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Super Sneaky Zucchini Apple Pie

Forgot to take a picture of the whole pie, but managed to get a pic of a slice before we devoured it all!

Many people have a mental block when it comes to zucchini. Take my dog sitter, for example. I had baked up a batch of perfectly delicious zucchini muffins and offered her one. She declined, stating that she hated zucchini. Now, hate is a pretty strong emotion for such an unassuming vegetable, and both my husband and I sensed that she had never experienced the yummy versatility that zucchini can offer. My husband started his persuasion technique with the tried and true, “But you can’t even taste the zucchini!” She looked at him dubiously. I followed up by asking her if she liked banana bread and carrot cake. When she said that she loved both of those, I explained that the muffin was similar. After a bit more coaxing, she took a bite, and was a very happy zucchini convert. In the future I may just refer to them as Cinnamon Muffins when sharing them with zucchini-phobes.

If you don’t have twenty minutes to talk your guests into trying baked zucchini products, but you have zucchini covering your countertops and must sneak them into food at every opportunity, then I have discovered an ideal recipe for you: Zucchini Apple Pie. Faced with a freshly picked monster zucchini last week, I found this recipe that would use a large quantity of zucchini and give me an easy dessert to top off a barbecue with friends.

However, I was not sure how well the pie would go over if I explained what was in it. So I didn’t. I made coy comments, such as “Bill made pickles today, and I did some baking. Now the kitchen smells like a weird combination of pickles and apple pie.” Then, when I brought out the pie, everyone assumed it was apple pie and eagerly dug in, giving it rave reviews, including, “This is the best apple pie I’ve ever had!” At that point, my husband gleefully broke the news that there was not a single apple in the pie, just zucchini. Nobody believed him. At all. So I had to fess up and show them the recipe.

Don’t they look like apple slices???

It was truly fabulous! Actually, it was a combination of two recipes. I followed this Zucchini Apple Pie recipe, but since I only had one deep-dish frozen pie crust on hand, I didn’t put a top crust on it. Instead, I made the crumb topping from this Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie recipe. The final result tasted very similar to my husband’s favorite brand-name Dutch apple pie, which he will no longer allow himself to eat because it contains trans-fats. So, now we have a tasty alternative!

At the same barbecue, I tried out this Cucumber Zucchini Salad recipe as well.  It was also a winner, crisp and refreshing, and I was asked to bring it to another event the following weekend.

A nice summer side dish!

And, after trying several pickle recipes over the years that we haven’t much cared for, we like this one: Homemade Zesty Dill Pickers and Peppers, and so did our guests. It makes a flavorful, crunchy refrigerator pickle.

Well, what are you waiting for?  Time to get busy with those zukes and cukes!

The Neglectful Gardener Makes Stuffed Zucchini Cups and Oven Zucchini Chips

The main garden, thriving with little care

This summer is cruising by so quickly that I can’t believe that July is almost halfway over!  Many exciting things have been happening in the garden, such as plants inconveniently producing berries and oversized vegetables while we were out of town, and octopus-like weeds popping up everywhere to mock our neglect. We returned home from our cottage a few days ago to find that our beloved raspberries, overripe from not being picked, had become fodder for flies.  Luckily, we caught the zucchini before they developed enough to become self aware.  The weeds continue to grow, since I have been too busy (i.e. lazy) to do anything about them.

The first night back, my husband rooted around and emerged from the garden with a monster zucchini, some semi-normal sized zucchini, several cucumbers, and one single pathetic raspberry.  The decimation of the raspberries saddened me, because our homemade raspberry jam is one of my favorite treats from our garden. I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to make it this year.  However, I had the foresight to pick and freeze about two cups of raspberries before we left for vacation, so now I am slowly adding to that amount each night as fresh berries ripen.  We should be able to squeak out a few jars of jam, but probably won’t have enough for raspberry pie–another one of my favorites.  Sigh.

I knew that leaving the garden unattended for a long stretch of time wasn’t the most responsible choice, but with temperatures forecasted in the 90s, we sure as heck weren’t going to sit around our sweltering backyard and watch things grow when we could be at a cabin on the lake.  So, we sacrificed raspberry pie for up north.  As my husband said, “You can buy a raspberry pie, but you can’t buy the up north experience.” So true.

