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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Amazing zucchini muffins (with a little bit of lemon)

There is a story that says that if you live where people are the salt of the earth, in the middle of summer, you better keep your doors locked. Not because these salt-of-the-earth neighbors are going to rob you, but because they are likely to drop off a big bunch of zucchini on the seat of your car or in your entryway, making eating it all it your problem.

I would like to think that my neighbors are the salt of the earth, but as of yet I haven't had any wayward zucchini harvests appearing in or on any of my property. (I also haven't been abandoning zucchini on anyone else's doorstep, either, though. The one time I tried to grow it bugs ate the teeny little seedlings down to nothing overnight.). However, it seems that even the farmers need to offload zucchini in great quantities.

My Abundant Harvest box has been... shall we say... generous in its helpings of zucchini and summer squash for quite a few weeks now. It is,,, shall we say... a challenge to keep up with it all.

My kids, who aren't the greatest veggie eaters, won't eat zucchini in any form except zucchini bread and zucchini muffins. (I'm not exaggerating. They even turned their noses up at chocolate chips cookies. Okay, Zucchini Chocolate Chip cookies, but those things are really really good and still they won't eat them).

So, zucchini muffins it is.  Except how many time can I make them without losing my mind?

So I put a little twist on the muffins this week... lemon. Lemon and zucchini go great together, and that is especially true in muffins. The lemon zest in these gives them a whole new life, and really sets them apart from ordinary zucchini muffins. This is most likely going to be the only way I make them from now on! I really like the lemon addition, so in my opinion, more is better. I used the zest from 1 lemon the first time I made these, and doubled it the send time. It was doubly delicious!

Zucchini muffins 

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cup butter, melted
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla 
zest from 2 lemons
3 cups grated zucchini (about 3 medium-large zucchini)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. Using a mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together. Add the vanilla, lemon zest, and butter. Add the zucchini and then slowly add the dry ingredients until combined.

Grease your muffin cups with a little bit of butter. Fill the muffin cups pretty much all the way (these muffins grow tall nicely, and don't really spill over the pan... so it's okay to fill the cups all the way). 

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until nice and tall and golden brown. A toothpick should come out clean. Let them sit in the muffin pans for a few minutes and then take them out to cool completely.

The original recipe (from Stephanie's Kitchen) said that it makes 12 muffins, but I got 15 out of it, and they were still nice and tall and full.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Dilly Beans

What happens when you take a man who loves pickles and introduce him to a woman who loves pickles?

They get married and have three (adorable) children, and not a single one of those (amazing) children will touch a pickle.

Which means, of course, more for the man and the woman.

I like to make dilly beans for lots of reasons.

1.  I get TONS of green beans in my Abundant Harvest box during the summer. Almost too many to eat. And since green beans aren't acidic, preserving them is a little tricky...

2.  Unless you add lots of acidic vinegar.

3.  Dilly beans are delicious pickles that taste great all year long. And that's lucky, cause they last in jars all year long!

4. If you want to make something that really looks like you are a fabulous homemaker who shirks no duty and leaves no chore undone, these fit the bill. They just look the way canned food should look.

I'm personally not much of a Bloody Mary gal, but I hear that they are a fabulous addition to a bloody Mary. I believe it.

They are also a fabulous addition to a salad, or just on their own.  I love to eat them nice and cold straight out of the fridge. 

Here is the easy peasy way to make dilly beans and keep your green beans all year long. (I got this recipe form the cookbook "Put 'em Up" by Sherri Brooks Vinton)

Dilly Beans

4 pounds of green beans
5 cloves garlic
5 sprigs dill (about a cup altogether)
2 tablespoons dill seed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons salt

First, trim the beans. You want to take off the tip and the tail, and you want to make them about an inch shorter than your jar. (There needs to be room for the liquid to cover them by a half inch, and leave a half inch of headspace in the jar).

Put a clove of garlic and a sprig of dill in each jar. Divide the dill seed and peppercorns evenly between all the jars. Pack the trimmed beans tightly into the jars, so they are standing up nice and neat.

Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a non-reactive pan and bring to a boil. Pour over the the beans to cover them by a half-inch. 

To can the jars, make sure to release any trapped air bubbles. Wipe the rims clean, place the lids, and screw on the bands. Boil for 15 minutes. Let the jars sit int he hot water for 5 minutes, and then let them sit undisturbed for 24 hours. 

These will keep for a year.

