Enough To Make You Nuts

Since the grocery store trips were off-limits this week, the cooking has been a bit scarce. Last night, I had a bowl of cereal for dinner. The night before, Judy and I attended a GrubWithUs dinner at a weird restaurant. Tonight, I’m polishing off a hearty TV dinner, and I might dig into a couple of bites of that ice cream from way back when. Yeah, I know, I can’t believe it’s still there either – let’s just say I’m making each and every bite count. (Update – yeah, that happened. And now the ice cream is kaput.)

But when a coworker brought in a bag of zucchini, despite the scarcity of food that caused me to resort to the microwave, I had dessert on the brain instead.

It’s normal to think of dessert when you have zucchini in your hands, isn’t it? Sure, zucchini fries are great, too, and so is plain ol’ raw zucchini with cheese, but let’s be honest – dessert is never a bad idea (except with okra, as evidenced by the Iron Chef America I just watched). My buddy Jennifer makes a killer gluten-free zucchini bread, and since we’re over half a country away from her now, I don’t get to partake in it. Quite honestly, it’s almost enough to make us move back – but not quite. I’m afraid I’ve already gotten too accustomed to the warmish weather and would freak in five minutes of Chicago summer humidity, and one minute on a February day (plus, we’re seeing them again in 14 days!).

When I volunteered to take a couple of green tubers (are zucchini tubers?!) from work earlier this week, I had two potential recipes in my mind. One is a zucchini cornbread I’ve had stashed away in a pile of recipe clippings for a while now, and while I do love my cornbread (there’s a story behind that), I didn’t see the sense in making it to eat with cereal. I prefer cornbread alongside fried chicken, or something that I can dip it in, and milk just doesn’t appeal. The other recipe was a breakfast/dessert quick bread thing – what you see here. I saw it on Tara’s site a couple of weeks ago (the same site that reminded me of the chocolate ice cream – a theme, perhaps?), and that, I thought, was perfect for two reasons. One, I could take a loaf to work the next day as a payback for free zucchini, and two, it made two loaves (quick bread recipes always do, don’t they?!) which meant the other got frozen, with the thought that it’ll come in handy next weekend when our guests are in town.

The downside to making rich, chocolatey zucchini bread at 10 PM? It keeps you up at night – you smell it cooking for the almost-hour, and when it comes out, you still can’t eat it because it has to cool. And by that point, it’s bedtime and your teeth are brushed (although that usually doesn’t stop me…). Of course, there’s also the ‘I already mentioned I was making this yesterday so I can’t eat it because I’ll feel guilty at work all day’ thing too. Then, the fact that you’ve filled up your tiny house with the smell of the stuff, so much so that it wafts into your room and into your face, even when it’s buried underneath the covers and your cat is sitting on your head, is enough to make you nuts.

Of course, most of us aren’t that dramatic, are we?

ps – we’re off to Sedona for a few days. I’ll be taking a tiny blog break, and when I’m back, I’m planning to cut back to weekly posts. We’ll see how it goes, but this twice-a-week thing is getting hard. BUT! I think it’s time for a meat-heavy recipe, so I’ll work on that over the next little while too. Sound good? Thanks. Now, go eat some zucchini ;). 

 

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Bread
Adapted, barely, from Seven Spoons; makes 2 loaves

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (25 minutes active, 50 minutes baking time)

this is a relatively straightforward quick bread, which means you essentially mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry in another, then you combine. you don’t need a mixer or anything fancy, either. i’m guessing these would make great muffins as well, just that they’d obviously cook a lot less. as for the zucchini, since it’s a rather wet veggie, it’s not a bad idea to squeeze a little of the moisture into a towel, once shredded – don’t wring it out or anything crazy, but just a gentle squeeze or two will do ya fine.

printable version

ingredients
Softened butter or cooking spray, for pans
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c white spelt flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 c cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
1 c chopped walnuts, toasted
8 oz semisweet chocolate chips (it’s ok if you eat a few…)
1/2 c olive oil
1 c well-shaken buttermilk
2 eggs
1 1/2 c turbinado sugar
2 t vanilla extract
4 c shredded zucchini (2 regular zucchini measure about 3.5 c, which is what I used)

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lubricate two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with softened butter or spray. Use a length of parchment to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter/spray the parchment as well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts and chocolate. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until combined, taking care not over mix (you want to mix until the flour dissolves into the wet dough, but no further). Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, which should be around 45-50 minutes. Cool loaves in their pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then grasp the edges of the parchment to ease the bread out.

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At the Carnival

Do you ever have those moments when you swear you hear circus music in the background? In other words, things around you are just so dang crazy you just stop and do a double-take, which turns into a triple-take, and then a quadruple take, and then a whatever looking 5 times is, and so on and so forth? And then your neck hurts, too?

You may have just heard that music, in fact. I’m going vegan for two days (yes, that’s exactly how long I can go without cheese AND meat AND honey). I’ll tell you why later (it isn’t all that exciting, so don’t get your hopes up). Regardless, I’m convinced that it has clouded my judgement.

I hear circus music a lot in San Francisco. Imagine that. Sure, Chicago had its eccentricities, but this place is a whole ‘nother planet, I’m convinced. It’s not bad, not bad at all; it’s just really different. And I’m not one to stare either, so if you are wearing something, or doing something that makes me stare, you are very talented. Or weird.