The rest of the garden is doing its thing.  The tomato plants are flowering and becoming unwieldy (as we are behind on the staking), and new plants are emerging from last year’s unintentional reseeding.  We’re getting some peppers in, and best of all, we will be having corn on the cob tonight because I actually managed to pick the first two ripe ears before the local wildlife ravaged them!

Corn for dinner tonight!

So now that we are finally able to harvest some stuff, I thought I’d pass along two new zucchini recipes that we tried. The first one successfully used up a monster zucchini.  (I still have one more lurking in my vegetable crisper, awaiting its fate as zucchini bread or spice cookies).

If you like stuffed peppers, this recipe is along the same lines.  In fact, you could stuff them with the filling that you usually use in peppers.  We made the recipe pretty much as directed and thought it was a keeper.

Stuffed zucchini cups

Meat, Tomato and Mozzerella Stuffed Zucchini Cups:

http://www.kalynskitchen.com/2009/09/recipe-for-meat-tomato-and-mozzarella.html

I think this second one is going to be made on a frequent basis this summer as my go-to savory zucchini recipe.

Zucchini chips

Zucchini Oven Chips

http://www.health.com/health/recipe/0,,10000001087041,00.html

We whipped this up as an evening snack recently, and it was sooooo good.  Simply slice a normal sized zucchini into chips, dip in milk and a seasoned breadcrumb mixture, and bake the slices in a 425 oven for half an hour on a nonstick baking rack.   I didn’t have breadcrumbs on hand, so I pulverized some Parmesan/garlic croutons in my little food processor to use instead.  Also, it seemed like these would be good with a dip–like the zingy dip served with Bloomin’ Onions at Outback Steakhouse.  Since we were out of horseradish, my husband improvised and came up with his own tasty dip. I’m giving you the closest approximation to his measurements that I can, since he was in mad scientist mode and measured nothing.  So, I suggest starting with minimal spices, tasting it as you go and adjusting accordingly.

Zippy Dip

  • 1/3 cup sour cream (or lite sour cream)
  • 1/4 cup mayo (or lite may0)
  • capful of white vinegar

Approximately 1/4 tsp of each of the following, or to taste:

  • chili powder
  • ground cayenne
  • paprika
  • garlic
  • dried minced onion

Mix sour cream and mayo together.  Add a capful of white vinegar and spices and stir until combined.  Taste, and add another capful of vinegar if you want more zip.  Add more of any spices you desire.  Mix well.  Serve with Zucchini Chips or other veggies.

Click ZIPPY DIP for a printable PDF of this recipe.

Slaving and Salivating over Strawberries

Freshly made freezer jam/sauce, along with tonight’s strawberry harvest

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and rather than sitting in traffic on I-75 with the rest of southeastern Michigan, Bill and I have decided to have a “stay-cation.”  I’m thinking we may regret this decision in the next few days, as temperatures are supposed to be in the 80s and 90s, and a cabin on the lake would be much more pleasant than our sweltering sun-drenched backyard.  But, alas, the decision has been made.  Our exciting plans include lots of sweating profusely, venturing into Detroit to visit Historic Fort Wayne and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, and trying desperately to keep up with our strawberry crop.

Thanks to an often summer-like spring, our strawberries came in several weeks earlier than usual.  They are in full force now, and a disproportionately large amount of my time has been devoted to picking, coring, and rinsing them….and using them up before they go bad.  But I don’t mind too much because they are oh so tasty!

Besides munching on them with a sprinkle of sugar, here is what we have made so far: Strawberry spinach salad, a pitcher of strawberry mojitos, strawberry-topped vanilla bean ice cream, strawberry smoothies, homemade strawberry banana “ice cream,” and several jars of freezer jam.

My improvised recipe for the smoothies consists of throwing a handful of fresh strawberries into my Magic Bullet blender along with half of a container of Greek yogurt, some crushed ice, milk (Lactaid), and a spoonful of my last jar of freezer jam from 2010.  Sometimes it’s refreshing to drink lunch from a straw, as I did today.

