Zucchini chini bo bini…….

‘Tis the season of zucchini. It you grow it, you know it! If you have an abundance of this veggie you are looking for ways to cook it. I suggest baking it. It’s still zucchini, right? I like this recipe because you don’t need a lot of it. I’m not growing anything this season and it’s rather liberating. When I make my tortellini soup, year round, I buy my zucchini. I’m ok with that. This recipe calls for 1 medium zucchini. I use a Pyrex one-cup measuring cup. Sometimes it’s more than one zucchini. It just depends. Snack on what you don’t need.  I opted to make muffins for portion control. If I cut a slice from a loaf, it’s usually several inches thick. My eye-hand coordination sometimes is off. Oops! You can even put in chocolate chips. I’m a purist and only use raisins. Soak them in warm water to plump them up. (insert Arnold Schwarzenegger voice) You need to soak up some of the moisture from the zucchini. After I grate it with a box grater, I place several layers of paper towels in a shallow bowl and place the zucchini on top, while I get the other ingredients ready. The original recipe says to blot at the zucchini. I don’t blot.

Let’s preheat our ovens!

1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

OPTIONAL – once cup of semi-sweet chocolate, raisins or nuts

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

1/2 cup of light or dark brown sugar packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup of grated zucchini (about one medium)

To make one loaf of bread, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 X 5 loaf pan. Instructions for muffins will follow.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins together is a large bowl. I suggest replacing your baking powder and soda every few months. They are inexpensive enough to replace. You need them fresh, and in the summer they can absorb moisture. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the oil, brown  and granulated sugars, egg, vanilla and zucchini.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Gently stir until combined. Do not overmix. Batter will be semi-thick.

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes. Baking times vary so check on it. Remove bread from oven and place on a wire rack. Let cool completely before removing from pan and slicing. I like to put a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan. I cut it so it comes a little over the top of the pan and is the narrow width of the pan. If it’s too long, it could brown and have a not-so-fresh-smell. This prevents leaving half of the loaf in the pan. Cooling is still required. This bread can be stored at room temperature, covered, for up to 5 days. Who are we kidding? Really.

For muffins, grease a 12-count muffin pan or line with liners. Prepare batter. Spoon batter into each liner, filling each all the way to top (sometimes). Bake the muffins for 5 minutes at 425 degrees. Keeping the muffins in the oven, lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 13-16 minutes. Test with a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin.  It should come out clean. Allow the muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to wire rack to continue cooling. Or, if you’re like me, leave in pan until completely cooled, give yourself a headslap because you forgot about the muffins, and place them in a container. Slip them inconspicuously into the freezer. Pull out for a work snack!

You should have at least one serving of vegetables a day! The original recipe is here if you need pictures. I forgot to take pictures even after the headslap but I did a quick sample. Squeeze your eyes closed and picture a muffin. Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Strawberry Spinach Salad with Candied Pecans

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It’s important to use the best quality product of each season. Right now we have an abundance of juicy strawberries. This salad uses some of my favorite ingredients. What is life without an aged balsamic? . Throw in some creamy goat cheese and spinach and you will have my full attention! It’s simple and has something for everyone. A little sweet, a little savory and lots of flavor.

Traditional balsamic vinegar is always labelled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and carries a D.O.P. (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta”) stamp — a European Union certification that guarantees an ingredient’s quality, production, and place of origin. You don’t cook with this aged balsamic. You drizzle this syrup over foods like fresh strawberries. It enhances the flavors of foods. You can even put it on vanilla ice cream. Buy the good stuff. It’s expensive but a little goes a long way.

Candied Pecans

2 tbsp butter

1 cup pecan halves

2 tbsp brown sugar

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Toss in the pecans and brown sugar. Sir to coat the pecans. Cook over medium heat until the sugar begins to caramelize. It takes about 3 minutes. Don’t walk away! It’s easy to burn the pecans. Stay with the 3 minute time frame. It’s better they are a little under done than burnt. Spread out the pecans on wax or parchment paper and cool. Go ahead. Sample a FEW! They are sweet, but not too sweet.

