Luscious Zucchini Bread…

I know, I know, by now everyone has their own zucchini bread recipe. I mean, it’s a must especially if you grow zucchini or have access to a farmers market. It is definitely zucchini time of year, that glorious time when you are so grateful to have your first harvest but by the end of the season are looking for ways either to use them or get rid of them.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, now that I live in a condo I can’t grow zucchini so I can control the amount of zucchini I am willing to use. So last week when I went to the farmers market I got a couple of them and used one as a vegetable side dish and the other to make a couple of loaves of zucchini bread.

So what makes this recipe better than most. A secret ingredient that I use to up the flavor factor. So let’s talk luscious zucchini bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – The secret ingredient is vanilla bean caviar: Most zucchini bread recipes call for vanilla, as does mine. But I decided to try adding the caviar from the inside of a vanilla bean to try to enhance the flavor. And let me tell you, it really ramped up the taste factor. That’s why I call this zucchini bread luscious.

These days you can buy vanilla beans at your local grocery store but not so long ago you had to go to a specialty spice store to get them. The picture below shows you what a vanilla bean looks like.

Step 1: The shaft of the bean is quite small and kind of hard so you’ll need a very sharp knife to extract the caviar from the pod. First you need to straighten out the pod.

Step 2: Using a sharp knife, cut a slit all the way up and down the bean pod

 

 

Step 3: Pry the slit open with your hands and scrape the tip of the knife up and down the open shaft of the pod making sure to get as much of the caviar out of the inside as you can.

A whole vanilla bean will give you the equivalent of approximately one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Adding this to the two teaspoons of vanilla already in the recipe and it gives a wonderful but not over powering vanilla flavor to the zucchini bread. And that’s what makes it so luscious.

Now can you make this without the caviar? Of course… but I compare this to adding some espresso powder to a chocolate recipe. The recipe would be good without it but with it there is a fuller, richer flavor. Now I will warn you, vanilla beans are expensive, but they are worth it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a food processor to shred the zucchini: Although you can use a box grater, a food processor is a faster and easier way to shred the zucchini for this recipe. One medium to medium-large size zucchini will give you the two cups needed to make the bread. The food processor shreds the zucchini to just the right size so there are small strands in the bread. You don’t want to the zucchini shreds to be too big. They are designed to add moisture to the cake without providing any noticeable flavor. Also, make sure to pat down the zucchini shreds in your measuring cup. You want them slightly compacted.

Lesson Learned 3 – You can use shredded carrots in this recipe as well: I chose not to use carrots this time but you can add them as well. Just substitute one cup of shredded zucchini for one cup of shredded carrots. You can also add one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to this recipe. Try it a variety of ways and see what you think.

Try this version of zucchini bread and compare it to yours. I’d love to know what you think!

Luscious Zucchini Bread...

  • Servings: 8 Slices Per Loaf
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. orange juice

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla bean caviar (the caviar from one pod)

2 tsp. vanilla

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

5 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking powder (1/4 high altitude)

1 tsp. salt

2 cups shredded zucchini, lightly packed

1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowel combine orange juice, oil, applesauce, eggs, vanilla extract and vanilla caviar. In another bowl combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix to combine. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Do not over mix.

Fold in the zucchini and pecans.

Pour the mixture into two 8 x 4 inch loaf pan coating with cooking spray. Check loaves at 45 minutes. Depending on your oven they may need to bake anywhere from 45 – 55 minutes. Loaves are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean.

Let cool  in the loaf pan for 15 minutes. Remove loaves from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Zucchini Bread Batter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zucchini Artichoke Olive Dip…

This past weekend a farewell party was being hosted for a co-worker who is moving to New York City. We were all asked, if we wanted, to bring something for the table. I knew I would be working all day the day before and the day of the party so I wanted to bring something that was not necessarily the usual faire and that I could make ahead. I decided on this recipe.

dip ingredientsThis is what Rachel Ray would call a chop and drop recipe. All the work is in the chopping and once that’s done you just stir the ingredients all together and refrigerate it. It’s a perfect make-a-head appetizer for any party.

