Seasonal Fare: Zucchini

I love this time of year because not only are berries and peaches in abundance, but zucchini is finally starting to pop up at the farmer’s market too.  I love zucchini because it’s such an easy veggie to incorporate into recipes, and it’s pretty much the most delicious thing ever, especially when you’ve been eating leafy greens like kale and chard for what seems like an eternity.

We’ve gotten so much squash and zucchini in our CSA bag the past few weeks that it’s been fun to get creative and figure out ways to use it.  I have zucchini muffins in the oven right now but one of my favorite ways to eat zucchini is in “chip” form.  It’s basically like a healthy mozzarella stick where you use zucchini (or squash) instead of a chunk of cheese.  Plus, you don’t have to worry about choking on a huge string of cheese, which I seem to do everytime I eat a mozerella stick (which is really only about once a year, I promise).

You can cut the zucchini into “sticks” to mirror the shape of mozzarella sticks, but I just stick with slicing them into coins since it’s a lot quicker and I can let my handy-dandy food processor do all of the work for me.  Also, I make my own whole-wheat breadcrumbs by grinding up slices of bread in the food processor and then toasting them in the oven on 300 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.  If you ever have bread that’s a little too stale to make a sandwich, making breadcrumbs is always a good way to use it instead of tossing it in the trash.  I store my breadcrumbs in the freezer, so I always have them on hand and they last for a while.

Zucchini Chips

Ingredients:

2 zucchini

1-1.5 cups whole wheat breadcrumbs

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

3 tablespoons parmesan cheese

1 egg

Salt and pepper

Tomato sauce for dipping (I use the organic brand from Trader Joe’s)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees

2. Slice zucchini into 1/4-inch coins

2. Beat the egg in a shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper

3. Mix the breadcrumbs, garlic powder, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl

4. Make an assembly line starting with the zucchini, then the egg, then the breadcrumb mixture, and ending with a baking sheet

5. Use one hand to dip the zucchini into the egg mixture and then place on the breadcrumbs.  Use your other hand to coat the zucchini with the breadcrumbs and place on the baking sheet, leaving a little room between each chip

6. Once all of your zucchini slices are coated, bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  If you want, sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese and serve with tomato sauce


Zucchini are known to grow really quickly (I wouldn’t know because everything I try to grow seems to die), so if you find yourself with a boatload of zucchini, here are some of my other favorite squash recipes that you may want to try.

Zucchini Boats (stuffed with tomato, onion, sour cream, cayenne pepper, and parmesan)

Sauteed Zucchini (with shallots, garlic, and almonds)

Summer Veggie Bake (onion, zucchini, squash, potato, tomato, and parmesan baked to a golden-brown goodness)

Here’s a little peek of the whole-wheat zucchini muffins that are just coming out of my oven.  The entire house smells like cinnamon, but I’m going to try to hold off until after dinner to dig in to these little treats.  I’ll share the recipe soon!

What about you, what’s your favorite way to use zucchini?

Also, if you want to find out more about what other bloggers are whipping up with local veggies, check out this post at In Her Chucks and get inspired to take on some local cooking adventures of your own :-)

Zucchini, Red Pepper, and Corn Succotash

I feel like I haven’t shared a recipe in a while, and the truth is, it’s because we’ve been cooking so much with our CSA that we’ve basically thrown meal planning out the window and just cook whatever we get in our bag for the week.  It’s nice to open the fridge and look at all the yummy and fresh ingredients that we have on hand and just pick out what we are in the mood for and create something delicious.

If you told me a few years back that I’d be cooking dinner without following a recipe, I would have never believed you.  I never really cooked until I moved into my own apartment during sophomore year of college, and I literally ate “Shake ‘n Bake” chicken/pork chop, garlic cheese noodles out of a bag, and one of those frozen yeast rolls for just about every meal.  Since then, not only have I given up meat, but I also eat about a million different vegetables/other foods that I would previously turn my nose up at without even trying first (I was pretty much a 5-year-old trapped in a 20-year-olds body).

There’s this place down the street from our current house called Crepe Cellar that Steve and I love to go to. We normally take any visitor’s that we have from out-of-town there just because the food is so good for brunch and dinner, and it satisfies both omnivores and herbivores alike.  My favorite thing to get is their side dish of zucchini succotash, which is a mixture of zucchini, red peppers, corn, spices, and a ton of butter.  My least favorite thing about it is that they give you a bowl about the size of a muffin, charge you five dollars, and three bites later (aka: 30 seconds) I’m left staring at an empty bowl wishing I had more of the buttery veggie goodness.

