Zucchini Bread

Summertime = buying tons of zucchini for cheap, which inevitably leads to zucchini bread, at least for me. This has been true ever since I discovered this awesome zucchini bread recipe at Smitten Kitchen. Baking zucchini bread has become more of a year round thing, because out of all of the baked goods that I make way too often, zucchini bread seems to be the biggest hit. I don’t know if it is because it is so tasty, or maybe because some people see zucchini and immediately think it must be good for you. While the former is true, the latter, not so much – it should really just be called zucchini cake. I’m not going to try to fool myself (or you) into thinking that this zucchini bread is healthy just because there’s a bit of shredded green veggie inside of it (amid the sugar, oil, chocolate, and so on). Similarly, I’m not going to try to fool myself that just because it isn’t health food that I’m not going to eat it (have you seem my other posts?!).

So, I decided that since I will definitely be eating this zucchini bread (and lots of it) when zucchini is so readily available and inexpensive, I might as well at least try to add some sort of health benefits. Seems like a nice compromise, right? So, along with all those horrible things like white flour, sugar, oil, etc, I added some whole wheat flour and ground flax seed. While this might not be the equivalent of eating steamed zucchini, at least there’s some fiber and omega 3’s hidden inside! This was also a nice exercise in using what I had (yay saving $!) – I realized I didn’t have any chocolate chips so I made chocolate chunks from a chocolate bar in my candy stash (yes, I have a target bag filled with all sorts of goodies in my desk for when the stress gets to be too much :/).

So what if I stock up on Halloween candy when it goes way on sale on Nov 1…that candy stash comes in handy at times!

Zucchini Bread (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (or chocolate chunks!)
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease/flour either muffin tins (enough for about 24 muffins) or two 8×4 inch loaf pans. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until slightly fluffy with a whisk. Add oil and sugar, mix, then add zucchini and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, chocolate chips, and flax seed. Stir this into egg mixture (careful not to overmix) and divide batter into prepared pans. Loaves will bake for 60 minutes, plus or minus 10 (I baked mine for about 55 minutes) and muffins take about 20-25 minutes.

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Soy Chorizo Stuffed Banana Peppers

So this is my first post in about 3 weeks?! Life has definitely gotten in the way of food blogging – between a much needed week visiting friends and family at home and getting ready to start school again while finishing up summer classes and tying up loose ends in the clinic – there was hardly time for cooking let alone writing about it! But I’m back, although potentially briefly, as I am currently in the midst of a week long hiatus before the chaos of teaching, taking classes, doing practicum in Atlanta, and oh yeah, trying to make progress on that pesky little thesis takes over my life. For now though, I will cook, or attempt to.

A warning before reading this post – this is not going to be your average stuffed pepper recipe (not that I have any idea what that is, which will be apparent as the recipe unfolds). I have never made stuffed peppers or stuffed anything before for that matter, but a friend of mine who basically lives on a farm gave me an awesome bag filled with fresh produce, including a bunch of banana peppers. I had no idea what to do with my newly acquired abundance of peppers, so I decided to do something I’d never done before. While I had all the good intentions of going through recipes with solid reviews to help me create something edible, I got distracted. I’m not gonna lie, I have burnt many a cookie and even rice (should be so simple!) because of cooking while distracted. This is why I no longer go near the kitchen when a Maryland basketball game is on. I guess I am not the best multi-tasker, but oh well. All weekend I have been watching Lollapallooza live-streaming online – until I have the luxury of time and money, pretending I am at music festivals will have to do. I had been enjoying watching live performances from Delta Spirit and The Walkmen, among others, while also reading for my thesis and painting, so I didn’t think twice about bringing my laptop with me in the kitchen for my experiment in pepper stuffing. Mistake! Right as I was gathering all of my ingredients and getting ready to cook, The Gaslight Anthem had to go and start their set.

when Brian Fallon sings, I just can’t help but listen…and burn rice :/

One of my favorite bands…I could not relegate them to background status, so like a fool, I attempted to do two things at once. Fortunately, things didn’t turn out as horrible as they could have. Some rice got burned, some ingredients got forgotten, but all in all, the stuffed peppers turned out pretty tasty. Plus, I made WAY too much filling, but it tastes pretty good on its own, kind of like a veggie chili, so food for the rest of the week. And I got to enjoy another phenomenal Gaslight performance. All is right in the world.


