Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Zucchini Cornbread

Well, it’s that time of year. Time to go back to school. Time to think about winding down the summer activities. Time to figure out how to cram all that zucchini with which you’ve found yourself into something, anything. To test the concept that just about any baked goods can be made to accept a healthy dose of shredded zucchini, I tried it in cornbread. Not bad, I must say.

This cornbread, which is based on the buttermilk cornbread in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and a zucchini cornbread loaf in Bon Appetit magazine, is very moist, but not mushy. (I’ve found that such is the trick with zucchini additions.) It tastes like good cornbread, with just that little bit of vegetable flavor from the zucchini.

I really like to bake my cornbread in a cast iron skillet. It tends to bake quickly and evenly while still getting nice brown and crunchy edges. This cornbread, for all its extra moisture, was no exception. I added a little spice in the form of cumin and chili powder to perk up the usually bland zucchini, and the buttermilk gives it just a bit of tanginess.

This is a savory cornbread with very little sweetener (just 2 tablespoons of honey). I’m sure you could make this a sweet cornbread by simply increasing the honey. As it is, this moist, savory cornbread is a good accompaniment for a saucy, spicy chili. Or the simple corn and bean skillet pasta dish that I made recently. More on that soon.

Shortly after I made this cornbread, a kind neighbor gave me a very large zucchini, so I think I’ll be stuffing zucchini into even more dishes. Luckily I have a good handful of proven ideas!

Zucchini Skillet Cornbread

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
10 ounces shredded zucchini (from about 1 medium-size zucchini)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. While the oven is heating, place the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and place it in the oven. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cumin, chili powder and salt. Whisk to combine well. Set aside.

2. In a medium-size bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. When the butter in the skillet has melted, brush it all over the bottom and sides of the pan. Gradually whisk the remaining butter into the eggs. Whisk in the buttermilk and honey until well-blended. Stir in the zucchini.

3. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Stir until just combined and all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Pour into the buttered skillet and spread the batter out evenly.

4. Bake at 375 F for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with no moist batter clinging to it. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Slice and serve warm from the pan or cool completely.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Garlic and Herb Vegetable Dip

It’s been a relatively mild summer here, but now the hot days have hit us. Days in which we count on relief in the form of refreshing, chilled food that requires little time in the kitchen. Since the football preseason is also going strong, some of us might be feeling the pressure to bring on the tailgating treats. This simple, creamy dip is just right for all of the above.

All you need to accompany this is a few fresh, crunchy vegetables: carrots, celery, bell peppers, green beans, cucumbers, etc. The basic herb formula of chives and parsley goes with everything without giving offense. And cream cheese and sour cream, well, they’re just dip, you know. They don’t have a chance of becoming dull or boring with the zip they get from a pinch of lemon zest and pretty powerful zing from fresh garlic.

Take it from someone who has thrown this simple, delicious dip together many times after misplacing the recipe, tossing in whatever herbs I have on hand, thinking I had what I needed and didn’t and therefor making emergency substitutions: there are a lot of ways you could go with this to satisfy your personal taste. You can use buttermilk, yogurt or cream in place of the sour cream. Dill and thyme are other herbs that work well. Scallions, especially the green parts, are always a good substitution for chives as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure I forgot there was garlic in this for a while and I still made good dip.

This is so easy and delicious that you’ll always want to have a bowl of it in the refrigerator, whether it’s just to fill a hunger gap when it’s too hot to cook, or to fill a gap in an epic snack spread.  (I think the recipe could be easily doubled.) Perhaps it will also make you want to have dip-able vegetables in the refrigerator at all times as well. I don’t suppose there could be anything bad about that!

Garlic and Herb Vegetables Dip
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine (November 2009)

I used reduced-fat dairy ingredients to make this dip, but I’m sure the full-fat versions would be great. I don’t recommend fat-free.

1 small clove or ½ of a medium-size clove garlic
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground

1. Finely chop the garlic and sprinkle with the salt. Continue to chop and press the garlic and salt together to form a paste as demonstrated in this post.