Salad

6 ounces of baby spinach leaves

1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries, stems removed (or more!)

Small log of plain goat cheese, sliced (or more!!)

Balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

salt and pepper

In a large bowl, place the spinach, strawberries, goat cheese and pecans. Drizzle some balsamic and olive oil over salad. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss gently. Wait until right before you want to serve this salad, before you add the dressing.  You can add more strawberries or goat cheese if you’d like. It’s a salad! Go crazy!

Happy Summer!

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Here’s the original recipe

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They tell me it’s summer. As I walk the countless steps through the kitchen, I pass a chair with a rainbow of blue coats, piled on its’ back. Such a burden to carry the weight of the weather on your rails. My fleece jacket is backpack ready for the icy air in our antiquated building. My spring coat is warmth from the damp, early morning air. Train station approved. My long raincoat is ready for a tempestuous Northeast storm. A warranty from a rainy, long ago college graduation. My blue coats.

They tell me it’s summer.

Cinnamon Rolls

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Kaboom! That’s the magical sound when my favorite things, cinnamon and rolls, collide and become one. Warm, gooey, sweet cinnamon rolls are my favorite things. It’s a treat to have a cinnamon roll and a cup of tea. Enjoying the quiet, thinking deep thoughts, and inhaling the frosted cinnamon rolls starts the day with a bit of magic. Why, yes, I lick the frosting off my fingers. If you are thinking they are complex creatures, you are wrong. Cinnamon rolls are easy. They can be made partially ahead and refrigerated. Start on Saturday night, bake Sunday morning. If you’re thinking, “I don’t need 30 rolls” (You’re wrong, by the way), then you will be happy to know that the recipe can be halved. Unlike my “friend”, make sure to half ALL the ingredients. Ahem. Easter weekend I made these rolls three times. Let’s get baking. As usual, please read the directions through first, so  you have all the ingredients, and understand the steps and time involved.

Cinnamon Rolls

2 packages yeast ( 4 1/2 teaspoons) dissolved in 1 cup lukewarm water or instant yeast (read directions!)

6 tablespoons shortening (Crisco)

1 cup granulated sugar

8 cups all-purpose flour ( you may need another cup or so if dough is sticky)

2 cups of hot water (from the tap)

2 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon salt

softened butter

brown sugar

raisins (optional)

cinnamon

Frosting

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

4 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. If you are using regular yeast, add the yeast to a cup of lukewarm water (less than 110 degrees) and sprinkle in a little sugar. Set aside for about 5 minutes. This is called proofing. If you’re not sure about the temperature, cooler is better. Yeast is a live organism. Hot water will kill it and your rolls won’t rise. If the water is cool, it will still rise, but may take a little longer to do so. See, you learned something.
  2.  In a bowl, of a stand mixer, add shortening, sugar, and salt to the hot water and beat for 30 seconds, using the beater blade. There will be splashing. Let cool to lukewarm temperature. Stir in 2 cups of flour and mix until smooth. If you are using instant yeast, add the yeast now, as well as the 1 cup of lukewarm water and mix until well combined. There is no need for proofing instant yeast. Mix in beaten eggs.
  3. Gradually stir in the remaining flour and mix with the dough hook for about 2 minutes. Remove dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand, add a little flour if the dough is still sticky. Knead until dough feels satiny and smooth.
  4. Cover and let rise in a bowl for 30 minutes or so. After the dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and divide it in half. With a rolling pin, roll one half of the dough into a rectangle. Spread dough evenly with softened butter (About 2 tablespoons for each half. Be generous) Sprinkle dough with brown sugar, raisins (if you wish), and cinnamon. Make sure you use LOTS of brown sugar (About 1/2 cup for each half. Again be generous.)  Sprinkle on a lot of cinnamon. I like to use a good cinnamon from Penzeys. If you are using raisins, soak them in warm water first, to plump them up. You will not be dissappointed.
  5. Roll up dough into one long roll. Cut into rolls, using a piece of dental floss or thread, about two inches thick. Yes, you can use a knife if you don’t want to go upstairs for the floss. Place rolls in greased 9 X 13 baking pan. Rinse and repeat for the second  half.
  6. If you are making these the night before, cover the pans with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator. The next day, let them rise about an hour or so, until they are doubled. If you making them for the same day consumption, let the rolls rise until doubled. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until brown-only about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the rolls cool to room temperature.
  7. While the rolls are cooling, make the frosting. In a medium bowl, whisk, together butter, sugar, milk, and vanilla. Frost the cooled cinnamon rolls generously.

