Monthly Archives: July 2014

An Overabundance of Zucchini…So…Zucchini Bread!

Zucchini and SquashA few weeks ago, I was talking about using up the harvest and making zucchini and squash recipes.  At the time, I was holding off on the zucchini bread, just not quite ready for it yet.  For some reason, I always feel like zucchini bread needs to be made when you are sick and tired of zucchini.  And…well…it’s happening!  I’m making zucchini bread!

I don’t know what happened in the garden.  I thought I was staying on top of things, but we had rain this weekend, and there were some The Giant Plantsgiants in the garden.  The zucchini and squash plants are HUGE, and I just keep picking, and cooking, and giving it away!  I’ve made all kinds of recipes, and they have been delicious.  Zucchini lasagna, ratatouille, sautéed, fried, you name it, but it’s time for the bread.  And this zucchini bread recipe is my favorite, mainly because it calls for 4 cups of grated zucchini, so you definitely can use up the harvest! 🙂 And, all of that zucchini makes it very moist!

Mixing It All TogetherYou’ll need two loaf pans for this recipe.  Grease and flour those, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Whisk together 3 cups whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.  In another bowl, beat 3 eggs, 1 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.  Add the dry ingredients and mix that all together.  Then, stir in 4 cups grated zucchini, 1 cup chopped nuts (I prefer walnuts), and 1 cup raisins.

CookedPour that mix evenly in the 2 loaf pans, and bake for about 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Definitely let these cool in the pan before removing, as they are dense, but they are delicious!

Oh, and if you aren’t trying to stay on top of the harvest, you can use less zucchini, but it really is great with all of it!

Strawberries Everywhere…and Strawberry Shortcake!

Strawberry PlantWhen I was in 6th grade, my younger brother gave me a strawberry plant. At our school, the 6th graders had “partners” in 2nd grade, and he was my partner. We helped them with school work and projects, and did some fun things with them during school. At some point, they grew strawberry plants for us as a gift (for the life of me I can’t remember why). And, at that young age, I had already loved gardening, so I was very excited to take it home and plant it in the garden. Sure enough, it did great that summer, and then the next spring, there were strawberries and plants everywhere. While the strawberries were great, over the years, my mom had enough of the plants taking over the entire garden, so, unfortunately, they all came out. But, I learned a few very important lessons: 1) strawberries are really easy to grow and delicious, and 2) the plants will take over any space you give them!

BiteMany years later, as I was cleaning up the gardens at my house, and pulling out tons of pachysandra that had been planted just about everywhere, I had a revelation. There are 3 very small beds next to my house that are completely enclosed in concrete. The beds boarder the house on one side and the sidewalk on the other. So, the light bulb went off, and I decided to plant strawberries there. They could grow and spread, and not intrude on anything else, and they have done great in this spot. For many years, they were enjoyed by my nephews who would pick away and eat them, covering themselves in the red juice. Now that they are a little older, they have some self-control, and I get to enjoy the strawberries, and when I’m lucky, there are enough to make strawberry shortcake!

For me, there is only one way to make strawberry shortcake…and that’s with a biscuit or scone. Don’t get me wrong, when you use pound cake or some other cake, it’s delicious. But it’s just not Butterthe same for me. I love the crumbly texture of the biscuit that soaks up the juice, combined with the creamy whipped cream and juicy berries. The recipe I have I adapted from one I found online, which, for the life of me now, I can’t find the link, but it’s a simple scone recipe with macerated berries and whipped cream.

Whisk together 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Cut in 1/3 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces. If you have a food processor, you can use that. Otherwise, just try to work in the butter using a fork. I often times need to get my hands into it to break up the pieces of butter. If you do this, just be careful, you don’t want the butter to melt. You need to work it fast if you use your hands. Then whisk 1 egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/2 cup heavy cream until combined. Pour that into the flour mixture and stir to combine.

Ready for OvenTurn the dough onto a floured surface and knead a few times. Form into a 7 inch round, then cut about 2-3 inch pieces. As you can see from my picture, mine are not perfect at all. 🙂 Place them on a greased cookie sheet and brush with a little cream, half and half, or milk, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. You want them a little golden and a toothpick to come out clean.

As those are cooking, you can get the strawberries ready. It will take about 2 lbs. strawberries, although this time, I mixed strawberries and blueberries. Whatever you prefer is fine, even Fruitpeaches are great this time of year. Take about half the fruit and smash it with a potato masher. Then add the rest, along with 1/4 cup sugar. Let that sit for a while so the juices run.