When I saw that red peppers were popping up at the farmer’s market (yay, late spring/summer!), I knew that I had to pair one with the zucchini and fresh corn we were getting from our CSA farmer to create that delicious dish.  It was super easy to throw together and Steve cooked up some whole wheat spiral noodles and mixed it with some pesto I’d made earlier in the week and tomatoes.  We did a great job of mmmmm’ing our way through dinner that night and probably used significantly less butter than the original dish.  It was so good that I neglected to take many pictures, sorry :(

So – here’s the recipe:

Zucchini, Red Pepper, and Corn Succotash

Ingredients:

1-2 zucchini (I actually used yellow squash because we had already eaten our zucchini)

2 ears of fresh corn (you could also use frozen kernels)

1 red pepper

Butter for cooking

Directions:

1. Slice the zucchini/squash into ½-inch coins, then slice each coin into fourths

2. Remove corn kernels from the cob

3. Slice red pepper into bite sized pieces

4. Melt a bit of butter in a skillet and add the zucchini and red pepper.  Season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes.

5. Add a little more butter and throw in the corn kernels.  Season with salt and pepper and sauté for 3 more minutes.

6. Throw in a bowl and enjoy!

How Sweet It Is: Baking Treats for IOS Customer Appreciation Day

Steve’s store held its annual customer appreciation day on Saturday and I was asked (and paid!) to make a few different treats for the festivities.  They had a hotdog/hamburger cart (which had the best veggie burgers ever), as well as a bouncy house for the kids to go crazy in.

I usually experiment in the kitchen trying to make indulgent treats like cakes and cookies into something a little healthier, and the people at Steve’s store are always happy to taste test some on my creations.  So, when I was asked to make the treats, of course I knew that they had to be a healthier version of your average dessert.  I came up with a list of options for Steve’s boss to choose from, and she ended up picking out five things to be served on Saturday.  I was super excited because I was getting paid to play in the kitchen, but I was also incredibly nervous because my tiny little kitchen was supposed to turn out about 300 tasty treats in one night.

I got home around 5 o’clock on Friday and savored the sight of my clean kitchen for a few minutes before starting to work.  I knew that with all the stirring, whisking, and baking action that would be going on over the next six hours, my nice and sparkly kitchen would be replaced with something that looked like a tornado just spun through it.

And I was right.  I snapped this picture after I had loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up a little, so it definitly doesn’t do the extreme mess much justice.

Overall things went pretty smoothly and I was able to make delicious treats for 200ish people and thankfully everything was eaten by the end of the day.  I didn’t see anyone gag as they took a bite of my whole-wheat, semi-healthy treats, so that was a plus in my book.

I used recipes from some of my favorite blogs, but did a bit of healthy editing by using whole-wheat flour, reducing the amount of sugar called for, or adding a bunch of cinnamon because let’s face it, cinnamon makes everything better.  I normally replace refined sugar with honey or maple syrup in baked goods, but since I was making a ton of treats and on somewhat of a budget, that wasn’t really feasible.  I think my kitchen saw more sugar being used in a six hour period than it has in an entire year, but I tried to at least cut the amount of sugar the recipe called for in half so it didn’t make me feel too terribly.

So, here’s what I made!

Snickerdoodle Blondies (Vegan and made with pureed chickpeas instead of flour)

Whole Wheat Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Peanut Butter Brown Rice Crispy Treats with Sunflower Seeds (Vegan)

Whole Wheat Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting

Cinnamon Honey Popcorn

You can find the recipes here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Once I got everything set up on Saturday, I was happy to hang out with Socrates and secretly observe the people gathering around the food table.  Everything seemed to be a hit, and having a couple of vegan options proved to be much appreciated.

We went for dinner at Zucca Pizza, a new restaurant that opened up a couple weeks ago beside our regular farmer’s market.  They had a guy playing James Taylor and other relaxing music, so it was a pleasant surprise to dine outside and enjoy the music.  Later that night Steve watched a movie while Socrates and I crashed from our tiring day.

First solo baking gig = success!

