For Sweetness

Sometimes it’s hot and you still need to turn the oven on and BAKE things.

Sometimes you read 2 dozen recipes and none of them are the one you want to use.

Sometimes you want to slap yourself in the face for not being better to yourself.

Sometimes you just need a little sweetness in your life. (But not toooo much.)

And sometimes, you have too much zucchini.

Yes, I’m talking to you, because I didn’t plant any this year. (But if you have extra, I’ll take it off your hands…)

This recipe was born from all of these sometimes. It’s not zucchini cake, which is what most of the world is really making when they say “zucchini bread.” It’s a bread for toasting in the morning, or putting a scoop of ice cream onto in the evening without getting a totally insane sugar high that prevents you from going to be bed at a decent hour.

It’s chocolatey and subtly spiced, with a moist but toothsome crumb.

And! It makes 2 loaves! That means there’s one for you and one to take down the street to the neighbor who keeps mowing your lawn for you out of the blue, or to leave for your house-sitter to ensure the pets are well loved while you are half a world away.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
10-12 oz zucchini, grated. (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup any type of plain yogurt
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup or so of water

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, oil, yogurt, and applesauce until smooth. Add the liquid to the dry and mix until just a bit of dry flour remains. Then add in the zucchini. Mix it all in, adding just a bit of water at a time as needed to make it easy to work with. You don’t want it to be too wet.

Divide into loaf pans prepared with baking spray, butter and flour, or parchment paper.

Bake for 35 minutes, then rotate and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until it passes the toothpick test. Let cool in the pans a bit, then turn out onto a rack to cool the rest of the way before slicing. Stores great in the freezer in individual slices or whole loaves.

The Mistake

What happens when you take a bowl full of raspberries, a big drizzle of honey, and some greek yogurt and mix them together?

You should get some delicious popsicles, if you know what you’re doing. Which apparently–some days–I don’t.

I was super stoked about making these popsicles. I even talked about it over on Facebook. I decided to make raspberry and honey with greek yogurt when we got to the P-patch and saw the berry bonanza going on in my plot, and remembered the jar of deliciously floral honey we picked up in Manson when we were visiting Lake Chelan a few weeks ago.

I don’t really know what went wrong. They had all the makings of what should have been a killer batch of delicious popsicles.

Then I added some liqueur to them, which I think is where it all went downhill. Even the heady scent of good vanilla couldn’t save the day.

Usually adding a bit of booze to things is a win. With these babies though, it turned the texture to weird creamy with bits of straight up ice lodged throughout. Between the ice and the seeds in the whole berries, they were too much crunch and not enough creamy goodness. And to make matters worse, the liqueur had a weird flavor when it froze–supposedly raspberry but more like rotten grape juice.

I know, this is really making your mouth water. I bet you wish I would give you the recipe to make these tempting delights.

But, lesson learned. I mean, I did it for you, friends. I made these popsicles so you wouldn’t have to, and now we all know what happens when you mix these things together and freeze them.

Sometimes, you have to just take the things that come to you. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of lemons. I guess that’s why I made lemonade. It’s been a lot of hit and miss these past few weeks and I’m happy to say that I have been doing my best to move on. I’m getting back on the bandwagon of deliciousness, with recipes forthcoming that a girl can be proud of.

I might still be battling the chickens to stay in their designated area. I might still be neglecting the p-patch only to show up and find that someone has stolen all of the best artichokes off of my plants. I might even continue to pretend that the weeds aren’t getting as tall as Lilli, but at least I will be taking the time to enjoy the rest of summer while it still lasts.

And with any luck, I’ll be making more popsicles. Like these ones. Or maybe these.

Or maybe, these. Hopefully they will redeem me from the circle of hell reserved for people who mess up that easiest of summer treats, the popsicle. I made these ones after realizing I still had a quarter of a watermelon in the fridge that I didn’t want to eat in it’s current form.

They are a snap to make and are highly refreshing. Not as picnic friendly as whole watermelon, but are perfect for a night on the porch with friends.

Watermelon Margarita Popsicles
makes about sixteen (16) 1/4 cup popsicles

about 4-5 cups watermelon chunks–seeds removed
1/4 cup good tequila
1/4 cup simple syrup, chilled
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

Puree the watermelon. You’ll need 3 1/2 cups of juice for this recipe, which you should get from 4-5 cups of solid watermelon, but if you need more juice, puree more melon until you have enough juice. If you happen to get more than 3 1/2 cups, just save it for something else. Non-frozen watermelon margaritas perhaps.

