My Garden

Zucchini blossom

Remember several months ago that I said my yard was mostly dead grass except for my lemon tree? Well, Roy has gotten the grass to be green again and planted an amazing garden. He's growing green beans, lettuce, spinach, arugula, swiss chard, cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, anaheim chiles, bell peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, zucchini, and yellow squash as well as a bunch of herbs including rosemary, basil, thyme, chives, parsley, cilantro, and mint. Needless to say we've been enjoying a lot of fresh veggies!

Cherry tomatoes, green beans, swiss chard

Watermelon, lettuce

Along with all these veggies comes some creative ways to use them. The zucchini have been especially abundant. I've been sauteing it, making zucchini pancakes, baking it into muffins and bread, and also making it in my favorite preparation: chocolate zucchini cake. 

If you are put off by the thought of putting zucchini in a chocolate cake, don't be. You don't taste it and it makes the cake moist. This is one of my favorite cakes. Here is the recipe, adapted from Saveur magazine:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

2 medium zucchini, trimmed and grated on the large holes of a box grater
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan, at room temperature
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1  teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Place the shredded zucchini in cheesecloth or kitchen towel, gather the corners, and then squeeze out as much water as possible. Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter 9 inch cake pan. Sift together cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt into bowl and set aside. 

Beat butter and granulated sugar on medium speed in a large bowl with hand or stand mixture until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add oil and beat until incorporated. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. On low speed beat in flour mixture and buttermilk and 3 alternating batches. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 70-80 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan on wire rack. Invert onto plate and sift confectioners' sugar over before serving.

Serves 6-8.

Note: The cake is best served on the day it is baked, but it can be stored in an air-tight container for three days. 


Feeling French

"Here, this is how the French eat strawberries," my mom said to me one day when I was in high school. As she said it, she set down a bowl of whole strawberries, a small cup of sour cream and another small cup of brown sugar. I looked at her incredulously, "Really? Sour cream?" I hated sour cream growing up. If we went to a Mexican restaurant I always completed my order to the waiter like this: "I'll have the (insert dish) without sour cream." It didn't matter if what I was ordering didn't even come with sour cream. I still said it. I could not risk having a glop of it on my food. (If only I knew that I was missing out on lovely Mexican crema, something that I enjoy today.)

Why my aversion to sour cream? I really don't know. I've never been a very picky eater. All I can think is that sour cream is not sweet, and for someone with a sweet tooth, well, sour cream just never made sense to me. That is until my mom had me dip a whole strawberry in the sour cream and then dunk it into the brown sugar, little clumps of sugar sticking to the cream like sand. How could such a simple and strange (to me) combination taste so good?  From then on I decided to give sour cream another chance, and today I love it in both savory and sweet preparations.

You don't need a recipe for this, but here are the basic ratios you can use for two people.

Strawberries with Sour Cream and Brown Sugar

1 pint fresh strawberries (in season and the best you can find)
1/4 cup sour cream (don't be tempted to get light)
1/4 cup brown sugar

Place each ingredient in a separate bowl, and dip the whole strawberries into the sour cream and then the brown sugar.

Continuing on my French theme, I've just finished reading David Lebovitz's book The Sweet Life in Paris. You may remember that I mentioned him when I made his chocolate macaroons last year. Anyway, I gobbled up this book and I can't wait to try all the recipes. 

Speaking of French recipes, I recently received a copy of Jacques Pepin's book Essential Pepin. I also cannot wait to try all the recipes in that book - though wait I must, there are 700 recipes in the book!

I started my journey into that thick book with an easy and classic French dish on the same night we ate the strawberries. Here is Jacques' recipe for quick ratatouille. Basically you can cook most of the vegetables at the same time instead of doing individual batches for each vegetable as is the classic method. It was garlicky and juicy and we happily enjoyed it with a few pieces of fresh baguette on the side. 

Quick Ratatouille

1/4 cup olive oil
3 white or yellow onions, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), unpeeled cut into 1 inch cubes
4 small zucchini, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 garlic cloves, sliced
4 tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in large saute pan or dutch oven over high heat. Add the eggplant, bell pepper, onions, zucchini, red pepper flakes, and salt and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add black pepper to taste. Transfer to bowl and let cool to room temperature. Stir in half the basil. Sprinkle remaining basil over individual bowls when ready to serve.

Serves 6 as a side dish or fewer people as a main course. 

Note: I used a mixture of summer squash and zucchini because that's what I had on hand and it worked well. 


Another Birthday Cake

Roy requests lemon chiffon cake and blueberry ice cream every year for his birthday. This weekend we celebrated his birthday, so I made the usual. I also made him a dinner of the best fried chicken (seriously, check it out), mashed potatoes and green beans. You may have noticed that I like to show people that I love them by cooking or baking them things. As you can see, I love my husband very much. We both happily devoured this meal and dessert at about 9:00 p.m., which is a little late to eat, but we actually got to eat slowly and peacefully since Miles was in bed.

Happy Birthday Roy!

Here are the recipes for the Lemon Chiffon Cake (adapted from Williams Sonoma Baking) and my Blueberry Ice Cream. The combo of these two is like summer on a plate. I certainly don't mind making it every year.

Lemon Chiffon Cake

1/2 cup lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
6 large eggs separated, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups confectioners' sugar, plus extra if needed
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus extra if needed
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Have an ungreased tube pan ready.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. In a large bowl whisk the oil, water, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest together until well combined. Using a rubber spatula gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

In another bowl, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Using a stand or hand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

Using a whisk, gently fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter. Then use a spatula to fold in the remaining egg whites until just combined. The batter will be foamy. Pour the batter into the tube pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted come out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and invert pan into wire rack. Let cake cool upside down in pan for 45 minutes.

Then loosen the cake from the pan by rotating a tapping the sides of the pan against a towel on the counter top until the cake disengages from the sides of the pan. Using the center tube pull the cake out of the pan. Spray the wire rack with nonstick spray. Invert the cake onto the rack and use your fingers to gently remove the cake from the bottom of the pan. Pull the pan bottom and tube out of the cake. Set the cake right side up and let cool completely.

Glaze: mix together the sugar, lemon juice and cream until smooth. Add a few extra drops of lemon juice if the mixture is too thick or more sugar if it's too thin. Place a piece of parchment under the rack to catch the glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the cake. Allow the glaze to set for one hour.

Serves 10-12

Note: The cake is best served the day it is baked. After that enjoy leftovers for a couple more days by storing in an air-tight container at room temperature. Also, a word about using a tube pan. It is left ungreased so that when the egg whites cause the cake to rise the batter clings to the side and is able to climb as high as it can. This makes for a nice light cake. Also, the cake is cooled upside down in the pan so that it doesn't compress as it cools and stays nice and fluffy. Don't worry, it won't fall out of the pan. 

Blueberry Ice Cream

2 1/2 cups (about 12 ounces) frozen blueberries
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream

Bring all ingredients except heavy cream to a boil in medium saucepan, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Once it has come to a boil, turn off heat and allow to cool 15 minutes. Then transfer to a blender and blend until it is as smooth as possible (remove the center of the blender lid for heat to escape). Strain into a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

Stir in heavy cream. Process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Freeze in an air-tight container for about 3 hours before serving. Can also be made up to 3 days ahead. Keep stored in an air-tight container.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Note: I like to get wild organic frozen blueberries. They are easy to find year round may be more affordable then fresh blueberries. Of course feel free to use fresh blueberries if you have some nice ones on hand.