Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Food Processor Gets a Workout Day 4: Bruschetta

Jersey may have a lot of things that give it a bad name (believe me, I know, I'm going to Wildwood this weekend) but tomatoes are not one of them.  There is nothing more delicious than a Jersey grown tomato and I'm so happy to have tons of tomatoes turning red on the vine.  Picking cherry tomatoes right off of your plant and not having to worry about rinsing pesticides off of them before popping them into your mouth is such a nice feeling.  This week, I read an article in the Bergen Record about tomatoes from Florida and I was horrified.  The article is pretty intense, especially when you read about all of the slavery cases on south Floridian tomato farms, but the fact that they gas their tomatoes to turn them red instead of letting them grow on the vine naturally is almost as disgusting as the slavery charges.  I'm sitting at my kitchen table now looking at the tomatoes we bought at the supermarket earlier this week and I have to say I'm happy that they're bruised and misshapen, at least I know they're real. 

But they do not compare to the delicious Jersey tomatoes growing in my backyard.  When I made this bruschetta I didn't have any large red tomatoes on the vine so I used cherry tomatoes instead.  Just like every other recipe this week, I threw the ingredients into the food processor and let it do the rest.  I absolutely love bruschetta served on crispy bread or sprinkled over pizza.  It's a perfect appetizer for a summer party or maybe as a side to your pasta dinner with pesto?  Followed by a dessert of raspberry sorbet?  Oh how I love my food processor!

This bruschetta is very light and, like the salsa, be sure to leave it in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors meld together.  Serve it on toasted ciabatta bread or my favorite: these little mini toasts from Trader Joe's.  Seriously, how cute are these?

Remember, this is the last day to get your submissions in!  I'll pick my favorite over the weekend to make in my food processor and share with all of you :)

Makes about 2 cups

- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 c basil, packed
- 2 tomatoes, ends cut off and quartered
- 1/3 of a red onion, outer layer peeled and quartered
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper, to taste

Add garlic and basil to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until minced.  Add tomatoes and red onion and pulse two or three times until diced.  Add the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar through one of the holes on the cover of the food processor and pulse once or twice to combine.  Pour into container and add salt and pepper to taste.  

Tips for using your food processor
- When you have to dice vegetables using your food processor but still have more ingredients to add afterwards, leave the vegetables a size or two bigger than you would prefer.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Food Processor Gets a Workout Day 3: Basil Pesto

For weeks, my basil plants were being suffocated by my zucchini plant, whose broad leaves blocked the little basil from reaching the sun.  My dad removed the Wisteria vine that was also threatening to take over our backyard and we had a nice little empty plot of land.  I debating whether or not I should relocate my basil plants and my mint plant (which is still in the pot for fear of it taking over my backyard as well) to this little plot of land.  I was pretty nervous about doing so because (a) it was not protected from the groundhog by a wire fence and (b) was in direct sunlight for most of the day, making the ground very dry.  I decided to go ahead and try it anyway, but during that first week some of the leaves on the basil plant were starting to wither and I was nervous that this plot wasn't going to work.  This past week, however, the basil seemed to shoot up about a foot and I finally have enough to make some pesto.

Oh so back to the groundhog...remember the first post about my poor plants being eaten before they were even planted in the ground?  Well my dad thought he had fixed the groundhog problem for good not only with the chicken wire fence we put up around our vegetables but the chicken wire patches he put underneath our fence.  A couple mornings ago, I woke up pretty early and saw Shadow standing at alert in my parents' room, nose pointed towards the window.  Anyone seen the movie "Up" when the dogs all go "POINT!"?  That's what Shadow looked like.  I looked outside to see a fat little groundhog scurrying across the lawn.  I started yelling and Shadow started barking and the thing took off back across the yard and underneath the fence.  I thought that after that my basil plants would be history but the fat little thing hasn't been back since! Ha!