So let’s talk zucchini artichoke olive dip:

Lesson Learned 1 – Make sure your cream cheese is room temperature: This is a pretty hearty dip, almost a spread, so it’s important the cream cheese be room temperature, otherwise you’ll never get the ingredients completely blended. If the cream cheese is room temperature it mixes easily and you want to make sure everything is thoroughly combined as you have raw garlic and onion in this dip. You certainly don’t want concentrated clumps of raw onion or garlic anywhere.  The only way you’ll achieve that is with room temperature cream cheese.

zucchini artichoke olive dip

Lesson Learned 2 – any kind of olives will do: I had kalamata olives in the refrigerator, but you can use pimento stuffed olives or black olives, a combination of olives or whatever you prefer or have on hand. Be sure to add only 1/4 cup of finely chopped olives to begin with and then taste the dip when it’s all mixed. Olives tend to have a lot of salt in them and you don’t want to overpower the dip by adding too many. You can always add more if you think the dip needs more.

zucchini artichoke olive dip

Lesson Learned 3 – refrigerate this dip for at least 4 hours: This is the kind of dip that tastes even better if all the ingredients get well acquainted, so keep it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, although overnight is preferable.

garlic-press-and-sliceLesson Learned 4 – Use a garlic press to mince the garlic: Since you are adding raw garlic, it’s important that it be finely minced. The best way I’ve found to do that is with a garlic press. If you chop by hand you run the risk of having a larger chunk(s) of raw garlic somewhere in the dip. Using a press minces the garlic evenly and allows for it to be thoroughly incorporated into the other ingredients.

Lesson Learned 5 – Start out by using only a small amount of fresh cilantro: Cilantro has a very strong flavor but it also adds depth of flavor to this dip. I recommend starting out by adding only 2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh cilantro. After you taste the dip, if you feel it needs more cilantro you can always add it. I found 2 tablespoons to be more than enough.

Lesson Learned 6 – Squeeze the excess water out of the shredded zucchini: Zucchini, like cucumbers, has a lot of water in it. You don’t want a runny dip so it’s important to squeeze the excess water out. I just took handfuls and squeezed them over the sink until no water dripped out. You can wrap the zucchini in a towel and squeeze the water out that way as well. But, if you have clean hands it’s so much easier just using your hands and you’re not left with a dirty dishtowel.

This is so easy to make and it has a slightly different combination of ingredients than most artichoke dips. Try it at your next party. It’s sure to be a hit!

Zucchini Artichoke Olive Dip…

  • Servings: 30
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS

2 packages of cream cheese (8 oz. each), room temperature

3 cups shredded zucchini (2 medium sized zucchini)

1 jar marinated artichokes drained and chopped (you can add more if you like)

1/4 cup finely chopped olives (I used kalamata olives)

4 large garlic cloves, minced

3 Tbs. finely chopped red onion

2 Tbs. minced fresh cilantro

2 Tbs. lime juice (1 medium sized lime)

2 Tbs. good olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)

Appetizer crackers or a french bread baguette, sliced.

DIRECTIONS: 

Combine all of the ingredients except the crackers and/or sliced baguette into a large bowl. Combine thoroughly. Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours, overnight is preferable.

Serve with appetizer crackers or a french bread baguette, sliced.

Zucchini Artichoke Olive Dip

Grilled Marinated Zucchini…

It’s that time of year again when zucchini plants start to produce like gang busters. Last year was an epic year for zucchinis in my garden. I was taking two to three zucchinis off the plant daily. This year my plant is not doing as well, but I anticipate getting at least a few. And even if you don’t grow them yourself, there’s a good chance your neighbors will be ringing your doorbell asking you to take a few off their hands. So whether you grow them, share them or simply get them at a farmer’s market, zucchinis are versatile and can be used in both savory and sweet recipes.

The recipe I am going to share today is simple but produces a very flavorful grilled zucchini.

Zucchini MarinadeLesson Learned 1 – Patience is key: The hardest part about this recipe is making sure you marinate the zucchini for a minimum of 3 hours. You can even marinate the zucchini overnight if you like. Just put the zucchini in a plastic bag, pour the marinade over it, close the bag and refrigerate. I turned the bag over every hour or so just to redistribute the marinade. I grilled my zucchini after it had been marinating for 4 hours and it was delicious. 

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t eliminate the sugar in the marinade: I know we all are trying to limit our intake of sugar these days, but don’t skip it here. When I tasted the marinade before I put some sugar in it was too tart. The sugar balances out the tartness of the vinegars and lemon and gives you a nice well rounded flavor.

