It’s Zucchini Time!

To paraphrase Shakespeare, now is the summer of our zucchini.  It might be the heat or the rain or the magic soil we seem to have in our garden but all the plants seem to be growing like…well, zucchini in the summer.  We haven’t quite reached the point of throwing them into the windows of passing cars or sneaking into neighbor’s houses in the middle of the night like some vegan Santa.  But we’ve got enough that I’ve been putting them in everything.  Tonight’s recipe – cake.  It’s easy and tasty and, with the addition of peaches, tastes just like summer.  Enjoy.

Zucchini Peach Cake with Cream Cheese Butter Cream Frosting

for the cake:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup neutral-tasting oil (safflower, sunflower)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 packed cups zucchini
  • 1 large or 2 small peaches, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp nutmeg (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp granulated salt
  • 3 cups flour (either use all white flour or up to 3/4 cup whole wheat)

for the frosting/layering:

  • 1 stick (1/4 lb) butter, softened but not melted
  • 1 block (8 oz) regular cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup powdered sugar, to taste
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 large or 2 small peaches

Preheat oven to 325° F.  Grease and flour two 9″ round cake pans and set aside.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.  Beat in the oil and sugar.  The mixture will get very thick.  Using a spoon, stir in the zucchini, vanilla, and peach pieces.  Then stir in the spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Mix thoroughly.  Stir in the flour.  Pour into the two pans, making sure each has an even amount.  Bake for 45 minutes then check with a knife inserted into the middle.  If they aren’t done, continue to bake them but check every 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly in the pans before you try to get them out.

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting.  Beat together the butter and cream cheese using either a handheld mixer or an upright mixer.  Add in 1/4 cup sugar, the vanilla, and the nutmeg.  Whip well.  Taste then adjust with more sugar if the frosting doesn’t seem sweet enough to you.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and the mixer blades and mix again, making sure the frosting is smooth and evenly mixed.  Then peel the remaining peach(es) and cut them into very thin slices.

Once the cake is cool and ready to be assembled, run a knife around the pan and carefully tip the cakes out.  Place one cake on a flat plate or board, bottom side up.  Evenly spread with a small amount of the frosting, getting it all the way to the edges.  Spread the bottom of the other cake the same way.  Put the thin peach slices on the cake, arranging them so all the cake is covered but there aren’t any lumps.  Turn the second cake over on top of the first so the frosted sides are facing in, sandwiching the peaches.  Spread the remaining frosting over the top of the cake, making sure it is even.  Refrigerate cake for at least an hour (if you can cover the cake – either with a cake plate cover or a large bowl or pot so the frosting doesn’t get smashed – that’ll be best) or until you want to serve it.  Remove from fridge, cut and serve.  You can make this a day ahead, just keep covered in the refrigerator.  Keep leftovers (if there are any) covered in the fridge.

 

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Nostalgia Strikes Again

I grew up in Boulder, which is at the foot of the mountains and the air is mostly like mountain air. My grandparents lived in Greeley, about 30 miles east of Boulder, which has plains air. I now live 10 miles east of where I grew up and the air here is plains air. Mountain air and plains air are very different. They smell different, feel different, move differently. Tonight as I walked our dog (a sentence I still can’t believe I say regularly) I walked past a house that had sprinklers on and someone smoking inside. I was hit by a wave of nostalgia, a memory of many summer evenings being a child at my beloved grandparents’ house in Greeley. It was the sound of the sprinklers, the feeling of the soft plains air at dusk, the smell of wet grass combined with cigarette smoke and fields not far away and cows somewhere in the distance. All that was missing was my sisters giggling with me while we somersaulted in our nighties and picked strawberries into yogurt containers and danced while Owl sang to us. And eating Cheezits in white bowls at the kitchen table with Boppa. And watching the news on that tiny black and white tv in the kitchen and then Bob Newhart. I don’t often dwell in the past but tonight, whoa Nelly, I am there with my whole heart.

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What’s in a Name?

Tonight I made these IMG_3239 delicious fritters.  We all liked them but couldn’t agree on a good name for them.  I liked the simple/descriptive Smoked Salmon and Zucchini Fritters.  My husband, who often calls foods “thing” or “stuff”  thought they should be called Fish and Marrow Splats.  My son, for reasons only understood by his 8 1/2 year-old boy brain, thought they should be called Kentucky Tits.  My daughter had several suggestions that made her laugh hysterically.  I thought maybe Smoky Summer Fritters, but seeing how I’m in Colorado I then thought that the “smoky” part might be misunderstood.  So, in the spirit that a rose by any other name smells as sweet, here’s a recipe for a delicious, savory fritter/pancake/splat/tit (whatever that means) that uses some of your garden’s bounty.