Like salsa, I feel like everyone has their own favorite variation of pesto.  My favorite was pesto mayonnaise - I discovered it in college when my friend and I went to a cafe for lunch and she ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with pesto mayo.  So delicious!!  It was so simple too - a grilled cheese with red onion, tomato, and two or three different types of cheese slathered in pesto mayo.  I will certainly be making that sandwich now that I have my own pesto (and with my food processor I can even make my own mayo!).

This recipe was incredibly simple: pesto, garlic, some oil, and some salt all in the food processor.  I know that pine nuts are a staple in many pestos, but I'm not really a fan...

There are so many different things you can do with pesto - put it on pasta, on garlic bread, on meat or chicken, on pizza, the possibilities are endless!  And as always, fresh pesto (like the salsa) is so much more delicious than anything you can buy at the store.  And it's so incredibly easy to make!  I would definitely recommend doubling the recipe if you plan to use this pesto on pasta or pizza, since it will only make about 1 cup.  I hope I'm soon overrun by basil so I can continue to make pesto throughout the summer.

Add olive oil slowly through one of the
holes in the cover of the food processor
Makes about 1 cup
Ali B original

- 2 c basil, packed
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt, to taste

Add basil and garlic to food processor and pulse until the leaves and garlic are minced.  Add the olive oil through one of the holes in the cover of the food processor 1 tbsp at a time until the pesto becomes creamy and runs down the sides of the food processor bowl.  Add salt to taste.  Store in fridge.  

Tips for using your food processor
- Don't hold down the chop or grind button, pulse it instead.  If you hold down the button and keep the motor running for too long at a time that little motor will burn out quickly.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Food Processor Gets a Workout Day 2: Sorbet

There are about 12 food blogs that I have subscribed to through my Google reader (my favorites are listed in the sidebar) and for the entire summer I feel like about 80% of the posts I have read are recipes for ice creams and sorbets.  Needless to say, I feel a little left out since I do not have a stand mixer with an ice cream maker attachment or an ice cream maker itself.  In college, a friend had an ice cream maker that looked like a giant hamster ball.  We filled the ball with ice and the smaller ball with cream and rolled it around on the floor for what felt like hours to try to get our ice cream to freeze.  I've considered making my own homemade ice cream maker (a small tin can inside a larger tin can), but there's no way I'll be able to convince Shadow to chase a coffee tin around so I can make some ice cream.  So, it looked like I was out of luck when it came to creating delicious ice creams and sorbets this summer.

That was, until, I saw a recipe in Runner's World where the author made sorbet in a food processor.  Bingo! I make smoothies in the blender all of the time, I could definitely just freeze one of them and call it sorbet, right?  Well even though I am calling it a sorbet, it was definitely thicker than the normal sorbet you buy at the store, but nonetheless it was still very delicious.

The RW's article mentioned adding red wine to the sorbet in order to help the fruit break down.  In the batch of sorbet that I made I did use the red wine, but I left it out of the ingredients here because it's not exactly kid friendly.  I was not able to taste the wine in my sorbet, however I'm not sure how much it actually helped in breaking down the fruit - the food processor took care of that for me.  Whether or not you choose to add wine is entirely up to you, but I'd suggest only using about 2 tbsp.

I decided to make a mint raspberry sorbet.  I bought frozen raspberries, put them in the food processor, and ground them until I got a paste.  I then added water to make the sorbet thinner (and to also help it freeze) and then just stuck the whole thing in the freezer.  It froze fine, and I took it out and it tasted just as I thought it would - like frozen raspberries.  The one thing I'd want to change about this sorbet is to see if I could remove the seeds.  I don't think I could put the sorbet through a sieve, but in all honesty the seeds were not too bothersome.  Leaving the seeds in reminded you that you were eating fresh sorbet, not that neon colored ice you find in giant plastic tubs at the supermarket.  The mint leaves gave the sorbet a refreshing and light taste - really a treat on an extremely hot day.  You could certainly mix yogurt into this sorbet rather than water, but I was sharing this with a good friend who's lactose-intolerant and I really did not miss the yogurt at all.  I'm sure I'll be making different sorbet flavors with my food processor to help me get through the rest of the summer.  Take that fancy ice cream machines!

