Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Good Stuff

With all the celebrity chefs, beautiful glossy food magazines, and mouthwatering food blogs out there, it's easy to get caught up in the "glamor" of food. The professionally styled food photos, the exotic ingredients . . . especially when you're working on your own food blog. It's easy to lose sight of the good stuff.

Earlier this week, as I was visiting with my mom on the phone, she mentioned my miserable stuffed zucchini experience. She told me there was a great stuffed zucchini recipe from a neighbor in the Methodist Church cookbook. Now, let me pause and tell you about this cookbook. It is something of a phenomenon in my family. Throughout my childhood, both my parents were forever looking for their copy of the Methodist Church cookbook. Every recipe they were looking for seemed to be in that cookbook. Things got a little complicated when a new edition was released . . .

"Was it in the first edition or the second edition? Where is my first edition? I have a first edition at my house but I don't know if it is your first edition. Was her recipe for ___ in the first edition or the second edition? Ask your (mom/dad) if they have seen my Methodist Church cookbook; I need the recipe for ______. I think there is a recipe in the Methodist Church cookbook for that . . ."
It was, to my parents, what the Joy of Cooking is to some people. So how could this seemingly indispensable cookbook slip away from me? Easily, actually . . . it got lost in the shuffle of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, The Barefoot Contessa, and all the beautiful food blogs in my google reader.

I received a copy of the Methodist Church cookbook as a wedding gift, with a very thoughtful inscription written inside the cover by the gift giver (second edition, by the way). But I hadn't even opened that very cover for well over a year. Until I went to find the good stuffed zucchini recipe, that is.

As you may have noticed in the picture, this post isn't really about the stuffed zucchini recipe; it's not in the second edition. However, as I flipped through the pages, thinking about all the great recipes so carefully submitted by all the great people from my hometown, one caught my eye. Zucchini bars. So, in the midst of the county fair, work, wedding season, and trying to protect my garden from the almost daily thunderstorms, I stopped everything to make zucchini bars.

I just baked them. I didn't even make the frosting. Nothing fancy, just good, moist, tender zucchini bars. I froze 3/4 of the batch and left the rest on the counter. When Ken got home from the fair tonight, I encouraged him to try the zucchini bars (I think he was a bit skeptical at first; after all, we have been eating a lot of zucchini). He loved them, and had seconds and thirds. I mentioned the frosting, which he quickly dismissed, saying they were so moist there was really no need for frosting . . . "they just couldn't be any better."

This zucchini experience has helped me regain my focus . . . it's not really about the pretty pictures or the exotic ingredients, or even how well your recipe experiments turn out or whether or not your garden looks good. Sharing your time, your talents, (your zucchini) and your favorite recipes with the friends and family you love . . . making them smile . . . that is the good stuff.

Zucchini Bars from the United Methodist Church cookbook

4 eggs
1 1/2 c. oil
2 c. sugar
2 c. grated zucchini
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup nuts (I used pecans)

Mix ingredients in order given and pour into a greased sheet cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes.

One 8 oz. pkg cream cheese
1 stick oleo (I would probably use butter)
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 c. nuts
2 tsp. vanilla

Beat all ingredients together and spread on cooled bars.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Creative Kitchen Storage

Do you have enough kitchen storage? If you answer 'yes,' I'll be shocked . . . it seems that very, very few people have enough storage space in their kitchen. So, sometimes we just have to be creative.

I don't devote a lot of time to devising creative kitchen storage ideas . . . and I've certainly not spent any time preparing to blog about it. However, tonight as I was prepping some chocolate chip cookies, I realized that a few of my kitchen storage methods are a bit . . . unusual. For example, I have a green vase on my counter. It coordinates with the green in my kitchen and living/great room. I bought it thinking I would fill it with flowers or twigs and find a place for it in the great room. But my counter needed a little shot of color, so that's where it ended up. And before long, it was put to use . . .

as a place to store seldom used (and too tall) kitchen utensils . . .And then there is the chocolate storage . . . an iced tea box. It fits nicely in the top of one of my cabinets. When I'm baking (or having a chocolate craving), I just pull the box down from the shelf and instantly have access to my entire collection of chocolate. I'm thinking of adding another box for cocoa powder, etc. - because this one has clearly reached its capacity!

While you're waiting to win the lottery and build a dream kitchen, save those tea boxes . . . they can really come in handy!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Missouri Wine Country

As you can tell, Missouri wine country is beautiful!

