I like to cook. Sometimes my daughter likes to eat.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Zucchini Bread (sweet) and Zucchini Muffins (savory)

I know it's summer when I'm desperate to find a good zucchini recipe. All through my childhood, summer meant lots and lots of squash, there was always more than most of us wanted to eat. I remember my mom's zucchini bread, zucchini soup, zucchini cake, zucchini in tomato sauce and a whole lot of steamed zucchini. So much of it that not a single one of those recipes holds any appeal.

Fast forward to adult me, an urban non-farmer but CSA subscriber. And yes, there is plenty of zucchini. None of us are that partial to it, but since I don't have pigs to feed, find a recipe I must. Here are two that are outstanding, thanks to the brilliant Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks.

The first is her "My Special Zucchini Bread" and it is without a doubt the best zucchini bread I've ever had. Gone is the cloying cinnamon dullness, replaced by curry powder and ginger, with poppy seeds, chopped nuts and whole wheat pastry flour for texture. It makes two loaves, so 1 stick of butter is pretty moderate in the fat department. I used almonds instead of walnuts and would half the amount of crystalized ginger next time, as MZ and others loved it for a few bites and then had enough. It's strongly flavored. With those few changes, I will happily make this recipe for as long as the zucchini lasts. This isn't a super-moist quick bread, but it goes down easy with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk. Delicious!

The second is a riff on two of Heidi's recipes, the Zucchini Ricotta Cheese Cake and the Cottage Cheese Muffins. I'm not fond of dill, and muffins work better for the quick meals we require around here. I'm also not as much of an ingredients purist. I've made this hybrid with almond meal, but since nuts aren't allowed at MZ's preschool, I use flax meal instead, hoping she'll warm to them as they would be perfect in her lunch box. These light, quiche-like muffins make a great breakfast, and an even better lunch lightly warmed with a crisp green salad.

Zucchini Ricotta Muffins
2 cups zucchini, unpeeled & grated
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 15 oz. container part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup lowfat cottage cheese
1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
4 large eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 T water

Preheat oven to 400F degrees, place racks in the middle of the oven. Line a muffin pan or two (this makes 18 muffins) with medium-sized silicon or paper baking cups.

In a strainer, toss the shredded zucchini with the salt and let sit for ten minutes. Wrap the zucchini in a clean cotton kitchen towel and wring out as much moisture as possible. Fluff lightly and set aside.

In the meantime, combine the ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, shallots, garlic and basil in a medium bowl. Stir in the eggs and continue mixing until well combined. Add the flour, flax seed meal and baking powder and stir lightly to combine, then add the shredded zucchini.

Fill the muffin cups with the mixture and place in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until set, slightly risen, and golden brown. Serve as hot or at room temperature. Makes 18 muffins.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Dinners Week of 08/09

Sunday: Dinner out in Berkeley after Peter Pan

Monday: Korean Braised Tofu*, soba noodles and pan-roasted pimientos de padron and shishito peppers; blackberries, plain yogurt and brown sugar for dessert
Tofu recipe was a definite keeper, riffed off of a recipe from Quick and Easy Korean Cooking, from my beloved Chronicle Books series. The pimientos de padron have been running hot, so the folks at Happy Quail Farms suggested we buy Shishito peppers, which she described as "just like the padrons but never hot." "Really?" I asked. "Really," she assured me. Not so, they have a different, floral but slightly more bitter profile and much tougher skins. The padrons win hands-down.

Tuesday: Shrimp Egg Foo Young
We had been talking about old school childhood foods. Mana made a lightened up version with just eggs, shrimp, bean sprouts and green onions, and a light oyster sauce. It was delicious with brown rice.

Wednesday: Tacos los Altos with friends
Too hot to cook.

Thursday: Shrimp, Pea and Orzo Pasta, Green Salad and Banana Bread
Aunt D brought her A game for sure. I used the Cook's Illustrated Banana Bread recipe as usual, but replaced half the flour with w/w pastry flour. Absolutely the best ever.

Friday: Grilled flank steak, potato-stuffed pasilla and bell peppers**, cherry tomato couscous***
Shabbat dinner with friends combined with major fridge cleaning in anticipation of vacation. I came across the two sides recipes this week, each made ample use of something that needs using from the CSA box. Both were outstanding, totally worth making again. R LOVED the peppers, MZ went for the couscous salad.

Saturday: Zuni Cafe for our anniversary

*Korean Braised Tofu
This recipe should be quite spicy, but since MZ isn't there yet, I changed the recipe quite a bit and we added gochujang at the table. So this is hardly Korean at all anymore, but it is very very tasty. It was great served over soba noodles, but I really would have loved it with short-grain white rice.

1 block firm tofu
2 T canola or grapeseed oil
2 T warm water
1 t white miso
2 T soy sauce
1 T mirin
2 garlic cloves, minced or run through a garlic press
4 green onions, sliced thin on the diagonal
1 T sesame seeds

Wipe the block of tofu dry and slice the tofu into 1/2" slices. Set the slices out on a jellyroll pan lined with paper towels while assembling the rest of the ingredients. Pat the tofu slices dry on top and sides.

Heat a 10-12" nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and when it is very hot but not yet smoking, add the tofu slices. Brown on each side ~5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the warm water and miso, whisk, then add the remaining sauce ingredients.

When the tofu is browned on both sides, pour the sauce over and around the slices, flip any pieces with a lot of garlic on top, cover and turn heat to medium. Cook for 3 minutes and serve. Garnish with additional green onions for a shot of color.

