Thursday, August 29, 2013

Zucchini Bread

You may have already blown thru your abundance of zucchini this summer.  I know my personal supply is done, but the farm stand down the street still has zucchini. And I'm sure everyone has their favorite zucchini bread recipe.  Here's mine!

I started with a two beautiful green and yellow zucchini, equaling about a pound.  That's why the flecks of yummy zucchini goodness in the photos are yellow.  Plus it gives it a homey autumn-y feel.

Zucchini Bread

1 lb. zucchini
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1-1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. allspice
1/2 t. salt
1-1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 T. lemon juice
6 T. melted, cooled butter

Pre-heat oven to 375°.  Spray 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Shred zucchini on large holes on box grater.  Squeeze as dry as you can.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt in a large bowl.  Whisk sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, and butter in a separate bowl.  Add wet ingredients and zucchini to dry ingredients and fold gently to combine.

Pour into loaf pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until toothpick comes out with a few crumbs.  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and continue to cool.

Adapted from Cooks Country

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tomatoes 101

Tomatoes are the pure gold of the summer harvests.  They are sweet, juicy, flavorful, and abundant.  There's nothing like picking tomatoes straight off the vine on a July afternoon and tearing into it like an apple, juice running down your chin and arm.

I've learned a few things about tomatoes that I want to share.  There have been many times I wish I'd had a tomato guide.  And can I tell you how many times I've seen someone pull a tomato out of their (gasp!!) fridge?  Oh, and how I've longed to scold them like a tantrum-throwing toddler for flat out ruining that tomato!   Yeah, I can be a stickler like that.  In lieu of that, I've complied some of my favorite tips and tricks, as well as links to several amazing recipes with tomatoes as the starring ingredient.

Tomatoes ~ Everything You Wanted to Know 


  • Whatever you do, no matter what, NEVER store tomatoes in the refrigerator.  The cold temperature breaks down the cell walls, making the flesh mealy and gritty and tasteless.  Ahhhhhh, I can tell by your reaction you know exactly what I'm talking about.  That nasty, flavorless, sand-textured tomato came out of your fridge. 
  • Keep tomatoes on your counter, stem-side down until ready to use.  Sealing off the "opening" prevents oxygen from getting in and spoiling.

  • A good tomato will be firm enough to resist pressure, but not so firm it's hard as a rock.  It will have no blemishes or bruises, and no soft spots.  A juicy tomato will feel heavy for it's size.
  • If you can't grow your own or purchase from a farmer's market, good luck finding a good tomato. The supermarket ones are generally total garbage. They are usually picked green and unripe, transported in cooler cars, and sprayed with ethylene gas to ripen.  Gross!.  The best bet for a grocery store tomato is the grape or cherry tomatoes.  

  • Believe it or not, the most flavor is held in the seeds and jelly of a tomato. Most of us get rid of that stuff because it waters down the other ingredients.  But if you can help it, try and save it.  You can even reduce it on the stove for a bit to make it less watery.

  • Peeling:  Because tomatoes are so delicate, they are very difficult to peel without blanching.  First core the tomato.  Then blanch in boiling water for 15 seconds or until you see the skin split.  Plunge in ice water, then peel with a paring knife.
  • Slicing:  Slicing tomatoes without a serrated knife can be impossible unless you use a razor sharp knife. Forget squashing the fruit and use a serrated or steak knife.
  • Salting:  If you must remove the liquid from tomatoes for your recipe, you can cut them into wedges, salt them, place on paper towels, and drain for 15 minutes.  

  • If you need your tomatoes to ripen faster than sitting on the counter, you can place them in a paper bag.  Tomatoes release ethylene gas as they ripen and the paper bag contains it.
  • Green tomatoes won't ripen to red.  Skip the hassle and fry those guys up (Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip).

Canned Tomatoes:
  • Delicious!  I usually steer clear of canned foods (except for beans) but canned tomatoes rock.  Use them in any application where they are cooked.

  • Tomatoes contain lots of healthy vitamins and minerals.
    • Lycopene (anti-cancer)
    • Folic acid
    • Vitamins A, C, & E
    • Beta-carotene (antioxidant)
    • Phytoene and phytofluene (anti-cancer)
  • Eating tomatoes cuts your risk of many diseases.
    • Ovarian cancer
    • Digestive issues
    • Prostate cancer
    • Asthma and chronic lung disease
    • Cardiovascular disease

  • Plant in either the ground or in a large pot.
  • Bury two-thirds of the plant in the ground, branches included.  This will insure that the entire stem that is underground will grow roots, providing a strong root structure for your plant.  I wouldn't do it with other plants, though, as they suffocate.
  • Make sure the spot gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
  • At the time of planting, put a stake or tomato cage in as well.  Doing it while the plant is small prevents damaging the roots of a bigger plant.
  • Water when the soil is dry.  During the hot summer, this may be daily.  
  • Feed with organic fertilizer not nasty chemicals, please.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Butter Toffee Blondies

I have a confession to make.  I'm not crazy about brownies.  I mean, they're good, and I'll always eat them. But they are just so-so.  Rarely have I had a really good, gooey, fudgey brownie that was memorable.  Now a Blondie?  Absolutely!

What is a Blondie, you ask?  Let me tell you.

Blondies have the texture of a moist, slightly under-baked brownie.  The flavor is sort of a brown sugar, butter, and butterscotch-y combination.  One could say they have toffee-ish taste.  No matter, they are everything that is good about a brownie ~ the moistness, the sweetness, and the richness.

The tops of these Butter Toffee Blondies will have a lovely crackle-y top.  The scent of butter and brown sugar (which is pretty much my favorite thing ever) will make you want to dig in right away, but I suggest waiting until they cool. Unless you simply cannot help yourself.  In that case, grab a spade and dig in like Bob the Builder.

Butter Toffee Blondies

1-1/2 sticks butter, plus more for buttering pan
1-1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1-1/2 t. Vanilla extract
1 c. white chocolate chips
2 Heath bars, King size (2.8 oz each), chopped (about 2/3 cup)

Pre-heat oven to 350°.  Butter an 8 x 11-1/2 inch baking dish.  Line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on 2 sides.  Butter the parchment.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and both sugars.  Whisk until combined well.  Allow to bubble gently for about 5 minutes, whisking frequently.  Pour into a medium bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract.  Add the flour mixture and whisk until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips and toffee chips, and transfer to prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, checking doneness after 20 minutes.  It's ready when the top cracks slightly and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with moist pieces clinging to it.  Cool in pan on a wire rack. Remove bars from pan using the parchment overhang. Cut into squares.