Now, like so many of my other recipes, I was torn between healthy and ridiculous, but I think I managed to stay safely on the healthy side for the most part. I knew that I didn’t want to use pork sausage as a filling, so I bought soy chorizo from Trader Joes (so good!). 1 point for the healthy side!

I also had fresh tomatoes and zucchini from the farm, so the stuffing has a sizeable veggie component. Another point for team healthy!

Things went a little downhill when I couldn’t decide what kind of cheese to add and ended up throwing in a bunch of colby jack and ricotta cheese; but otherwise, these stuffed peppers are relatively healthy.  And to be honest, there isn’t much I’d change (perhaps not burning the rice, or making less filling) when I make them again.

Soy Chorizo Stuffed Banana Peppers

  • 8 large banana peppers*
  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 package Trader Joes soy chorizo
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1/3-1/2 cup shredded cheese (your preference – cheddar or colby jack would work well)
  • 1/3 cup ricotta cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; once it is boiling, add peppers, reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. And tomato and zucchini and saute for another 3 minutes before adding the soy chorizo, rice, and beans. Stir for a few minutes just so that everything is warmed through and add the cheeses. Now comes the tough part – the stuffing. I didn’t really have any type of tool that you would use to stuff things with, so I just used a little spoon. I ended up with quite a few ripped peppers, but oh well. I put them in a baking dish with a little water at the bottom and cooked them for 25 minutes. For next time, I think it would be good to use salsa or enchilada sauce in the baking dish and cover them. Next time!

* depending on the size of the banana peppers there will likely be leftover stuffing. It tastes great on its own OR it could be a fun appetizer inside of a Tostito scoop or something like that. If you only want to make enough to stuff the peppers, I’d cut down the rice, chorizo, black beans, and cheese by half.

Double Chocolate Mini Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream & Caramel Corn

Baking is in my genes. My dad is a ridiculous baker, and when my mom recently had to give up gluten, he became a ridiculously good gluten free baker.  He is so good that he makes gluten free goodies that nobody can tell are gluten free. Unfortunately, living in Georgia, I rarely get to taste his new products – I get pictures instead.

My dad and his amazing chocolate cream pie. 🙂 One day I hope to be that good!

After receiving a barrage of picture messages over the last few weeks of gluten free red velvet cupcakes and salted caramel cupcakes and chocolate cream pies and blueberry muffins, I was craving some baked goods. Specifically, I wanted homemade cupcakes.

We have GiGi’s and another place called Silver Lining here in Athens, and no offense to those bakeries, but they have nothing on my dad’s cupcakes or the delicious cupcakes sold at Georgetown Cupcake in Maryland & DC. Realizing that a store bought cupcake just would not satisfy my craving, I did the next best thing – I made my own using the Georgetown Cupcake chocolate recipe (with some slight modifications), added some peanut butter buttercream, mini Reese’s, and the special finishing touch that really made me feel at home – Fisher’s popcorn flown in fresh from the great Ocean City, Maryland. WOW. There are no words for this delicious combo of chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel. And even better, now I have my own yummy pictures to send up to Maryland to make my parents jealous. Hah!

The cupcake itself is made from a recipe adapted from Georgetown Cupcake (the original recipe can be found here http://projects.washingtonpost.com/recipes/2008/11/05/chocolate-squared-cupcakes/), the frosting is a mix of many recipes I found online, and the frosting technique was a failed attempt to emulate Annie Eat’s interpretation of a recipe from the Savory Sweet Life cookbook (a much better version can be seen here, I blame the difference in frosting texture http://annies-eats.com/2012/06/22/chocolate-cupcakes-with-peanut-butter-cookie-frosting-sweet-savory-life-cookbook-giveaway/).

Double Chocolate Mini Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon sat
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup skim milk (Georgetown Cupcake calls for whole – I only had skim, saved a few calories plus they tasted just fine to me!)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line mini cupcake pans with liners. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in one bowl. In a separate bowl, beat butter with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add sugar; continue to beat on medium speed until incorporated. Add eggs – 1 at a time – mixing slowly after each addition. Combine milk with vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, mix until just incorporated, and then 1/3 of the milk mixture. Repeat until all of the flour and milk has been added. Add cocoa powder and chocolate chips; again, beat on low speed until just incorporated. Fill cupcake tins abut 1/2-2/3 of the way full (I used a heaping teaspoon of batter for each cupcake) and bake for about 11 minutes, or until a toothpick/fork inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Makes approximately 18-20 mini cupcakes, depending on how much batter you eat (oops!).

