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Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I originally named this blog Grow.Pick.Eat, it referred to gardening and trying out recipes made from the freshly picked berries and veggies.  Now, as summer winds down, I find that it has taken on a whole new meaning:  My ass and waistline have begun to GROW, causing me to PICK out larger sized items from my closet to wear, because all I have done this summer is sit around and EAT the goodies that Bill and I have cooked and baked.

So much for the unintentional–but not unwelcome–fifteen pound weight loss that I experienced last school year.  My feeble immune system was not prepared to fend off  the aggressive and icky germs passed on to me by the six-year-olds in my classroom, so I was sick almost constantly. Also, I have a hard time eating when I am stressed and anxious, and since stress and anxiety were my constant companions for several months, I pretty much subsisted on red wine.  (Admittedly not the healthiest way to lose weight, but it was that kind of year).   Before I knew it, my pants were hanging so low that I felt like a teenage gangsta, which was not a particularly flattering look for a suburban white female who can’t even say the word “gangsta” without sounding ridiculous.  So, I went out and purchased a brand new and much smaller-sized wardrobe–and proudly left all the size tags in.

Now, however, those new clothes are feeling uncomfortably snug.  I am not even sure if I can get into my dress pants (purchased in the Juniors’ section, thank you very much), and with the new school year starting soon, I sure hope I don’t bust a seam when I sit down at our first staff meeting or bend over to tie a little one’s shoe.  And I am afraid to weigh myself on my Wii Fit, because it will yell at me for being a slacker or perhaps make a snide comment about how long it has been since I last exercised.

Therefore, this will be my last post involving baking for a while.  I really need to lay off the carb-saturated baked treats and try to cook more figure friendly dishes until I can button things again.   Tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage are coming in strong right now, and lucky for me, they are not conducive to making breads, cookies and pies.  I will focus upcoming blog posts mostly on those three veggies.  But our shriveled and spent zucchini plant gave us one last monster squash, so I dutifully made up a batch of fluffy and sweet cookies to celebrate the end of its life and the end of summer vacation.    Think I’ll pour myself a glass of red wine and find the recipe for you…

Here it is:

ZUCCHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES:  http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/chocolate-chip-cookies-vi/detail.aspx

Notes:

  • I usually use half brown sugar, half white sugar.
  • Rather than finely chop the zucchini, I shred it.  With my trusty Salad Shooter, of course.
  • 3/4 cup of chocolate chips is not nearly enough.  I put in a whole 6 oz bag of them–at least.
  • This time, I added some Heath toffee pieces, because Bill saw them in the baking aisle and wanted to try them.  Mmmm.

P.S.  I am surprised that my spell check recognizes the word “gangsta.”  That makes me a cringe just a little bit.

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Julie’s Homemade “I Can Do It” Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti with my Homemade Meat Sauce

Since this post is about my making my own homemade spaghetti sauce, the context of the experience would be incomplete without the story of how I set water on fire in my early spaghetti making days.  Yes, folks, for years afterward I considered myself such a horrible cook that I could even set water on fire.  This incident happened back when I was in high school, and was one of three major kitchen mishaps of my youth–the other two being The Great Mustard War and the Wall Oven Meatloaf Disaster.  There were also intentionally horrifying culinary creations that originated in my parents’ long ago kitchen, with its turquoise boomerang formica countertops, blond wood cabinets and built-in Carol Brady oven.  Those, however, are stories for another day.

Setting water on fire was particularly mortifying to me because it happened when I was cooking what was supposed to be a romantic dinner for my date.  Also, because my date was the kind who would never let me live it down.  There I was, about sixteen years old, trying to impress my boyfriend with my domesticity.  When he arrived at my house, I had the Ragu-based meat sauce simmering and the salad all ready to go.  All that was left were the noodles.  While waiting for the water to boil, we ate our salads, and I awkwardly tried to be a charming and flirtatious hostess.  I had taken the seat closest to the stove, which meant my date–who sat across from me–was facing it.  All of a sudden, his eyes got huge.  I thought he was either choking or about to lavish praise on the miraculous salad I had bestowed upon him.  Instead, he shouted that the pot on the stove was on fire.

I was relieved that I did not have to perform the Heimlich maneuver, sad that my salad got no props and terrified that I was about to burn the house down.  We both leapt from our chairs, not sure what to do, but fairly certain that “Stop, Drop and Roll” did not apply to this situation.  As quickly as it started, the fire burned itself out, and we cautiously approached the stove to examine the forensic evidence.  My date was baffled by the fact that there was only water in the pot.  I knew that appearances could be deceiving.  You see, I had heard that if you put just  a bit of vegetable oil in the water when cooking pasta, the noodles won’t stick together.  It quickly became apparent that I had filled the pot with too much water, and when it boiled, it overflowed, causing the vegetable oil to ignite on the burner.

