Summer’s End Zucchini Bread

The nights have gone cool, and who can complain at this point in the year? While I confess that the climate in mid-Maryland often leaves something to be desired, a nice fall here really can’t be beat. Our nights are cool, and days are dry with clear blue skies. Perfect time to get the last few harvests of summer veggies.

I’ve gotten the last of the tomatoes, the cukes are dwindling, my butternut squash are hanging on the vine getting a nice protective skin, and I thought the zucchini were done. Then I lifted a few of those gigantic leaves. What I had assumed was the wooden border of the garden was actually a huge and very dark zucchini. I mean HUGE. And two days later – another on a plant that I thought had given up earlier in the summer, but was growing in secret behind another plant. So now I have these enormous zukes.

My favorite trick with zucchini is to shred it and freeze it. I tend to do it by weight, put it in a bag, write the weight on the bag and pop in the freezer. Why by weight? Because my favorite zucchini bread recipe calls for zucchini by weight. So as we move into the cold months, I have my key ingredient already shredded and measured, ready to go. My favorite zucchini bread recipe is based on one I used for years from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. America’s Test Kitchen publications, such as The America’s Test Kitchen New Family Cookbook (this is the new version of the book I have which is no longer in print), are fantastic. If you are trying to improve your cooking skills, there are few more comprehensive resources. The recipes are not intended for restrictive diets, but they are full of real food and I’ve successfully adapted many of them as my own dietary preferences have changed. And what I’ve learned from the authors has been priceless. This zucchini bread is lightly spiced, sweet but not cloying, and deeply satisfying with a cup of coffee, or a mug of tea, or whatever you want to drink.

Late Summer Zucchini Bread (DF)  photo IMG_0782.jpg

  • 1 pound zucchini, shredded and drained (see below)
  • 1/4 c coconut milk (or whatever kind works for you)
  • 3/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/2 c applesauce
  • 4 T coconut oil, melted and let cool but not harden
  • 2 eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t allspice
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 c walnuts chopped and toasted (or if you’re like me you don’t toast, forget to put them in the batter and then put them on top where they will toast in the oven and then think you’re awesome for doing that)

Preheat oven to 375 with rack set in middle of oven. Coat a small loaf pan (mine was 8 x 4, standard is fine, but your loaf will be shorter). Shred zucchini on large holes (I used a food processor)l Place zucchini in strainer. Sprinkle with a little salt and stir to distribute the salt. The salt will pull the liquid out of the veg. Let drain for at least 15 minutes. Wrap a tea towel (or paper if that’s all ya got) around the zucchini and squeeze the remaining water out. Be astonished by the amount of water in that veg. No, you can’t skip that step. Whisk coconut milk, maple syrup, applesauce, coconut oil, flax eggs and lemon juice together in a bowl. Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Fold the zucchini and the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Do not over mix (yeah, I don’t know why either).

 photo IMG_0769.jpg  photo IMG_0771.jpg  photo IMG_0773.jpg

Scrape batter into loaf pan. Bake until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean – or until it feels right to you (that’s my test, a little press in the middle with my finger), should be about an hour. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Continue cooling on wire rack for at least an hour, being sure to have a taste while it’s still warm. Super yum.

Zucchini Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies (DF)

The garden continues to produce green squash at a startling rate. What a lovely problem to have. If the plants keep up like this I will surely shred and freeze a good bit of it for use in zucchini bread and mac and cheez in the colder months, but it’s nice to have some to use right now, today, when our thoughts are turning toward books, notebooks, pencils (I love the smell of new pencils) and  LUNCHBOXES. It is time for Momma to get busy making some reasonable goodies for those lunch boxes.

 photo IMG_0658.jpgWhile I was thinking about the need to start baking for school and noticing the abundant zucchini, the internet happened and mashed them together for me. I was inspired and responded with my usual “Ooooh, that looks good. What ingredients should I change?” The result got a straight yummy thumbs up from 3 of the 4 of us and even earned a “pretty good” from Ms. Picky Pants. That is a good cooking day in my house. Because of the lower fat content, these cookies are a little more biscuity than most, but ring all the necessary cookie bells to satisfy treat eaters who are willing to overlook the little flecks of green, which I think are beautiful, BTW. And so, without further ado, I give you… Continue reading

Hot As… Cold Salads for Beastly Weather

I’m sure there are places in the United States that are hotter than Mid-Maryland right now, but I’m willing to bet there aren’t as many of them as you think.  For those of you who live in arid regions, we have this nifty thing here called the “heat index.” The heat index says: “The thermometer only reads 85, but yes, it actually does feel like 812 degrees.”  Whenever we hit this part of the summer I like to play a little game.  I think of a place that I’d expect to be hotter and I check.

