Zucchini Season

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Image by Sh2587 from Pixabay

It hasn’t been a great year for my garden. Although the farmers market tables are thankfully, as always, overflowing with beautiful produce, my garden suffered from our travels and unusual weather. Too cold for the tomatoes, too wet for the peas, but always, no matter what the weather, just right for zucchini.

Zucchini is rarely the star of anything. I love roasted zucchini, but Mari and Thom require that zucchini be dressed up or disguised. Of course, they both love zucchini bread, which tastes as good as anything laden with sugar and cinnamon. Most of the zucchini from our garden ends up in savory meals, but I have so many this year that I’ll probably bake some chocolate zucchini muffins and zucchini cornbread this weekend.

Our Savory Meals Featuring or Disguising Zucchini

Chili
Enchiladas
Vegetable Pancakes with Soup
Veggie Burgers & Coleslaw(salt zucchini and press out liquid before adding to coleslaw)
Frittata (precook zucchini)
Zucchini Pizzas (with roasted zucchini slices as “crust”)
Lasagna
Curries
Polenta with roasted vegetables and cheese
Potatoes or pastry with spinach, feta, and zucchini

What are you doing with your garden produce?

Cold Chocolate for Summer

Images from “Famous Recipes for Baker’s Chocolate and Breakfast Cocoa,”
copyright 1928, Walter Baker & Co., Inc.

Had I been born a century earlier, I think the odds are high I’d have been a home economist rather than an engineer.   My aunt, who had a chocolate party for her retirement and is the only other member of the family who really understands my love of chocolate, shared with me this tiny booklet, written by several home economists of the 1920s.  I enjoyed the simplicity and inventiveness of the recipes and was surprised by the lavish colorful illustrations in a small pamphlet of that vintage.  Did you know that cocoa nibs were available 90 years ago?

Everyone knows hot chocolate, but I have to say that when I saw the simple instructions for Iced Cocoa, all I could think was, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  A quick search found plenty of recipes, and, of course, it’s similar to but less rich than modern chocolate milk, but I like this version for its simplicity.  The ingredients are as written in the 1928 booklet, but instructions have been edited for brevity.

Hot or Iced Cocoa

4 T cocoa
2-4 T sugar
few grains salt
1 c cold water
3 c milk

Add cocoa and water to saucepan and stir while heating until smooth.  Boil about 2 minutes, then add other ingredients.  Heat until foamy, then beat well and serve.  Vanilla or cinnamon may be added prior to serving.

For iced cocoa, prepare hot cocoa in advance and chill, then serve over cracked ice in tall gasses, garnished with whipped cream if desired.

 

There’s also a cocoa syrup recipe that can be used in a variety of ways for summer beverages.  I haven’t tried this yet, but think the quantity of sugar is probably at least double the necessary amount since the ratio of sugar to cocoa is 4 times the above recipe.

Baker’s Breakfast Cocoa Syrup

1/2 c cocoa
1 c cold water
1/8 t salt
2 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Cook cocoa and water together, stirring until smooth.  When the mixture begins to boil, stir in sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.  Boil 3 minutes and add vanilla.  Refrigerate.

Chocolate Float:  To 1.5 T cocoa syrup, add 6 oz carbonated water and stir well.  Add cracked ice and top with whipped cream.

Frosted Chocolate: To 1.5 T cocoa syrup, add 4 oz milk and 1/4 c ice cream.  Add carbonated water.

Chocolate Milk Shake: Add to a glass jar 1.5 T cocoa syrup, 8 oz milk, and cracked ice.  Shake well.  (Very different from our modern definition of milkshake, but now the name makes sense!)

No variation was provided for mocha, but the rule seems to be 1.5T syrup to 8oz liquid.  Recipes from “Famous Recipes for Baker’s Chocolate and Breakfast Cocoa,” copyright 1928, Walter Baker & Co., Inc.

Shared with Weekend Cooking.

 

Reducing decisions in the kitchen

market_vegetables_carrots_artichokes_herbs_sage_thyme_radish-715590.jpg!dI am grateful for a week off from food responsibilities (having cooked in advance and left Thom well supplied while I travel). I always find summer to be difficult regarding meals – our big freezer is off, we’ve got unpredictable garden produce, it’s hot and I won’t use the oven, and every week is different due to travel and other activities, some of which arise at the last minute. After 6 weeks of summer, I feel like I’ve completely forgotten what we usually eat.