If I were to psychoanalyze myself, my lack of desire to cook during the following twenty years of my life could maybe be traced back to this embarrassment, as could the failed marriage to the guy who incessantly mocked me about it for years.  Hmmm…gotta love blogging as therapy.

Back to the present. Now that my self-esteem has mostly recovered from the trauma caused by that formative life experience (except for my lingering fear of fire), I once again enjoy making spaghetti.  I have tried many jarred pasta sauces in the past few years, and have settled on Sockarooni by Newman’s Own.  Not only is it all-natural and tasty, but the name is AWESOME and fun to say (Sockarooni! Sockarooni! Sockarooni!), and all proceeds go to charity.

However, when  tomato season arrives at our house, it seems silly to use tomato sauce from a jar, so last year I boldly did some experimenting and created my own recipe.  And it’s GOOD, if I do say so myself.  🙂  It is a thick and chunky meat sauce that is easily adapted to different tastes.  Leave in more jalapeno seeds if you want a kick or leave them out if you prefer a non-spicy sauce.  Bell peppers and mushrooms can be used or not, depending on your preferences.  I don’t like something that’s in Italian Seasoning, so I just add basil and oregano, but if you’re a fan of Italian Seasoning, go nuts.  Also, I used ketchup, but you could put in tomato paste instead. Use as much of it as you need to make the sauce the consistency you want.  Oh…and I no longer spike the pasta water with oil–go figure. It’s much safer just to toss the cooked noodles with some olive oil to keep them from sticking together.

BTW, if you are looking for something to do with any leftover spaghetti noodles, I highly suggest feeding them one by one to your dog, if you have one.  It is highly entertaining, complete with slurping and teeth gnashing, as you can see in this YouTube video featuring my dogs Dieter, Tigger, and the late Katie.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfWUTW1arGc

JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE

Note:  All measurements are approximate and may be adjusted to taste. Makes approximately 4 servings.

  • 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped onions
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dried basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 jalapenos, minced–leave a few seeds in for some spice
  • 5-7 medium-sized tomatoes
  • ½ cup ketchup (a few squirts)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 1 small can mushroom pieces
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed (this is not necessary, but why not sneak in some healthy Omega 3s)
  • Cornstarch, if needed for thickening

Set a pot of water to boil for peeling tomatoes.  Meanwhile, brown ground sirloin in olive oil with onions and bell peppers.  When meat is almost browned, add garlic, jalapenos and dry seasonings.  Turn off heat when done, to deal with tomatoes.

When water boils, plunge tomatoes in pot for one minute, then remove. When cool enough to handle, core, peel and seed them.  Chop and mix remaining pulp into meat mixture.  Use a turkey baster to drain any excess liquid/grease.

Add ketchup, fresh basil, mushrooms, and flaxseed to meat/tomato mixture. Bring to a boil, and then turn down heat to simmer.   Simmer for 15-20 minutes minimum, longer if possible, until tomatoes and peppers have softened.  If sauce is too watery, cook longer or add a bit of cornstarch to thicken.

Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash with parmesan cheese and a salad and/or garlic bread.  Actually, I found a yummy bruschetta recipe that would make a great appetizer or accompaniment for this dish.  Stay tuned…

Click JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE for a printable PDF of this recipe.

Slug-Free Bleu Cheese Coleslaw

It was a balmy and calm December night. Hundreds of slugs covered the front porch, their slimy trails glistening in the moonlight.  We, the owners of the slug-infested porch, stood gaping in awe.  We knew that our garden beds played host to slugs in the summer, evidenced by chewed-up hostas and cabbage, and the shiny tell-tale tracks left on walkways.  Sometimes a particularly large slug would make an appearance by our back door or on the base of the porch. (Recon missions?)  But we had no idea that we had so many, or that they were capable of seemingly organized mass gatherings such as this.

Were the slugs only there to enjoy the unusually warm evening, coming out of hiding to bask in the above average temperatures one last time before winter settled in?  Or were their intentions more sinister?  I have read Animal Farm several times, and I couldn’t help but think that there was some kind of anarchy or overthrow being planned.

Now that I am aware of their organizational capabilities, I prefer to live with the slugs rather than make enemies of them.  I do not want them coming after me.  So, I no longer put down beer traps and have chosen not to use the highly recommended Sluggo to “control” them.  I announce when I am going to harvest cabbage so that they have a fair warning to retreat, and I am not too bothered by the holes that they create in some of our plants.