FROSTING!

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

Mix butter and peanut butter together until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and salt and mix (lower speed) until incorporated, then add milk and vanilla. Mix until incorporated and add more milk/cream or powdered sugar if too thick or thin, until it reaches your desired consistency.

The Final Product

I tried to make the frosting look like it was a peanut butter cookie – SUPER cute idea but I think I’d either need a thicker frosting or the patience to let the frosting cool for a little in the fridge before icing the cupcakes. Next best thing – frost the cupcakes like normal, and top with a mini Reese and a few caramel corn kernels. You’re welcome 🙂

I’m trying to be all about balance here. This is what I ate for dinner – I’m surprised I even had room for my tomato/cucumber/basil/mozzarella salad with all of the cupcakes/cupcake batter I ate. Oh well!

Garlic & Herb White Bean Dip

This white bean dip – slightly adapted from a Giada De Laurentis recipe – has been my go to dip for when I need to bring something to party that isn’t a baked good or when I have people over. It is always a big hit, but for some reason when it comes to just normal weeks with no food parties, I would just go to the grocery store and buy packaged hummus or some other dip (I am a bit of a dip fiend). Even though the grocery store stuff was nowhere near as satisfying as Giada’s white bean dip, I never thought to whip up a batch of the dip JUST FOR ME. What was I thinking?! Luckily, I recently came to the realization that I was being silly and started making it almost every other week. This dip is way easy to make, pretty inexpensive, and generally healthier than most of the pre-packaged products at the store. And it is TASTY!

Giada might as well have called it garlic dip – the taste of garlic is super strong, but it works well with the smoothness of the white beans plus the herbs and lemon. Now I like the extreme garlicky-ness, but if garlic breath isn’t your thing – I recommend roasting the garlic before adding it, or only adding 1 clove.

I recently made this dip to eat for lunch paired with some carrots, broccoli, and sliced up zucchini (trying to be somewhat healthy to make up for the fact that I have been sitting in the clinic for 12+ hours a day). Also for the sake of being healthy, I cut down the amount of olive oil from 1/3 cup to about 3 tablespoons – and guess what?! It still tasted great and had that smooth, creamy texture. I added some basil leftover from the farmers market, a welcome addition to the dip in my opinion. My only wish was that I had some Marti’s at Midday pita chips to dip in it along with the veggies…but oh yeah, that whole healthy thing. For the original recipe – see White Bean Dip with Pita Chips Recipe : Giada De Laurentiis : Recipes : Food Network.

Garlic & Herb White Bean Dip

  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed*
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3-5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves**
  • salt + freshly ground pepper

Add beans, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley (or other herbs of your choice) into a food processor and pulse until mixture is smooth (or more coarsely chopped depending on preference). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Voila – easiest. dip. ever.

*I don’t know if this is just me – but I always seem to have a hard time finding cannellini beans at the store. They are also known as white kidney beans. I did not realize this, but since making that realization, finding them has been much easier!

**I used 1/2 parsley and 1/2 basil. I have also made the dip with dried oregano, which turned out good as well. The fresh herbs are definitely better, but it seems to work with a variety of fresh and dried – so experiment!

 

Farmers Market Inspired Berry Lime Salsa

This week blueberries were the stars of the Athens Farmers Market. Looks like it is peak blueberry season here y’all! On Saturday, that meant cooking demonstrations at the market featuring blueberry-centric foods. While I was there, volunteers from P.L.A.C.E. (a non-profit organization in Athens dedicated to promoting the local food culture – for more info see www.localplace.org) were whipping up some Blueberry Lime Salsa. Initially, I was hesitant – I LOVE peach mango salsa (especially the kind my dad makes!) but I couldn’t picture blueberries in salsa.

Oh how wrong I was! That stuff was addictive – I could probably eat it until I turned violet like Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So of course, that went on the list of things I needed to make ASAP. Lucky for me, I had leftovers from my moderately successful attempt at Blueberry Raspberry Boy Bait. It was now time for them to redeem themselves in a new form, and they were definitely up for the challenge.