With the hot weather upon us, I’m thankful that I also recently discovered a quick and easy way to make a creamy frozen treat that is very similar in taste and texture to ice cream. Simply slice up a very ripe banana, freeze the pieces, and then purée them to a smooth consistency. Again, I use the Magic Bullet.  It’s the most healthy and natural ice cream you’ll ever have!  A few days ago, I did the banana thing and added in some fresh strawberries.  It had a great flavor, but  it was a tiny bit soupy due to the juiciness of the berries.  Next time, I’ll freeze the strawberries a bit and see if that will make a difference.

Speaking of juicy….my freezer jam is refusing to set up properly.  I followed the recipe in the Sure Jell package to a tee, but after the requisite 24 hours on the kitchen counter it’s not at all firm.  Not sure what went wrong.  The thing I love about freezer jam, though, is that if it turns out runny, it is still perfect for spooning over pancakes, waffles, crepes, ice cream, or adding into smoothies!

 

Use Those Late Cherry Tomatoes to Make Some Bruschetta

As the chilly fall weather descends upon us, we decided that today was perfect for making “lazy chili”–that is, opening a can of Chili Magic, adding some ground beef and tomatoes, and doctoring it up with peppers and spices to suit our tastes. Not having checked the garden in several days, we were afraid that our tomato season had ended and that we would have to rely on a can of diced tomatoes.  However, covered against the drizzle, Bill managed to pick enough tomatoes and peppers to throw into the mix.

Dieter, our 15-year-old German Shorthair Pointer, is thrilled that we still have some tomatoes hanging in there.  And when you are about a thousand years old in people years, those small joys are to be savored.  Dieter’s arthritis has gotten too bad for him to be able to go for a walk around the neighborhood.  Even if he is feeling particularly spunky, there is a good chance that he will just stop and refuse to move at some point of the walk, forcing us to carry his 55 lb self back home.  Therefore, when he feels like exploring, we’ve taken to allowing him to wander around in the part of the backyard that is usually off-limits to the dogs:  that mysterious area beyond the picket fence where the garden grows.

When he is back there, he can follow the scent of the bunnies and squirrels that are frequent visitors, mark his territory by the fence that separates us from the neighbor’s two dogs, and best of all…get up close and personal with THE MAGIC PLANTS. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, whenever we are in the garden he stands by the picket fence, drooling and waiting for us to pitch him some of his favorite–cherry tomatoes. Due to this, we now seem to have a baby cherry tomato plant growing from a crack in the patio where those tomatoes land and break open.

When Dieter encounters the wonder of the tomato plants himself, I have to watch him closely or he will eat himself sick, greedily pulling tomatoes off of the vine or devouring half-eaten ones that have been discarded on the ground by local critters.  Plus, tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, and dogs should not eat the leaves, stems or green tomatoes. So, I am careful about what goes into his mouth and down his gullet. But, oh, how feisty he gets! Tomatoes are to Dieters like catnip is to cats.  Like crack. So, I let him indulge his obsession for a bit before either gently guiding him away from the plants–or the more likely scenario–giving him an “airplane ride” back to the other side of the picket fence.

If you still have cherry tomatoes ripening in your garden, or even if you have to pick some up at the store, I’d like to suggest using some in this yummy bruschetta (broos-ket-a).  Unlike Dieter, I am not the world’s biggest cherry tomato fan, but I really love them on this.  It is a perfect appetizer or accompaniment to a hearty Italian meal, or served with a bowl of steamy soup for lunch on one of these brisk fall days.  Dieter dog, this one’s for you!

LIGHTLY COOKED CHERRY TOMATO AND RICOTTA BRUSCHETTA: http://www.herbivoracious.com/2011/08/lightly-cooked-cherry-tomato-and-ricotta-bruschetta-recipe.html

Salsa Chicken is a Simple Choice

It is frustrating at times to be a passive-aggressive indecisive person living with an equally passive-aggressive indecisive person.  Figuring out what to have for dinner often goes something like this:

Bill:  I’m starving.

Me:  Yep.  It’s getting to be about dinner time.

Bill:  It is.  Oh my God.  I’m starving.

Me:  Did we thaw any meat?

Bill:  What kind of meat do we have?

Me:  I’m guessing that’s a “no,” so we’re going to have to go out to eat or pick something up.

Bill:  OK.

Me:  What are you hungry for?

Bill:  (Playing Scrabble on smart phone) I don’t know.  What do you feel like?