Also, don't forget to comment with suggestions for food processed recipes!  I'll be picking out my favorite over the weekend to make and post about here!

Raspberry Mint Sorbet
Makes about 3 cups
Inspired by a recipe from Runner’s World

- 1 12 oz bag frozen raspberries
- 2 tbsp mint leaves, packed
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 6 tbsp water

Add the frozen raspberries, mint leaves, and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you get a paste.  Add the water to the sorbet 1 tbsp at a time through one of the holes in the cover of the food processor until the sorbet runs over itself as the blades are turning (have you ever made a smoothie in a blender and gotten that “tornado effect” with the hole in the center and the liquid running over itself?  That’s the consistency you want).  Freeze for at least an hour. 

Tips for using your food processor
- Whenever you're adding a liquid to the contents in your food processor, add it through one of the holes in the cover.  This way, you get a steady stream of liquids and you won't add too much at a time.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Food Processor Gets a Workout Day 1: Salsa

Months ago, I had become obsessed with the thought of a food processor.  I saw it as something that could mince and chop and grind and puree for me and open up doors for new and more complicated recipes.  Plus, since my kitchen will not hold a KitchenAid stand mixer, this little appliance was pretty much the only thing I could get.  I had scoured the Internet for the best deal only to find this one in Costco for $25.  I thought I couldn't go wrong because it was a Cuisinart, so I decided to go ahead and get it.

Well for about 2 weeks after that it sat in its box on my counter.  And then for an additional two weeks after that it sat in its box in the cabinet underneath my oven.  Well this week that little guy is getting a workout because the tomatoes are red and the basil is finally starting to grow back after being overshadowed by the stupid zucchini (yup, still no zucchinis).  Plus, my mom had been threatening to "take the stupid thing back" so I decided it was about time to crack open the box.

All of the recipes I had written on my little sticky note on my desktop (Mac users - why won't they let you have more than one sticky note? Drives me insane) are about to be made.  This week, I will be making recipes centered around my food processor and I need your help!  I have four recipes already picked out and would love a suggestion for a fifth.  Please feel free to leave any recipes in which a food processor is utilized in the comment section below and I will choose one to make at the end of the week!  Exciting, right?  Also, with each recipe I hope to include some tips on using your food processor at the bottom of each post.

Now, each of the recipes I will be making is fairly simple, yet everyone seems to have their favorite variation of each.  I feel like salsa is the prime example.  It can come mild like tomato paste or melt-your-face-off spicy.  It can be made with tomatoes, peaches, or mangoes.  It can go on top of chicken, steak, pork, or my favorite: a plain tortilla chip.  I love salsa.  My favorite snack at either 3:00 or 6:00 is tortilla chips with a bowl of sour cream, salsa, and cheddar jack cheese.

For those of you who have never eaten International food with me, you may not know that I am vehemently opposed to spicy foods (unless it's a spicy tuna roll - that I will tolerate.  Don't come near me with that wasabi though).  I hate how spicy food makes my lips chapped and my face sweat while I'm trying to enjoy a meal, and plus it really does not agree with my stomach.  When I was thinking up a recipe for salsa, I really didn't even want to include jalapeno peppers, but I didn't want my salsa to taste like tomato sauce either, so I decided that maybe half of a little pepper wouldn't be that bad.  I went to the supermarket and was looking at the jalapeno peppers when a sign above the basket caught my attention: "when preparing, do not touch eyes, face, or mouth with hands.  Wash hands thoroughly after touching pepper."  I was not about to burn my face off for a pepper so I decided to go with a "hot long pepper" which was supposed to have a milder taste.