Tonight in mid-Maryland it’s 88 degrees, but feels like 95.  Just in case you’re wondering, the sun has gone down.  Yeah.  Yum-O.  In New Orleans, the tropics of the United States, it’s 78 with a heat index of 81. Tallahassee: 82 feels like 87. Mobile: 81 feels like 86. Closest I’ve seen so far tonight is Vicksburg, Mississippi: 86 feels like 92. How is this possible? I can be tough about a lot of things, but I have to confess that since central air came into my life, our charming armpit summer is not one of them. I tend to get a little strategic and Strategy #1 is not to use heat creating devices, which makes cooking difficult. Continue reading

Herbed Zucchini Rice – Soopah Fast Dinner

I know you may find this hard to believe, but there are nights when I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner. The day gets away from me; I get immersed in work and whatever 12 projects I have going and before I know it, it’s time to meet the bus, which means it’s almost time to start dinner, which means I’m in trouble if the fridge is bare. My inability to consistently plan HAS had the side benefit of forcing me to be creative in a hurry, and sometimes that’s a good thing. On this particular occasion, it worked out just fine. If I were really sneaky, I’d just tell you how I made this dish and act like I’d planned it all along – I’m pretty sure that’s what I told the kids. 😉

This post highlights one of our favorite real food strategies: cooking excess when you cook. The reason I was able to pull this particular dinner together without stress was that I had both quinoa and rice leftover from previous dinners. Any time I make a grain for a meal, I double the amount that I cook. That way I can use it as a base for another meal, for packed lunches, or for hot cereal in the morning. Oh yeah, a little brown rice, some coconut, some raisins, some pecans – warm – but I digress… This is dinner we’re talking about, and it was great.

Herbed Zucchini Rice

  • 3 medium zucchini, grated (no seeds)*
  • olive oil for pan
  • 1 onion, chopped as fine as you prefer
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • 4 c cooked grains (I mixed quinoa and rice
  • 1-2 tsp dried tarragon (or herb or your choice)
  • salt to taste
  • dash pepper
  • juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • 1/2 c sunflower cheese (or soft dairy cheese like ricotta)
  • chopped parsley (optional)

* For this dinner I grated the zucchini.  It is important to grate only the skin and the flesh, not the core and seeds of the zuke as the “interior” of the squash contains a lot of water and has a less pleasant texture when cooked, in my opinion. I’ve described the technique in detail here (along with some other zucchini love). The short version is to grate it down to the core, place in a strainer with a little salt and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.

While the zucchini is resting, warm the oil in a pan.  Chop the onion, add to the pan and let cook on med-low heat until translucent.  Return to the zucchini and press as much water out as you can with a spoon or squeeze in a towel (over the sink). Add garlic to onion in pan and cook until fragrant.  Add zucchini to pan and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add tarragon (you could use another herb, but the tarragon gave a nice fresh and light taste), salt, and pepper.  Add rice (or whatever) and sunflower cheese (or whatever) to pan and lower heat – you’re warming, not frying.  Stir occasionally.  When warm, add lemon juice and stir through.  We served ours with chopped parsley on top.  Easy, soopah fast, and delish!


LaLaLaLa.   It makes me want to sing.  More accurately though, Lu-La-Li-La.  I’m so very good at naming things aren’t I?  Feel free to say no and supply names for any of my creations.  Make sure the name indicates that most of them are half stolen, er, evolved from the ideas of others.