Yesterday, I went on a day trip to Missouri wine country (the Hermann and Augusta area) with some of my husband's family. Seven area wineries participated in the Very Berry Wine Trail event, where each paired a berry dish (mostly desserts) with wine. We made it to all seven wine trail participants, plus one additional winery - the Augusta Winery. After sampling dozens of wines throughout the day, we unanimously determined that Adam Puchta is still our favorite. Their vignoles and homemade strawberry shortcake were a perfect pair for a hot July day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Zucchini (bread) for breakfast

I tried another zucchini bread recipe this week - this one from The Sisters' Cafe.
I added pistachios to the mix, and I'm still trying to decide how I feel about that addition.
Although we have a few loaves of zucchini bread in our freezer already, I'll probably make at least one more batch - using another different recipe. I have so much zucchini, I'm trying out all the zucchini bread recipes in hopes of finding a favorite to add to my permanent recipe collection. Let me know if you have a favorite zucchini bread recipe - I'll give it a try!

Barefoot Bloggers: Salmon OR Roast Beef Spread

Once again, it's Barefoot Bloggers time! I love participating in Barefoot Bloggers, but I didn't love the July selections (JalapeƱo Cheddar Cornbread and Smoked Salmon Spread). Both of the June recipes were absolutely wonderful, and I'm sure the upcoming selections will be more interesting for me. This week's recipe, Smoked Salmon Spread, was chosen by Ashley of The Spicy Skillet. I know most people like salmon, so it was a good choice . . . but unfortunately, I'm not a salmon eater (although I am going to try it soon - watch for that post). I substituted roast beef (deli style, sliced) for the salmon and fresh garlic chives for the dill (ahh . . . the joys of the rural Midwest . . . no fresh dill in the little grocery store, so I used chives from my garden). I also added some red pepper to give it a little spice. Overall, the dip was okay. I think some of its appeal was lost in translation when I made the substitutions. Maybe I'll try it again someday if I learn to like salmon. I have learned to like tomatoes as I've grown older, so maybe there's still hope!

Smoked Salmon (or Roast Beef) Spread

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic chives)
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound (4 ounces) smoked salmon, minced (or ¼ pound sliced roast beef)
(I also added about 1/8 tsp. red pepper)

Cream the cheese in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until just smooth. Add the sour cream, lemon juice, dill (or chives), horseradish, salt, and pepper(s), and mix. Add the smoked salmon (or beef) and mix well. Chill and serve with crudites or crackers.
Ina Garten recipe courtesy of The Food Network

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Finally . . . a Giada recipe worth making!

In a recent post, I shared how my recent attempts at recipes by Giada DeLaurentiis, the host of Food Network's Everyday Italian, didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. Despite having a small list of fabulous ingredients, the crostini wasn't very good at all. The chocolate chip marscapone cupcakes were good . . . but not fantastic, as I imagined they would be. So, I set out to find a Giada recipe worth the effort of making. I chose lemon ricotta cookies because they had a good rating on the food network's website, and because I had all the ingredients - including a container of ricotta cheese on the verge of expiring.

The result? Soft, fluffy cookies with a great lemon flavor, sweet, but a little tart. If you're not a fan or soft cookies - or lemon - skip this one . . . but otherwise, it's a great way to use lemons and ricotta cheese! For me, it's a keeper.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze
Recipe courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis, from the Food Network

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons lemon juice1 lemon, zested

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the large bowl combine the butter and the sugar. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

zucchini fever

It's that time of year. You know the time I'm talking about - when friends, co-workers, and even people you barely know offer to share zucchini. There are jokes about how you have to lock your car - not for fear of having your GPS stolen - but for fear of finding excess zucchini inside when you return. Every grocery store is stocked with it, every stand at the farmer's market has buckets and baskets full. Everyone with a garden is slicing, dicing, and shredding it, and it seems that every food blogger is writing about it. Yes, it's zucchini time.

I fall into several of these categories - I've shared, baked with, cooked with, sliced, shredded, and now blogged about zucchini. First, I made zucchini bread from The Silver Palate:

Next, I made pasta . . . zucchini fettuccine (say that five times in a row!). It was kind of a hybrid between the fettuccine recipe in The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper and this recipe from Chronicles of a Fledgling Home Cook. Basically, the sauce was butter, cream, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh basil, fresh oregano, salt and pepper (combine with sauteed zucchini and fettuccine cooked al dente). I added a little splash of fresh lemon juice just before serving, which made it extra delicious.