On a slightly related note, it bothers me when recipes say things like "1 onion" under the ingredients list.  Ok, how big is the onion?  Are we talking pearl onions or vidalia onions the size of my face?  However, measurements like that work for this recipe, because the amount of vegetables you use will determine how much salsa you make.  Just make sure that the majority of your veggie stock is tomatoes and don't worry about exact measurements.  That's the wonderful thing about a food processor: you can just throw stuff in there and that baby takes care of the rest.  A whole tomato, half an onion, half a pepper, few cloves of garlic, some cilantro and there you go: salsa.  Well, you also need a can of chopped tomatoes with the juice, unless you just intend on making pico de gallo.  And you might want to toss in some seasonings.  Regardless, I absolutely loved being able to make salsa in about 15 minutes, regardless of the fact that I'd have to let it set in the fridge for a few hours.

I just had to taste the salsa before it went in the fridge and I have to say, I liked it.  I was pretty nervous about the pepper (especially after licking my fingers and my tongue got that burning sensation), but this long hot pepper is perfect.  You don't taste it at first, but it has this kick at the end of your bite that leaves you saying "whoa" and not "oh my god I have to stick my head in the freezer."  I loved it - I didn't even want to stick it in the fridge to let it stew.  You definitely should though, because afterwards all of the flavors come together perfectly and it's nothing like you can buy in the store.  Seriously though, everyone was so surprised at how easy and delicious homemade salsa is.  Feel free to play around with the recipe so that you can get the perfect salsa as I did.  I have to say, the food processor is off to a good start (please see the bottom of this post for tips on how to get the most out of your food processor).  Also don't forget to leave your food processor recipes in the comment section below!

Makes about 2 cups
Ali B original

- 1 lg tomato, ends cut off
- ½ sweet Vidalia onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ long hot pepper*
- 2 tbsp cilantro, packed
- 1 sprig parsley
-  juice of ½ of a lime
- 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, liquid reserved
- salt, to taste

Place garlic in food processor and chop until minced.  Add in tomato, onion, pepper, cilantro, and parsley and pulse until the vegetables are at desired consistency.   Pour contents into a bowl and add canned tomatoes and lime juice.  Stir together and add liquid from diced tomatoes to achieve desired consistency.  Cover and allow to sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours. 

*Note: this amount of pepper will make mild – medium salsa.  For hotter salsa, add the whole pepper or use jalapeno peppers. 

Tips for using your food processor
- When the directions say to "pulse," touch the chop button for literally a second.  The machine acts faster than you think.
- Cut large items into smaller chunks, about 3" wedges, instead of placing them in the food processor whole.
- Make sure that the items you are chopping/dicing/mincing are all uniform in size when you put them in the food processor.  That way, everything you cut will end up the same size (this is why the garlic was placed in the food processor first and then minced before the rest of the ingredients were put in - you don't want minced tomatoes for your salsa).

(Also, I know that this post is occurring in the middle of the week - that's because my weeks start on Tuesdays.  Don't worry, there will be recipes throughout the weekend too!)

Monday, July 25, 2011


The more I start thinking about this sprint triathlon, the more I realize I'm going to have to step outside of my comfort zone.  I've always had a pool in my backyard and have considered myself a fairly decent swimmer, except when I was younger.

When I was about 6-years-old, I started taking swim lessons.  I spent that entire summer sitting on my coach's pool steps, slowly lowering my face into the water.  I had progressed from putting my chin under the water to putting my nose under the water throughout the course of the summer.  I don't know why I was so afraid to put my head under water (especially since I own a pool), or why my parents didn't just tell me to close my eyes and my nose and then dunk my head underwater so they wouldn't waste an entire summer's worth of swim lessons.  I obviously somehow got over my fear of putting my head underwater, and I spent the next few summers learning how to do different strokes, dive (that was another doozy), and even do a wall flip.