That is to say that once again a new creation comes about because of poor planning, wrong ingredients and leftovers.  Little Sis broached the topic of ‘Have Veggies, Must Use’ in her last post in which she discussed the choices of using up veggies too fresh to ignore and veggies too on-the-edge-of-fuzziness for delay.  Use both in her wonderful fritters.

Sometimes the vegetables dictate dinner.  We think we are in charge but really, the slightly soft squash and the slightly wrinkled beans tell the frugal to get busy.  Rather than search for a recipe that calls for the precise ingredients you have on hand, you can always turn to some recipes that, given the right spices and the right balance of types of ingredients are ready to help you empty your vegetable bin with dignity.

A few wonderful vague recipes come to mind.

Stir fry?  Choose a blend of cooked grain (be it rice, quinoa, barley or anything else you use)
some veggies, (whatever you can cut, pull from the bin or defrost)
tofu or meat if you choose
and make sure you include soy sauce (or Bragg’s), sesame oil, perhaps some garlic and/or scallions, and perhaps some ginger (kept in the freezer it’s very easy to grate).
Cook in a wok or pan briefly at high temp and you have a tasty stir fry.  Adding some pineapple or peanuts can make this very special

Dosas with cumin, or dosas with garlic or oregano.  It doesn’t matter – just so you use up the veggies in the bin, in the garden or in the freezer along with some chickpea flour.  Pick your veggies first based on what you have, grate or slice them, mix them in the batter and cook them up with a spice that goes well with your chosen veggie.

Little Sis had a post about variety bowls as well.. can’t find it Little Sis – please help.

Now you can add luscious layers.  The first time I made it, it was a vegan lasagna, I don’t know where I got the idea – so any and all of you are free to take credit.  I didn’t write it down but it was so simple I didn’t see the need.

Lightly oil a baking dish
Place a layer of corn tortillas
Then layer zucchini or squash thinly sliced longways
mozzarella cheese
tomato sauce
Repeat layers as you like
Bake at 350 for 30 – 45 minutes until zucchini is soft as you like

Okay, basic enough and rife with opportunity for variation, which is what I like because often it means I don’t have to go to the grocery store  for lack of a certain ingredient.  Laziness can also be the mother of invention 🙂

So here’s what I did while we were on vacation and I wanted to make an easy tasty dinner.

Sliced the zucchini and tomatoes we had on hand.

I placed one layer of corn tortillas in the bottom of 2 lightly oiled pans so I could have a GF / DF (dairyfree) version.
Next I layered the zucchini
Spread the sauteed large onion and about 4 large handfuls of spinach with ground cumin mixed in
– slapped on the remaining few tortillas as I didn’t have enough for multiple layers, hence….
I put on a layer of leftover quinoa (already cooked) – about 1/4 – 1/2″ thick

A little of this and a little of that…still more quinoa to come

The next step was to add some sauce.

You can go 2 ways here.  You can add salsa and go Mexican, or you can add marinara / tomato sauce and go Italian.
Since I went Mexican, I used cumin in the onion/spinach saute.  If you go Italian you could use rosemary or oregano and/or garlic if you choose to include sauteed onions and greens.
You can make your own salsa or sauce or buy some at the store… no judgment, we’re talking about fast, as healthy as possible and tasty here.

So I slopped some commercial mango salsa on as a layer
Lay the tomato slices on top
Placed fresh mozzarella slices on one pan and cashew cheese on the other.

Step-Mom, helping me through this process suggested a little parmesan on top of the mozzarella pan.  Even better.
Then we baked them at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Although the cashew cheese on the right looks crusty and dry, it was not.  There is a recipe for cashew cheese that melts which I have not yet tried but it would probably make this dish more appetizing.  Although, it was indeed very appetizing.  Everyone, even the meat lovers at the table enjoyed it.