But this year, it’s not just that. I’ve been trying for years to have Thom and Mari take more of a role in at least planning meals, and I am tired of shouldering this myself. My efforts to grow, purchase, and prepare healthy foods feel largely unappreciated, with both Thom and Mari reaching for the few packaged foods in the house rather than the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Cooking used to be a big creative outlet for me, but for months I’ve just had little interest in putting my energy there, and my audience is not particularly appreciative of creative meals and would probably be happy if I would just make homemade pizza every night. Although I don’t intend to do that, I think I will try rotating basic, quick meals, such as

Monday          Black bean burritos and raw veg/salad, or tacos with lentil filling
Tuesday         Curry with chickpeas and greens (extra rice for Thom’s lunches)
Wednesday   A noodle dish (pad Thai, soba, or lo mein) with tofu and veg
Thursday       Leftovers or salmon with potatoes and veg
Friday             Pizza and raw veg/salad
Saturday        Veggie burgers, soup, or spanakopita casserole
Sunday           Chili or pasta in some form (leftovers for Mari’s lunches)

This accommodates all their favorites and leaves plenty of latitude for adding random ingredients and using seasonal vegetables (eggplant, for instance, can hide sufficiently for them in the burritos, curry, veggie burgers, or chili). There are enough nights featuring legumes and greens, those markers of a longevity-friendly diet, to make me happy, and enough nights featuring bread and pasta to keep them happy. My last-minute emergency meal of veg-filled omelet doesn’t appear, so that can fill in occasionally when needed. All of these will work around late evenings at work or school, being friendly to microwave reheating and allowing prep that can be done the night before. And the weekend meals would be acceptable to most of Mari’s friends should we happen to have unplanned guests.

The weekend meals are intentionally basic.  While some families traditionally have a fancier meal on the weekends, I know that I will be getting groceries and preparing breakfast and lunch foods for the coming week.

Meal planning for the indefinite future: check. We’ll try it out in the coming month and optimize before my return to work.  I’m glad to have a plan for reducing mental energy  in the kitchen.

How do you reduce time and mental energy on household routines?

Easiest Frittata

frittataKelli’s thoughts about brunching reminded me of one of my standby meals.   Everyone has, or should have, a few meals that can be assembled and cooked quickly, easily, and without a recipe, for those nights when the schedule is even more compressed than usual. One of my favorites is a frittata. It is generally gluten-free, and can be vegetarian and/or dairy-free depending on your preferences and what’s hanging around in your refrigerator.

Pictured is tonight’s dinner – a spinach-summer squash frittata topped with a few bell pepper rings. These freeze well and make excellent leftovers for lunches.  Leftover vegetables or potatoes or grains from a previous dinner will speed dinner still more.  I’ve tried various ways of cooking these – stovetop, oven, and both, and I’ve found no textural or flavor differences, but I prefer the below oven method for ease. In the summer, I bake in a toaster oven on the porch to avoid roasting us all out of the house.

The 30-minute baking time is sufficient to prep a salad and clean the dishes generated in cooking, so cleanup is quick, too.

Frittata (6 servings)

  •  6 large eggs
  • vegetables, sliced thinly (tonight’s used 1/2 pound frozen spinach and 1 medium crookneck squash; onions, peppers, asparagus and green beans work well also. )
  • potatoes, in small cubes, or cooked grain or pasta, if desired
  • seasoning to taste – fresh herbs are nice when available – chives, basil, parsley
  • optional: cheese – I’ve used everything from cheddar to chèvre

Oil a deep 9″ pie plate and preheat oven to 350F.

Saute the vegetables (if using potatoes, start these earliest, and cook until done) dry or in a small amount of olive oil until most of the moisture is removed. Stir in seasonings.

Beat the eggs until your arm is really tired. Put the vegetables into the pie plate and pour the eggs on top. Using a fork, gently move the vegetables around here and there to mix in the eggs. Make a design on top if desired, with pieces of pepper, asparagus, thinly sliced carrots, etc.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until eggs are thoroughly cooked and the frittata is beginning to brown.  Serve with salsa or ketchup if desired.

Brunch on the Patio Plans

It’s a grey, slushy Saturday 2 days post April blizzard, my husband has been with my father-in-law at the clinic all day, and I’m needing happy, sunny thoughts of friends and summer.  So!  I’m going to “plan out loud” right here on the blog.

I’ve been missing a lot of longtime friends in the time since our littles have come along.  Many of them already had their own littles, or have had some since as well.  We have a fantastic back yard with a great deck and now a huge play structure!  So!  I was thinking a few months ago, why do we always stress out about a restaurant that we have to figure out where to go, where to park, and entertain the kids instead of talking and enjoying each other, all at the cost of approximately $1,000,000 for the meal?  We could be enjoying our backyard on unlimited time, a far cheaper meal, and the kids don’t even have to behave.

That time has come!

I want to have a menu that is the same every time, to save on stress, mainly.  The easier this is, the more likely it will be to happen.

I polled the members of a local women’s group about a set menu for friend brunches on the patio.  Requirements:  some kind of main that is gluten free (for me), and pretty much otherwise – just easy.  I posed the idea of an egg bake and they riffed on it.  These lovelies came up with tons of scrumptious ideas for meatless or meat-full, and other customizable ideas like fruit and yogurt parfaits.