Those lessons lasted for about 4 years, and since then I've spent my swimming days doggy-paddling around the pool.  The doggy-paddle isn't going to cut it if I want to do this sprint triathlon, so I bought a pair of goggles and hit the pool.

I looked up the race online and learned I would only need to complete 15 laps (with 1 lap being down and back) in my pool since the swim part of the race is only 300m.  I don't even have to do a wall flip because they're not allowed!  So I dove in and took off, with my coach alongside keeping me at my paces.

Sometimes, especially when your dog can't really give you tips, it helps to have a video of what you look like when swimming, running, etc in order to fix some flaws in your form.  For example, in this video, the first thing I noticed was that I need to keep my feet underneath the water and not splash around so much.  I also really need to work on taking breaths every 3 strokes instead of 2.  Most importantly, I just need to relax while in the water, that way I don't expend more energy than I need to and I won't be gulping for air every time I turn my head.

So I guess my next step will be to keep working on my form, just like I did when I began running.  Any advice will be greatly appreciated!  Shadow doesn't have much to say.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Butterscotch Whoopie Pies

I had butterscotch ganache and frosting leftover from my Butterbeer cupcakes and considered just making another batch to use up those two ingredients until I came upon a recipe for Butterscotch meringue brownies.  Oh my goodness why didn't I think of it before??  What could be a more delicious combination than butterscotch and chocolate?  I was thinking of just making my own brownies and mixing in the ganache and topping it with the frosting and then thought "hey, I'm going to be cooped up in the house all day because of this 100+ degree weather, why not be a little more creative?"

That's where the inspiration for these whoopie pies came from.  Chris had a whoopie pie sundae months ago and I always thought it would be fun to make some homemade ones.  Well, that got put on the back burner, only to be reincarnated as what had the potential to be the most delicious whoopie pie ever.

I wanted to make up this recipe myself instead of using someone else's, so I started reading articles online in order to figure out how to incorporate cocoa powder into my recipe (I remembered reading somewhere about baking soda), which ended up leading me to another blog.  David Lebovitz, an expert on everything relating to chocolate and ice cream, cleared up some confusion between Dutch-processed cocoa powder and natural cocoa powder.  Cocoa beans are acidic in nature, and Dutch-processeing neutralizes the acidity from the cocoa beans, while natural cocoa powder has not been neutralized.  Therefore, in baking recipes, natural cocoa powder is paired with baking soda because it helps neutralize the cocoa and keep it from giving your confections a bitter taste (the more you know...).  The supermarket didn't have Dutch-processed powder, so I picked up some natural powder and a box of baking soda.

To modify my recipe, I removed some of the flour and replaced it with the cocoa powder and added equal parts of baking soda and powder.  I also decided to use buttermilk instead of regular milk because I have to use up that powdered buttermilk.  Plus I read it's supposed to give desserts a richer and sweeter taste so I figured why not.  What's wrong with making chocolate richer and sweeter?

See how the batter is coming up around the tip?
Leave the tip in the batter as you pipe.
The first batch that I had piped into the pan were pretty tiny when they entered the oven.  I was worried that the little chips would come out too small - that was until I turned on the oven light and saw how much they expanded.  Seriously, only pipe the batter into a circle less than 2" wide, they'll get much bigger in the oven.  Much, much bigger.  When piping the batter onto the sheet, keep the tip about 1/2" off of the mat.  As you squeeze the batter out of the bag it will come up and around the tip - do not pull the tip up.  If you want your circles bigger, continue to pipe into the circle of batter.

Once all of your little chips are baked and cooled, match them up according to size.  Affix another piping bag with the same tip (cleaned, of course) and fill with the butterscotch frosting.  Pipe the frosting onto the bottom side of one of the "chips" in the same manner that you piped the batter onto the baking mat.  Match the chip up with its pair and ta-da!  You have your whoopie pie.