I made some modifications from the P.L.A.C.E recipe (mainly adding extra onion and cilantro), but otherwise the credit goes to them for this seasonal, refreshing, delicious salsa. I chose to take the healthy, antioxidant filled delicacy and pair it with some tasty (although not entirely healthy) lime Tostitos – heaven! I could also see this salsa paired with a nice piece of grilled fish or chicken and some veggies if you wanted to make a meal out of it. Or if you have any other suggestions for ways to incorporate this into just about anything – please let me know, because I have made enough to last a longgggg time and I fear the entire bag of chips will be gone in the next day or two if I don’t find alternatives. Now, I think I have gone on enough about this salsa – here is the recipe (after some more mouth-watering pictures):

Farmers Market Inspired Berry Lime Salsa

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1/4 red onion, roughly chopped (I used more like 1/3-1/2 of the onion)
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves (I added a bit more)
  • salt to taste

Combine blueberries, raspberries, onions, lime zest + juice, and cilantro in a food processor or blender. Pulse until you reach your desired consistency (I made mine really smooth because I had never made salsa in a food processor before and I was excited – but I also added some larger onion chunks post-processing). Taste and season with salt if desired (I probably added about 1/8 tsp of salt). The original recipe called for pepper as well, which I regretted adding but if pepper is your thing, don’t let me stop you from giving it a try! Finally, I thought that the salsa tasted even better the next day once the flavors had a chance to get all cozy with each other – so keep that in mind (and make extra if you are like me and cannot stop eating it!).

Rainy Day Caprese Quinoa Salad

This is what it looked like outside today:

YUCK! So…this is what came out of my kitchen today:

That’s right, the rain (plus my horribly busy crazy unhappy week with clinic and then friends leaving for internship 😦 ) drove me to make Strawberry Biscuits (recipe posted only a few days ago on Smitten Kitchen that I could not wait to make), Blueberry Raspberry Lime Salsa (I got a taste of that yesterday at the farmer’s market – amazing), and Quinoa Caprese Salad. Nothing quite like unwinding in the kitchen – cooking and listening to music (today, The Menzingers – one of the bands opening for The Bouncing Souls in Atlanta this week. I hadn’t heard them before…pretty good!). Plus bonus – looks like I made enough food to last the week! Stay tuned for a post on the salsa – I have to get back to school stuff at some point since tomorrow is Monday 😦 For now, the Quinoa Caprese Salad!

I’m going to be honest, I am not typically the biggest fan of raw tomatoes. However, something miraculous happens when you combine them with some basil, garlic, balsamic, olive oil, and fresh mozzarella. I think the people of Italy were on to something there with the invention of Caprese salads. This weekend at the farmer’s market, I picked up some fresh tomatoes (they always taste better when it gets warmer out) and basil. The minute I bought those 2 ingredients, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be picking up some fresh mozzarella. Now these weren’t the cheapest ingredients, so I justified my spending by promising myself I’d eat this salad every day for lunch. My only concern was that the teeny amount of protein in the mozzarella would not be enough to get me through the day, which sparked a light bulb moment! Of course, I should throw some quinoa in there for protein to make the meal a bit more filling (I thought I was being oh so creative here…then I google searched “quinoa caprese salad” out of curiosity and my bubble was burst. Oh well, while it may not be groundbreaking it is at least healthy and tasty). I am not lying when I say I am super pumped to eat this for lunch this week.

Caprese Quinoa Salad

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped*
  • A few basil leaves, loosely chopped/torn apart
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup (or so) fresh mozzarella (I used cherry-sized Ciliegine, cut into fourths)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt + pepper

Prepare quinoa and let cool. I usually use a ratio of about 1 cup dry quinoa to 1.5 cups of liquid (for this recipe I used lightly salted water). While quinoa is cooling, combine the tomatoes, onion, basil, and garlic. Add balsamic and olive oil (everyone’s taste is different but I think I ended up using about 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar) as well as salt and pepper to taste. Add quinoa, taste, season more if necessary. Enjoy!!

Note: I added the quinoa as a last step, but then realized that more seasoning was needed (especially more balsamic). In the future, I think I will add the quinoa before the salt/pepper/olive oil/balsamic, and even maybe try a balsamic reduction to increase the balsamic-y flavor, but for now, this version is more than acceptable (in my opinion!).

