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Thursday, April 21, 2011

I've MOVED!!!

Change is good, change is good, change is good. That's what I keep repeating to myself. As of today I'll be blogging from my new website, where I hope to post a little more regularly (but I'm not making any promises). Hope you'll visit me over there!

Monday, July 12, 2010

What to do with loads of zucchini???

This weekend we were gifted a bunch of giant zucchini, almost 15 pounds in total. This was three of the six we received - I'm slowly making my way through them.

I love zucchini bread, so went to my new favorite baking cookbook, The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book - I picked up a galley of it at a book convention a couple of years ago. I love ATK recipes because they do all the trial-and-error work for you, and each recipe includes weight measurements in addition to the standard volume measurements. Sometimes I think the steps the take to make the "perfect" brownie, cookie or bread are a little over the top, but for the most part, it's been the first place I go to to get ideas.

Here's the recipe, with my additions/changes/notes in bold.

Zucchini Bread (from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)

makes 1 8-inch loaf (I doubled recipe and used a bundt pan)
(Small zucchini have smaller, drier seeds than large zucchini and are preferred in this recipe. If you are using a large zucchini, cut each zucchini in half length-wise and use a spoon to scrape out and discard the seeds before shredding.) In my opinion, it's not worth using a lot pretty little small zucchini to make bread (great ideas below for using small/pretty zucchini). The whole purpose of making zucchini bread, IMHO, is to use up lots of big, overgrown, otherwise mealy zucchini! So yes, definitely slice in 1/2 in scrape out the seeds, and weigh what you have after doing it. My 4lb friend was 2lbs after I did that.

2 small zucchini (1 pound), ends trimmed
2 cups (10 oz.) all-purpose flour (I used 5 oz. ap flour, 5 oz. white whole wheat flour)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground allspice
1/2 t. salt (I use iodized table salt for baking, not kosher)
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz.) white sugar
6 T. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1/4 c. whole or low-fat plain yogurt
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup (2 oz.) toasted pecans or walnuts (I skipped these)

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees (I use a convection oven set to 325). Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan (I doubled the recipe and used a well buttered and floured bundt pan). Shred the zucchini using the large holes of a box grater (I used the shredder attachment on my food processor). Squeeze the shredded zucchini between several layers of paper towels to absorb excess moisture (this seemed like a giant mess to me, and had better luck squeezing out the zucchini liquid using a large clean dish towel).

2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, melted butter, eggs, yogurt and lemon juice together until smooth. Gently fold in the zucchini. Add the egg/zucchini mixture to the flour with a rubber spatula until just combined, don't overmix. Fold in the nuts.

3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 1 hour, rotating the pan halfway through baking. (This is where I get into trouble giving recipes to friends. I don't time anything, ever. It's done when it looks done. I know my bundt pan was in for over an hour, and the top didn't jiggle when I touched it. A cake tester also came out clean, and the cake was very slightly starting to come away from the sides of the pan - that's when I knew it was done).

4. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before serving. (I know you're supposed to wait for it to cool, but we couldn't help it, and dug into the cake as soon as we could handle it).

I highly recommend this recipe - I think it has a yummier texture compared to a bread made with oil. It's very sweet, so you could probably cut back a bit on the sugar as well. Enjoy!

I also asked my Facebook friends for suggestions and got a lot of great responses. Here's a sampling:

from Gretel, zucchini fritters:
"You could make fritters. Grate zucchini with cheese grater, sprinkle with salt, let sit 10 minutes, squeeze out excess liquid, mix with minced onion, Ginger and cilantro or other good stuff. Add some arrowroot or flour. Then pan fry spoonfulls. Good with a spicy tomato-based sauce."

from Erica, fresh zucchini salad:
"last night we had a really delicious zucchini salad (friends also have an abundance in their garden). slice raw zucchini really thin, grate pecorino, add salt, pepper and a bit of chili powder and then dress with fresh lemon juice and olive oil. it was soooo good. lots of cheese helps."
(this would be amazing with lots of pretty small-ish zucchini, can't wait to try it)

from Dana, zucchini muffins:
"Mix with wooden spoon: 6 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 1 T. cinnamon, 3 tsp.baking powder, 2 tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. salt. Make well. Add: 4 eggs, 1 cup oil, 1 tsp. vanilla, 20 oz can crushed pineapple (not drained), 4 cups shredded/drained/skin-on zucchini, 2 cups raisins, 1 cup chopped nuts (optional). Stir well. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes. Yield: 4-6 dozen. Muffins freeze well. "

from Gabrielle, simply grilled zucchini:
"It's really good grilled - just salt, pepper and olive oil."

from Chris, Bread and Bake:
"Cut the zucchini into 1/2 inch round pieces. Beat an egg. Get 2 cups of Italian bread crumbs, one cup of flour. Salt and pepper. One cup of Parmesan cheese. Do not use that Kraft grated topping crap. Get a nice piece of Parmigiana and grate it. Grate the cheese, mix it with the 2 cups of bread crumbs, add salt and pepper to the mix. This mixture should be in one bowl. Put the flour in another. The beaten egg in a third. Take the piece of zucchini, flour it, egg it, bread it. stick it in the oven-- 350 until golden brown. --bingo."

from Amy, delicious zucchini-ness:
diced tomatoes, diced zucchini, corn off the cob, all sauteed with onions in olive oil and then at the end throw a handful of breadcrumbs and a handful of parm and let the bottom crust up. delish with grilled steak or tossed with pasta. (be sure to add the fresh herbs of your choice.)"

Any other ideas? Let me know!