Marinate In A Plastic BagLesson Learned 3 – Shallot verus onion: I recommend using a shallot in this marinade because it’s milder but still gives you that infusion of onion flavor. You’ll appreciate that especially when you finish off the grilled zucchini with a drizzle of the marinade.

Lesson Learned 4 – Grill or grill pan: The beauty of this recipe is that it can be done either on an outdoor grill or on a grill pan on top of the stove. Either way you’ll get those gorgeous grill marks and the same wonderful flavor. This time I cooked them on my gas grill, but I’ve also made these on top of the stove as well. This recipe is quick, easy and a great way to use that summer zucchini bounty!

Zucchini Cooking On The Grill

[recipe: title=”Grilled Marinated Zucchini” servings=”4″ time=”4 1/2 Hours Including Prep” difficulty=”Easy”]

INGREDIENTS:

1 Tbs. red wine vinegar

2 Tbs. white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. lemon zest

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp sugar

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 shallot, minced

1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme leaves (I used a strain called lemony thyme)

1/3 -1/2 cup olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil), taste after using 1/3 cup and add a little more if necessary

2 medium zucchini trimmed and sliced diagonally

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Whisk the vinegars, lemon zest and juice, sugar, garlic, shallot and thyme in a bowl. Gradually mix in the oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the marinade into a small dish, cover and refrigerate.

Slice the zucchini diagonally and put it in a gallon size plastic bag. Add the rest if the marinade and gently squeeze the bag to distribute the marinade evenly over the zucchini. Close the bag and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, turning the bag over occasionally in the refrigerator during the marinating process.

Place zucchini on the grill over medium high heat. Turn after 4 minutes. Keep the zucchini on the grill for an additional 4 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to a serving dish. Drizzle with the remaining marinade and serve hot.

[/recipe]

Check out two of my other favorite zucchini recipes on this site: Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread and Zucchini Mushroom Gratin. Enjoy those zucchinis!

Grilled Marinated Zucchini

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake…

I guess at this point you can probably tell that I’ve been a little fixated on zucchini recipes and with good reason. The zucchinis just keep coming and coming. Every day it seems I’m harvesting two to three new zucchinis. Last year my zucchini plant (I only have one as I have limited space in my garden) hardly produced anything. This year my plant is producing prolifically. Go figure. Mind you, I am not complaining. The challenge is to determine ways to use all this zucchini as I won’t let any go to waste. I know I can give them away if I need to, but most of my neighbors are looking to give their zucchini away as well. Some have even gone to the lengths of just leaving them on neighbor’s door steps. The whole neighborhood must be over run. So my challenge – how can I not only use my zucchini but also make it exciting when having it several times a week.

IMG_9540The latest recipe I tried was a side dish.  Those are probably the easiest recipes to find. This recipe came off of a website that featured 35 different zucchini recipes and I always like to one stop shop. This one seemed relatively easy and so I thought I’d try it. The original recipe called for paring zucchini with yellow squash and I think that would have been perfectly fine, but I had so much zucchini that I wanted to use and so I just skipped the yellow squash. I did add some mushrooms that I had and that worked very well (I always seem to have mushrooms in my refrigerator). My point is that this recipe is adaptable and I am all for adaptable. Bottom line, this is an easy recipe to prepare and it’s actually quite good. I had some issues with how the recipe was written and I will share those in my lessons learned.

Recipe rating: B+ – most of my issues came from how the recipe was written as I am a stickler for detail and how to achieve success the first time you make something. In my experience even the best of recipes are seldom tried again if they can’t be done well the very first time. These days everyone is so busy that recipe success the first time around is just about a given for making a recipe again. This one had one critical piece of information missing that, in my estimation, made the dish look great as well as taste great.

IMG_9550Lesson Learned 1 – prepping ahead: The beauty of this recipe is that it can be prepped ahead and put into the oven when needed. I prepped all of the ingredients about an hour ahead of time and simply covered them in plastic wrap and put them into the refrigerator. The only other thing I did was to take it out of the fridge about 15 minutes before putting it into the oven to take the chill off. Right before putting it in the oven I topped it with some additional cheese. I am thinking this is something that can be prepped in the morning and then finished off when you get home from work – a nice little advantage especially for a busy day.

Lesson Learned 2 – use fresh herbs whenever possible: The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. I have thyme growing in my garden and I used that. You always need to add more of an herb if it is fresh, so I substituted 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme and I felt it gave the side dish a great flavor boost.