Bill and I even decided to honor them when we competed in the Great Urban Race in Toronto last summer.  This is a competition held in various cities in which teams of two race around the city on foot or using public transportation, figuring out clues, taking pictures and performing tasks along the way.  Knowing that our intellect far surpassed our speed, we named our team Super Slugs.  As expected, we finished the race toward the back of the pack, but I do believe that our garden slugs were impressed; they have not felt the need to intimidate us by holding any uprisings lately.

Still, although I do not actively wipe out the slugs, I do draw the line at ingesting them.  Therefore, all cabbage picked from our garden is carefully inspected; the chewed outer leaves are removed, and the cut-up cabbage is placed in salt water to soak out any remaining invaders.  Doing so has not seemed to invoke any retaliation on their part.  This year, our cabbage seems to be surprisingly slug-free.  Although they feasted on the exterior, there were far fewer baby slugs hiding inside than there usually are.  I only had to pluck off two babies on the first head that I picked last Tuesday.

Using my handy Salad Shooter, I shredded the soaked and slug-less cabbage to make one of our favorite summer salads:  Bleu Cheese Coleslaw.  If you are looking for coleslaw “with a twist,” give this recipe a try.  The bleu cheese gives it a bit of flair. We like it with (or on) steaks or burgers.  If you don’t grow cabbage, or are making it off-season, just use a bag of slaw mix as called for in the recipe.  But whatever you do, don’t anger the slugs.

BLEU CHEESE COLESLAW: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/bleu-cheese-coleslaw/detail.aspx

An Unforgettable Dish: Cheese Ravioli with Fresh Tomatoes and Artichoke Sauce

Cheese Ravioli with Fresh Tomato and Artichoke Sauce

There are some things that are best forgotten:  embarrassing moments, old grudges, unfortunate hairstyles, and anything done after five or more cocktails.  On the other hand, it is best not to forget things like birthdays, anniversaries, making the mortgage payment and bathing.  I have been particularly forgetful lately, and it is driving me bananas.  Although my hygiene has been properly maintained and home foreclosure is not imminent, in the past couple of days I have neglected to: remember to buy necessary items at the grocery store, write a blog post, make a doctor’s appointment, and pick the rest of the corn from the garden.

Not picking the corn was a serious oversight–critters made a feast out of five of our beautiful ears!  Only two were left intact, which I immediately pulled off and took inside.  I am very sad and am mourning the tragic loss of our tasty little crop.  I am also kicking myself, because when I picked two ears for dinner a couple of nights ago, I gleefully noticed that the ears were perfect, and I made a mental note to go out and get the rest of them before the neighborhood wildlife discovered them.  Which I promptly forgot to do.

My memory has been so flighty the past few months that even my attempts to help myself are inadequate.  I’ll make a list to take to the grocery store and either forget to include important items, or forget the entire list on the kitchen table.  I’ll diligently enter an appointment in my cell phone and set an alarm to notify me of it an hour in advance.  But then I’ll forget to charge my cell phone or to keep it nearby, so I never hear the alarm.  I’ll write things on sticky notes and forget where I stuck them.  *Sigh.*

Bill and I are especially bad about remembering to take out meat to thaw for dinner.  This is why, during the school year when we are both working, we end up getting a lot of fast food.  We do manage to plan for those kinds of days once in a while, though.  We try to keep some items on hand that do not require thawing or loads of preparation, such as frozen or refrigerated cheese-filled pasta.  We boil it up, toss it with a bit of pesto and serve with some garlic bread and/or a salad for a filling meatless meal.

The following recipe is great if you are going meatless or just forgot to buy or thaw meat.  In the winter, we use canned diced tomatoes for a super quick dinner.  But in the summer, when the garden tomatoes are fresh and abundant, we chop up a bunch of those instead.   The recipe calls for roma tomatoes, but we use whatever the garden is producing.

CHEESE RAVIOLI WITH FRESH TOMATO AND ARTICHOKE SAUCE:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/cheese-ravioli-with-fresh-tomato-and-artichoke-sauce/detail.aspx

Corn, Corn

Let’s play The Vegetable Game! First, grab yourself a beer or a cocktail. Now, pick a vegetable–any vegetable. No need to literally pick one from your garden. Just temporarily adopt a vegetable name. For instance, I will be Corn and you will be Summer Squash. The game works best with lots of participants and lots of beer. I will start the game by saying my own vegetable twice and then naming your vegetable twice. (“Corn corn. Summer Squash Summer Squash.”) You then say your own vegetable name twice and someone else’s vegetable name twice. And so on. The catch? If you show your teeth, you have to drink. The more drinks you’ve had, the funnier it is to watch someone scream, “Rutabaga Rutabaga!” while impersonating an elderly muppet.