They kind of look like roses, right? Right?
On a related note, I've recently fallen in love with this blog: Sweetapolita.  Her cakes are magical.  There is no other way to describe them.  She hosted a Mad Tea Party where she showcased these raspberry rose meringues (they're sitting in the crystal bowl).  What a brilliant and lovely idea.  I died.  So I might have practiced making those roses on the bottom of my chips when filling in my whoopie pies.

The cake was rich and delicious, and the butterscotch came through in the frosting.  Definitely do not skimp on the frosting when filling your whoopie pies and keep your whoopie pies small, there's less of a chance they'll break apart when handling.  Stick them in the fridge or freezer for a cold treat or top them with ice cream and drizzle chocolate sauce or extra butterscotch ganache over them.  The possibilities are endless!  These are so delicious and I can't wait to experiment with different flavor combinations.  Next step - macarons!  Well, at least once this heat/humidity dies down.

Butterscotch Whoopie Pies
Makes 12 pies

- 2 c flour
- 1/2 c natural cocoa powder
- 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 c unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 2/3 c sugar
- 1 lg egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 c buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with a non-stick mat. 

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla extract and combine.  Add half of the dry ingredients, combine, then add half of the buttermilk.  Repeat.  Fold in the butterscotch ganache. 

Affix a piping bag with a Wilton #12 tip or other tip with a large hole.  Place a spoonful of batter into the bag and test how easily it can pipe – you do not want it dripping out of the tip but it should be relatively easy to pipe onto the mat.  Add flour and water to adjust the batter as necessary in order to get it to the correct consistency.  Fill the piping bag with batter and pipe batter onto non-stick mat, creating circles about 1” wide.  

Bake for 11 – 13 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before filling with frosting.  Match chips up by size, frost one side, and stick the two chips together.  

Source: Ali B original

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beat the Heat

If you're anywhere in the Northeast, where it's not even 10AM yet and it's already 90 degrees, you're suffering right now.  For those of you with a training schedule, you're suffering even more.  No one likes being cooped up in the house when they're supposed to be running, myself being one of those people.  But when the heat index is dangerously high, you need to plan and prepare thoroughly in order to make sure you beat the heat.

We're bound to get more heat waves like these in the upcoming weeks, so here are some tips in order to stay safe while working out in the heat.  Please do not take working out in 90+ degree weather lightly.  If at any point you feel dizzy, faint, or nauseous, stop exercising and seek help.  

- First things first, carry your cell phone in case of emergencies.  Make sure someone knows where you'll be working out or see if you can convince someone to work out with you.
Get your workout in before 9 or even 10AM.  The earlier you go, the cooler it'll be outside.  Yesterday I told myself I could do my workout in the evening, but it was even hotter then because the sun was still out and it had been in the sky the entire day, heating the track and the air.  Scorched earthworms littered the track, it was gross.  So workout early, you won't roast and it'll be a great start to your day (you could even go back to bed!).  It was still in the 90s when I walked Shadow at 11:00PM last night.  Yuck.  
- Bring a sports drink with you while you're exercising.  Water will not cut it, you will need something to replenish your electrolytes - the salts that you sweat out that give you energy and keep your body in equilibrium.  Fill your bottle with ice or get one of those fancy Camelback insulated bottles.
- Do not wear cotton.  Cotton will sop up the sweat on your body and keep it there.  You want something that's made with a polyester blend that will wick sweat away from your body and will dry quickly, keeping you cool.  Many running tanks and shorts are also ventilated to keep your body cool.
- Don't push yourself.  When working out in extreme conditions (yes these are extreme), your goal should be to finish, not to create a PR.  You're raising your body's heat tolerance, which will help you in the long run.  So if your times are slightly slower than usual, don't sweat it (pun intended).
- If there's a heat wave where numerous days are supposed to be over 95 degrees, spend days doing strength training in the gym or cross training in the shade.  My favorite cross training exercise?  Swimming (more on that soon).  Do not spend more than 2 days in a row working out in excessive heat, you will destroy your body.
- Cool down.  The first thing you're going to want to do is jump into a pool or a cold shower.  Do not.  You will cramp up.  Imagine a charlie-horse cramp that lasts for hours (I've seen it happen, it's not pretty :P).  So after working out, walk around to get your body close to its normal temperature.  Stretch in the air conditioning to work out your fatigued muscles.  Take a luke warm to cool shower and then you can jump in the pool or take an ice bath.  Your body has been working out in extreme heat, it needs to be brought back down to its normal temperature.