Monday, July 2, 2012

chocolate peanut butter bars

There are times when I wish I lived in America's heartland. I would love to have a huge yard and plenty of space around my home. I would have a long driveway and a big swath of lawn in front of my house. The house would be up on a little hill so the view from my big front porch would be beautiful. Maybe I would be overlooking some sort of river or lake.

My backyard would have lots of trees. In fact, I would like to have a little bit of woods back there. Somewhere the kids could wander and built forts and make tree houses and have adventures. I would also like some space for entertaining. Maybe a little patio surrounded by flowers, and containing a huge ding table and some comfy chairs for lounging and reading.

Of course, in my dreams, in America's heartland I can have all this for... oh say, the exact same price of the little parcel I have in Southern California. And since there would be actual precipitation (I'll order some summer thunderstorms, please), everything would be lush and green and beautiful.


I can't have all that and have the ocean, too, can I?

So for now, I'll stay right here in sunny (though dry) southern California. I will spend the summer taking my kids to the beach. They wander and build sandcastles and make moats and dig pits and go boogie boarding. They find sea shells and sea glass and dig for sand crabs. They find clams and then watch as the clam sticks that thing (stomach? tongue? Tiny little clam arm?) out and eats the sand crabs they feed it. They poke at sea anemones and squeal over sea slugs. They throw frisbees and footballs and whip each other with towels. They swim out way too far in the cold ocean and then come and lay on the hot sand.

And then, finally, when they are sun-kissed and worn out; when they are exhausted from running and jumping and swimming and floating; when they have raced against each other in the ocean, and raced together against the ocean that tries to destroy their sand castle faster than they can build; only then can I convince them to come close and sit and take a break.

I have to make sure, then, that I have a little treat for them.

These bars taste just like eating a Reese's peanut butter cup. They are rich and to die for. I am warning you now, make sure you have plenty of people to share these with, or you may end up eating the whole pan by yourself!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 1/4 cup peanut butter, divided
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, 1 cup peanut butter, melted butter, and powdered sugar. Press it into the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Put this in the fridge for at least half an hour. 

Melt the chocolate chips on a double boiler (or in the microwave). Stir in the remaining 1/4 cup peanut butter. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the peanut layer and allow to cool.

Cut into bars and enjoy!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quick Pickles

If you were to ask my grandmother (or my mother -- or myself, for that matter) if she was "making chicken for dinner," she would grin and then reply, "Only chickens can make chickens. I am cooking chicken for dinner, though." The same would go for "making eggs" or "making bacon."

And so I think it is rather funny and odd that this same grandmother had a recipe for "cucumbers." It would seem to me that a recipe is for something you make, not something you grow. The cucumbers are sliced thinly and pickled ever so slightly in vinegar and sugar. And therefore, as far as I am concerned, by the time you are done, you have taken a cucumber and made something else altogether. 

The other day a friend mentioned that she makes "quick pickles" with her cucumbers, and although I am not sure her process is the same as my grandmother's, I think it is a perfect name and I am stealing it.

They aren't exactly pickles. But they aren't just cucumbers either. They are just sort of pickly cucumbers. In this recipe, the vinegar is diluted with water, and I think that stops them from pickling all the way. Instead, they get a little limp and a little sweet, and although they are still very recognizable cucumbers, they need a new name.

When I was young, and my mother would check my forehead to see if I had a fever, I got one of two reports back from her. If I was indeed running a fever, she would say "Oh, you're burning up." Otherwise, she assured me I was "Cool as a cucumber." (Which is either good news or bad, depending on if I was recovering from the flu, or trying to get out of going to school).

These cucumbers are just like the idiom. Cool. They are refreshing and tasty, especially on a hot summer day, and are great alone as a snack or used as a relish or in a salad. I like to eat them with a sandwich, or a hunk of cheese and some nuts at lunch time.

Quick Pickles

1 large cucumber, sliced very thin
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

Bring the water, vinegar, and sugar to a boil. Pour over the cucumber slices and refrigerate for at least a day before eating.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Happy birthday (and a coffee cake)

My daughter turned 11 during the middle of the craziness that is the last week of school. I feel bad for her, having her birthday on June 10. Having my own birthday on June 9, I fully understand how it can get overlooked because the schedule on June 10 is more likely than not to include some sort of end-of-year performance, banquet, awards ceremony, or good-bye party. We happened to add in a family reunion with 40 of my husband's relatives on her birthday.