So don’t fret over whether you have the exact same ingredients.  Create luscious layers of whatever you have.
Layer it, bake it, save the leftovers for lunch, and then rest your weary head little real food soldier.
You have earned your sleep 🙂

Summer Awesomeness Fritters

What to do, what to do….  I really like to cook.  More importantly, I really like to eat.  But even I, with my pretty broad palate and spirit of culinary adventure, run into a case of the “I Don’t Knows” every once in a while.  When this happens to me, I take a good long look in the fridge.  What is in there that is either 1) so fresh that I will hate myself if I don’t eat it while it’s awesome OR 2) a little long in tooth and must be used now before it becomes a science experiment?  Better still, what to do when you’ve got a little of both?  This was my conundrum. My reluctant zucchini plants produced a couple more squash and while picking them I realized I hadn’t yet used the last surprise squash (powdery mildew is a pain in the patootie).  While I dug out the less fresh zuke, I came across some cobs of grilled corm from two nights prior – now that’s not going to get tastier there in the crisper.  What to do with this varied bounty?  Why, fritters, of course.  I’m so glad you asked.

I came across this little beauty while searching for “kid friendly zucchini” recipes.   Frankly, the idea of kid friendly zucchini is hysterical to me as mine will not touch it in any form in which it is recognizable, thus the recent zucchini stealth move on the mac ‘n’ cheese, but I’m always willing to believe that someone has gotten their child to eat a vegetable that mine won’t.  So I was game for the fritters, but of course I had to mess with the recipe, because who wouldn’t?  Ok, maybe a lot of people wouldn’t, but if you’ve been here before you realize that I simply don’t follow the recipe, ever.  Sometimes it’s a matter of stupidity and disorganization (a recent cashew cheeze debacle comes to mind), but most of the time it’s just orneriness.  And so Ms. Music, I see your Kid Friendly: Zucchini Fritters, and I raise you a whole mess of corn and a few other bits to reveal (drumroll, or something…)

Summer Awesomeness Fritters with Tomato and Avocado – makes enough for several adults for one meal or two adults for one dinner and a few lunches

    • 5 c shredded zucchini, drained
    • 1 c grits (I used semolina, but would use grits or coarse corn meal next time)
    • 1.5 c whole wheat flour
    • .5 c all purpose flour
    • 1/4 c nutritional yeast or parm
    • 1/2 t Old Bay seasoning
    • 4 t salt (or less if you’re not like me)
    • 1 t baking powder
    • 4 eggs (I used flax)

  • 2 c buttermilk (I used soured almond milk)
  • 2 c corn (preferably leftover amazing grilled corn)
  • 1.5 c fresh chopped tomato
  • 1 T chopped fresh basil
  • 1 T chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 avocado cut into pieces
  • drizzle rice vinegar
  • drizzle balsamic

Prep Notes: Shred your zucchini, either in a food processor or using a grater.  Place in colander or sieve and salt lightly.  Allow to sit (in the sink) for at least fifteen minutes.  Your zucchini will drop a lot of water and your fritters will be lighter and better cooked through than if you skip this step, trust me. If you’re making flax eggs, this is a good time to go ahead and get on that as well.  Soured almond milk?  Sounds gross, yes, and frankly, it wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.  I used a 2c measure, put 2 T of white vinegar in the bottom and then filled to 2c with UNSWEETENED PLAIN almond milk.  Got all curdly and separated a bit, still worked just fine and tasted superb (I mean in the fritters, no I’m not that hardcore, I did NOT drink the soured almond milk).

In a large bowl, combine flours, yeast or cheese, Old Bay and salt.  For those of you who aren’t from around these parts: if you haven’t heard of Old Bay, I am VERY, VERY sorry.  It is a seasoning mix that is used in this area  mostly in seafood dishes, and in particular on steamed blue crabs.  If you don’t have any in your area (and again, this would be VERY sad), I imagine you could sub out some other spice blend intended for the steaming of seafood. You could also leave it out, but you’d be missing out on some awesome.  Stir to combine.  If you’ve not cut the corn off the cob, go ahead and do that to give the zucchini some more time to drain.  Press the top of the pile of zucchini to release more liquid.  I’ve even gone so far as to wrap it in a tea towel at this point and squeeze more liquid out… this was probably unnecessary, but kind of cool to see.

Add eggs and butter or soured milk to dry ingredients.  Stir to combine without over mixing.  Add zucchini and corn and gently stir to distribute.  Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes.  Cook as you would…  if you know what I’m about to say, you’ve been here before… pancakes.  For me this means a cast iron skillet on medium with vegetable oil heated in the bottom. Flip when firm on edges and some bubbles have formed.  Cook in batches and keep warm in oven.