The other day, I saw a guy wearing pants only (tight ones, too), swinging on a pole (in a sexual way) on one of the main streets in the city. No lie. I see a whole lot of high-waisted shorts too, which probably isn’t weird and is probably in fashion and I just missed it. I’m ok with that. Yesterday, we saw a street sale (like a yard sale, but on the street) where a book called “All About Hepatitis C” was for sale. I didn’t check the price.

Okay, okay. It isn’t that weird, right? I mean, for realz – this guy hangs around Wicker Park in Chicago all the time. Now that should be in the circus, don’t ya think? At least, I’d pay to see him, but maybe that’s just me.

Then again, things would be a little bit boring around here if things were all the same, if things were all what we expected them to be, if boys didn’t hang from poles every now and then, wouldn’t they?

Take these cookies, for example. Initially, I sort of turned my nose up at the recipe. They’re weird – they’re made with oats and ground-up almonds and peanuts and – get this – popcorn!  They’re held together by bananas, for cryin’ out loud.

These cookies, comprised of all these seemingly random ingredients – they fit together, somehow. Though the recipe seems a little weird at first, and though they most certainly belong at the carnival, they make sense and damn, they even taste good. Not quite good enough to make me consider buying high-waisted shorts, but still – it’s a start.

Carnival Cookies
from Super Natural Every Day; makes 24

time commitment: 45 minutes (25 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
3 large, ripe bananas, well mashed (about 1 1/2 c)
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 c coconut oil, barely warm – so it isn’t solid
1 1/2 c rolled oats (gluten-free available)
1/2 c almond meal (you can make your own by grinding up almonds very finely)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t fine grain sea salt
2/3 c shelled whole peanuts
1 c dark chocolate chips or dark chocolate bar, chopped
1 1/2 c popcorn, popped

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl combine the bananas, vanilla extract, and coconut oil. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the oats, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate, then the peanuts, and then the popcorn. The dough is looser than a standard cookie dough, but they’ll cook up just fine. Ball about 1 Tablespoon of dough into your hands and place, an inch apart from one another, onto a parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheet.

Bake for 14-17 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Carefully remove from sheet and cool cookies completely on a wire rack.

Crowd Pleaser

Eat, drink, and be merry. That’s what happened this past weekend. Who am I kidding? That’s what happens every weekend. Except this time, we didn’t just spend it with a few people; we spent it with a condo-full of people.

There was a lot of chocolate involved. Also, cheese, but more on that later. We’ll be talking party food for a while in these parts.

I ‘advertised’ a party with ‘snacks’, and as a direct result of my inability to choose between all the things I wanted to make, we ended up with plenty of food, and good thing because most of it was put to good use. Cheryl and Luke were lucky enough to get to help out with some of the snack-making since they came in Thursday night, but they didn’t seem to mind being put to work. Me? I love having people to cook with, and as a result there was more time to chill, which was also nice. (as a side note, Luke also let me play with his ‘prime lens‘, which I promptly put on my wishlist.)

Of course, we’re talking about someone who gets a kick outta baking bread and cookies all day, and someone who didn’t seem to mind having to prep and cook all week so that all 12 items were ready well in advance of party time. To me, all of that makes perfect sense, and I didn’t regret an ounce of it (well, maybe I regretted making macarons for the first time on Saturday afternoon, but again, more on that later).

I realized early in the week that the snacks were cheese-heavy and chocolate-heavy. Is that a problem? No. I pushed through, and only adjusted a wee bit to add (rather than change because again, I’m silly like that) a non-chocolate cookie and a non-cheese savory snack. But people liked the chocolate – especially the puppy chow.

What’s not to like, right? In contrast to what you might think, puppy chow isn’t dog food, but if dog food tasted this good I’d seriously have to consider a new diet. Puppy chow is a dish that combines all of my favorite things: crunchy cereal, peanut butter, chocolate, and sugar. Also, butter.

This is a dessert I can totally get behind, 24/7. It’s easy, it’s quick, and it’s a crowd pleaser for sure. It’s also adjustable, with no extra effort, to varied diets – gluten-free, dairy-free, even vegan.

I should also add that if you do make it, hide it. It’s only slightly addictive, but when you’re making things in advance that bowl, no matter how well covered it is, seems to get opened on multiple occasions.

Puppy Chow
adapted from Fast & Fabulous Party Foods & Appetizers; serves a party

time commitment: less than 10 minutes

i’ve seen this recipe in quite a few places, and i remember first trying it when my mother in law made it. i don’t have her recipe, but i’m guessing it’s pretty similar to this one, which i found in a book my mom got me for christmas. thanks, mom!

printable version

ingredients
1 stick vegan butter
1 c chunky peanut butter
1 12-oz bag vegan chocolate chips
1 box corn Chex
3 c powdered sugar

instructions
in a microwave-safe bowl (or in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly), combine butter, peanut butter, and chocolate and warm in 30 second intervals until melted, smooth, and runny.

dump 1/2 of Chex into a large bowl and cover with half of melted goodness. add the rest of the Chex and cover with remaining melted goodness. combine gently and mix together. dump contents into a double-bagged paper bag, toss in powdered sugar, and shake vigorously (which is why you need the bag doubled…) until sugar coats all of Chex. enjoy!