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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!

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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.

Tomato-Topped Chicken, Zucchini and Ricotta Sandwiches

As we walk toward the garden, Dieter–our 15-year-old German Shorthair Pointer–waits by the picket fence, drool streaming from his jowls, quivering in anticipation, eyes intensely watching our every move. His favorite time of the year has arrived: tomato season. We pitch a few cherry tomatoes over the fence to him, and he scrambles to retrieve them, even ducking his creaky old body under the picnic table if one rolls underneath. He will also bob for them in his doggie pool or water dish, blowing water out of his nostrils and submerging his entire head if necessary.  He is obsessed with cherry tomatoes, and loves eating them more than anything in the world. Except for maybe bread. Or couches.

I am less enthusiastic about them, although I have aspired to like tomatoes for years. They always look so appealing, all red and juicy. But I never cared for them unless they were cooked–like in ketchup, spaghetti sauce or salsa. All my life, I have been a Tomato-Picker-Off-er. But each year, I would give them another try in hopes that my tastes would change.

Having a garden was my turning point. Since we have been planting and picking our own and experimenting with them in various recipes, I have progressed to being a Transitional Tomato Eater. I now enjoy them in uncooked salsa and on sandwiches and they no longer offend me in salads, but am not yet to the point where I can just eat a hunk of tomato. Or cherry tomatoes–Bill, Dieter and my sister can have those. My other dog, Tigger, and I have not yet developed a taste for cherry tomatoes. She will play with one for a while, nudging it with her nose, but when she finally bites into it, she winces and makes her patented “vegetable face” and spits it out. I do the same thing, minus the nose-nudging.

But, I am proud to say that I just happily downed a delicious BLT that Bill made us for lunch. I used to eat only BLCs (Bacon, Lettuce, and Cheese). Or, since lettuce doesn’t do much for me, sometimes I’d eat just a BC. Bacon and cheese are two of my Dietary Staples. For me to allow a tomato into that mix is truly a big step.  Perhaps an alien (or Dieter) has taken over my body!

Below is a recipe for another sandwich that is enhanced by juicy garden-fresh tomatoes. It has a tangy, melty sauce made from shredded zucchini, lemon zest, ricotta and parmesan cheese that really makes this sandwich unique. After we bought some herbed ciabatta bread at Nino Salvaggio’s, Bill rustled these up for dinner a couple of day ago using chicken tenderloins, but it could also be made with lunch meat, leftover chunks of rotisserie chicken or whatever else you have on hand. In fact, the “sauce” might also go well with ham, turkey, fish or crab cakes–or even as a baked dip with crackers.

TOMATO-TOPPED CHICKEN, ZUCCHINI AND RICOTTA SANDWICHES: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Roasted-Chicken-Zucchini-and-Ricotta-Sandwiches-on-Focaccia-102870

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

Fantastic Zucchini Bread

I will begin this post with an appropriate anecdote from this month’s Reader’s Digest, which is THE magazine to turn to for anecdotes–or articles short enough so that one’s legs don’t fall asleep reading them while sitting on the john.

I visited my daughter bearing gifts: summer squash from my garden. 

“What should I do with them?” she asked. 

“Whatever you would do with zucchini,” I said. 

“All right, we’ll give them to our neighbor.”

–Harold Silver, Neenah, WI

Those of us who grow zucchini or other prolific vegetables are all too familiar with this seasonal situation. Unfortunately, Bill and I don’t know our neighbors.  Yes, we have lived in the same house for six years, but the people on our street either keep to themselves or are so blatantly nasty that we have come up with creative derogatory nicknames for them.  The only neighbor that we do know–that is, we exchange pleasantries with him over the fence on occasion–has his own vegetable garden, which gives him the right to be exempt from our offerings.  So, our solution for getting rid of excess produce is to either:  a) force it upon friends and family or b) arrange the veggies in a basket on a little folding table near the sidewalk with catchy advertising, such as: “Free Organically Grown Monster Zucchini.”