You Need A Haircut, You Really Need A Haircut

Whenever I hear someone say that they really need a haircut, my child of the nineties brain immediately references this old awesome haircut commercial that used to play on Disney a million times a day.  Does anyone else remember this?

If you know me, you most likely know my preference about Steve’s hair.  I like it when he keeps it long and hippie-ish, so whenever he tells me that he really needs a haircut, it becomes a three or four week tug of war between us.  I try my best to delay the inevitable haircut and he keeps bugging me about it until I finally cave and am forced to say a sad goodbye to his long pretty locks.

In an attempt to be more domestic and wifely, this time around when Steve started mentioning it was haircut time, I asked if I could cut it.  To my surprise he actually said yes.  The chance of having uneven choppy hair courtsey of my haircutting skills wasn’t enough to scare him out of an opportunity to be cheap and get a free haircut.

Before picture: (not sure why he chose this location to play with the iPad…)

So we sat down to start the journey toward a cleaner-looking, short-haired Steve.  I put a towel under a chair in the living room and went to work.  I was a little antsy knowing that we had a bit of a time constraint because of a friend we had coming over, but I reluctantly took a breath and cut that first strand.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.  It looked pretty good by the time I was finished, but I think it’s going to take me a few more times to get the hang of cutting evenly without having to spend a chunk of time at the end checking for longer/uneven hairs.  We accumulated enough hair on the floor to make a pretty nice wig.  My hair falls out like crazy so I’m thinking maybe I’ll start collecting Steve’s hair to make a wig when I finally go bald one of these days.  Okay, it’s not that bad, I’m just being dramatic.

Overall, we were both satisfied with the way it turned out.  We both found a few uneven hairs throughout the next few days, but I just prefer to say I was going for the “textured” look.  Socrates was pretty jealous of all the grooming that was going on, so he quickly got in on the haircut action and came out looking quite dashing.  Here’s his before:

We took him to a new groomer that was recomended by our vet and she did a fantastic job.  Doesn’t he look like he’s ready for the dog show?  Too bad he doesn’t know how to act civilized like those obedient dogs…

27 (Hundred) Dresses: Making A Wall Mounted Garment Rack

I very rarely wear jeans or shorts.  Most of the time you will find me in a dress, sometimes a skirt.  Jeans and shorts are convenient because you can just fold them up and stack them away in a drawer, but dresses require hanging, and hanging requires lots of closet space.  Closet space is one thing we don’t have a lot of in the Bentley household.  I grew up with a pretty big closet, and our last two apartments had huge walk-in closets, so moving to our current apartment with the barely-counts-as-a-hole-in-the wall closet space was quite an adjustment for my dresses and I. My clothes started migrating over from the closet to the stairwell and then took up residence on the blinds of our bedroom windows.

This was not acceptable to my needs-to-be-neat personality, so what to do?  Husband to the rescue of course!  Or maybe he just grew tired of my complaining about lack of hanging space…

Anyway, I took to Pinterest for some garment rack inspiration.  We have a second bedroom that doesn’t really get used, so we had enough room to fit a decent sized rack.  Initially I wanted a rack that had wheels, but after looking at pictures and totaling up the price of all the parts, we realized that making a wall-mounted rack would be much less expensive while still getting the job done.

Here are a few of the photos I found to help show Steve what I was picturing.  They are from herehere, and here.

I can’t take credit for much more than the idea of solving our closet problem with a garment rack and finding pictures of pretty ones that I liked.  Steve did all the structure designs and material research, and I basically sat on a crate in the plumbing aisle of Home Depot while he picked out the items he would need to build the thing.  Having a husband is awesome :)

Steve started out by lining up the pieces on the floor and then screwing them all together.  He wrapped the end of the bars in plumbers tape before attaching the curvy pieces, but I honestly have no idea why.  Once everything was put together, he used the drill to screw the two round pieces into the wall and waalaa!, a garment rack was born!

It only took about an hour from start to finish, but we both needed a little food fuel and entertainment to get through the construction.  Since Steve was so wonderful for putting the rack together for me, I was tempted to not showcase his movie choice, but I just couldn’t resist.  Bend, and snap!

I begged and begged to paint it all yellow like one of the Pinterest pictures that I saw, but we (ahem, Steve) decided against it since the industrial feel of the exposed pipe wasn’t too shabby to look at anyway.  I did paint the piece that touches the floor yellow just to see what it would look like, but it didn’t impress Steve enough to convince him to paint the whole thing.  I was okay with leaving it as is for now since it’ll be easier to adapt to the decor of our next house.