The last component is the whipped cream. I used 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream and about 3 tablespoons sugar, but, whenever I make whipped cream, I always taste it. Some people like it sweeter, some people like it less. I am on the sweeter side! Start whipping the cream, and, once it starts to thicken, add the sugar and continue whipping until stiff.

Whipped CreamOnce the scones are cooled you’re ready to assemble. Of course in our hurry to eat them this time, I never took a picture of the completed shortcake, but just cut the cooled scones in half, spoon some fruit on the bottom half, with the juice of course, top with some whipped cream, and add the top!

And I know what you’re thinking, it’s a little late for strawberry season if you grow them at home, but there are tons of strawberries in the grocery stores right now, not to mention blueberries, peaches, etc. Just get some fruit, and have at it!Ready to Eat

Harvesting Basil for Pesto!

Last week I talked about harvesting in the garden, but so many times, I’ve forgotten about really harvesting in my herb garden. Sure, I’ll run out and grab some rosemary for roast chicken, or basil for a sauce, but to really get the most out of your herbs, you want to harvest them at their peak to enjoy them, but also promote new growth and a higher yield.

Herb GardenThis year, I decided to grow my herb garden in pots on the porch. I’ve planted herbs for years in a small section of the garden, but I find, often times, they get taken over by the bigger vegetables. Also, if you have hardy herbs, growing them in pots makes it easy to bring them in during the winter, enjoy them all through the off-season, and then taking them outside in the spring and already having a start on the garden. That’s what I did with my rosemary. It was great to have fresh rosemary all year, and when the weather warmed up, I took it back outside, and it’s been thriving since.

Basil PlantFor my herb garden this year, I have the above mentioned rosemary in addition to sage, tarragon, and Italian leaf parsley, which I started from seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The seeds were great and the plants have done incredibly well. I’m really happy with them. I also have chives and dill that I took the short cut and purchased at my local garden center. They are also doing well, but for my favorite, I was lucky enough to have someone bring me back seeds from Italy last year. I’ve never had basil do so well, and I can’t quite figure out if it’s the fancy seeds or just luck this year.  Either way, the basil has been doing great, and it’s time to harvest some and, of course, make pesto!

Basil FlowerI’ve found that herbs start out strong, and look amazing, but they usually get to a point, about this time of the summer, where they start to get leggy and just don’t do so well if left alone. However, if you cut them back, and bonus, you get to use what you’ve cut, they come back for a second life. The other thing to look for is if the plants start to go to seed. If you start to see flowers on the plants, that means they’re putting all of their energy into reproducing. While this may be great if you’re looking to get seeds for next year, if you’re still looking to use the herbs and want a longer season, you want to snip these flowers off. I simply pinch off the blooms, and then make sure that I use that branch next when I need some of the herb.

Leaves ReadyAs you can see, I’ve cut a good bit off of my basil plant. I’m hoping to make 3 batches of my pesto recipe. Each recipe makes about a cup of pesto. One note, I prefer to use a food processor for this recipe. You can use a blender, however, I’ve found that you need to add all of the ingredients first, and it does need some stirring and help to get completely processed. If you’re using a food processor, follow the process I’m outlining below. To start, take 3 cloves garlic, peeled, and chop them up in the food processor. Next, add 2 cups basil leaves. You just want the leaves for this, and you want pretty packed cups. Whirl that around until the basil is nicely chopped, then add 1/4 cup pine nuts and Ingredients1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese, grated. Give that another quick whirl. If you let it go too long, it will come together, almost like a dough. If that happens, don’t worry, you’re still good. With the food processor running, slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil, and process that until it’s nice and smooth.

After I was finished with this batch, I made 2 more. If you’re making several batches, just start over. You really don’t want to double or triple the recipe, as it doesn’t turn out as good. But, the good news is, I don’t even wash the food processor in between. 🙂

If you’re growing herbs, I hope they’re as productive as mine have been this year! And if you’re not, stop by the grocery store and pick up some basil. Pesto is a great sauce to have on hand, especially in the summer for a quick pasta dish. Enjoy!