Egg bake ideas:

  • With hashbrowns for the “crust” so it’s GF – saute the hashbrowns before adding egg & baking
  • Mushroom, asparagus & gruyere
  • Bacon, cheddar & chives
  • Veggie only for vegetarians, breakfast meats on the side
  • Sausage, onions & peppers with or without cheese
  • Tex Mex egg bake
  • Cheesy Croissant Brunch Bake with caramelized onion, brown sugar ham, sauteed spinach, cheese, and croissant crust (though I’d omit that for GF purposes)
  • Biscuits & gravy egg bake
  • Baked eggs with tomato, cottage cheese, Monterey Jack or Colby cheese, broccoli or spinach

Side dish ideas:

  • Cut fruit
  • Bread
  • Yogurt granola cups – bake the granola in the bottom of a muffin cup and top with yogurt, or just have yogurt with a bag of granola and some little bowls/cups
  • Mimosas & bloody bar
  • Baked bacon

 

 

 

Toasty English Muffins for a Snowy Day

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Happy Cat on the laundry in the basket on the chair in the sunshine!

Travel for much of February has been inadvisable to impossible. When another snow-ice-snow sandwich was promised for Saturday, I decided that we would begin the day with a leisurely breakfast, and started dough for English muffins on Friday night.

I began with a recipe from my mom’s 1980 Fanny Farmer Cookbook, which, despite its cover declaration of complete revision, has a lot of recipes that appear to be from a bygone era.  I combined instructions from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, and of course added some whole grain flour. Finally, I gave the dough an overnight refrigerator rise, making it much more convenient for breakfast as well as more flavorful.

I cut all breads like this into squares; it saves time and eliminates the need to re-roll dough.

IMG_1628English Muffins
1 c milk, scalded

½ c water
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 T butter
¾ tsp yeast
1.5 c whole wheat flour
1.5 c unbleached flour

The night before you’d like an English muffin breakfast: Mix milk, water, salt, sugar, and butter, and cool to below 110F. Add the yeast and half the flour, and beat batter thoroughly. Beat in remaining flour; the mixture will be something between a thick batter and a soft dough. Cover loosely and let rise a couple of hours. Mix a little more, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, about 2 hours before you’d like to eat, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Stir it down and add more flour if needed to make it stick to itself more than your hands. On a well-floured surface, pat out the dough into a rectangle about ½ inch thick, and then cut with a dinner knife into approximately 3-inch squares. Place the squares on an oiled baking sheet and cover with a second baking sheet. Let rise 60-90 minutes, until increased in size at least 50%.

Heat a large stovetop or electric skillet to medium/300 degrees. Quickly, slide a thin, sturdy spatula under a muffin and add it to the skillet; fill the skillet with about ½ inch space between the muffins. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, then turn (reduce heat if muffins are browning too quickly). Repeat this until the muffins have cooked twice on each side for a total of 20 minutes.

Remove to a cooling rack and add the next batch of muffins to the skillet. With a fork, pierce along all edges of each muffin so that it will split easily. Split and toast.

Thrifty Thursday – The Grocery Budget

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Photo by Liz West, cc-by-2.0.

I don’t always monitor all expenses, but I periodically track for a few months to see how close we’re adhering to our budget. Groceries are one area where there is some flexibility in the monthly budget, but with the numerous decisions made in a week’s shopping and cooking, it’s easy to exceed intended expenditures. After reviewing the past two months of spending, I found that our grocery spending is slightly less than half of the USDA thrifty food plan estimate for our family, even in the winter when we don’t have free garden produce. A year ago, before Mari became a vegetarian, we were exactly at the half-of-thrifty mark. I was so startled by this that I’ve checked it twice. I guess I should look elsewhere for places to save in our budget.  Every week I ask Thom and Mari if there’s anything they’d like in the coming week’s meals, and it’s usually the same things, with no unusual grocery purchases.

Our grocery routines appear to be working for us. They are
1. Buying in season and shopping the deals. I buy groceries primarily at Aldi and Costco, with periodic trips to Fresh Thyme, Trader Joe’s, the Asian markets, and the food coop, depending on what we need, averaging 2 stores/week.
2. Pantry and freezer. I never worry about running out of groceries in a snowstorm. And very rarely will I stop at a store to get one ingredient. Fewer trips generally result in less spending.
3. Near zero food waste. I freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions, and many of them become my workday lunches. I cook a lot of produce without seasoning so that it can be refrigerated or frozen until I’m ready to add it to other meals (and season then).
4. Cooking everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, every day. It is the routine now and it makes a meal out far more special than when Thom and I ate out most weekdays in our early years together. And it should be a special event, because a decent restaurant meal for 3 costs as much as a week’s groceries.
5. No soda or junk food. If we want dessert, we make it. Our usual snacks are fruit, popcorn, homemade bread, or homemade trail mix. I think that my great-grandmothers would recognize all the foods in my pantry, aside from the large array of spices for foods of the world.  (Except the broccoli.  My dad tells me that he never saw broccoli when he was a kid.)