Me:  I’m not the one who’s starving.

(Bill becomes re-absorbed in Scrabble and I go off to feed the dogs, who have blissfully eaten the exact same thing for dinner every night of their lives).

Bill:  (20 minutes later) So, what are we going to do for dinner?  I’m starving.

For a while, we thought we had this dilemma solved by inventing the ABC Restaurant Run game.  Starting with the letter A, each time we went out to eat, we would choose a restaurant beginning with the next letter of the alphabet.  Once we hit Z, I made up little pieces of paper with names of restaurants on them, and we would randomly draw one when we couldn’t make a decision.  I think I need to find those papers again…

Why is it so difficult for us to figure out where to get a simple meal?  Because we are JINXED, that’s why.  You see, far too often, when we have a hankering for a certain restaurant and actually make a hard and fast decision, we get thwarted.  To prove this point, within the past couple of weeks, here are some scenarios that we have encountered upon driving to our destination:

Chosen eatery:  Colombo Italia.  We decided to check out this restaurant in downtown Mt. Clemens that we had never tried.  It was pitch black inside–creepy even, with no sign of being inhabited anymore…except maybe by Freddy Krueger.  Which is entirely plausible, knowing what the basements of those old buildings are like.

Chosen eatery:  Firehouse Lounge (on Harper).  We got close and noticed that there were no cars in the parking lot, and there were no lights on.  There was a note on the door, but we didn’t even turn into the parking lot to read it.

Chosen eatery:  Quiznos.  Closed at that location. Forever.

Chosen eatery:  Zack’s Hot Dogs. I was craving a Rachel Dog.  Sadly, they no longer have dinner hours at that location.  Only lunch.

Chosen eatery:  Maya’s Deli.  This little place in downtown Mt. Clemens has some spectacular sandwiches!  Only, apparently, they are not open on the weekends.  So we decided just to get some tacos from Taco Bell.  Simple enough, right? I shit you not, our local Taco Bell, which we pass several times a week, has suddenly been reduced to a pile of rubble.  A pile of rubble! Because it knew we were coming.

This is why I am thankful for easy recipes, such as Salsa Chicken, that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes–even using oven ready tenders if we haven’t thawed anything–thus avoiding the drama of choosing a restaurant that will ultimately be unavailable.   For example, last week, after returning home from a party where we had just nibbled on appetizers, Bill uttered his famous words, “I’m starving.”  I yanked a package of breaded chicken tenders from the freezer, poured some salsa on them, topped them with cheese, and threw the whole thing in the oven.  When it came out, we garnished it with jalapenos and sour cream–and it was the perfect stomach filling, liquor absorbing, post-cocktail dinner.

Salsa Chicken has many variations.  For the meat, you can use boneless chicken breasts, tenders, breaded tenders or just about any other poultry parts that you know how to cook in an oven.  The salsa can be from a jar, the deli department, or homemade–hot, medium or mild.   Cheese?  You know me with cheese…the more, the better!

Here is a link to the base recipe for SALSA CHICKEN that we’ve use for several years now:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/salsa-chicken/detail.aspx

More about the salsa: In the summertime Bill and I make two different kinds, using a base recipe, but throwing in whatever kinds of tomatoes and peppers happen to be ripe in the garden.  The first salsa is good with chips and with the chicken, but because of the beans and corn it can also be eaten as a stand-alone side dish.  The second salsa is a nice fresh pico de gallo.  We adjust the heat by how many jalapeno seeds and membranes that we leave in.   I would give credit to the creator, but I’ve had that one in my recipe book for a while, and did not print the source.

Cilantro, Black Bean and Corn Salsa

CILANTRO, BLACK BEAN AND CORN SALSA

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/heathers-cilantro-black-bean-and-corn-salsa/detail.aspx

Fresh and Chunky Salsa

FRESH AND CHUNKY SALSA

Ingredients

  • 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 hot chile peppers, Serrano or Jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp cilantro, minced
  • 1 1/2 -2 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper

Preparation

1.   Boil enough water to cover tomatoes.  Dunk them in for a minute, take them out and plunge in cold water. Peel, seed and chop.

2.  Put chopped onion and garlic in a strainer; pour 2 cups of boiling water over them, then let drain thoroughly.  Discard water. Cool.