While cooking fritters, assemble avocado tomato goodness by combing the remaining ingredients.  Serve fritter with tomato avocado goodness on top sort of helter-skelter – ilke so:

Delish. A big bite of summer in every forkful. As for kid-friendly… not so much for us, but that meant I got to have more for lunch.

Sneaky Pete Strikes Again

So we’re in it.  High summer with all of its promise and all of its chores.  The bugs are completely out of control (imagine I used to think that grasshoppers were interesting; now I simply loathe them), and the powdery mildew is rampant.  Maintaining the garden is a delicate balance.  It would be easy to spend all day out there and have a neat garden with fewer pests and probably greater productivity.  Well, I shouldn’t say it would be EASY because there is simply not time for me to be that kind of gardener, and my garden elves have an attention span of approximately 35 minutes for garden related chores.  I can sometimes distract them for a while longer, but the fact is that distracting them from their boredom so that I can work is often as time consuming as simply changing course and doing something fun with them, like melting crayons between sheets of wax paper.  Let’s face it, melting crayons is WAY more fun than stalking grasshoppers.  And so, I get what I get from the garden.  It is productive enough and (knocking on wood) it looks like I may get tomatoes this year, provided the squirrels let me keep them….

The gardening tricks don’t end at growth however, we must find ways to eat the lovely produce that we get from the garden.  For me, this often means eating while I pick, but the kids are not always so easily enticed.  And there are few of our glorious garden vegetables that have made it onto the “I will never, not ever eat a ______” list.  Zucchini has taken up permanent residence on this list, despite my fabulous grated zucchini.  This being high zucchini time for many gardeners in the U.S., there are many fabulous recipes that highlight this wonderful veg – accenting its natural deliciousness, mixing it with its natural flavor friends – tomatoes, eggplant, onions, garlic…. a quick Google search on the proud green squash  and you will be overwhelmed with options. But  I had a different goal: getting the zucchini in the little people without them knowing.  Yes, I wanted to sneak in a zucchini.  I am a fan of sneaking in for two reasons: 1) it allows me to get more veggies into my kids without the occasional drama that the “eat your vegetables” command can produce and 2) it provides me with the opportunity to inform them that they’ve eaten something on the black list of produce and didn’t realize they were eating it, and that they in fact enjoyed a much maligned veggie. HA!  The simple joys of parenting.

And so… I messed with the queen mother of my daughter’s favorite dishes: Cheesy Noodles.  I humbly bring you:

Zucheezy Noodles with Crunchy Bits

  • 1 lb noodles (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1/2c water
  • 2 c soft cheese (I used this awesomeness)
  • milk to blend (I used unsweetened almond)
  • 2 T nutritional yeast (opt.)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1 1/2  c unsweetened flake cereal/crackers/bread crumbs (opt)
  • 1/2 c wheat germ (opt)
  • 1t kelp flakes (opt)

Preheat oven to 375.  Lightly grease a casserole dish.  For this little experiment, my kids chose gobettie (corkscrews) for this recipe (a little pretend democracy never hurts when trying a new recipe on them), but any thick noodle would work.  Cook noodles according to package directions or your own tried and true.  While waiting for water to boil/noodles to cook, assemble your sauce.  Peel zucchini and put  in powerful blender (in whatever size your blender is going to need) and add enough water to create a slurry.  Blend until the zucchini is unrecognizable.  Add chunks of the soft cheese, adding milk to create motion in the blender and a very thick, but still pourable sauce consistency.  Add nutritional yeast if you like it, and salt if you’re not trying to avoid it.  Add the garlic powder because it makes everything more awesome.  Adjust spice and consistency to your tastes.  When noodles are done, drain them.  Pour half into greased dish.  Add half of your cheese sauce.  Pour the rest of the noodles in and cover with the remaining sauce.  Do not scrape out the blender – you will use the cheese on the sides for the topping.