Socrates and I were of course very useful during this whole process…

I didn’t think I was going to like the wall mounted option as much as a rolling garment rack, but I really actually like it a little better.  It feels like it’s more apart of the room since it’s attached to the wall, and I’m not sure how the rolling wheels would have worked on carpet anyway.  It’s also easy to vacuum under as opposed to having to roll it out of the way to clean.  And all the dresses the were currently residing in plastic bins stored under the bed are now happy to have a place to call home.

Pretty In Pink

I love Saturday mornings, especially in the spring and summer.  Going to the farmer’s market, seeing all the people and cute dogs, the fresh veggies and still warm bread, and finally getting it all back home and getting to unpack all your treasures and sit down for a nice and relaxing breakfast.

The weekdays usually consist of Steve throwing breakfast together for me while I finish getting ready.  There’s usually no time to sit at the table and enjoy the morning, and eating breakfast on the 5-minute car ride to work really isn’t that ideal for my slow-eating self.  Saturday mornings give me the opportunity to make what I want and actually sit down, take it easy, and enjoy the morning (usually with a little puppy dog sitting in my lap giving me cute/sad/begging eyes).

Normally I have eggs or waffles, but since it was already 80 degrees at 9 am this morning, I decided on a strawberry-banana smoothie with granola and some whole wheat toast with strawberry jam that we bought at the market this morning (it’s made with honey instead of sugar, score!).  It was so yummy and of course pretty because of all the pink.  Socrates wasn’t afraid to embrace his feminine side and proceeded to inhale his portion of our pretty pink breakfast.

Whole Wheat Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

We’ve been getting tons of carrots in our CSA the past few weeks, and I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out how to use them.  Carrots are probably one of my least favorite veggies, so I usually use them to bulk up a dish like veggie fried rice or spaghetti.  I’d love to be one of those people who just eat carrots raw or dipped in ranch, but that’s just not going to happen (and I have yet to perfect my homemade ranch recipe).  I can tolerate carrots dipped in peanut butter, but it’s still not my snack of choice.  I’ve heard that carrots can be used to help bad doggie breath, so I’m thinking of feeding Socrates about 20 pounds of carrots when I get home today (seriously, that’s how bad his breath is…).

My favorite way to incorporate carrots into my cooking is by using them in sweets.  Carrot cake pancakes have been a breakfast (and dinner) hit in our house, and I recently experimented with these carrot oatmeal cookies.  One of the only good things about carrots is that you can put them in baked goods, like pancakes and cookies, and justify eating a lot simply because it’s packed with nutritious veggie goodness. :-)

These cookies are actually pretty healthy, but are also still delicious enough to be worthy of the cookie name.  I love that the recipe uses maple syrup, a natural sweetener, instead of refined sugar.  I’m constantly trying to find ways to substitute honey or maple syrup for white or brown sugar in my baking and a lot of times it is hit or miss since you’re dealing with substituting a dry ingredient for a liquid like honey or maple syrup.  Sugar is sugar though, and no matter if I’m using white sugar, honey, or maple syrup, I still try to be mindful of using them all in moderation.

Whole Wheat Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I used 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 cup oat flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup rolled oats

2/3 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc.)

1 cup shredded carrots (I had a lot of carrots so I used about 1.5 cups)

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup coconut oil (melted until in liquid form)

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or Silpat)

2. In a large bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, salt, oats, and nuts

3. Pat the carrots dry to remove some of the excess moisture, add to the dry ingredients, and mix together

4. In a small bowl, whisk to combine the maple syrup, coconut oil, and ginger.  Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

5. Drop batter onto baking sheets (I used a tablespoon cookie scoop), leaving about 2 inches between each cookie

6. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are golden on top and bottom

Of course Socrates was waiting patiently to try these out.  He gobbled one up in about half a second, so I assume that he approved.

I did store these in a plastic container and they got really soft/soggy/somewhat inedible.  It may have been due to my impatience in waiting for them to cool completely which created condensation in the container.  I do find that baked goods I make using whole wheat pastry flour get a little soggy once stored, so I’ll be doing a little research to find out how to fix that.

Happy Baking!