See, that wasn’t so bad. Relax. Pat yourself on your back. You made cinnamon rolls! Now go eat ’em. As you can see from the photo, I eyeballed the two inches. Oh well! They were still delicious! I brought a batch to an Easter brunch and there were none left. Just sayin’.

Here’s the original recipe.

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Creamy Orzo with Pancetta

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I buried this fantastic recipe along with another fantastic recipe (Gobble Gobble Turkey Meatballs) some time ago.  Creamy Orzo with Pancetta should stand alone as a recipe. I made this last night with breaded chicken tenders and fell in love again. As usual, when I find a new recipe, I make it a lot, and then not at all.  It’s been a while but I think it will make the rounds again. My son is excited to have those leftovers tonight. It’s a simple recipe that you can play with. If you love pancetta, add more. If you love onions, use two! It also doubles really well. To give the orzo some color and a toasty flavor, you brown the uncooked orzo. I had never done this before and it is a game changer. The pancetta is sold already diced. It’s usually near the deli counter.

¼ cup (or so) diced pancetta

2 tbsp. butter or olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 ½ cups of orzo (uncooked)

2 ½ cups chicken broth

½ frozen  petite peas

½ grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

In a braiser or a shallow pot, melt the butter or heat the olive oil, under a medium heat.  Add your onion and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of kosher salt. Sauté the onions until they soften. Add the pancetta and stir. I like to cook the onions and pancetta for about 5 minutes. It may take longer. You want everything to soften.

Add uncooked orzo to pan with onions and pancetta. Stir the mixture. The orzo will “toast”. Keep stirring. It will only take about a minute for the orzo to get some color. If it starts to stick, add a little more olive oil.

Add the garlic. Stir and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock. Stir to combine. Let it come to a boil. Put the lid on and lower the heat. Stir occasionally. You want it to simmer for 20 minutes. The orzo will absorb most of the liquid and fluff up.

Take pan off  the heat and add the parmesan. Stir. The dish gets creamy with the parmesan. The orzo may stick to the pan, but don’t worry. Add the frozen peas, and put the lid back on. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Take the lid off and stir. The orzo should not be sticking to the pan. Season to taste. Stir and serve! I like to serve this with a variety of chicken dishes. It makes a great lunch with some chopped cooked chicken. It heats up in the microwave like a champ!

This is simple, delicious and just a tad different from anything you’ve probably ever made. Try it. You’ll like it! Serves 4 (maybe!!)

Cauliflower “Fried Rice”

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I am late to this dance, but at least I’m dancing. Cauliflower. Love the stuff. I never would have thought of substituting it for rice. How are people this creative? Now, you will notice it’s not rice. Trust me. It is still delicious and nutritious. You can grate it yourself. I love my box grater, but I love my knuckles more, so I buy mine frozen at Trader Joe’s. Look at the ingredients. If you don’t like sesame oil or soy sauce, or even cauliflower, don’t make this. If you like these ingredients, do try it. I like to make it on Sunday and have it for quick and tasty lunches during the week. If you have an extra protein like leftover chicken, add it in at the end. I’ve adjusted the recipe a bit because, I never want to use ½ an onion or to count out 5 scallions. What will you do with the rest of these ingredients? Rotting in the fridge is their future. I didn’t have frozen carrots and peas so I used mixed frozen veggies. Still delicious! I substituted garlic powder for garlic. Garlic sometimes can taste bitter, as can cauliflower. This adds flavor without the bitterness.