3.  Combine onion and garlic with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper.

4.  Refrigerate for 2-4 hours to blend flavors.  Makes about 2 cups of salsa.

Click FRESH AND CHUNKY SALSA for a printable PDF of this recipe.

Festivals and Zesty Pierogi Galore

Pierogi with Warm and Zesty Slaw

You’ve gotta love it when there are multiple local opportunities to patronize beer tents, sample great food, listen to music, and experience the horror of what some people actually choose to wear out in public.  Yes, the Labor Day weekend festivals have arrived here in Michigan!  The people-watching will undoubtedly be most entertaining early in the weekend, with the steamy temperatures causing sweaty masses of inappropriately clothed folks to take to the streets in search of entertainment.

In our area, we have several events within a reasonable driving distance from our house to choose from, including:

  • Arts, Beats and Eats
  • The Michigan Renaissance Festival
  • The Michigan Peach Festival
  • The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival

Sadly, the Michigan State Fair–a tradition since 1849–no longer exists, having fallen victim to state budget cuts.  So, we will not be able experience the miracle of a piglet being born (or the joy of gazing upon the Butter Cow) and must choose an alternate venue in which to battle aggressive bees and guzzle warm beer/overpriced freshly squeezed lemonade.  This year, Bill and I are going to hang out at  Arts, Beats and Eats.  With over 70 food vendors to choose from, I hope that I am not paralyzed by indecision as to what to eat.  At the other events, the choice is simple:

  • The former State Fair:  Funnel cakes, elephant ears, Pepto Bismol
  • The Michigan Renaissance Festival:  A gigantic turkey/pterodactyl leg
  • The Michigan Peach Festival:  Duh, peach things
  • The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival:  Pierogi

I am partial toward pierogi booths at festivals, if I can find one.  To me, a nice little cardboard boat filled with beer-absorbing potato and cheese filled dumplings is a perfect street snack.  I had some yummy ones at the American Polish Festival in Sterling Heights earlier this summer, accompanied by a unique taste treat, “Polish Nachos.”  However, with so many other choices available at Arts, Beats, and Eats, I will try my best to spend my food tickets on something new and exciting this evening and maybe find an alternate favorite that will not cause too much GI upset.

In honor of my beloved festival pierogi, I shall now struggle into some too-small cutoffs, don a nasty tube top and a cougar cowboy hat, and share with you a magnificent recipe that we make when we harvest a head of cabbage from our garden and the tomatoes are bountiful.  It is called simply, “Pierogies and Cabbage,” but that does not do proper justice to the tangy and slighty sweet deliciousness of the warm slaw that is created here.  I would like to re-dub it “Pierogi with Warm and Zesty Slaw.” Bill made this a couple of weeks ago, and went all out to maximize the taste of both the pierogi and the slaw–he browned the pierogi in real butter, and cooked the cabbage mixture in bacon fat (as called for in the recipe).  By all means, feel free to substitute olive oil if your arteries are clogging just reading that.  We do not cook with full fat too often anymore, but made an exception here–and it was spectacular!  If you are going to be in Hamtramck this weekend, bring home some fresh pierogi and give this dish a try.

NOTES:

  • We increased the amount of white wine vinegar from 2 teaspoons to 3 to give it a bit more zip.
  • Pierogi is actually the plural of the Polish word pierog (I am missing an accent mark over the o, but do not know how to make one in this program). Saying “pierogies” is mis-pluralizing.  Like saying “feets” or “breasteses.”  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=breasteses
  • What is a cougar cowboy hat?  My definition is: a narrow, woven cowboy hat, curled up on the sides, occasionally seen on cute 19 year olds, but most often sported by cougars with hair extensions and George Hamilton tans who are sipping yard long margaritas with collagen induced trout lips.  Natural habitats include fairs, festivals, concerts and Muscamoot Bay.
  • Never fear: I do not actually own a nasty tube top or cougar cowboy hat, retired my butt-cheek length cut-offs in the same decade as my cheerleading uniform, and do plan to check my outfit from all angles in a mirror before heading out this evening.

PIEROGI WITH WARM AND ZESTY SLAW: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/pierogies-and-cabbage/detail.aspx

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.