The bottom line is to just stay safe.  Again, if at any point you feel dizzy, nauseous, or faint, stop exercising.  Doing part of your exercise is better than doing nothing at all.  You could also take advantage of your friend's pool or find a tennis court in the shade.  Run or bike in the park or on a trail.  There are lots of ways you can still stay active safely during heat waves like this.  Just make sure you do it early in the day and you stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout.  Be safe and have fun!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Zucchini Sticks

That zucchini wouldn't even fit in one of those
4 lb pretzel jugs.
So I got a huge zucchini.  Not from my garden, from Chris's mother's garden.  Even the zucchinis that I fertilized by hand are withering and dying.  It's frustrating to watch the zucchinis shrivel, and I have no idea what could be going wrong.

But anyways, look at the size of this zucchini!!  I decided to cut it in half and reserve one half for other zucchini recipes.  I came across this recipe a while ago and was immediately taken back to a pub in DC where my friends and I frequented in college that had delicious zucchini fries.  I knew I had to try this recipe once I got zucchini from my garden (which I didn't, what evs, I'm a little bitter).  

These zucchini sticks are breaded with Panko breadcrumbs, which are (in my opinion) so much more delicious than regular bread crumbs.  They have a better crunch and a richer texture than regular bread crumbs, plus they're super light so they do not overpower what ever you're breading.  When I put these zucchini sticks out on the table, they were half gone before we even started eating dinner.  We ate 18 of them between the 4 of us and everyone was asking if I was making a second batch.  I of course was going to, because half of that zucchini was enough to make almost 50 zucchini sticks.  Delicious zucchini sticks...

They're baked, not fried, and underneath that delicious breaded layer is zucchini, so they're good for you too!  That's what I kept telling myself as I shoved one after another in my mouth.  I think I ate 7 in all.  At least.  

If you aren't totally convinced by now, you absolutely need to make these zucchini sticks.  They're delicious, they're good for you, and those of you who are wary of zucchini won't even be able to taste it when it's slathered in Ranch dressing.  Even if I don't get a single zucchini from my garden I will definitely be making these over and over!

Zucchini Sticks
Makes enough breading to coat 18 zucchini sticks

- 1/3 c flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 1/2 c Panko bread crumbs
- dash of salt, pepper, and garlic powder (to taste)
- zucchini, cut into slices 3 – 4 in long and 1/2 in thick. 

Preheat oven to 425F and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or other non-stick mat (parchment paper, non-stick foil).

Pour flour into a plastic bag and add the zucchini.  Shake the bag to coat the sticks evenly.  

In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine Panko, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Roll zucchini stick in egg wash followed by the combined dry ingredients.  Bread twice for a crispier zucchini stick.  Place on baking sheet and bake for 14 - 17 minutes, until golden brown

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Butterbeer Cupcakes

The moment you've all been waiting for (maybe) - butterbeer cupcakes!  I have had these cupcakes bookmarked since the first part of the seventh movie debuted in theaters and knew I had to make them for the final movie (sob).  These cupcakes are made with anything that has the word butter in it - butterscotch chips, buttermilk, butter, butter vanilla bakery emulsion (otherwise known as butter flavoring).  The cupcakes are filled with a butterscotch ganache and topped with a butterscotch frosting.  It may sound intimidating, but the cupcakes are definitely not too sweet, and the burst of butterscotch in the middle is amazing.  The whipped butterscotch icing mimics the frothy topping of the butterbeer that I constantly read about in the stories, and the cream soda in the cake gives it an interesting texture.

