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!

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

Happy Monday Everyone!

I’m kind of dragging today so I’m glad the first day of the work week is over and done.  I had a nice and relaxing weekend, so I should have been a little more upbeat today, but that just didn’t happen.  Steve and I spent most of our weekend watching Dawson’s Creek episodes and enjoying the nice weather.  We actually never watched the show when it came on over a decade ago, so it’s been fun jamming along to the awesome ‘90’s soundtrack and reminiscing about our middle/high school dances and generally just feeling very old.  I’ve also learned that I definitely want to name my first born son Pacey.  Not only does it rhyme with my name, but I (and dare I say Steve too) have a major crush on Joshua Jackson’s cute-as-a-button character, and the name Pacey is just so fun.

We got our CSA from Atherton Market on Saturday and along with the usual veggies, we picked up some homemade butter and a gallon of strawberries.

I haven’t used the butter yet but I’m interested to see how differently it tastes than the much less expensive butter we normally buy from the grocery store.  I’ve been eyeing the butter for a while now but have been put off by the $4.50 price tag for a half pound since that’s what we normally pay for a full pound of organic butter at Earthfare or Trader Joe’s.  I like that I can talk directly to the farmer and find out about the cows environment and diet, and I was finally swayed to try it out when the farmer told me about how the cows were grass-fed and led a super happy life.  I admit it, I’m a sucker for buying eggs/milk/butter, even if they are more expensive, if I can know for sure that the animals are happy and treated well.  I’ll probably continue to buy butter from the farmer’s market regardless of the cost.  Maybe it will encourage me to use less butter and voting with my dollars and supporting local businesses is always a good thing in my book.

On Sunday afternoon, Steve and I went to see The Five Year Engagement so that we could snatch up the cheaper price of the matinee ticket.  I remember when movies used to be $7, and now a regular showing at our local movie theater is $10 or $11 (hey, that’s over a pounds worth of farmers market butter!).  Being the poor couple that we are, we went to the 1:00 showing and got in for $7.50.  It’s always a bit odd coming out of a movie theater in the middle of the afternoon.  There’s just something inside my brain that expects it to be night time when I leave so I wasn’t ready for the blinding sun when I stepped outside.  The movie was awesome, but then again, we both love anything with Jason Segal in it.  I generally love going to see a comedy with Steve because he pretty much laughs at everything and always laughs significantly louder than anyone else in the theater…yeah, he’s that guy, and I love him for it!

I did a bit of baking and ice cream making this weekend too.  I made whole wheat snickerdoodles, which were okay, but not nearly as delicious as they look in the picture.  I need to try them again before the recipe is post worthy.

I also made some whole wheat banana nut muffins since my bananas were about to go bad.  The most delicious item of the weekend was the strawberry ice cream that I made from the gallon of strawberries we bought at the farmer’s market.  A gallon is a lot of strawberries, so we’ve been in strawberry heaven all weekend, and I’m actually munching on a few as I type this (my keyboard is turning a nice shade of pink).

This is the first time I’ve made strawberry ice cream, so I do have a few changes I’ll make next time around.  This ice cream was really good right out of the ice cream maker, but once we froze it overnight it was frozen solid and nearly impossible to eat without sitting it out on the counter to thaw for 15-20 minutes.  Steve says that it’s probably due to the water content in the strawberries, so next time I’m going to drain the juice from the chopped strawberries and just pour in the actual strawberry pieces.  We still have some strawberries left so I think I’m going to try out a recipe I found that uses coconut milk and roasted strawberries (this should take care of the water excess issue).  I’ll let you know how it goes but in the meantime, here’s the recipe I used for my first shot a strawberry ice cream.  You’ll notice that the recipe uses maple syrup instead of a refined sweetener like sugar.  I used this Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker where you make the ice cream in a freezer bowl.

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

Adapted from 100 Days of Real Food

Ingredients:

– 3/4 cup heavy cream

– 3/4 cup full-fat milk

– 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup (add a tablespoon or two more if you like your ice cream on the sweeter side)

– 15-20 fresh strawberries

Directions:

1. Combine the heavy cream, milk, and maple syrup in a measuring cup and mix together

2. Chill in refrigerator for at least a few hours

3. Chop strawberries according to how chunky you like your ice cream

4. Pour the milk mixture into your ice cream maker, then add the strawberries (if you’re eating your ice cream right away, pour it all in.  If you plan on freezing some for later, strain some of the excess juice out of the strawberries)

5. Once the ice cream reaches your desired consistency, turn off the machine and enjoy.  For me this took about 15-20 minutes

I was too excited about the yummy ice cream to try to snap a good picture, so hopefully this picture will entice you enough to give it a try!