2. Place the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Add the garlic-salt paste. Using an electric mixer, blend the ingredients on medium speed until very creamy and well-combined. Serve as a dip with fresh vegetables.

Makes about ¾ cup.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blueberry Coconut Muffins

At this beautiful peak of produce season, I tend to just eat fresh vegetables without much embellishment or cooking, keeping things simple, improvising and revisiting favorite recipes that I like to make each year. The result: no new recipes and, therefore, no new posts. Oh well.

But hey, there are still some berries out there, and even if there aren’t you can use frozen berries and make these sweet coconut muffins. I swirled some blueberries into these, because, well, blueberry muffins. They don’t need much explanation or excuse.

The batter for these muffins is based on this one for Coconut Cranberry Quick Bread, which I made (and loved!) something like a million years ago. I’ve wanted to try a blueberry version of this quick bread in muffin form for quite some time, and I’m really glad I finally got around to it. Perhaps not having a line-up of new recipes utilizing fresh summer produce or a metric tonne of zucchini to use up has its upside: Nothing new to try means finally getting around to trying something I should have tried long ago!

I had forgotten how much I loved this coconut quick bread/muffin batter. It’s quite sweet, giving argument basis to those who would argue that muffins are really cake. So be it! And being reminded of how good this delicious baked-good moistened with coconut milk and chock-full of shredded coconut is just gives me even more tasty ideas for what to do with it. How about adding pineapple or dates? Raspberries? Chocolate? Or turning the batter into a rum cake? Well, at the rate I’m getting around to trying new things, you might get to test these ideas out before I do. If so, let me know how it goes!

Blueberry Coconut Muffins
Adapted from Cooking Light January/February 2005

I used sweetened flaked coconut in this recipe. I think you could use unsweetened coconut. The result, of course, would be less sweet muffins, but, since these are a sweet muffin, that’s probably fine.

As you can see in the photos above, I neglected to sprinkle coarse sugar on top of the muffins, which I think is a nice touch, especially when the muffins are freshly baked. The recipe here includes the step of using the coarse sugar garnish.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup coconut milk (I used light coconut milk)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup coconut
2 tsp turbinado sugar, optional

1.  Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or line it with cupcake liners.

2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Stir with a whisk until well combined.

3.  In another medium bowl, lightly beat the egg with a whisk.  Whisk in the melted butter, then add the coconut milk and vanilla and whisk until well combined.

4.  Pour in the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moist.  Gently stir in the cranberries and coconut.

4.  Spoon batter into the prepared muffin pan.  Sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar if desired.

5.  Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center, or a wooden pick inserted into a muffin comes out without any wet batter clinging to it.  Remove muffins from pans immediately; place on wire racks to cool.

Makes 1 dozen muffins

Monday, August 11, 2014

Simple White Cake with Berries

This always seems to happen in August. There’s so much great fresh stuff to eat which should mean so much great fresh stuff to write about, but then I go on vacation and go out to dinner for my birthday and then we go out for my husband’s birthday.  Before I know it, there are cobwebs all over The Messy Apron and one might easily get the impression that I’ve forgotten how to cook.

Well, that’s not the case at all, of course. In fact, I’ve been making something rather celebratory and delicious: a birthday cake of sorts, although a rather informal one that wouldn’t require an occasion to be enjoyed.

This is a simple white cake to which I added some delicious berries before baking. This recipe, which comes from The Complete Book of Baking from Pillsbury, is similar to any white cake recipe I’ve found in other baking books. The cake is light and fluffy and utterly, if simply, delicious. You could use your favorite recipe if you have one, or even a cake mix. While the original instructions are for a round layer cake, I made a 13 x 9-inch cake, which may be a little less fancy, but, let’s face it, it’s less work, too.

I just sprinkled sliced strawberries, raspberries and blueberries onto the top of the unbaked cake batter and baked the cake, then drizzled a lemon glaze over the top after it cooled. The berries add a lot of wonderful tart-sweet flavor to the cake, which can get away without frosting, but is quite lovely with a drizzle of lemon glaze. I used fresh strawberries and raspberries, but only had frozen blueberries, which worked just fine. Since the frozen berries are okay, here, this cake could be enjoyed long after berry season is over.