Update: I promised myself I'd stop posting about zucchini on my facebook page, so I'll post here instead!

I just made a delicious and easy zucchini soup. I made it up as I went along so all these measurements are approximate.

1 T. olive oil
1/2 T. unsalted butter

1/2 medium white onion
1 clove minced garlic (I used 1 cube frozen minced garlic)
1 1/2 lbs. zucchini (scrape out the seeds first if it's a big one), slice in 1/4 inch pieces, quartering if necessary, don't peel it
1/2 medium white potato (peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
1 c. chicken stock
3-4 sprigs flat parsley
salt & pepper

Using a 3 to 5 quart sauce pan, melt butter in oil over medium heat, saute onions until translucent, don't brown them. Add garlic, stir for another minute and then add potatoes, zucchini and chicken stock (stock should keep veggies from sticking to the bottom, but shouldn't cover them completely). Bring to a low boil, cover and then simmer on low heat until veggies are soft, about 25 minutes.

Give the soup a couple of minutes to cool, toss in the parsley, then transfer to a blender to puree. Better yet, use a stick blender if you have one. This one is great! Season with salt and pepper - totally deliciousness. Tastes like you added a cup of heavy cream. Enjoy!

Mets! Mets! Mets!

Let me start by saying I am NOT a sports fan - not even a little bit. I seem to have lost the gene that makes me care about grown men (and women) hitting/throwing/chasing some sort of ball around a field/rink/court.

That said, my 7 yr old is a big sports fan, thanks to his sports fan father (the 3 yr old isn't that interested yet, but I'm sure his time will come), and after three years of race track cakes, decided his 7th birthday should feature his favorite baseball team, The New York Mets, and their mascot, Mr. Met.

But this wasn't a completely original idea. I made this cake a couple weeks before - totally edible (if not completely palatable) Mr. Met out of gumpaste. Cake was vanilla bean with vanilla buttercream, fondant baseball diamond.

Mr. Met birthday cake for Paul

The weather was warm and poor Mr. Met was in danger of toppling over a couple of times, and was very happy that I provided him with an extra stack of bases to keep him upright.

Mr. Met cake side view

Since the summer was getting hotter and Mr. Met doesn't seem to respond well to hot weather (unless I was going for a "Sloppy Drunk Mr. Met" look) I "encouraged" Max to choose another type of Mr. Met cake - one that wouldn't involve lots of toothpicks and bases made out of gumpaste as props. The result was a 12" vanilla bean/vanilla buttercream Mr. Met head and hat. Fondant stripes in Mets colors on the sides of the cake.

Mr. Met cake

Mr. Met cake

Mr. Met cake close up
(The NY on the hat was my favorite part of the cake!)

I realized after the fact that a real baseball doesn't have red lines underneath the stitching, but since I'm sure Max is going to request this cake a couple of more years, I'll have a chance to redeem myself:)

Finally, a friend who attended Max's party decided he also wanted a Mets cake for his birthday, but with a twist. Milo might be a bigger Mets fan than Max and his baseball party included "Milo" t-shirts in a Mets-type font for all the kids. I used that lettering and added it to the familiar Mets skyline logo and LOVE the result. Everything was cut out by hand and edible (gumpaste and fondant). Cake was 12" chocolate with chocolate buttercream.

Milo's Mets cake


Happy Summer!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baby shower cake

Aurora & Heather's baby shower cake

Two of my very good friends are pregnant and due within a couple of weeks of each other. I hosted a baby shower brunch for them today and you can't have brunch without cake, right?

I bought these daisy cutters a while ago and thought they were a pretty cool shape - I think they kind of look like fireworks. (Side note: does anyone know what the little plastic piece in this set is supposed to be for? I use it to poke out the petals, but I'm guessing it has a more specific purpose.) My plan was to cover the whole cake in baby blue fondant and then add the shapes, but decided late yesterday that life's too short to drive myself crazy and left it fondant free.

Really like the contrast of the chocolate buttercream with the gumpaste colors and am happy with the way it turned out. And as usual, Doug takes the most awesome photos. He could make a grocery store cake look like something Martha Stewart would envy!

Aurora & Heather's baby shower cake

Aurora & Heather's baby shower cake

Aurora & Heather's baby shower cake

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oma's fern cake

Oma's cake top view

I was contacted about making a cake for a 70th birthday party that somehow incorporated greenery and ferns, but not in a very obvious way. I immediately started searching online for some fern shaped cutters or molds, and found what I thought would be an excellent option - a beautiful ferns mold made by CelCakes.

Ha! The mold arrived and I spent the next three nights playing with various formulations of fondant and gumpaste, trying to find the right combination so my ferns would as fabulous as these. On the rare occasion when I did manage to fill the mold, scrape off the excess and get the fern out in one piece, Doug declared that it looked much more like a piece of seaweed than a fern (it's true, it did). Since I wasn't making an underwater mermaid cake, seaweed wasn't an option:) $20 wasted, but lesson learned.

Back to square one, and this time I decided to toss the molds and a much more whimsical approach to ferns, and in particular, fiddleheads. These are all made by hand - rolling out pieces of fondant (not gumpaste, I didn't want them to get too hard and crunchy) and rolling into the fiddlehead shape. I love how it turned out! The cake is vanilla bean, with whipped ganache filling and vanilla buttercream. The letters are funky alphabet tappits (as you can tell, I'm a big fan of these letters!)

Oma's birthday cake

Oma's cake side view

Here's a video of the cake in action. Someday I'll learn how to edit. Doug said, "who are you talking to?" The answer? Hopefully you!