Cooking

Giant Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Bread

Let me be clear. The bread is normal size- the zucchini are giant. Even the most diligent of gardeners will have a few zucchini get away from them. Zucchini seem to go from too small to gigantic in the blink of an eye. My cousin Laurie just brought me a big bag of really big zucchini.

This time of year I get a lot of questions about overgrown zucchini.  People seem to think there is nothing you can do with them. That’s not true. Oh you may want to give up the idea of thin slices of squash, lightly sauteed in oil, but don’t toss them. Even older squash can be eaten in all sorts of ways.

You can determine if the skin is too tough to eat by trying to pierce it with a fingernail. If you can easily poke the skin- it is tender enough to eat. If it isn’t, just peel before using.  Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and look at the seed cavity. If the middle looks spongy, hollow or if the seeds are developing scoop out the middle and discard. The remaining zucchini can be cubed or sliced and added to stews, soups, stir fries and all sorts of dishes.

One of my favorite things to make with the bigger zucchini, is zucchini bread. I shred up a whole zucchini and portion it out in amounts I will need for my bread. I freeze what I won’t be using that day. It is really nice in the dead of winter to be able to make zucchini bread. Here is the recipe I use. It is a favorite and makes 2 loaves, which is a bonus.

 

Zucchini Bread

3 c. flour

3 eggs

2 c. sugar, I use less

2 c. shredded zucchini

1 c. oil

1 c. chopped nuts or raisins, optional

½ c. sour cream or Greek yogurt

1 t. each vanilla, cinnamon, salt and baking soda

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 (9×5 inch) loaf pans. Set aside. Place flour in large bowl. Beat eggs and add with remaining ingredients to flour, mixing well and scraping bowl. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 1 hour , or until browned and toothpick in center emerges clean. Cool in pans on wire rack. Freezes well. Makes 2 .

Mushroom Lovers Pasta

Mushroom Lovers Pasta

It would be hard to fit more mushrooms into this dish. I started by making fresh pasta and included mushroom powder in the dough. Then I sauteed up onions, garlic and a pound of fresh mushrooms for the sauce. My dinner guest loved it, and so did I.

Start by making the pasta dough. It has to rest before rolling. It will only take a couple of minutes to cook. I rolled and cut the pasta, then set it aside. Once my sauce was ready, I boiled the pasta and added it to the sauce.

I think the only thing I forgot, was to dust the top of the dish with mushroom powder before serving. I served it as a side dish, but it could easily be a main dish. I used a combination of button and Crimini mushrooms. Use what mushrooms you like.

So, we will start with the recipe for the mushroom pasta.

Mushroom  Pasta

 

3 c. flour, more if using electric pasta machine. See note.

½ c. mushroom powder- made from dried mushrooms*

1½ t. salt

4 eggs

Water, as needed

 

Mix flour, mushroom powder and salt. Stir in eggs, kneading until dough is smooth and elastic. Dough will be very stiff. Add a little water, as needed, to hold dough together. You may wish to mix the dough in a mixer or food processor. Cover dough and let rest  at least 15-20 minutes before rolling. Under kneading your dough will result in coarse, crumbly pasta. This batch makes about 1 pound. Serves 4-6.

 

Roll dough out on a well-floured board or with a pasta machine until desired thickness in reached. Add flour as needed to prevent sticking. Cut into strips or whatever shapes are desired. You might want to let the noodles dry 1-hour or more before cooking, but this is not necessary. Pasta can be hung to dry or separated and allowed to dry flat on a table. When pasta is not hanging to dry it must be turned occasionally to dry evenly. Although you may hear otherwise, homemade pasta, even when dried, should be frozen for long term storage. Storing at room temperature can lead to spoilage. Fresh pasta can also be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two.

Cooking fresh pasta happens quickly. For most noodles you are looking at 2-3 minutes at the most. Thicker cuts and ravioli would take a little longer. Watch it carefully. Drain after cooking, and toss with your favorite sauce.

Mushroom powder

*You might be tempted to powder up some store bought dried mushrooms. I would advise against that. Commercially dried mushrooms have not been washed before drying, so you might get dirt in your mushroom powder. I clean my mushrooms thoroughly before dehydrating.

Note: All electric pasta machines vary slightly and you should use their recipes as much as possible. Still, for most models, adding 1/4 c. flour for each cup in a hand rolled recipe works the best. Also recipes that contain seeds and vegetables may clog an electric pasta maker. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions.

