Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Teeny Weeny Zucchini Muffins

Wasn't I just whining about the piddly zucchini output from my garden? It's funny how things change. A few tiny specimens have suddenly morphed into monsters. It's Attack of the Godzini around here these days. Happily the plants I chose at the grocery store are of a variety that can get large and remain fairly tasty without a bunch of tough seeds. I went out to do battle with the squash this morning and came back with enough for dozens upon dozens of tiny zucchini muffins.
Apart from babies and hedgehogs, I don't think I'm terribly susceptible to cute, so my fondness for the mini-muffin seems to make little sense. It isn't that they're petite and charming (though they are). I find it much easier to properly bake a mini-muffin than those of the standard sized variety. They cook all the way through and they seem nice and sturdy so no topless baked goods. They're a great size for picky kids who can take one bite and then turn up their noses at your lovely treats without wasting a full twelfth of the batter.
The recipe takes its inspiration from a few sources, but I think it's fair to call it my own. It's full of zucchini, of course, and also warm spices. No nuts to mess up the texture though you are welcome to toss them in your muffins if you like that sort of thing. And I should think you could make a dozen standard size muffins from the quantities given though you'll really want to watch the baking as the zucchini is very moist. Better yet, just make some mini-muffins and wallow in their spicy cuteness!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Birthday Cake

We keep food coloring on hand primarily to tint homemade playdough and to make fake blood. Really, it's never used for food. But then when the just-turned-five-year-old asks for the rainbow cake for her party, what's a mom to do?

The cake recipe comes from a Lubavitch cookbook and yes, those ladies know how to feed a crowd. Their zeal for kashrut can lead to recipes with nasty fake ingredients. The results are dairy-free cakes which can be served at a meat meal. When you're already using non-dairy creamer, food coloring probably seems minor, but nonetheless it generally stays out of our food.

Today, however, I tinted three separate bowls of batter all sorts of garish colors and stirred in the zest of lemons, limes, and oranges. The cake itself was at least redeemed with real food: butter and half-and-half took the place of the suspicious nondairy ingredients. There was lemon custard filling to go between the layers and excessively sweet orange frosting. It wasn't the prettiest thing, but my brilliant husband suggested a light scattering of calendula petals which made the whole thing presentable. Three layers of sugary, multicolored cake? What could be more perfect for a fifth birthday party?

I said, with some contempt, that it tasted more like a bakery cake than homemade. Not delicious, but showy. If you simply must make it, let me know and I'll type up the recipe. Or you can just look at the pictures.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Summer Latkes

We visited Kruger's Farm and came home with a dozen ears of freshly picked corn. I love corn on the cob as much as anyone, but when I saw those heaped up ears of corn all I could think of was corn fritters or summer latkes.

I'm starting to think my children will eat anything if it's called a latke. We eat piles of potato latkes during Chanukah, of course, but I've tucked all kinds of things into a savory pancakes, called them latkes, and watched them disappear. So while the more common name is corn fritters, we called them summer latkes and called them good: fresh corn, scallions, and finely minced bell pepper (all right, I admit, I lied and told The Picky Ones the red bits were tomato which is acceptable whereas bell pepper is, for some reason, an abomination) all held together in a light batter and served with salsa and sour cream alongside a leafy green salad.

An impulse purchase at the farm stand made this process one hundred times easier. If you find one of these for under $5 just go ahead and buy it already and save yourself from a bloody corn-related knife disaster. I am impossibly clumsy in the kitchen and it's a wonder I still have all my fingers, so anything that decreases the likelihood of losing a digit is fine with me, especially if it actually works well which this marvelous little item does.

If you come across some freshly picked corn in the coming weeks, give these a try. The recipe is here.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Our prior home included a number of ancient fruit trees on the nearly 1/2 acre property. The apples were nasty and the pears so wormy that I cut most of the fruit away before making chutney and pear butter, but the Italian plums were always perfect. The trees looked so spindly that I was pleasantly surprised by improbably heavy yields nearly every year.