Add the syrup, lime juice and tequila and give it a good stir. Carefully pour juice into your popsicle mold, cover and add the sticks. Freeze until solid then run a thin stream of warm water over to remore. Store frozen popsicles in a zipper bag and freeze the remaining mixture. Before serving sprinkle a tiny pinch of crunchy sea salt over one side of the popsicle for a true margarita experience.

All the Fun

The second half of July whizzed past me. I cannot believe it’s already August (my birthday month, yay!) , and it’s going to be another insanely busy month. I’ve been having all the fun and am not stopping anytime soon.

Though sometimes, I need to just sit still for like 30 seconds and make sure that I am taking time for myself. Lately, I haven’t been doing a good job of that and reached a point of near exhaustion.

This week, I’m back on track and being good to myself in a way I haven’t been in a long time, even though it’s really really hard.

I started back up again keeping a food journal, which I’ve found to be the only effective way for me to be accountable to myself for what I eat and when I am physically active.

This isn’t a diet blog, it’s not even a healthy lifestyle blog. It’s a blog about food and I have to stay true to that. I love to eat (and drink) but it’s been getting me into trouble lately because I haven’t been paying any attention to what I’ve actually been consuming. Being busy does that to a person.

So this week while I’m getting over the cravings hump, I am just going to share a few little things.

I made this killer lemon syrup last week using coconut sugar and sugar I made with pomelos. The syrup was used as a base for jelly shots that were consumed at kickball. (Which I’m both elated and totally depressed is finally over for the year.)

It goes really well in just about any beverage though, provided it’s cold and refreshing. Paired with just ripe nectarines and sparkling water it makes for a very refreshing afternoon pick-me-up, with a smooth transition into happy hour–should your day need one of those–by adding a jigger of vodka and a crushed mint leaf or two.

Sparkling Nectarine Lemonade

For the Syrup (makes about 2 cups)

1 cup lemon juice from a bottle
1 1/2 cups sugar–any kind will do, but using half coconut sugar added a nice earthy flavor
3 lemons cut into 8ths, juice squeezed out
1/2 cup or so of water

Put all ingredients into a large, non-reactive pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes until the syrup starts to thicken a bit, then strain out the solids. Stored in a jar in the fridge, this syrup should keep for a several weeks.

To make the lemonade just pour a little syrup into a glass–about 1 tbsp for a not very sweet 8 oz or so of sparkling water–then smash a couple of slices of ripe nectarines into it. Add a squeeze of lemon for extra brightness, and put in some ice if you like. Then top with sparkling water.

The Hunger

During Passover it was hard to find a good snack. Normally if I’m looking for a good satisfying mid-day snack I will eat a handful of tortilla or pita chips dipped in hummus, a bowl of fresh popped corn with garlic salt, or a rice cake with peanut butter. But all of those things–corn, peanuts, garbanzo beans, rice, and leavened wheat–are forbidden by Ashkenazic tradition during Passover.

We ate a lot of eggs and fruit and cheese, which is OK for a little while but can get old pretty fast when you can’t mix it up a bit. And there’s always matzah roca, which is a good sweet bite when you need to satisfy that sort of craving–but you can’t eat too much of that without feeling some good old fashioned Jewish guilt.

So what’s a girl in training to do?

Eat nuts.

Handfuls of them raw in yogurt, almond butter spread over matzah with a drizzle of honey, or nuts like these:

Words like salty and sweet don’t really do these mixed nuts justice, because even though they are those things, that’s not enough. There are more layers of flavor to them than there are layers of matzah in matzah lasagna.

With an immediate crunch and a lingering heat, these are pretty much the perfect snack. The orange zest adds a brightness that isn’t easily brought by other ingredients, and the cardamom adds a floral zing. The chipotle knocks on the door and says “HI!” at just the moment, when you’re thinking you might need a way to get off the phone with the sweetness. And of course, salt. All good toasted nuts have salt.

Even though we ate a big bag of them during Passover, I couldn’t resist making a fresh batch to go with us on the train to Vancouver, where we are right now. It’s supposed to be pretty rainy here this week, and even chillier than the city we left behind, so a good homemade snack was essential to keep up our spirits on this Not-So-Tropical vacation. Along with the bottle of wine no self-respecting international train traveller leaves behind, they make the perfect travelling snack. They’ll cure pretty much any hunger pangs, and be easy to carry around to boot.