I made this cake as a sort of belated birthday cake for my husband and myself. (Our birthdays are just a few days apart, so two cakes are calorically impractical.) It’s delicious enough for a celebration, and we were very happy with it as such. It’s decidedly unfussy, however, and I would suggest you not wait for a celebration to bake one up. Better yet, celebrate the berries themselves with cake! It won’t be summer much longer!

White Cake with Berries and Lemon Glaze

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
5 egg whites
1 ½ cups berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray or grease it with butter. Sprinkle with flour and distribute the flour all over the bottom and sides of the pan. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or another bowl if using a hand mixer), combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using the paddle attachment stir a few seconds to combine the ingredients. Add the butter and mix on medium speed to cream the butter.

3. Add the milk. Beat on low speed until moistened. Increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the vanilla, almond extract and egg whites. Beat at medium speed 2 more minutes.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Distribute the berries over the top of the batter. Gently press the berries into the batter.

5. Bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a moist crumbs attached. Cool completely.

6. To make the glaze: place the powdered sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice until it is completely smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the cake. Let stand until dry. Cut the cake into squares and serve.

Makes about 12 servings.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Archive Recipe: White Beans with Sage and Garlic

I don’t gush much on these pages. I mean really gush with true excitement and glee. They’d probably be more popular if I did. After all, how are you supposed to know what’s worth trying to get excited about if I don’t even offer any suggestions? Well, here you are: white beans. Yup, start trying to get excited about white beans. With sage and garlic. Yum! I love, love, LOVE this recipe.

Okay, so when I make it I don’t rely so much on a recipe. I more or less gather up some cooked (or canned) white beans, fresh sage (that I grow in a pot on my patio), garlic, olive oil, and some flavorful cooking liquid, such as broth or white wine. I gently fry the garlic and sage in a good amount of that olive oil until the garlic is just a bit browned and the sage is crisp, then I remove them, leaving a nicely flavored oil behind. I then add the beans to that oil along with the broth or wine and cook them until the liquid is a thick and luscious emulsion. I add salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle the fried sage and garlic on the beans to serve. Again, can I say it? YUM!

When I posted this recipe before, I was beginning a trip through my cookbooks, trying to test and report on at least one recipe from each book. Um, ahem. That project didn’t go so well. Somehow my enthusiasm and commitment to what sounded like such a delicious idea (not to mention a way to weed out cookbooks I would probably never actually use) fizzled.

But my enthusiasm and commitment to serving White Beans with Sage and Garlic has never failed. It hasn’t even waned. Not one little bit. I buy a sage plant at a garden center every spring, so I can make these beans. I cook up extra white beans whenever I need them for a recipe, so I’ll have enough to make this dish. I’ve been making this for years and I won’t stop eating it anytime soon.

I usually serve this as a main dish with some bread and often a salad or other vegetable. (I really like this bread with it.) It also makes a good side dish for something like chicken or pork chops. It’s simple but wonderfully delicious and satisfying. As of right now, I implore you to join me in getting really, really excited about White Beans with Sage and Garlic! Yum!

White Beans with Sage and Garlic
Adapted from A New Way to Cook  by Sally Schneider

5-6 medium to large garlic cloves
about 10 large sage leaves (or up to 20 very small ones)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups cooked white beans (about 2 16-ounce cans) drained and rinsed
¼ cup dry white wine or chicken broth
coarse salt and black pepper to taste

1. Peel the garlic and thinly slice it.  Cut the sage leaves into ¼-inch slices.

2.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic slices and cook a few minutes, just until they begin to brown slightly.  Remove the lightly-browned garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3.  Add the sage to the oil.  Cook for about 1 minute or until the leaves look darker and somewhat crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside with the garlic.

4.  Add the beans and wine or broth to the oil along with some salt and pepper to taste.  Increase the heat to medium.  Cook, stirring gently, until only a little thickened liquid remains in the pan. Tasted and adjust seasonings if desired.  Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the cooked garlic and sage.

Makes about 2-3 main dish or 4-6 side dish servings.