a fairly thick cracker. If you slice them thinner, you may need to shorten the cooking time.

My thoughts:
I had never made crackers before so I thought I'd give it a shot. I always avoid the artificially cheese flavored crackers you see at grocery stores- too salty and orange for my taste. I have seen recipes for "cheddar coins" or "cheddar pennies" floating around for years now so I thought I'd give it a shot. I made these with white extra sharp cheddar and a bit of cayenne which lends the crackers a slightly reddish hue. The crackers are fairly thick (but small, only about 1 inch in diameter) with a strong cheddar flavor and a spicy aftertaste. If you are spice shy, you might want to cut down on the cayenne. I like things spicy (we use so much cayenne we put it in a pepper shaker for easy use!) so these are perfect for me but be warned, they produce more of a kick than you might expect. I think they would also be good if you left out the cayenne and instead topped with a bit of rosemary, sesame seeds or even some dried dill.

August 01, 2006

Cannellini Bean Dip

30 oz canned cannellini beans*, drained-reserving 1 teaspoon of the liquid
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
dash salt
dash white pepper.

Pour the beans, garlic, bean liquid, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice into a food processor or blender. Pulse until almost smooth. Add the parsley and pulse again until it forms a thick paste. Refrigerate or serve immediately.

*these are sometimes labeled as "white kidney beans". You could also use navy beans or great northern beans.

My thoughts:
This heat wave (it was 103F in the shade this afternoon!) is really cutting into my cooking/baking time. I had to make this dip so I had something more interesting to eat than leftover grilled steak or tuna salad for lunch. It's so tasty I almost don't miss cooking.