Stovetop Toasted Orange Spice Nuts
makes 12 1/4 cup servings

1 cup each raw Cashews, Almonds, and Walnuts, or any nut you like.
1/2 tsp Ground Cardamom
Zest and juice from one orange
1/2 tsp Ground Chipotle pepper
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1 tsp Salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp butter

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.

In a good, heavy bottomed skillet (cast iron is the best) melt the butter. Add the nuts and sugar, stirring to coat, then add the other ingredients. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the nuts have turned a rich golden brown and most of the liquid has evaporated from the caramel. You want it to be thick but still a little bit sticky–it should take about 15-20 minutes. Turn the nuts out on the sheet pan and allow to cool, stirring every few minutes, all the way through. Once the caramel is no longer sticky or flexible at all, they’re cool enough to store in an airtight container for several days.

Not Quite Yet

At night when I internet stalk–I mean catch up with my feed reader–Joe always inquires how I can possibly read about all that good food. It’s even worse during Passover, which is now on it’s 5th day. The good news is that leaves just 3 more to go, the bad news is that we’ve consumed a lot of matzah.

Not as much as usual, because I’m keeping us on a strict “only as much as absolutely necessary” matzah rationing type of diet, but still more than I’d like.

Lillia pretty much won’t touch the stuff, and I kinda think she’s on to something.

I’m definitely counting down the meals until I can stop washing everything by hand because we don’t have enough passover dishes to get through one day, and until I can eat a grain besides matzah meal. That’s not even a real grain, people.

But, just because I can’t eat delicious bready things doesn’t mean you all have to suffer too. You should eat a sandwich for me, and then tell me all about it. I’ll just stick to salads and stuff like that.

OK, OK. Mine won’t have any croutons or breadsticks. I refuse to feel sorry for myself though…it’s only a couple more days.

In all honesty, I am kind of a glutton for punishment I guess, which probably has something to do with why I signed up for another triathlon this year. And I bought a wetsuit, so now I’m pretty committed to “being a triathlete” just so I can get a good return on the investment for the damn thing. I’m gonna have to do a whole bunch more of them, even though I totally hate running and biking isn’t really my thing.

Anyway, back to the reason I have to do all that exercise: bready stuff, which is my one true love. I know this because it likes to stick around after I’ve eaten it, usually in the form of thighs and hips.

Before passover started I was trying to use up everything that had any grains in it in the freezer. This included eating weird soups, baking a lot of things in mystery dough tart shells, and eating breadsticks to use up the stash of pizza dough I like to keep in there for emergency dinners.

I know, I know. Breadsticks aren’t anything new. But you know how they tell you to write stuff down when it’s stuck in your head, so you can get to sleep at night without worrying about it at 3 am? Just think of this post kinda like that. I have to get these breadsticks off my brain so that I can think about what kind of egg-potato-matzah meal creation I’m gonna make for dinner tonight.

I rolled these breadsticks up with a ton of pesto I made in a huge batch when the arugula in my garden needed to get pulled out to make way for spring planting. I’ve also been slathering in on fish and can’t wait to eat it on pasta…yeah, when passover ends. The pesto is just bitter enough, just spicy enough to really lend it’s flavor to the dough. The saltiness of the cheese kicks it up a notch, and letting the cheese caramelize in a super hot oven is pretty much the best way to get a good savory crunch.

Arugula Pesto Breadsticks
makes 8

1/2 cup or so arugula pesto, recipe follows
1/2 cup or so shredded parmesan
One 9.5 oz portion of your favorite pizza dough
salt and pepper to taste

Heat your oven at hot as it will go, and if you have one, put a pizza stone on the lowest rack. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Let the dough come to room temp, then stretch it out to about a 6″x 8″ rectangle. Let is rest 10 minutes or so, then come back and roll it with a rolling pin until it’s very thin and about the size of your cookie sheet.

Smear the pesto all over the dough, all the way to the edges. Then sprinkle the parmesan over. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 8 roughly equal portions. Twist each portion a few times until it holds itself together well and looks all pretty. Press any loose parmesan back into the twists, give a good sprinkle all over with salt and pepper, and slide the whole tray in the oven on the lowest rack.