I think that’s all for the day, especially considering I came home to this note:

And here’s what I found:

Stacy Eats: Tales of CSA Cooking

One of my favorite blogs is Kath Eats Real Food where she basically takes pictures of her breakfast, lunch, and dinner and blogs about it three times a day.  As silly as it sounds, it’s actually given me a lot of inspiration in the kitchen, and good for Kath because she gets paid to do it (seriously, her blog is her job, how awesome!).  Our dinners were pretty simple this week so instead of blogging about the recipes, I thought I’d just share pictures of some of our eats for the week.  We’ve been getting a huge bag of veggies each Saturday from our CSA, so it’s fun to open the fridge and make dinner out of unique local veggies that we normally wouldn’t buy at the grocery store.

Mixed Green Salad with Homemade Croutons, Candied Pecans, Sunflower Seeds & Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Sauteed Kale, Onion, & Scrambled Egg Sandwiches/Pitas

Lemony Swiss Chard Pasta with Parm & Toasted Walnuts

Veggie Fried Brown Rice

Strawberry Salad with Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

We still have some beets and kale to use before we get our fresh bag of produce tomorrow, so I’m thinking of trying to perfect kale chips and maybe making some red velvet cupcakes with the beets (you can’t taste them, it’s just a way to make the cake red with using food dye).

My favorite dinner of the week was definitely the strawberry salad.  I’m so happy it’s finally strawberry season, and even though I’m going broke buying an extra pint or two a week, they were certainly a tasty addition to the salad.  I figure this salad was too delicious not to share, so the super simple recipe is below.

Strawberry Salad with Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:

Mix 1/4 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon mustard, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and a clove of minced garlic in a bowl.  Slowly stream in 1/2 cup of olive oil and whisk until the mixture thickens.  Add salt and pepper.  Store any leftover dressing in the fridge.

For the salad:

Toss the dressing with the salad greens.  Top with toasted walnuts and strawberry slices and enjoy!

And of course a food post wouldn’t be complete without a couple Socrates begging photos:

Zucchini, Red Pepper, and Onion Frittata

We all know how much I love Pinterest, and if I tried to cook my way through every recipe that I’ve pinned, I’d literally be in the kitchen for the next ten years or so.  But, I have to start somewhere right?

After what seemed like a never-ending supply of eggs in our house last week, I decided to put all that time I spent pinning to the test by trying out a frittata recipe from Skinnytaste.com.  I did change a few things as I chopped and sautéed my way around the kitchen.  The recipe called for using half egg whites, but there’s no way I’m throwing out the yolks of my pretty little eggs, so I went with eight whole eggs in all their high cholesterol glory.  No health worries from us though, the frittata actually lasted us through about six or seven meals (we were in an egg-coma by day three), and according to my favorite foodie, Michael Pollan, egg yolks aren’t the evil villain they’re sometimes made out to be.  In fact, eggs from pastured hens (aka – happy grass-roaming, bug-eating hens) have 34% less cholesterol than eggs from factory farm hens.

Enough with my chatter and on with the recipe.

Zucchini, Red Pepper, & Onion Frittata

Ingredients:

  • 8 eggs (preferably from grass-fed/pastured hens)
  • 1 small onion, cut into long, thin strips
  • 1.5 cups zucchini, diced into strips (1-2 zucchini, depending on size)
  • 1 red pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1/4 cup cheese (I used cheddar, but you could use parmesan)
  • 2 teaspoon olive ol
  • salt & pepper
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Add the oil to a 10-inch oven-safe skillet and turn the heat to medium
  3. Stir in the onion and cook for about 10 minutes until slightly brown
  4. Add peppers and cook for 5 minutes
  5. Stir in the zucchini, season with salt and pepper and cook for three minutes, stirring occasionally
  6. While the veggies are finishing up, whisk the eggs, cheese, and a little more salt and pepper
  7. Add eggs to the skillet, making sure all the veggie mixture is covered.  Cook for about 2 minutes until the edges start to set
  8. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven, and bake for 10-15 minutes

What I love about this recipe is that it’s incredibly versatile and will work with just about any mix-ins you can dream up.  I can’t wait for the spring vegetables to appear at the farmer’s market to try with this.  Asparagus and gruyere frittata, anyone?  We ate this for dinner, but then re-heated for breakfast and lunch too.  There’s no “eggs are only for breakfast” nonsense in our house.