The Vegetable Game was one of the many drinking games I learned in college. I was always Corn. This is because, while absurdly wrapping my lips around my teeth, I would shriek, “Corn, Corn!” in a high-pitched voice verging on hysteria, and could almost always make people laugh, which caused them to expose their forbidden teeth. I encourage you to practice toothlessly shouting various vegetable names in front of a mirror to judge their comic potential and then challenge your friends to The Vegetable Game at your next social gathering.

Speaking of corn, we picked our first ears this weekend! I am not sure how developed they will all become, because I did not assist them in their pollination this year. A couple of years ago, I read that it is difficult to grow just a few corn plants in a garden unless you hand pollinate them. So, last summer and the previous summer that is exactly what I did. I would knock the pollen out of the tassels onto a paper plate and then transfer the yellow powder onto the silks with a paintbrush. Although I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was perhaps becoming too personal with my corn, it must have worked, because the sixteen plants that we managed to fit in our tiny garden produced beautiful ears.

Our main issue has been knowing when to harvest the ears. We agonize over picking them too early or too late. Raccoons do not have this problem. They know the perfect time to raid our garden and steal the biggest, plumpest ear. After this happens, we follow their lead and rip down the rest of them. Thus begins our annual corn eating frenzy. We may have picked our corn a bit early this year in our attempt to beat the raccoons to the punch; the three ears we tried were a bit skinny but very tender. We are leaving the rest of the ears on the stalks to see if they will fill out a bit. The reason that I did not help my corn with its pollinating this year is because we were out-of-town when the corn silks appeared. I took a chance and decided to see if nature and the wind would take care of it. Hopefully the rest of the ears will properly develop, but not become raccoon chow.

It has been so freaking hot this year that we have not given our yard or garden the amount of attention that we usually do. Today, Bill cut our neglected lawn for the first time in three weeks–we finally got some rain, so the grass is starting to grow again. When he opened the back gate that leads to our alley he encountered a surprise: there was a perky little stalk of corn standing there blocking his way! Bonus corn!

I LOVE freshly picked sweet corn. Maybe more than raccoons do. You will not see too many recipes using corn on this blog, because I think the best way to eat it is straight from the cob just with a bit of butter, salt and pepper. On occasion, we will make some herb butter by mixing in some chives or basil, but that’s about it. If we end up with more that we can eat, we will blanch and freeze it. We usually use the frozen stuff in salsa (our salsa recipe will be coming soon). I know some people like to grill corn, but I am not one of them–just a personal preference.

I like my corn lightly boiled, so tender that it practically falls off the cob. I eat it slowly and savor the way each kernel bursts when I bite into it.  I detest when people cook the heck out of a beautiful ear of corn and make it tough and rubbery. I will not order corn on the cob in restaurants for this very reason. I have yet to find one that does not destroy its corn. Below is how I always cook it.  I sometimes leave out the lemon, but always add the sugar.   I also love to husk corn. Carefully peeling off each layer is soothing to me.  Kind of like eating string cheese or Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels.

This cooking technique is verbatim from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook:

TO PREPARE

Refrigerate unhusked corn until ready to use.  Corn is best when eaten as soon after picking as possible.  Husk ears and remove silk just before cooking.

TO COOK

Place corn in enough unsalted cold water to cover (salt toughens corn).  Add 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice to each gallon of water.  Heat to boiling.  Boil uncovered 2 minutes: remove from heat.  Let stand uncovered 10 minutes before serving.

A Cucumber-iffic Meal with Special Guest Appearances by Zucchini, Cherry Tomatoes, Purple Pepper & Basil

Giant cucumbers picked recently:  10.   Cucumbers left at the end of the day yesterday: 0.  Whew!  Lucky for us, our cleaning lady likes cucumbers and took a few off of our hands.  We delivered a couple more–along with a monster zucchini–to some friends.  (Bonus:  Got some homemade blackberry jam in return that we can’t wait to break into!)  Bill made some experimental pickles with a couple more, and finally, we finished them off by using making some cucumber-based recipes for dinner with Bill’s parents.