Bake for about 10 minutes, then take them out and check them. Turn them over for even coloring and give them just a few minutes more in the oven. Don’t let them get too brown or they won’t be tender anymore. Serve with dipping sauces if you like, but they’re pretty fantastic on their own.

Arugula Pesto

This is the easiest part of this easy recipe. You just take a big bunch of thoroughly washed arugula (or any other green, really) stuff it into your food processor and grind it up with a couple of cloves of garlic and a big handful of pine nuts or walnuts. When it’s pretty broken down, add a big pinch of salt and drizzle some olive oil in, about 1/4 cup to start, until it starts to look creamy and pretty smooth. I leave the cheese out, because I store extra in my freezer–to use on pasta later, or for dishes in which I can’t have cheese (kosher meat dishes)–and it freezes better without the cheese anyway. To store it in the freezer, fill an ice cube tray and freeze the pesto until solid, then store in an airtight container. Pull out a couple as you need them.

World Party Day: Snack Time

This is a post for World Party Day, which is coming up April 3rd. If you don’t know much about it, you can find out more here, and catch up on the previous tutorials at Big Things, who are organizing this whole big shindig.

Let’s face it you guys. It’s not a party without some snacks.

You can forget about filling up on candy from the piñata, because that will only take you so far. A delicious breakfast is a good way to start the Day, but late in the night you might need a little something extra. Well, there’s always bags of chips and hummus…But that’s just not REAL party fare, am I right? And who wants to spend hours in the kitchen making snacks before hand (well, besides me…)?

Here is a snack that is super easy to make and IT’S TWO FOR ONE.

That’s right! You can do the work for just one awesome home made snack and still get two different ones. That’s what I call a win-win.

We’re gonna make little snacky bread puddings. They’re snazzy snacks. We’re gonna make 1 batter, then split it in half and flavor it 2 different ways. This version is vegetarian, so you won’t have to worry about all those non-meat eating party guests. BUT–this is a super versatile recipe. If you don’t like the add-ins I have here, you can swap them out for similar ingredients, just be sure to keep the same ratio.

Here’s what you need:

1 1/2 loaves of bread: any bread will work, but decent bread is better. Not too fresh now, you want the bread to be a little bit thirsty.
4 cups of whole milk, or even 1/2 & 1/2
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 Tbsp
1 cup dried cherries
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 14oz package of a savory veggie sausage, I used Tofutti brand Italian style
3-4 good sized sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 cup or so sliced raw almonds
salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch of salt for the custard

Here’s what you do:

Put on a fancy apron, if you’ve got one.

If the crust on the bread is particularly tough or thick, cut it off. If your bread isn’t sliced, use a serrated knife to cut it into good thick slices, maybe 3/4″-1″ thick. Now either cut the slices into cubes or get down and dirty with your bread and tear it into bite sized chunks. Divide the chunks in half, and put each half into a big bowl.

Chop up the cherries and add them to one of the bowls of bread. Add the thyme to the other bowl–if you’re using fresh, strip the leaves from their stems first.

Next, heat up the milk to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt in there. When it’s good and warm but not boiling, pour out 2 cups (important to measure here) and add that to the bowl with the thyme. Add the sugar and almond extract to the remaining 2 cups of milk, give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar and then pour it into the bowl with the cherries.

Put a plate into each bowl and weigh it down with a can or something heavy. You want the bread to be immersed in the liquid as much as possible.

Let the bread sit for an hour or so. Then, preheat your oven to 350 F and put racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.

When you’re almost ready to bake these babies, take out your sausage and heat up a skillet. Slice the sausages into 1/4″ rounds and toss em in. Let them get good and brown on at least one side, then turn off the skillet and set aside.

Grease 2 regular muffin tins with butter or pan spray. Don’t use cupcake liners to bake the puddings in, you want them to get brown and crusty from contact with the metal pan. Save the cups for later when you serve the puddings.

Now, take the “lids” off your bread and give each one a good stir. Crack 2 of the eggs into a little bowl and break them up with a fork. Add them to one of the bowls with bread. Repeat for the other bowl. Stir the eggs in really well, so that no streaks of egg are visible. Add the sausage and the crumbled feta to the pudding with the thyme, then a big dose of fresh cracked black pepper and an extra pinch of salt, and toss to coat.