 

The Mushroom Sauce

3 T. oil- I used avocado, but olive oil would be nice, too

3 c. sliced onions

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced

4 T. flour

1 c. chicken stock, or a bit more

1 c. half and half

salt and pepper to taste

2 t. fresh thyme leaves

Heat oil in a very large skillet and saute onions until golden. add the garlic and cook another minute. add the mushroom and cook until mushroom are tender. Mushrooms have a lot of water in them. Don’t freak if you start to get some in your pan. Add flour and stir until smooth. Stir in stock, half and half and seasonings. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture is thickened and bubbly. You might want a little more stock, if you like a thinner sauce. remember, the pasta will absorb some of the liquid, too.

Cook mushroom pasta. I only boiled mine for a minute, then drained it and added it to the mushroom sauce. Toss the pasta and sauce together. Keep on low heat for a minute or two before serving. Serves 4-6.

Spiced Blackberry Muffins

Spiced Blackberry Muffins

Sometimes, little things can just improve your day. For me, it was starting the day with a mug of raspberry tea and a warm blackberry muffin. I had some beautiful fresh blackberries, and decided to make muffins with some of them. So happy that I did.

 

I used a recipe I had made before, but decided to add cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter. I also dipped the tops of the warm muffins in melted butter and a spiced sugar mixture to finish them off. So good. So very, very good.

 

 

 

Spiced Blackberry Muffins

 1 c. milk

1 egg

¼ c. oil

2 c. flour

1/3 c. sugar

1 T. Baking powder

¾ t. salt

½ t. each cinnamon and nutmeg

1 c. blackberries, I used fresh but frozen would work, too.

Topping:

1/2 c. sugar

1 t. each cinnamon and nutmeg

4 T. butter, melted

Beat together milk, egg and oil. Combine dry ingredients and add to milk mixture, stirring to just moisten flour. Fold in blackberries. Fill 12 paper lined muffin cups to 3/4 full.  Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Combine sugar and spices in a small bowl. Place melted butter in another bowl. When muffins are removed from the oven carefully dip the top of a muffin in the melted butter and then in the spiced sugar. If muffins are too hot to hold wait a few minutes before dipping. Repeat with remaining muffins. Serve warm. Makes 12.

Fresh Blackberry Scones

Fresh Blackberry Scones

I was recently given some beautiful blackberries. I decided to make scones with some of them. Warm from the oven, with a cup of coffee, these are hard to beat.

While scones are traditionally served for breakfast or brunch, I often use them in a dessert. These scones make a great shortcake.

For dinner with a friend, I split the scones and filled them with some sliced peaches. I had tossed the peaches with a little sugar and some vanilla.  We topped them off with a scoop of ice cream. Blackberry and peach shortcakes- bliss. 🙂

For shortcakes, just split scones add fill with some seasonal fruit, sweetened, if you like. Top with ice cream or whipped cream. Easy dessert and very tasty.

Here is the recipe for the scones.

Fresh Blackberry Scones

 2 c. flour

1/3 c. sugar

1 T. baking powder

¾ t.  salt

6 T. chilled butter

2 c. blackberries, fresh preferred, but you could use frozen

1 t. orange zest

2 large eggs

1/3 c. heavy cream or half and half

Mix dry ingredients together in bowl and cut in butter to resemble coarse crumbs. Toss in berries and zest. Beat together eggs and cream and stir into flour mixture. Mix very gently to avoid bruising berries. Use 1/2 cup ice cream scoop to scoop batter onto a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with a little extra sugar, if you like. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 22-24 minutes. Makes 10-12.

Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup

Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup

This is a great recipe for some of those fresh tomatoes. A simple soup, with lots of flavor, it is a favorite of mine. So much better than the canned tomato soup of my childhood.

I enjoy it served hot, but I also eat this soup cold. On a  hot day, this soup, served chilled, is a wonderful change from a salad with dinner.

I prefer to use fresh tomatoes, but I have used my home canned tomatoes, in a pinch. If you want a stronger tomato flavor- use a couple extra tomatoes.

 

 

Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup

 3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes

1 small onion, chopped fine

1 rib celery, chopped fine

3 whole cloves

1 small bay leaf

3 T. butter

3 T. flour

1 t. salt

3 c. milk or half and half

 

Peel and chop tomatoes. Place tomatoes in saucepan with onion, celery, cloves and bay leaf. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and cover, simmering 15 minutes. Melt butter in a large saucepan then stir in flour and salt. Cook mixture until bubbly. Add milk and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Puree tomato mixture through a strainer, food mill or in a blender or processor. Add to milk mixture and heat through. Serves 6.