To serve with our appetizers, we prepared Tzatziki sauce for the first time.  We followed the recipe on that one exactly, except that our cucumbers are not English cucumbers.  I wrangled as much water as I could out of the shredded cuke by salting it and mashing it between paper towels and then using centrifugal force in the salad spinner.  We were glad that we chose to add the optional dill, since that really enhanced the taste.  The sauce turned out nice and thick, and we paired it with both mini pita breads and Fried Zucchini “Crab” Cakes.  Just a tip:  Unless you are actively trying to repel vampires, it is not advisable to use Garlic Cloves of Unusual Size, like we did.  Regular sized cloves would be quite sufficient.  Although, we did sit outside all evening and I didn’t get a single mosquito bite, so perhaps the pungent garlic scent emanating from my every pore kept those blood-sucking demons at bay.

The Fried Zucchini “Crab” Cakes were a spur-of-the-moment decision by Bill, who wisely began preparing them without my knowledge while I was on the computer blogging.  By the time his parents arrived and I saw that he had a pan of EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE oil on the barbecue with fire licking up around it, there was not much I could do except for whimper softly and internally berate myself for always forgetting to buy a fire extinguisher.  Fortunately, all turned out well.  The cakes were crispy and delicious, and we did not have to bother the nice men at the fire department.  When making the cakes, Bill used Panko breadcrumbs and seasoned them with paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper–rather than Old Bay.

For our dinner, Bill grilled up some steaks and I put together a Quinoa Greek Salad.  Quinoa (keen-wa) is such an intriguing little grain.  It has a good deal of protein, which I love, since I am prone to getting dizzy and shaky between meals if I eat too many carbs.  So, I actively seek out sources of protein such as Greek yogurt (used in the Tzatziki), nuts, and soy-enhanced cereal and meal replacement bars.  This salad was lemony and refreshing, and I definitely will be adding it to our regular rotation.  I stuck to the recipe fairly closely, except that rather than red and green bell peppers, I used a purple pepper from the garden.  I also added some of our cherry tomatoes, but served the feta cheese on the side, since Bill’s parents are not big on it.  Also, I lightly browned the quinoa in a bit of butter before adding the chicken stock in order give it a bit of a toasted flavor.

TZATZIKI: http://www.food.com/recipe/tzatziki-59336

FRIED ZUCCHINI “CRAB” CAKES: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/connies-zucchini-crab-cakes/detail.aspx

QUINOA GREEK SALAD:  http://www.food.com/recipe/quinoa-greek-salad-97764

Zucchini Brownies??? Rock On!

Zucchini Brownie

So, yesterday I made a batch of gooey chocolate-y brownies with the help of my trusty iPod and was delighted to discover that I do indeed possess the coordination to hold and mix a bowl of dry ingredients while simultaneously doing the Cupid Shuffle. Also, I’ve found that some songs are better than others when it is time to stir the dry ingredients into the wet. Just like hitting a baseball, I feel that it helps to get the hips into the process (although I am admittedly way better at mixing batter than being a batter). Over my last couple of baking sessions, the following tunes proved to have just the right batter mixing rhythm: “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite, “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani, “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” by Journey, most Run DMC songs, and one of Kid Rock’s classier titles, “#$%@ You Blind.”

However, I’ve found that other songs, such as many by Green Day and Buckcherry, are too fast-paced for batter mixing, and would be better suited for the frantic task of whipping egg whites and sugar into a frothy meringue.

The best thing about getting a dance workout in the kitchen is that afterwards I feel I’ve earned the right to indulge a bit on products of my labor, beginning with the batter. This is another recipe in which eggs are not used, so the batter is completely safe to eat–and extremely delicious. Just try to avoid making the same mistake that a friend and I made in our seventh grade Home Ec. class: we only ended up with one cookie from a recipe that was supposed to make a dozen, because the batter was so darn good. Needless to say, our grade on that project was less than stellar.

If you have any self-control, this recipe should make a 9″ x 13″ pan of brownies, which are a bit lighter and more cake-like than the dense, oily, chewy ones that come from a box. Nobody will have any idea that these brownies contain zucchini unless you tell them, so you can enjoy the feeling of sneaking vegetables into your unsuspecting children’s dessert! The recipe says to fold in the zucchini at the end, but I found that without the zucchini the batter became almost too dry and difficult to mix, causing me to rely on an angry Limp Bizkit song to pull me through it. So, my suggestion would be to incorporate the shredded zucchini with the wet ingredients immediately, and then add the dry to the wet.  As usual, I used white whole wheat flour and substituted unsweetened applesauce for the oil.  I forgot to buy walnuts this time, but I usually put them in unless I am baking for my Dad, who prefers nut-free foods.

ZUCCHINI BROWNIES

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/zucchini-brownies/detail.aspx