Fill each tin with one type of pudding. You want each cup to be full and heaped out of it’s little well. For the cherry almond puddings, sprinkle a pinch of sliced almonds on top–they’ll get nice and toasty when they bake. If you have leftover bread mixture, that’s OK, just bake more once the first batches are done.

If you have large roasting pans, you can put each muffin tin into a roasting pan and add some boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the cups. You can skip this if you don’t have pans big enough–the puddings might not stay as moist but they’ll still be delicious, I promise.

Bake for about 15 minutes then spin them around, switching the top pan for the bottom one and vice versa. Bake for about 15 more minutes, until the tops look nice and brown. Let the puddings cool for a few minutes, then pop them out of the muffin tins so that they don’t steam themselves as they cool. If you need to bake more mix, be sure to re-grease the pans and fill the wells in the middle of the tin first so the puddings don’t burn before they’re done baking.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen, and it can be made a day in advance–just wrap the puddings in foil and reheat for 10 minutes or so in a low (250 F) oven before serving. They’re good at room temp though too.

Smooth Moves

Two True Facts:

1) We are doing a lot of travel by airplane this year, and also some by train. Three quarters of it is international and so I am super excited. (That was an extra fact. 3 for the price of 2.)

2) Lilli loves to dance. I would show you a funny video of it but every time I try to video her the little radar inside her head telling her when I’m thinking about turning my camera on starts alerting her to the fact that I’m thinking about turning my camera on for the sole purpose of actually photographing her and she freezes up. Either that or she comes over and starts adjusting knobs and stuff on the camera and it turns into a video taken by Lilli instead of of Lilli.

Lilli’s new favorite dance move is inspired by the fact that we are doing a lot of travel this year. The mascot for the website Hipmunk does a little arm waggle dance when you are waiting for the site to turn up search results. For a while Lilli would imitate the chipmunk and it meant that she wanted to see him on the computer. Now it’s just a part of her dance repertoire.

My favorite new dance move involves an immersion blender and a jar of almond butter.

That’s because it’s not a dance move, it’s a smoothie.

I have historically had a hard time with smoothies. I want to love them. I’ve tried lots of combinations of fruits and veggies and protein powders and other weird add-ins. I’ve tried them with milk, I’ve tried them with water and juice, and both with and without ice. I serve them to my family at breakfast and sometimes I get a “Wow, that’s tasty” and other times half of the smoothie gets fed to the chickens. I just can never seem to get it quite right.

Recently I tried some new smoothie recipes that had peanut butter in them. They sounded like they would be good, but instead they just smelled like the inside of an empty peanut butter jar that’s been soaking in the sink for too long.

Then I came across a smoothie that included almond butter and *chocolate* in the form of protein powder. This is something we keep on hand because both Joe and I find that a good protein shot is really key in overcoming the fatigue after an exceptionally exerting exercise day. (And, yes, that was exactly the right way to phrase that…)

It also had banana in it, and ice and water. I had already had a banana with breakfast, so I wasn’t particularly in the mood for that again but I was hungry and a smoothie sounded like just the ticket. Since I didn’t want banana and I have slowly come to realize that I don’t really care for the texture of a smoothie made with ice (plus I didn’t want to use an actual blender) I decided to look in the freezer and see what kind of fruit I had in there.

That’s when I saw the cherries, and knew my snack destiny.

The frozen cherries were leftover from the tart that went with me to cookbook club. The one where we each consumed approximately a stick of butter, because all the food was from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Just thinking about that makes me sort of cringe, in a good way.

Anyway, there was only about a cup of cherries in the bag so I dumped them into a big old jar. Then I put in a scoop and a half (3/4 serving) of the chocolate protein powder and a few other things. When it was all blended and I was just on the verge of drinking it, I realized it was sort of like drinking a smoothie made of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and then I did a happy smoothie dance. Then I got back to work.

Chocolate Cherry Smoothie
makes 1 big smoothie or 2 small ones

1 cup frozen black cherries–you could also use canned or fresh (pitted!) and add a handful of ice.
1 Tbsp or so almond butter–either creamy or crunchy will work
3/4 serving (or more if you’re really really hungry) chocolate protein powder
1 cup water or milk of choice

Put all the ingredients into the cup that came with your immersion blender or a wide mouth quart jar. You can also use a regular blender for this. Blend it all together until there aren’t any big chunks left. This part is especially important if you use crunchy almond butter like I did.

Drink up!