That meant that her party was delayed a bit. And so, today, she is having a couple of friends over to spend the night. We are going out to dinner at a Japanese teppan-style restaurant, and to Hollywood to see Brave at the El Capitan theater. She keeps worrying that I am spending too much money and making things too fancy for her birthday. But that's the kind of kid she is. She is thoughtful and modest and just plain old nice.

She is starting to grow up a lot. I'll admit it scares me a bit. She is gaining independence, staying home alone and starting to go places by herself. I know the purpose of raising kids is to give the tools to be great adults, but it just seems like it goes so fast.

She is extremely intelligent and creative. She loves to write stories... 10-15 pages at a time. She is gifted with descriptions and dialog. Her stories read very smoothly and make you feel like you are right there with the characters.

She loves to read. As a matter of fact, we have had to severely limit her reading time, since she won't quit on her own. She tends to get melancholy after spending too much time with her nose in a book. Often I think she prefers the fantasy worlds she enters more than this one.

Above all, she is unique. Almost everything she does is outside the box (for Halloween she made her own costume... a carrot). Her birthday cakes are no exception. Last year instead of a cake she wanted layered jello. This year, a coffee cake. I had to make it somehow birthday-ish, and so I baked it in a cake pan instead of a bundt pan, which allowed me to frost and decorate it.

This recipe is really good as a bundt cake... the layers of crumble at the bottom and middle give it a little bit of fancy good looks, as well as a delicious twist to each bite. I just put all the crumble in the middle this time, and it turned out great that way as well.

We are celebrating the beginning of summer vacation.... so even though my little girl really wanted a coffee cake, I couldn't resist the urge to "birthday" it up a bit.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tandoori Turkey Burgers

Last week, we did Cub Scout camp. For five days, I spent the hours between 8:30 and 5:30 at a campsite, helping boys do crafts, shoot arrows, use slingshots, cook in a cardboard box oven, play football and badminton, and generally just be dirty, busy, loud, active, competitive boys. My two sons participated in camp, and my daughter worked her tail off as a junior volunteer.

Each night, we came trudging into the house, peeling filthy socks off our feet, dropping the camp t-shirts into a pile, and flopping onto the couch. 

Dinner needed to be something simple, and something quick for these kids who had run, climbed, swam, and hiked all day long in the hot sun. They were hungry and tired... not a great combination.  

These turkey burgers did the trick! They are pretty simple to throw together, they can be grilled in just a couple of minutes (while the kids hose the first layer of grime off each other), and they are TASTY. Topped with cilantro, onion, and cucumber, and a delicious yogurt sauce, they are nice and light and flavorful, just perfect for a hot night.

The recipe came from Bake Bree, and I only made a few tweaks. 

Tandoori Turkey Burgers

1 pounds ground turkey
4 green onions
3 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
salt and pepper to taste
Pita bread
persian cucumber
red onion sliced thinly

yogurt sauce:
1 small container plain Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper

Using your hands, combine the turkey, green onions, ginger, lemon juice, and spices. Form into 4-5 patties. Grill over medium-high heat until cooked through. Grill the pita bread for the last couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together all of the ingredients for the yogurt sauce.

Place a burger patty onto each piece of pita bread. Top with the cucumber, cilantro, and onion. 

Drizzle on some sauce, and enjoy!

Monday, June 4, 2012

White Citrus Sangria

I have decided that this is going to be the summer of the sangria. Why, you ask?

I can't think of a single reason why not, so there you have it.

I have been reading and reading plenty of mouth-watering recipes for Sangrias lately. In order to give some structure to this obsession, I have made an important decision in the name of science. I feel I need to try them all out, and then decide which one is best. But then, I will have to make it several times, in order to be sure that it remains consistently the best. Right?

Come along as I check out some Sangria options.

This first one is a white wine, citrus Sangria. It's very light and the addition of fresh squeezed orange juice gives it a great flavor. However, if you are one (like me) who likes to dig in and eat the boozy fruit at the end of the glass, you may be disappointed. The orange slices are to die for, but the lemon slices aren't great snacking material.

Citrus Sangria
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

2 large oranges
1 large lemon
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Cointreau
l bottle Chardonnay

Slice one of the oranges and the lemon into 1/4 inch thick slices. Add them and the sugar to a pitcher. Muddle the fruit and sugar together until the sugar is mostly dissolved, but stop before the fruit is completely mutilated.

Juice the other orange, and stir in the orange juice, Cointreau, and wine.

Chill for at least 2 hours, while you think of a great toast for a perfect summer evening.

This can be poured over ice, if you wish.