An EGG-cellent tip (seriously, I’m so funny) – Not sure if your eggs are spoiled?  Drop one in a bowl of water, if the egg sinks it’s good, if it floats it’s spoiled.

Enjoy!

The Chicken or the Egg

Work has been quite slow this week, so while my co-workers were playing online basketball and Facebook stalking, I was catching up on my not-so-guilty pleasure of blog reading (my guilty pleasure is spending hours upon hours on Pinterest, but unfortunately, the big bosses at my company got smart and blocked the site).  While perusing my RSS feed, I came across a post from one of my favorite blogs, Food Renegade, about marketing ploys that egg companies use to advertise their “free-range” and “cage-free” eggs and what those terms really mean.

Check out this awesome short video made by Douglas & Laura Gayeton.

Looking at myself as a consumer a few years ago, I would go to Walmart or Harris Teeter and buy eggs for about a dollar a dozen, never thinking about the alternatives of “cage-free” or “free-range” that were priced a tiny bit higher.  Eventually my husband talked me into buying these eggs that he viewed as “better,” and there are still many consumers today who (logically) assume that they are doing their bit to help animal welfare by buying these cage-free and free-range options.  Knowing what I know now, it really frustrates me that these big corporations are allowed to fool us into thinking that these eggs came from happy chickens hanging out with their other chicken friends while they all munch on plants and peck their way around a big lot of beautiful farmland.

Granted, these options are better than the other factory farming method of having multiple chickens living in a cage the size of a folded newspaper, with their beaks cut off, and being denied food and water for days so that their production will increase (hello, $1 a dozen eggs).  But should these “free-range” and “cage-free” egg companies be able to fill their cartons & advertisements with misleading pictures of healthy looking chickens grazing on farmland while in reality they live packed together in a warehouse so tightly that they can’t grow properly (don’t even get me started on the hormones that they are fed) and maybe have access to a closet sized outdoor area a couple times a week?

So, when you ask me the question of “the chicken or the egg?,” my answer will always be the chicken.

Does this mean that I don’t eat eggs?  No, it absolutely does not, I love eggs!  I’m fortunate to live in a city where CSA’s and food from sustainable and ethical farmers is pretty widely available, and I even posted last week about getting our eggs from Bell’s Best Berries where you can go visit their chickens to see the happy and comfortable environment they live in.  Of course, if you don’t want to make the trip, you can see sweet little Rhubarb and her friends below:

I’m sure an attempt to call up Eggland’s Best Egg Company and try to schedule an appointment to visit one of their farmers chicken houses would be a major fail.We purchase our eggs for $3 a dozen from Bell’s, they are $4.50 a dozen from some farmers at our market.  I’ll gladly pay the extra few cents to know the chickens are being treated well and fed a natural diet of plants, grains, and insects they find while out and about (factory farm chickens are fed a soy-rich diet with antibiotics, hormones, and recycled slaughtered animal meat and bones mixed in, yum).

Not only are pastured eggs more fresh tasting, but they are also a darker yellow, almost orange color, since the chickens were allowed to roam around and eat green grass and plants.

Science lesson: the darker color comes from the beta-carotene in the plants, which is also the same thing that makes carrots orange.

"One of these eggs is not like the other" - the lighter colored yolk is from an organic egg bought at the grocery store. Notice how much darker the farmer's market egg yolks are. Image courtesy of 100daysofrealfood.com

My only conundrum (fun word, right?) about eating eggs is when it comes to eating out.  I love my piece of chocolate cake just as much as the next girl, so it’s been hard weighing my desire to indulge in sweet treats versus being realistic about where the eggs in that cake came from.  Fortunately for me and my sweet tooth, Charlotte is home to one of the only bakeries in North Carolina, maybe even in the Southeast, that bakes with local eggs only (sourced from Cackelberry Farms in Concord).  So, if you’re ever in the Charlotte area, be sure to visit Sunflour Baking Company, where not only will you gain a few pounds before you leave, but you’ll also be able to enjoy treats made with local ingredients including honey, jam, eggs, butter, and flour.