Ready to go into the oven

Ready to go into the oven

Lesson Learned 3 – you eat with your eyes first: How often have you heard someone say, “Oh that looks delicious!” When you think about it, it’s really a sort of oxymoron since something can only taste and not look delicious. But the truth of the matter is we eat with our eyes first. If something looks great, we automatically assume it will taste great. And this is probably my biggest bug-a-boo with the original recipe. That recipe called for baking the ingredients uncovered for 25-30 minutes then adding the remaining cheese and baking it for an additional 10-15 minutes. I would never have gotten the rich color on the cheese by doing that. What I wound up doing is putting the dish under the broiler for the last 5 minutes thereby getting those nice brown bits of color on the cheese. If I had not done that, the top would’ve just looked gooey white. Getting the browning from the broiler, in my estimation, makes the dish look much more inviting. Believe me, it did not look nearly as inviting when I followed the directions in the original version of the recipe. At 350 degrees you would have to cook the cheese much longer to get it to brown on top.

I realize that my rant about using the broiler may be very picky, and it probably is. Don’t let that deter you from trying this recipe. It’s a great way to use up some of that extra zucchini and I’m pretty sure it will be a family pleaser as well.

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4 medium zucchini

4-6 ounces of baby portobella mushrooms sliced

3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil (this can be adjusted depending upon personal taste)

2 green onion spears thinly sliced (white and green parts)

1 tsp. fresh thyme chopped (1/2 tsp. dried thyme)

3/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 cup cheese, divided (I used a combination of mozzarella and pizza cheese – you can use more cheese if you like, I think I actually used 1 1/2 cups of these cheeses all total)

1/2 cup parmesan, divided

salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and cut the zucchini into half moons. Slice the mushrooms into thick slices. Finely chop the basil. Thinly slice the green onions. Chop the fresh thyme.

Combine the sliced squash, mushrooms, basil, onion, thyme garlic powder and half of each of the cheeses. Stir carefully to combine all of the ingredients making sure that the cheese and herbs are well distributed. Season with salt and pepper. Put the mixture in an 8 x 8 baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. (At this point I added a little more cheese on the top). Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

Take the dish out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Let bake for an additional 5 – 10 minutes then place casserole under the broiler for the last 5 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes and serve.

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

Serving Suggestion: With Grilled Chicken Breast and Oven Baked Potato Chips

Serving Suggestion: With Grilled Chicken Breast and Oven Baked Potato Chips

Zucchini Mushroom Gratin…

It’s that time of year again. I’ve already harvested five zucchinis from my one zucchini plant and by the looks of things there are plenty more to come. This is the time of year that I start scrambling to locate as many zucchini recipes as I can find so that I don’t waste one precious home-grown squash. And although I am always on the lookout for new recipes, I also have some tried and true ones that I look forward to making every year at this time as well.

A zucchini from my garden...

A zucchini from my garden…

One of my all time favorites is a version of a recipe from Ina Garten. I’ve mentioned Ina several times in this blog. She is a cook that inspired me not only to make new and different things but to believe that I can and be successful at it.

I’d never heard the term gratin before I made this recipe and it’s a term that I found is not in most fledgling cooks’ vocabularies. A gratin originated in French cuisine and it simply means a dish that is topped with a browned crust achieved either through a baking or broiling process. You can make a gratin out of just about anything, potatoes, artichokes, cauliflower – you name it. I especially like to make a zucchini gratin since it is not only delicious but also another recipe in my arsenal to deal with the onslaught of zucchini I get at this time of year.

My very happy zucchini plant...

My very happy zucchini plant…

I saw Ina make her recipe on a Food Network episode and I’ve been making it ever since. I have amended it to appeal to my personal tastes but the basis of the recipe is Ina’s (if you want to see her recipe it is on the Food Network site). So I will rate her recipe and then include my version of it for you to try.

Recipe Rating: A++++++++ This is definitely one of the best recipes ever. It is easy to make and a great accompaniment to any meal. A hint of nutmeg gives wonderful flavor to this recipe. I highly recommend trying this one!

Saute the zucchini and mushrooms gently...

Saute the zucchini and mushrooms gently…

Lesson Learned 1- Sautee the zucchini and mushrooms gently: Ina’s recipe calls for cooking the zucchini covered for about 10 minutes before making the white sauce. In my experience, cooking the zucchini for that amount of time made it limp before you even put it in the oven. I cook my zucchini and mushrooms for five minutes just to take the “edge” off of them and let the oven do the rest. That way when you serve the gratin the vegetables still have some body.