We quickly discovered that people would more readily accept vegetables–especially weird or grotesquely sized ones–if accompanied by a recipe sheet.  The summer that spaghetti squash ran rampant all over our fence, we gave them away along with the eloquently titled sheet: “What the #@&! do I do with Spaghetti Squash?”  Our zucchini was presented with a paper entitled, “Zucchini is Fun!”  Both recipe pages were illustrated with clip art portraying chipper and wholesome people from the 1950s.  I felt that this would invoke nostalgia for a simpler time, when apron-clad cooking with home grown vegetables was the norm.

Included on the “Zucchini is Fun” page is the recipe below for zucchini bread.  After testing a few different recipes the first year that we had our garden, we chose to add this one to our permanent collection.  It makes two moist and flavorful loaves, and is delicious plain, or topped with butter, margarine, peanut butter, or jam.  A big tasty chunk for breakfast, along with a caffeine-laden cup of coffee, is a great way to start the day!  Alternately, the recipe could make 24 muffins, or mix and match to make one loaf and 12 muffins.

Forgive me, but I do not remember where this recipe originated:

FANTASTIC ZUCCHINI BREAD

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. oil or unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 c. raw zucchini, grated
  • 3 c. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine all the “wet” ingredients and the brown sugar in a large bowl, and combine all the dry ingredients in another bowl.
  3. Slowly add the dry to the wet, stirring well after each addition.
  4. Add chopped walnuts, if desired.
  5. Pour into two greased loaf pans.
  6. Bake loaves for approximately one hour.  I begin checking for done-ness with a toothpick at about 45 minutes, and will sometimes cover the loaves with foil to keep them from browning too much while the center finishes cooking.  Muffins take about 20 minutes.

Click FANTASTIC ZUCCHINI BREAD for a printable PDF of this recipe.

Zucchini on the Grill

Grilled Zucchini with Feta and Chives

If we manage to rescue a zucchini from the garden when it is a manageable size, rather than letting it grow into an enormous monstrosity, one of our tried and true ways to prepare it is on the grill.  Or, rather, one of Bill’s ways to prepare it is on the grill.

I am not a griller.  Although I am a reformed gas-stove-a-phobe, my uneasy trust of flammable gases and liquids does not extend to barbecues.   I have no problem getting in touch with my primitive side and reigning over a big bonfire–as long as it’s not windy.  I just don’t like lighting things that could potentially explode.  Being first time owners of tiki torches this summer, I gladly let Bill handle the job of setting them ablaze for their backyard debut.  But alas, he wasn’t home last night when I had some girlfriends over, leaving me to face the duties of BBQ-ing, tiki torch lighting and campfire-building.  Chicken Shack kindly took care of the grilling for me, and the campfire gods cooperated and gave me a nice windless night.   As dusk approached, I warily eyed the flimsy torches, which appear to be made of dry kindling and paradoxically filled with flammable citronella fluid.  My desire to have mosquito-free air eventually outweighed my fear of a flash fire, so making sure that the hose was nearby, I managed to appear outwardly calm as I fired up each wick.   Success!

Although I have now conquered fire in two different backyard situations, I am content to let Bill continue on as the grillmaster.  He is good at it, and most importantly, he is not afraid of applying fire to an apparatus attached to a tank of gas.  Here are a couple of easy and fuss-free ways that he has cooked zucchini on the grill.  The Zucchini with Feta and Chives is a recipe I found in  this month’s issue of Women’s Day magazine, where it was shown paired with lemon chicken skewers.   We chose to serve it with burgers.  The Parmesan Zucchini is our go-to zucchini side, and we usually have it several times each summer.

ZUCCHINI WITH FETA AND CHIVES

Slice zucchini in half lengthwise and season with salt and pepper.  Brush with olive oil or spray with cooking spray.  Place pieces on grill for approximately 10 minutes, turning halfway through.  Cut into slices, squeeze some fresh lemon on top and sprinkle with feta cheese and chives.

PARMESAN ZUCCHINI

Slice zucchini into rounds.  Season with salt and pepper and place on a sheet of foil.  Add a bit of parmesan cheese and fresh minced garlic to taste, and drizzle with olive oil.  (Or,  use pats of butter instead of the olive oil, which is Bill’s preference).   Form foil into a packet and place on the grill.  Remove when your meat is done, and sprinkle with more parmesan cheese, if desired.