Using Up the Harvest…Sauteed Zucchini and Summer Squash

Zucchini and Summer SquashIt seems like you wait forever to get the first harvest from the garden, but then when you do, it just keeps coming and coming.  That’s what seems to be happening right now with my zucchini and summer squash, but I’m not complaining…YET! I’ve been harvesting these two for a few weeks, and they have been delicious.  And while I’m sure later in the summer, when I’m sick of them, I’ll be pulling out my trusty zucchini bread recipe, right now I’m enjoying them one of my favorite ways…a simple saute with onions in butter and olive oil.

ChoppedWhen harvesting zucchini and squash, I like to catch them before they get too big.  Now, that’s not to say that I haven’t had gigantic ones in the past…and I know some of my coworkers can attest to that as I always brought in the extras to them.  But, when I’m on top of things, I like to harvest when they are no more than 10 inches.  I find that they aren’t as watery, and their flavor is more intense.  However, if you weren’t paying attention, or, as I’ve done almost every year, there is one that hides under some leaves and you find it when it’s two feet long, just cut it in half and scoop out the seeds before chopping.  When they are that big, you want to avoid the seeds.

OnionsFor this recipe, I used 2 zucchini and 1 summer squash, all about 10 inches long.  Simply cut off the stems, and chop them.  I like to quarter then and slice them into about 1/4-1/2 inch slices.  You’ll also want to chop 1 small red onion and mince (or use the garlic press) 3 cloves of garlic.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Once the butter is melted and the oil is hot, add the onion.  Cook for a few minutes until they start to get some Finishedcolor, then add the garlic.  I don’t like to add the garlic too early, because it can burn easily.  And when garlic burns, it has a horrible taste.  After just about 1 minute, add the sliced zucchini and squash.  Stir everything around, and let them cook down.  You’ll want to stir periodically, but it will take about 10 minutes for them to soften and get a little bit of color.  Add some salt (I used about 1/2 teaspoon salt) and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon pepper as well), and stir to combine.

This is a great side dish in the summer when the vegetables are fresh, and It really is a simple recipe.  However, it really brings out the flavor of the vegetables.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Tarts for the 4th!

Mini Muffin PansAs I sit here writing this post, it’s pouring outside.  We’re getting our first taste of a hurricane this year with Hurricane Arthur, and it’s really messing with the 4th of July plans down the shore.  The parade was cancelled, and the fireworks have been postponed.  Definitely not a beach day today.  Luckily I had some treats to make that my niece and nephew could help me with to keep them occupied.  It’s no fun when it rains down the shore, but these chocolate chip cookie tarts do help!

BatterThis is one of my go to recipes when I need a quick and easy dessert.  They always impress even though they are one of the easiest.  You could even use store-bought cookie dough and icing, but they are much better making them yourself, and still pretty easy.

First, make the chocolate chip cookies.  You can use any recipe you have.  For this batch, I had a bag of Baker’s Corner chocolate chips from Aldi, so I made that recipe.  As a side note, Aldi is a great place to get baking supplies.  They are always really economical, and if you have one near by, give it a try.

CookedTo make the cookies, cream 1 cup butter with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar.  Add 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Add 2 cups flour and then stir in a 12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  For this recipe, you need mini muffin tins.  Drop about a tablespoon full of batter into the mini muffin tins.  Also, for baking, because these are made in the muffin tins, you’ll need to cook them longer.  Mine cooked for 16 minutes at 375.  You want them golden, but they can still be chewy, about 14-16 minutes.  And this recipe makes about 36 mini muffin size tarts.

As they cool, keep them in the muffin tins.  If you try to Pipingremove them too soon, they’ll break apart.  While they’re cooling, you can make the icing.  Melt 3 tablespoons butter and 3 oz semi–sweet chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler.  Once it’s melted and combined, add in 1/4 cup coffee (or you could use cream, but I prefer the taste the coffee brings) and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Beat in 2-2 1/2 cups powdered sugar.  Continue beating until spreadable.  If it doesn’t thicken up, you may need to put the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes to stiffen it up.  When you take it out, just beat again until smooth.

Carefully remove the cooled tarts.  You may need a knife to pop them out, but if you grease the tins well, they should come out easily.  To make these a show stopper, just pipe some of the icing on top of each tart.  I used a Wilton disposable bag and closed start tip.  They do look impressive, and I’m sure everyone will like them for our 4th celebration.  Too bad we’ll be inside because of the rain.  For those of you who celebrate, have a wonderful 4th of July!

My niece enjoyed the cookie dough!

My niece enjoyed the cookie dough!