I love the meaty, flavorful Italian plums more than any other variety I've tasted, though there was a delightfully juicy honey-sweet golden plum that grew on a now-deceased tree when I was a kid, but I've never seen another of those succulent beauties as an adult and have no idea what the variety was. Italian plums are easy enough to find this time of year. They dry beautifully, of course, and they are very pretty for baking (and don't these look lovely?) but in my opinion, jam is where they shone most brightly.

I was recently lamenting the loss of those plum trees to a friend who offered up this year's crop off her trees in exchange for a few jars of the resulting jam. We picked the plums slightly under ripe so I gave them a few days to soften and develop more flavor. I made a lower sugar jam using LM pectin and was delighted at the yield: a half grocery bag of plums became 16 pints of delicious jam . Of course some goes to the plum-supplying friend, but the remainder is a treasure to tuck away for winter breakfasts. And I really need to think about planting an Italian plum here in my yard.

Monday, August 13, 2007


There are few things I love as much as fresh zucchini. Isn't it odd, then, that I should be the only person in the known world who isn't completely inundated with squash this time of year. I've heard all the jokes about keeping one's doors locked lest someone sneak in zucchini--and I want to be the victim of such a crime. I'm good at growing the plants--they are always lush and gorgeous and covered with blooms which, sadly, produce very little.

I've been hoping for a bumper crop as I read other blogs so that I might try making these or this or even this. But what I'd really been waiting for was to make another zucchini-feta tart.

I have a subscription to Saveur magazine and I admit to feeling rather sheepish about it given the number of ads for luxury vehicles and fancy vacations that fill the pages. But once you move past all the eye candy for the well off, the articles are engaging and informative and I have a found a number of recipes which have become standards in my kitchen. Last May, the cover featured a photo of a zucchini-feta tart which looked absolutely heavenly.

I love anything with feta, especially the Pastures of Eden feta which is shipped (I know, I know, using lots of fossil fuels) from Israel to my local Trader Joe's where I snap it up in alarming quantities. But really, it's the best. And then there's the tart's base--who doesn't love puff pastry? And Trader Joe's now carries an all butter, non-hydrogenated variety which I had waiting in my freezer for just such a dish.

The combination of the slightly sweet, light-as-a-feather pastry with the creamy cheese and bright zucchini is brilliant. This is a bit of a fiddly dish what with salting some of the zucchini and blanching the rest, and the pastry does require a bit of pre-baking. But every step is worth it, I promise you. The finished tart is good warm, cool, or cold and is quite pretty as well so it would make a lovely addition to a party table.

The recipe is here. I ended up having too few zucchini in my garden to make this all from homegrown but it was delicious nonetheless.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Melancholy Brunch

We had to say goodbye this morning to some of the best friends our family has ever had. They've spent the week packing and loading and chasing down a million tiny details before driving across the country and I figured the least I could do was send them off with a good meal.
We had a cheesy, eggy, protein-rich strata--the simplest thing in the world to make and completely unfussy, which is nice on a hectic morning with other dishes to attend to. Our fruit salad included both cherries and raspberries from Laura's recently emptied freezer.

But really these were just supporting players. What this was all about was doughnuts, an essential ingredient in a successful move as far as I'm concerned. In the past I was happy enough to run out for doughnuts and we even have some of Portland's best only a few minutes away. But now that I am the proud owner of a deep fryer, I can have fresh, piping hot, cinnamon sugar rolled doughnuts whenever I feel like it. OK, not really. If I made them whenever I wanted I'd be enormous. The fryer was bought to enhance our Chanukah celebrations and has dutifully been packed up since last winter. But I figured this was a special enough occasion to haul it out again. Because really there's nothing better than a hot cup of coffee and a freshly made doughnut, even when you're kind of sad.I sent my friends off with full bellies, a thermos of hot coffee, and goodies for the long trip ahead. Every doughnut was eaten, leaving me nothing to munch on this melancholy day. Should you decide that a batch of doughnuts is just the thing you need to get you through, you'll find my recipe here.