The Topping: Meausre the cereal and wheat germ into a bowl.  Use a spoon to mash the cereal up a bit for easier eating.  Add the scrapings from your sauce to give a little fat and damp to the crumb topping so it doesn’t burn and actually gets a little crunch going.  Add to top of casserole.  Bake in oven with rack in middle or just below (burned crumb topping is a buzzkill) for about a half an hour, or until it’s hot enough for you, or until the children come completely unglued.  For me, these three seemed to coincide last night, a miracle of good time or simple coincidence.

We served ours with peas (peas are always served with cheesy noodles here) and fresh carrots.  Little buggers had no idea they were also eating zucchini until I revealed that at lunch today.  They were unphased; I’ve no idea if that means they’ll be open to zucchini, but I’m pretty sure I’ll keep it a secret again next time and slip that bugger in there.  The dish was delish and if my zucchini plant produces the way it looks like it might, I’ll be sneaking those things in many suppers to come.

Thank you, Thank You Sam I Am

Thank you, thank you Sam I am, because if it weren’t for my willingness to try zucchini again, I would never have been able to eat this for dinner last night. It is zuchinni manicotti from Laughing Seed* in Asheville, NC. It was unbelievable, fantastic, otherworldly. Really, really good. And the funny thing is that the “noodle” in this manicotti, as you may have guessed from the picture is simply very thinly sliced raw zuchinni. I do not like raw zucchini, Sam I am. I will not eat it in a boat. I will not eat it with a goat. I will not eat it and I’m not bashful; I will not eat eat it while I’m in Asheville…. Unless it’s this…. Holy Moly.

It was filled with what I believe was some sort of cashew cream and grated zucchini with pesto. Chunky marinara as a sauce, and drizzled basil infused olive oil. Olives on the plate and a basil garnish, as you can see. It was all raw and while not cold, not heated. I will not eat a cold squash dish; I will not eat it with a catfish. I will not eat it in the mountains; I will not eat it in the fountain… until this dish, which I fully intend to attempt to reproduce at home and will eat in a fountain to amuse you…

In the past, as you may have guessed, I have not been a fan of zucchini, and more recently while having conceded to eating cooked zucchini, I have specifically been an anti-fan of raw zucchini in any form. The interesting lesson for me over the years is that from time to time, one dish that can transform how we feel about a food that we have “always hated.”  I will try it Sam I am.  If you will leave me be, I will try it.  This has happened twice for me with the unlikely zucchini.

My relationship with zucchini began in a more modest preparation than the spectacular raw zucchini manicotti – a baby step that was a bit of a squash revelation for me. If you are not a zucchini fan, you may want to give it a go; if you are, try a new way. As I recall,l I read about this preparation in Cook’s Illustrated and it turned me on to zucchini – and helped me identify what I didn’t like about the veggie as usually cooked. It was the mush. I don’t like sliced sautéed squash because it gets too mushy. So here, we are, another way…

Grate Green Zucchini
I usually prepare at least three average sized zucchini at a time in this way to serve as a side dish. Wash the zukes, cut the ends off. Using the large side of a box grater, grate the little devils almost to the core. Do NOT grate the middle part with the seeds; this is where all the liquid is. Put grated zucchini into a fine strainer or sieve. Add a quarter teaspoon of salt and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Occasionally stir and press down to encourage the liquid to leave.  Give the zucchini one final (and thorough) press from the top. Remove to a towel and squeeze out as much remaining liquid as possible. Warm small amount of olive oil in pan on lower medium heat. Add zucchini to pan and sauté, stirring gently until the green from the skin becomes more vibrant and the flesh is slightly softer. Add salt and pepper to taste. I also like a little lemon with mine. We like ours as a simple side, but it also good mixed into any number of dishes, and added to sandwiches, tortillas, you know how we roll over here. Before you know it, you may be adding sautéed zukes to all kinds of things… and one day, you may even find yourself slicing some paper thin to wrap around some basil cream… Delish!

*For those of you interested in the restaurant, or in vegetarian and vegan cuisine specifically, we also ordered a fantastic seitan curry and the boy had a seitan and hempseed burger. My picky one was delighted to sample the pita pizza. We all enjoyed the dinner immensely, ate at a table outside in the 78 degree sunshine and relished our last evening in North Carolina.