Smoked Salmon and Zucchini Fritters  (*a note about ingredients and substitutions below)

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbs soft herb cheese (Rondele, Boursin, etc)
  • 2 Tbs milk
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1 cup packed grated zucchini (pack it in, you don’t want to be skimpy)
  • 2 Tbs finely minced onion (you can use red or yellow or white or even green)
  • 1-2 Tbs capers (we really like them in my house so I used 2 1/2 Tbs)
  • 4 oz whole piece smoked salmon, shredded by hand
  • freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil for cooking

Beat together the eggs, soft cheese, and milk.  IMG_3227

Whisk in the flour.  IMG_3228

Using a spoon, mix in the zucchini, onions, capers, salmon, and several grinds of pepper.IMG_3234

Mix well.  IMG_3235

In a flat-bottomed pan or pot over medium-medium high heat enough oil to coat the bottom.  IMG_3236

When the oil is hot put the batter into the pan, either by the teaspoon (for small fritters), tablespoon (for slightly bigger fritters), quarter cup (medium ones), or half cup (large ones) flattening the batter slightly.  IMG_3237

Cook on one side until browned then carefully flip and cook on the other side until browned.  Remove each one from the pan as it is done.  You can either serve these hot, room temperature, or cold.  They are great as a summer entree with a green or grain salad for dinner, with a cold yogurt cucumber sauce, with salsa, served cold as an appetizer, as a side dish for a heartier meal, etc. IMG_3240

 

*You can make these gluten-free by substituting rice flour for the wheat flour.  You can add fresh herbs (dill, basil, parsley, cilantro) as you like.  I use whole piece smoked salmon (not lox or nova) but you can use anything you like.  If you don’t have smoked salmon but have leftover grilled, baked, or poached salmon use that.  The fritters won’t be smoky but will still be delicious.  If you use fresh (not smoked) salmon and/or leave out the capers you will need to add some salt.  If you’ve got a bell pepper hanging around, mince some of that up and throw it in.  If you don’t have herb cheese you can leave it out or substitute some shredded smoked provolone or cheddar or Swiss.  I only ever buy extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower, oil, and safflower oil.  The first two add distinct flavor to whatever I cook the last two are neutral.  Try whatever oil you like.  Experiment, enjoy.

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Pi Day Mini Apple Pies

IMG_2710

On March 13th I mentioned to my children that the next day would be Pi Day and that many people eat pie on that day.  Of course they were excited by that, who wouldn’t be, and asked me to make pies for their classmates.  And, since what’s the point of having a chef mother if she doesn’t do things like this, I made mini pies for 23 2nd graders, 23 kindergarteners, and assorted teachers and office ladies for Pi Day.  But, because I am not a glutton for punishment, I made an easy and forgiving dough.  Here’s the delicious recipe so you can make little pies and be the hero, too.

Pi Day Mini Apple Pies

for the dough:

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  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour (I am a big proponent of whole grains for almost everything – not this)
  • 8 Tbs cold butter (1 stick) cut into smaller pieces*
  • 8 Tbs coconut oil (I like unrefined, it has a delicious taste and aroma)*
  • 2 Tbs powdered sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt*
  • 6-10 Tbs ice water

*If you don’t have coconut oil you can use double butter but the dough will be slightly less forgiving.  Also, if you use salted butter use only 1 tsp salt.  If you use unsalted butter use the larger amount.  The coconut oil should be solid at room temperature, if your kitchen temperature is so high that the oil is liquefied, refrigerate until it is solid then use it.

Into the body of a food processor put all the ingredients except the ice water.  Pulse until the butter and oil are chopped in and it all looks like crumbs.  Pulse in the water, 1 Tbs at a time until the dough holds together and isn’t crumbly.  You do not want a sticky dough or a really wet one so open the lid and check by feel if you aren’t sure by sight.  Take the dough out and press it into a disc then wrap in plastic wrap or put in a plastic bag and set aside while you make the filling.