**Potato-Stuffed Pasilla Peppers
Adapted from a recipe on the Happy Quail Farms website, this recipe reminds me of the best street tacos we've ever had, served from a cart in Mexico City's main Zocalo. The tacos included grilled steak, peppers and onions with a smear of mashed potatoes, topped with cotija cheese. They were so addictive we went there on our last night instead of someplace fancy. So it was a natural to serve this with grilled flank steak. Serves 6

6 pasilla or green bell peppers
5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup crumbled feta
salt and pepper
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly spray a shallow baking pan that is big enough to hold peppers snugly together, holding each other upright (use balled up foil if they need propping). Slice the top (stem end) from each pepper and set aside. Keeping pepper shells intact, remove seeds and ribs. Arrange shells in prepared dish and bake while making the filling.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil while chopping the flesh of the pepper tops, discarding stems. Add peppers to pan and sauté while peeling and slicing the potatoes. Add potatoes and 1/4 cup water, cover and cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring half-way through, until potatoes soften.

Remove from heat and stir in mustard, cilantro, feta, salt, and pepper. Remove partially baked pepper shells from oven and fill with potato mixture. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, until filling is golden brown and peppers are tender, about 25 minutes.

The perfect foil for high summer produce, this recipe came together easily, was ridiculously tasty when freshly made, and overnighted well in the fridge for a delicious cold salad the next day. I made very few changes: I used whole wheat couscous; I added 1/4 t Dijon mustard to the citrus juice mixture in the bowl prior to whisking in the EVOO to emulsify the vinaigrette; and I added three thinly sliced scallions (which, incidentally, were extremely popular with the 4 yos at the table). Another winner from 101 Cookbooks!

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Dinners Week of 07/26

This week's challenge: how to turn MZ into a chile head? I am craving good hot food, where the heat is cooked in rather than added at the end. But what would MZ eat? I know she could get used to chile if I made consecutively hotter dishes over a few intensive weeks, but I don't think she'd enjoy the ride. So I continue to dumb the recipes down, and hope that she develops an appreciating for the sensation of hot food on her own.

Sunday: Dinner at Friends' house

Monday: Grilled Lemongrass Beef Noodle Salad (Bun Bo)
Lemongrass-marinated grilled flank steak sliced over a layered salad of rice vermicelli, julienned zucchini, cucumber, shredded carrots, thinly sliced romaine lettuce, chopped mint, cilantro, Thai basil, green onions and crushed roasted peanuts. I marinated the meat, made the nuoc cham and prepped the veggies (all except the herbs) the night before. When I got home from work, I marinated the carrots and zucchini in the nuoc cham, boiled the noodles and chopped the herbs while R grilled the meat. MZ enjoyed hers deconstructed.

Tuesday: Grilled halibut, boiled new potatoes with butter, steamed broccoli

Wednesday: "Spicy" Grilled Chicken, "Spicy Eggplant with Tomatoes", Whole Wheat Chapati, Cucumber Raita
The chicken was from Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking, minus most of the cayenne. I made the marinade and put it in a zip lock with the chicken the night before. We received both eggplant and roma tomatoes in our farm box, so this quick recipe from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes was perfect. When I got home, I quickly cut up the eggplant and tomatoes. I added 1/2 t garam masala at the end to make up for the missing cayenne, thinking otherwise it might be bland. Definitely a make-again dish. The chapati, purchased from the frozen case at our local pan-Asian market, was an easy accompaniment. I made the raita from a diced cucumber and some yogurt and spices while the vegetables and chapati cooked. R and I added lime pickle for heat, MZ prefers the sweeter taste of tamarind chutney.

Thursday: Slow Cooker Tacos - FAIL
Wow, this estofado recipe did not work at all. When I started it in the morning, I thought it needed more liquid, but then thought more would be created as the pico de gallo salsa cooked down. R called me at 5 pm to suggest that it hadn't quite gone to plan, but was very polite and so I just thought it wasn't a lot of meat. It was shoe leather. Very salty shoe leather. We ate it in warm tortillas with a lot of sour cream and salsa.

Friday: Lemongrass Chicken, Asian Slaw and Judy D's fabulous Coconut Lime Rice
Angie's lemongrass marinade was outstanding! The chicken went really well with this new slaw recipe. I made brown Kalajiri rice in the rice cooker and stirred in a can of light coconut milk, some lime zest and the juice of one lime at the end. Also on the table: delicious heirloom tomatoes and good bread to start, grilled corn, teriyaki flank steak, edamame, and Mitchell's ice cream for dessert. A feast with good friends.

Saturday: Leftovers for MZ, NOPA for the adults

Asian Slaw
This recipe is based on the Ginger Pickled Red Cabbage Slaw in the China Moon Cookbook. I love this cookbook, but rarely have all her house-made pantry items on hand these days. To compensate for the lack of handmade pickled ginger, I added handfuls of fresh, tasty herbs and some carrots for contrast. This salad is gorgeous and tasty. It was great with grilled meats and hot rice, and would be good on a SE Asian-flavored burger.

2 T minced pickled ginger (sushi ginger)
1/4 cup ginger pickling liquid
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 T sugar
1.25 t kosher salt
1 lb red cabbage, cored and cut into fine strands
2 medium carrots, grated
3 green onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
2 T each chopped mint, cilantro ad Thai basil
1 T black sesame seeds

Combine the first five ingredients in a nonreactive, shallow bowl. Toss with the cabbage. Toss again in 15-20 minutes, cover and refrigerate for a day, tossing occasionally. The mixture will turn hot pink. Just before serving, add remaining ingredients, reserving some sesame seeds for garnish. Serve.

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