If you need even more zucchini ideas, the Pioneer Woman made farfalle with zucchini. Last summer, Molly at Orangette made pasta sauce with zucchini blossoms.

Still have extra zucchini? One of my favorite zucchini recipes is crispy zucchini coins from Cooking Light. By the way, Cooking Light has 292 zucchini recipes on its site. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks makes chocolate zucchini cupcakes. Truly, the options are endless. There's zucchini pizza, zucchini pie ("tastes like apple" - really?) . . . you can fry it, bake it, stuff it, grill it . . . but my favorite is to share it.
Anyone want some zucchini?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Barefoof Bloggers: Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread

Alternate Title: It is generally a good idea to follow the recipe!

I admit it, my heart wasn't really in it tonight. Jalapenos are a little too spicy for me (but I thought I should at least try including them), and I also wasn't crazy about baking a big batch of cornbread for just the two of us. But I love the Barefoot Bloggers group and I've never had a Barefoot Contessa dish I didn't like, so I baked the jalapeno cheddar cornbread anyway. But it was only a half-hearted effort. And I was in a hurry to get it baked and posted.

My first mistake was substituting polenta/grits for the cornmeal. It is more coarsely ground than cornmeal, and left the cornbread with a . . . gritty . . . texture. My second mistake was pouring the melted butter - still warm from being melted - into a bowl with eggs and milk. I know better . . . I really do . . . but that is what happens when you're in a hurry. In case you didn't take time to read the last two sentences, here is a summary: raw eggs + a hot ingredient = disgusting.

I also baked the cornbread in muffin pans instead of a 9x13, which I think is probably an acceptable switch (just reduce the baking time to 20-25 minutes). I also used canned jalapenos (I'm not sure if this is a good substitution or not, because I'm not a jalapeno person), and left off the topping of cheese and extra scallions (because at that point I didn't want to waste any more cheese on this project).

The moral of the story is this: follow the instructions, use the right ingredients, and take your time!I think this would be a great cornbread recipe if followed correctly (and for me, if the jalapenos are left out!).

Birthday "Cake" and Funny Stories

My husband made me dinner last night for my birthday . . . including this birthday cake. Although it looks strangely familiar to brownies, make no mistakes - this is a CAKE! (I did refer to it as "brownies" once, and was reminded that it was my birthday CAKE . . . either way, it was good!)

Apparently when he was buying the candles the clerk at the store struck up a conversation with him and asked him who was turning 72; he thought it was hysterical. I look at this picture and 27 seems kind of old . . . I'm definitely not ready for 72!

Speaking of funny stories, I will share with you why I no longer have time to update my blog often: I cannot stop reading the hilarious stories on the Postcards From Yo Momma website! If you need a good laugh, it is definitely the place to go!

Monday, July 07, 2008

tastes from a 3 day weekend

Fourth of July dinner on our deck . . .
pork chops or flat iron steaks, fettucine, French bread, and salad - not too exciting, but good . . .
thank goodness for salad, giving some much needed color to the plate!

Strawberry Panzanella (with cherries and blueberries, too) for dessert . . .
add real whipped cream - you absolutely cannot beat this!

And a pan of egg (muffins? omelets? souffles?) with cheddar, pancetta, and green peppers for quick breakfasts this week . . .

These [egg things] turned out okay - but the texture on the bottom is a little weird, kind of spongy. They're also hard to peel out of the paper liner. For 12 [muffins], I used 10 eggs, about 1/2 cup milk, and a little bit of shredded cheese, pancetta, and green bell peppers. I baked them at 350 for 25 minutes. Any suggestions about the texture issue? Should I have added flour/beaten egg whites to make it more like a souffle?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


It's wheat harvest time, which marks the end of normal meals as we know them. When my husband gets in from the farm and I get in from the garden, etc. (well after dark) -it's all we can do to have a sandwich, salad, or bowl of cereal. Nothing blog-worthy, for sure.

Apparently wheat harvest also marks the end of other good things. . .
The Busy Bistro (our favorite restaurant in Quincy) closed last Friday and the little grocery store in town quit selling glass bottled milk from a local dairy. Clearly, these things are not actually related to wheat harvest, but they did coincide with the timing. I'm bummed.

We did have a nice, causal dinner on our deck Saturday night (before wheat harvest madness began) - BBQ chicken drumsticks, green bean gremolata (recipe coming soon), salad, French bread, and chocolate marscapone cupcakes.

Until wheat harvest is over - or until it rains - we'll be enjoying our fast and easy late night meals (I'll try to make something fun for the 4th of July).