IMG_2701

You can make the dough in advance and keep it well wrapped in the fridge for up to 3 days, just let it get back to room temperature before you roll and shape it.

for the filling:  IMG_2704

  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 5 large or 7 smallish apples (choose what kind you prefer but a firmer one is better than one that will get mushy quickly; the best ones have a little tart in their flavor profile to balance the sweet)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (you can use more to taste but don’t over-do it)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract

IMG_2702Peel the apples then cut them off the core and chop into ~1/4″ dice.  (This is not an exact science, although it is for Pi Day so don’t worry if your pieces are slightly irregular and not perfectly 1/4″ square.)  In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat melt the butter.  When it is melted, add the apples and let them cook for a couple of minutes, stirring a few times to make sure they don’t stick.  Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well then cover the pot and turn the heat down and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times.  Open the lid and let the mix cook another five minutes or so on medium heat, stirring every minutes or so, to allow some of the moisture to reduce.  You want a little moisture/syrup but not a huge amount of wet sauce.  While it is reducing to the right texture you can start to roll out the dough.  Once it is reduced as you like, set it aside to cool a little before you fill your pies.

to make the pies:

Heat the oven to 375° F.  Split the dough into thirds and keep the rest wrapped while working with one piece.  Using a little flour to keep it from sticking roll the dough to ~1/8″ thickness.  I roll onto a piece of parchment paper, which makes cleaning up really easy and keeps the dough from sticking to anything.

IMG_2705To make folded mini pies use a standard tumbler and cut the dough into rounds.  Gather up the extra dough and put aside, you will re-roll and use it.  Put a small amount of the filling into the center of each round of dough then fold the dough over on itself, making a half-moon shape, and press down with your fingers around the edges.  Place each pie on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  In a small bowl beat one egg and a dash of milk then use this to brush over the pies to help them brown nicely.  You can sprinkle decorating sugar, cinnamon sugar, plain cinnamon, or nothing over the pies before you bake them.  If you want to get really fancy you can use little bits of dough to make decorations on the pies but it’s really not necessary.  Repeat the rolling, cutting, filling of the dough until you’ve used up all the first third.  Repeat this process with the rest of the dough.  When the baking pan is full (the pies can be close but not touching on the pan) bake in the oven for ~12-17 minutes until they are lightly browned and the dough is firm.

IMG_2707To make the tiny  mini open pies line mini muffin tins with mini muffin papers.  Roll the dough the same but cut them with a shot glass instead of a tumbler.  Put a small disc of dough into each muffin paper, pressing slightly.  They will not be flat on the bottom but go up the sides slightly.  Put a small amount of filling in each little cup.  Bake ~8-12 minutes.  This recipe yielded 26 folded pies and 36 tiny ones.  That’s a lot of pie!  Once the pies are baked remove them to a cooling rack or plate to cool.  Store in sealed containers or bags.  They’ll be good for a couple of days, if they last that long.

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Birthday (or Halfy Birthday) Cupcakes

So when your child had a birthday in the summer and never gets to celebrate with her classmates you end up making cupcakes for her halfy birthday.  Which isn’t a bad thing in the middle of winter.  So tonight we made these easy and lovely Halfy Birthday Cupcakes.

Halfy Birthday Cupcakes

IMG_2672 - Copy

  • 1 cup  and 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil (sunflower or safflower)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of a mixer.  IMG_2656Mix well.  Add in all the rest of the ingredients except the boiling water.  Beat for a minute then scrape the sides and beat for 2 minutes on medium.  While the mixer is going on slow slowly pour the boiling water into the bowl then beat for a minute.  Scrape the sides then mix for 2 minutes on medium-medium fast.  Meanwhile, put cupcake papers into the pans.  This’ll make ~12-14 regular sized cupcakes, ~8 large ones, or ~40 minis.  Fill the papers 3/4 full and bake in the oven IMG_2665until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean (12-14 minutes for regular, 8-10 for minis, 16-20 for jumbos.)  Set them on a rack or plate to cool.  IMG_2667Make the butter cream frosting while they are cooling.

Chocolate and Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting

  •  1 1/2 sticks butter (3/8 pound), softened to room temperature
  • ~2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-4 tsp milk, as needed
  • vanilla
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate

Melt the chocolate then set aside to cool slightly.  IMG_2669Beat the butter in a mixer with the whip attachment until very light and airy.  Scrape the sides of the bowl then beat in the powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time beating after each addition.  Thin with a small amount of milk at a time, scraping the bowl after a minute or so, beating multiple times until very light.  Split the frosting in half, leaving half in the bowl and putting the other half aside.  Beat 2 tsp vanilla into the frosting in the mixer.  If you need to thicken it slightly add a little powdered sugar at a time until you get the right consistency.  Scrape the bowl and beat until very light.  Scrape the frosting out of the bowl and put in a Ziploc bag (or piping bag).  IMG_2664Put the rest of the frosting into the mixing bowl and add in the cooled liquid chocolate.  Beat well, scraping the bowl often and whipping until the consistency is right.  Put into another Ziploc.  Cut a small corner off each of the bags then pipe frosting onto the cupcakes, as you like.  Either stripes side-by-side or one on top of another.  Either serve as is or sprinkle with decorating sugar.  IMG_2671

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