1 package frozen rice cauliflower

1 tbsp. sesame oil

1tsp.vegetable or canola oil

3 large eggs

pinch of salt

1 large onion

¾ cup frozen peas and carrots or mixed vegetables

2 tsp. garlic powder

bunch of scallions, diced

3 tbsp. soy sauce

 

Scramble the eggs, with a fork, in a bowl and set aside. Dice up your onion and place in a bowl. Measure out your frozen vegetables and put in a bowl with the diced scallions.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. I used a well-seasoned cast iron pan. You want your pan hot before you add the vegetable oil. If you sprinkle water over the hot pan, and the water rolls around and evaporates, the pan is hot. Pour a teaspoon of oil in the pan and cook the eggs. Stir them with a heat-proof spatula. They can be a little “wet”. Put them back into the dish. This is okay, because they will be cooked more at the end.

Add the sesame oil to the hot pan. You may need some vegetable oil too. Add the onions and let them soften for a couple of minutes. I sprinkle a pinch of salt over mine to help sweat out the water. Add the frozen vegetables, scallions and garlic powder. Stir this mixture as it heats up. Depending on what vegetables you are using this could take 5 minutes. You want everything to heat up and soften.

Raise the heat to medium high. Add the frozen cauliflower to the pan and the soy sauce. Stir frequently. You want to cook the cauliflower. The frozen cauliflower will cool off the pan, so it will take about 5-10 minutes to cook. When the cauliflower is cooked, add the eggs back in and stir. After a minute, shut off the heat and let it cool in the pan.

You should taste this mixture. I used low-salt soy sauce and found I needed to add a pinch more at the end. You may want to add more soy sauce. Whatever you want, you can add.

I love to add sweet chili sauce before I eat this. Gives it a little sweetness to the salty flavor of soy, and the slight bitterness of cauliflower. Try it. It’s sooooo delicious. Just a few drops! Happy lunching!

Here’s the original recipe which clearly is more skinny than mine!

 

Roasted Chicken Provencal on rice….that’s nice!

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Bless the New York Times Food Section. There are so many recipes that are simple and delicious. Recipes that don’t call for bizarre ingredients that you will NEVER use again. Recipes that don’t require odd pans that will collect dust from lack of use. This is one of those recipes. I start judging a recipe by the individual ingredients. Do I like the ingredient flavors on their own? This has lemon, garlic and shallots with vermouth. Yes. Yes. Yes…..and YES! Then I look at the cooking method. You put the ingredients in a pan and roast them. No browning. You can do this! Now I won’t lie; it takes about 1 ½ hours from start to devour. It takes a bit to assemble, but none of the steps are difficult.  Let’s cook.

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. ground black pepper

½ cup of all-purpose flour

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. herbes de Provence

2 lemons, quartered

10 cloves garlic, peeled and kept whole

6 medium –size shallots, peeled and halved

2/3 cup dry vermouth or white wine

 

Step 1

Heat oven to 400 degrees. It’s important to make sure your oven is really this temperature. I always use an oven thermometer. You need this heat to crisp up the chicken skins. So, oven temperature. Check. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow pan or bowl. Lightly dredge the chicken in the flour, on both sides. Shake off the excess flour.

Step 2

Swirl the oil in a large roasting pan, and place the floured chicken in it. I didn’t measure the oil. I eyeballed it. Season the chicken with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemon, garlic cloves and shallots around the chicken. Tuck them here. Tuck them there. Tuck them, tuck them everywhere. Add the vermouth to the pan. Step back. Just imagine how this will smell in a short time.

Step 3

Put the pan in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes. Baste it with the pan juices. If you find there isn’t much pan juice, add a little more vermouth or chicken stock. You want the pan juices to go half-way up the chicken. You don’t want it submerged, but immersed. The skins need to be dry to crisp up. Continue roasting for another 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is very crisp and the meat cooked through.

Step 4

Serve in this on a bed of rice with a side of salad. Eat it slowly and enjoy the mellowed, softened flavors of garlic, shallots and lemons. So easy. So delicious! Enjoy!

 

Here’s the original recipe.

Note: I’ve made it with white wine and it is preferred by some of the family. The vermouth had a strong after taste for some.