Classic Pesto Sauce

Classic Pesto Sauce

I can’t make pesto without wanting to call it green spaghetti. I had friends over for dinner one night. Their son was about 4 at the time. I had made pesto and tossed it over hot spaghetti. The little boy wasn’t quite sure about the big, green plate of pasta. He did agree to try it. Turned out he really liked it, and after that, when he came for dinner, he would ask for “Aunt Judi’s green spaghetti”.

 

Pesto is most often made with basil, but there are a lot of variations out there. I must admit to being a big fan of the original. I make it often when I have fresh basil. I also freeze basil with olive oil, so I can make it all year long. Pesto can be tossed with pasta, rice, potatoes or other veggies. I also like it on chicken.

 

Pesto Sauce

1 c. tightly packed basil leaves
1/4 c. olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
1/2 c. pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pecans or walnuts
1 c. fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients, except the cheese, in a blender and mix until smooth. Stir in the cheese and toss over hot, cooked pasta or use as a sauce on meat and poultry. Sauce will keep a few days in the fridge and makes about 1 1/2 cups, enough for 1 lb. of cooked pasta.

My Favorite Chocolate Frosting

Chocolate Frosting on a Chocolate Cupcake

When a friend asked for something chocolate for her birthday dessert, I knew I was going to make cupcakes. I also knew what frosting I was going to make to top them.

This frosting is really wonderful. Creamy, full of chocolate flavor and not too sweet. Dark chocolate is melted, then little cubes of cold butter are beaten in. The frosting is finished with some powdered sugar and a little vanilla.

Super simple to make, but so good. I used dark chocolate chips, but any dark or bittersweet chocolate could be used. If you are using a solid block of chocolate, break it up into pieces before melting. You can melt chocolate over a double boiler, or use your microwave. I used my microwave. I heated the chocolate for one minute, stirred it and heated 30 seconds longer. Be careful not to burn the chocolate, when using a microwave.

There is plenty of frosting to ice 24 cupcakes. You could frost up to 30 cupcakes, if you use less.

 

Here is the recipe.

 

My Favorite Chocolate Frosting

 

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate – you can use dark chocolate chips

1 c. cold butter, cut into cubes

1 c. powdered sugar- or a little more- if you like

2 t. vanilla

 

Melt chocolate and place in a mixing bowl. Let cool 2 minutes. With electric mixer on high speed, beat in the butter bits, adding about ¼ of them at a time. Beat until butter is melted, and incorporated into the chocolate. Beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla.  Beat a few minutes, until frosting is creamy and smooth. Makes enough to generously frost an 8 or 9-inch layer cake or 24 cupcakes.

Sweet Cherry Jam

Sweet Cherry Jam

This must be a great year for cherries. They seem bigger than usual, and very sweet. I had picked up a lot of sweet cherries at the local market, more than I could eat fresh. I knew I wanted to do something to preserve some.

I combined some of the cherries with vodka to make a liqueur. I dehydrated a bunch, and I made another batch of spiced cherries. I also decided to use some of them to make jam.

While I normally make jam from sour cherries, I knew the sweet ones would work. Besides the cherries, sugar and pectin, this jam also contains lemon juice, vanilla and cinnamon. Those extra ingredients give the jam a more complex flavor and a little bit of a tang.

This may be one of my favorite jams ever!!! I was worried it would be too sweet, but it isn’t. The flavor of the cherries comes through as well at the flavor of the vanilla and cinnamon. Thinking I made need to buy more cherries and make another batch….

 

Here is the recipe. Enjoy.

Sweet Cherry Jam

4 c. chopped pitted sweet cherries, about 2 lbs.

6 T. powdered pectin

6 T. lemon juice

2 T. pure vanilla extract

1 t. cinnamon

1 box powdered pectin

4½  c. sugar

 

Wash jelly jars and lids and keep warm until ready to use. Place a large pot of water, with a rack, on to boil for the water bath. In large saucepan combine cherries with pectin, lemon juice, vanilla and cinnamon. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring often. Add the sugar and bring mixture back to a rolling boil, stirring often. Once the mixture gets to a full, rolling boil, cook for one minute longer, stirring constantly. Remove jam from heat and skim off any foam. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, filling to about 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe off rim and screw on the lids. Repeat with remaining jam. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let jar sit in canner 5 minutes before removing. Remove from water bath and allow jars to cool.  Yield: about 6 half pint jars of jam.