*I know that onions and garlic aren’t typically found in Caprese salads, but they are two loves of mine (and they help mask the tomato taste)

My Version of Blueberry (and Raspberry) Boy Bait

I first saw the recipe for Blueberry Boy Bait on Smitten Kitchen about a year ago, and have made it no less than 5 times since.  While I cannot speak to the success of this as far as boys are concerned (I did give some leftovers to my advisor, but referred to it as blueberry cake – I was and am not the least bit interesting in baiting that man!), I can say that this cake is A M A Z I N G!

By 7 o’clock this evening, I had driven to and from the clinic to make phone calls and prep for my case tomorrow, walked around in the rain, finished my IRB for my thesis study, and even managed to throw in a thirty minute workout (which has since been completely negated by what I am about to share). The amount of productivity going on today deserves some relaxation. Which if you ask me, means watching Drop Dead Diva (not ashamed) and baking cake. Also, blueberries and raspberries were on sale at Publix, so this cake was basically destined to be made. I’ve made some modifications to the Smitten Kitchen version (which is adapted from Cook’s Country, who adapted the original recipe – geez this cake has been through a lot!). One of the modifications was out of necessity (unsweetened vanilla almond milk instead of whole milk because that’s what I had) and others were out of curiosity. First, I made half of the cake with raspberries because I had them and thought if the blueberry version was so good, a raspberry version has to be at least as good if not better (love love love raspberries). Second, I added a touch of vanilla because I love vanilla. Third, I used ½ whole wheat flour and ½ all-purpose flour. I don’t know why I do this – well, no, I do it to fool myself into thinking I am eating something that is good for me. Pretty irrational – what is the point when I am still using so much butter and sugar? No matter how irrational, I do this “part whole wheat” thing a lot, and usually (well at least in zucchini bread) things turn out fine. Moral of the story – I will continue to add whole wheat flour to recipes and pretend I am eating health food.* Anyway, here is the truly important part of this post – the recipe!

Yeah – that’s me doing some intense stirring while I watch Drop Dead Diva 🙂

Blueberry & Raspberry Boy Bait

  • 1 cup + 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk (or in my case, unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup raspberries

Topping

  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup raspberries
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

CAKE: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter & flour a 13 by 9-inch baking pan (Note: I have also made Blueberry Boy Bait Mini Muffins because of my love affair with my mini muffin tins + attempts at portion control – if you would like to go this route, reduce cooking time to about 15 minutes).

In a medium bowl, whisk together whole-wheat flour, 1 cup of all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes or until fluffy. I’m going to be honest here – I used a wooden spoon and stirred as fast as I could (I was lacking in the mixer department the first time I made this and things turned out fine, plus I got a nice little arm workout – so mixing by hand stuck). Add eggs 1 at a time, stirring until just incorporated. Once all eggs are added, stir in 1/3 of the flour mixture until just incorporated followed by half of the milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla (be careful not to overmix!). Repeat with the second third of the flour mixture and the rest of the milk, followed by the last of the flour mixture. Now is the part where I decided to complicate things. Split the batter between 2 bowls. Toss 1/4 of the blueberries with 1/2 teaspoon of flour and gently fold into one bowl of batter using a rubber spatula. Do the same thing with the other bowl of batter, but this time with the raspberries and 1/2 teaspoon of flour.** Spread the blueberry batter into one side of the pan and the raspberry batter into the other.

TOPPING: Stir sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup blueberries over the blueberry side of the batter and the remaining 1/4 cup raspberries over the raspberry side. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the entire cake and bake for 45-50 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.). Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes (this is the toughest part in my opinion – by this time the whole house will smell like blue/raspberry deliciousness). Once cool, either turn out and display the cake nicely on a platter or just dig in!

*So, the recipe still tastes good with the whole wheat flour BUT I will admit, it is better with 100% all-purpose flour. It also looks better (mine turned out pretty ugly). I retract my original statement – from now on, at least with this recipe, I am just gonna go all in and accept that this is a dessert and it was not meant to be healthy.

Tastes better than it looks, I swear!

**Alternatively, if you wanted to make things easier on yourself – either use all blueberries, all raspberries, or just mix them together in one cake rather than going through the unnecessary hassle of trying to make two different halves. I am sure that all of the above would be delicious…I just have a problem with unnecessarily over-complicating things by trying to get creative.