Lesson Learned 2- Making a white sauce: This recipe includes making a simple white sauce for the zucchini and mushrooms to simmer in. The first step is to add flour to the zucchini/mushroom mixture. Make sure you cook that flour for at least a minute before you add the milk. It will create a whitish looking goo on the vegetables but don’t worry about that. Just keep stirring until it’s time to add the milk. The reason you cook it for a minute is to get rid of any floury taste. You certainly don’t want your white sauce to taste like flour. Once you add the milk the whitish goo will begin to disappear right before your eyes and you will wind up with a rich, thick white sauce.

Cook until the sauce becomes rich and thick...

Cook until the sauce becomes rich and thick…

Lesson Learned 3 – Bread crumbs versus croutons: Last week I made a hash brown casserole that called for a crushed crouton topping. I loved it so much on that recipe that I tried it on this one and it turned out perfectly. The original recipe stipulates to cover the top with bread crumbs mixed with grated Gruyere cheese. Maybe if you made home made bread crumbs the end result would be similar to that of using croutons, but I thought the croutons added a greater crunch and more flavor. You can try topping it either way but at this point I prefer the crushed croutons.

Lesson Learned 4 – A little nutmeg goes a long way: I’d never cooked with nutmeg before I made this recipe and I can tell you it adds a great depth to the gratin but you need to be careful when you use it. A little bit of nutmeg goes a long way and it can easily overpower a dish if you use too much. My advice is to use exactly what the recipe recommends. Then in subsequent bakings try to vary the proportion. My guess is that if you choose to vary it, it will be for a lesser rather than a greater amount.

Lesson Learned 5 – Oven times vary: This seems to be a regular “lesson learned” in my recent posts but rarely does a dish come out of my oven the way it is supposed to in the time written in a recipe. I assume that part of the issue is living in high altitude and the other is how my oven is calibrated. The original recipe says to bake the gratin in the oven for 20 minutes. In order for me to get a nice bubbly casserole I have to bake mine for 40-45 minutes. This is where it can get somewhat frustrating for the fledgling cook. But never fear, in time you will learn the ins and outs of your oven and be able to plan accordingly.

Place the croutons in a bag and crush with a rolling pin...

Place the croutons in a bag and crush with a rolling pin…

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s not difficult to make but tastes like you slaved all day in the kitchen. Over time, because the directions are so true to form, I’ve not gleaned a lot of lessons learned making it and I view that as the beauty of the recipe. It is the kind where you can be successful making it the first time and every time. If you’re like me at this time of year, desperately searching for various ways to cook my zucchini crop, this recipe is a must. Try it – I know you’ll like it as much as I do.

Zucchini Mushroom Gratin

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Brown and bubbly out of the oven...

Brown and bubbly out of the oven…

INGREDIENTS:

3 Tbs. butter (plus some for on top of the crushed croutons)

1 medium size onion, diced

2-3 medium zucchini cut in to 1/4 inch rounds

4-6 ounces of portobella mushrooms cut in thick slices

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

2 Tbs. flour

1 cup warm milk

3/4 cup crushed croutons or bread crumbs

1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the milk into a saucepan and warm under a very low heat (you don’t want the milk to boil, you just want to get the chill out of it). Grate the Gruyere, dice the onions and slice the zucchini and mushrooms and set aside. Put the croutons in a plastic bag, seal the bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Set the bag aside.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and cook under low to medium heat until translucent (about 5-7 minutes). Add the zucchini and mushrooms, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes (you do not want the zucchini to be limp). Uncover, salt and pepper to taste and add the nutmeg.

Stir in the flour. Cook for at least one minute. Add the warm milk and 1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese and cook over a low heat until the sauce thickens. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2 – 2 quart baking dish.

Combine the croutons (or bread crumbs) with the remaining Gruyere and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture. Dot with small amounts of butter and bake until bubbly and browned. (the original recipe called for the casserole to bake for 20 minutes, I had to bake mine for 40-45 minutes).

Let sit for 5 minutes, garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.

 

Ready to go into the oven...

Ready to go into the oven…

 

Brown and bubbly out of the oven...

Brown and bubbly out of the oven…

Serving Suggestion: garnish with flat leaf parsley...

Serving Suggestion: garnish with flat leaf parsley…