 

Adapted from The Ball Blue Book

Homemade Vegetable Pasta

Veggie Pasta Linguine

Homemade pasta is so much fun to make and the flavor is worth the extra effort. I taught a pasta class a couple of nights ago. Everyone had a great time.  We made several different veggie based pastas, including spinach, carrot and beet. The recipe is pretty simple. Cooked veggies and flour.

We combined the ingredients in a food processor, then let the dough rest before rolling. Once you are ready to roll out your pasta, the shape is up to you. You can hand roll the pasta, and cut into noodles. We used pasta makers to roll the dough, and then a cutting attachment for the angel hair pasta and linguine.  Some dough was also used to make cheese stuffed ravioli, or combined with other pasta dough for more of a rainbow pasta.

We also had some egg based pasta dough and a parsley pasta dough.

Directions for mixing to dough is all the same- combine ingredients in a food processor and mix until dough forms into a ball. Allow to rest, covered, for 20 minutes, before rolling.

To cook fresh pasta, noodles are cooked in boiling, salted water for 1-2 minutes. Ravioli are cooked in boiling water for 3-5 minutes.

 

Mixed veggie pasta, ready to be cut

Spinach angel hair

Carrot and Spinach Ravioli

Parsley Linguine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrot Pasta

1 c. flour

1/3 c. cooked carrots

1-2 T. water, if needed

 

       Beet Pasta

1 c. flour

1/3 c. cooked beets

1-2 T. water, if needed

 

Spinach Pasta

2 c. flour

1 10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed, drained, reserving some of the liquid

 

Mix this dough as for other pastas, but don’t be too quick to add reserved liquid. While processing, you’ll get water out of the spinach. May require more kneading and rolling than other pasta dough. Be patient, it’s worth the work.

Parsley Pasta

1 c. flour

3 t. chopped fresh parsley

1 egg

1 T. oil, (optional)

2-4 T. water, if needed

Basic Pasta Dough

1 c. flour

1 egg

1 T. olive oil

1 T. water, if needed

 

Four Cheese Ravioli Filling

3 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

15 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese

8 oz. cream cheese

5 oz. shredded Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Chill until ready to use. This will fill dozens and dozens of ravioli. Extra filling can be frozen and used another time.

Duck with Cherry and Red Wine Sauce

Duck with Cherry and Red Wine sauce

As part of defrosting my freezer, I came upon a duck I had sort of forgotten. I was tempted to just put it back, save it for a special occasion. Than I realized, I didn’t need a special occasion for duck, I just had to want it. So I decided to cook it up.

Since cherries are in season, I used some of them to make a glaze for the duck. I also used red wine in the sauce.  I could see using this sauce on pork, lamb or even chicken. Since my cherries were sweet, I didn’t add much honey to the sauce to sweeten it. If using tart cherries, you can add a bit more honey.

I will start with the recipe for the sauce.

Cherry and Red Wine Sauce

2 T. oil

1/2 c. minced shallots

2 c. pitted cherries

1/2 c. red wine- I used Merlot

1 cinnamon stick

salt and pepper to taste

1 T. honey

In skillet, saute shallots in oil until they start to turn golden brown. Add cherries, with any liquid they are in, and the wine and cinnamon stick. Cook until most of the liquid evaporates. Add the honey, season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook a few more minutes. Remove from heat and discard cinnamon stick.

 

Reducing the sauce

Reducing the sauce

The Duck

1 duck

salt and pepper to taste

1 recipe cherry and red wine sauce

I cut off the extra fat and skin from the neck of the duck to save for rendering later. I also removed the wings and set aside for another use. I then cut the duck in half and placed it in a roasting pan on a rack. Season it with salt and pepper. Bake in a 425 degree oven for half an hour.  Turn down heat to 350 and cook 30 minutes- duck will be almost done, at this point.  To finish off the duck, I heated up a large skillet and put the duck in the skillet, skin side up. I poured the cherry sauce over the duck and cooked it with the lid on for 15 minutes. Then I took the lid off and turned the duck skin side down. On medium high heat I allowed the sauce to reduce. It also caramelized on the skin making a nice glaze.

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