While it’s not possible for me right now, having my own chickens is definitely an item on my bucket list.  I know that if my parents are reading this, they are probably snickering at the thought of me cleaning poop out of a chicken coop, but what can I say, I’ve evolved.  I’ve always loved dogs, but I’ve become more of an all-animal lover over the past couple of years, and I think it would be awesome to have my own hens (not to mention the tasty eggs they would provide).  I have a very silly picture in my head of my dog, Socrates, playing with his chicken sisters in our yard, which, by the way, I am aware is probably not realistic.

I even found the cutest chicken coop ideas for my future babies, who says hen houses can’t be stylish?

Since I don’t have a backyard right now, little Colleena and her friends will have to wait.  For those of you who watch Portlandia, my inspiration for Colleena’s name came from this clip.  For the longest time I told people I wanted to name my future chicken Collin, until someone told me that only girl chickens, or hens, lay eggs (yes, that was a sad day for my intelligence).  So anyway, naturally, Collin became Colleena.

My husband and I seem to be the go-to recipients when our friends have extra eggs from their CSA’s, so hopefully I’ll be back tomorrow to bring you a recipe that uses some of the eggs that we seem to have coming out of our ears.

In the meantime, what about you, do you choose the chicken or the egg?

Life of a Locavore

Hello again,

Like the majority of the world, Saturday is my favorite day of the week.  For obvious reasons, of course, like being off of work and having a lazy day to do whatever I’d like, but also because it’s the day Steve and I get to stock up on local produce and goodies at our farmer’s market, Atherton Mill & Market.

Image courtesy of Atherton Market Facebook page

We started our journey to eat local and support area farmers about two years ago, shopping at the Kings Drive Farmers Market in Charlotte.  We were super excited and our “green” attitude was bursting all over the place as we stocked up on lots of berries, pineapple, and veggies.  One day, while enjoying our weekly loot, I was browsing online and little did I know that the proud “green” bubble I had put myself into was about to burst.  While doing some research to find out more about our local markets, I learned that those delicious local berries I was enjoying actually came from Brazil, and the pineapple that was sitting on my counter waiting for me to make a mess while Steve watched in horror as I hacked into it with an oversized knife, actually traveled all the way from Costa Rica.

Image courtesy of Energy Smart Charlotte

So, as it turns out, we weren’t enjoying produce that was just picked the day before and we weren’t supporting our local farmer’s at all, we were basically eating the same produce that they sell at the grocery store, we were just buying it outside and being tricked by our logical assumption that food at the farmer’s market was actually grown and sold by local area farmers.

So, here we are, two years later, still soaking up all the information we can learn about what eating local, or being a “locavore,” actually means.  Produce that you purchase at your grocery store travels about 1,500 miles to get from the farm to your plate.  Obviously, the environmental impact of eating carrots from Harris Teeter versus eating carrots from a local farmer is significantly different.  Not only are those local carrots more fresh, tasty, and environmentally friendly, but we are also able to speak directly to the farmer who grew them, and be assured that they weren’t treated with any chemicals or pesticides that I don’t really want to put into my body. I know that eating local 100% of the time is unrealistic, but we do what we can to eat with the seasons, spend our money so that it supports our local farmers and economy, all the while enjoying the sense of community and good nutrition that comes from incorporating local foods into our diet.

So, back to today!  After a long few months of greens, greens, and more greens, the milder weather has finally stocked the market with a little more produce variety.  We still bought our kale and spinach today, but we were also able to bring home some carrots and sweet potatoes too. We also bought some eggs from the farmers that we’ll be getting our CSA from in the spring, and a couple of the eggs are blue.  Check out the sweet little chickens who provided us with the eggs here.

Veggies from Atherton Market

Eggs from Bell's Best Berries, one of the hens is named Rhubarb!

Another thing I love about our farmers market is the non-food vendors who bring local made soaps, jewelry, and even the sweetest little kid aprons made out of green materials. I’ve had my eye on some bath salts for the past few months, so today I finally picked up a bottle and I can’t wait to try it out.  We also stopped by Savory Spice Shop next door to pick up some ginger and nutmeg so that I can make Steve’s favorite granola.

I’ll be incorporating the veggies that we got today into spinach pockets with marinara sauce, carrot pancakes or carrot breakfast cookies, and probably some sweet potato granola to use as my breakfast cereal, that is, if I ever get out of the relaxation coma that I’m sure will be brought on by my salt filled bath tomorrow.

If you’re interested in eating local, check out localharvest.org to find options near you.

And that’s a wrap for today, have a great rest of the weekend!