I used my white cake and buttercream base to make the cupcakes and the frosting, while the rest of the ingredients I incorporated were inspired by a recipe found by a friend.  Again, I used anything with the word "butter" in it, and I guessed the proportions for the ingredients based on the amounts of dry and wet ingredients I already had.

My double boiler, probably used by
the pioneers back when aluminum
pots were in style
The ganache is made in a double boiler, which is just a small pot on top of a simmering pot of water.  Do not let the name fool you - you want the water to be simmering and not boiling or else it'll be so hot that the butterscotch chips will scorch and you'll get clumps in your ganache.  Also make sure to constantly stir with a spoon, not a whisk.  Let cool and funnel into a squeeze bottle - seriously a great investment (even though it's not much of an investment because they're only about a dollar).  I found one at Chef Central.

The other ingredient I found at Chef Central was the vanilla butter bakery emulsion.  I was looking for butter flavoring and this was the closest thing I found.  It worked well, and because it already had vanilla in it I omitted vanilla extract from the recipe.  If you make this recipe with butter flavoring, add in equal parts of that and vanilla extract.

Fill cupcakes until ganache just
comes out of the top of the cupcake
When filling the cupcake pans, use an ice cream scoop to evenly fill your liners.  Make sure the liners are filled about 2/3 of the way.  Once the cupcakes are cooked and completely cooled, insert the tip of the squeeze bottle into the cupcake and fill with ganache until it just comes out of the top of the cake.  The ganache will spread within the cupcake, so feel free to go back once or twice to fill with a few more drops of butterscotch.  I piped the icing onto the cupcakes using a Wilton 1M tip and drizzled them with butterscotch ganache.  You will have lots of butterscotch ganache left over - store it in the fridge because of the heavy cream.  Or stir it into your leftover cream soda, top with whipped cream, and make butterbeer!!  There are better recipes for butterbeer out there, but I was feeling lazy :P

The cake is incredibly moist and delicious.  Not all of the cupcakes had a gooey ganache center because the cupcake was so moist that it absorbed some of the ganache.  These cupcakes could definitely be left in the oven for 25 minutes or more - make sure the tops are a golden brown when you pull them out.  If all of the butterscotch is a little overwhelming (but believe me, it will be worth it), these cupcakes can also be topped with my classic buttercream icing.  Overall, these are delicious and a must have for any Harry Potter viewing party.  Enjoy!

Butterbeer Cupcakes
Ali B original, inspired by Amy Bites (ganache directly taken from source) 
Makes about 24 cupcakes

For the cake:
- 2 c flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ c (12 tbsp) unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 1/2 c sugar
- 1/2 c dark brown sugar
- 1 lg egg
- 2 tsp butter vanilla bakery emulsion
- 2 tbsp powdered buttermilk + ½ c water*
- ½ c cream soda
For the butterscotch ganache:
- 1 package (11 oz.) butterscotch morsels
- 1 c heavy cream
For the butterscotch icing:
- 1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 c vegetable shortening
- 1/2 tsp butter vanilla bakery emulsion
- 3 c confectioner's sugar
- 3/4 tbsp merengue powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 c milk
- 1/4 c butterscotch ganache
- ½ tbsp. water (may need more or less depending on desired consistency)

Bring water in a double boiler to a simmer and add the butterscotch morsels and heavy cream to the pot or small bowl.  Stir constantly until the morsels have dissolved and there are no chunks left.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature before funneling into a squeeze bottle. 

Preheat oven to 350.  Line a cupcake pan with liners. 

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and powdered buttermilk in a bowl.  Set aside

With a beater, combine butter and sugars and beat until creamy.  Add the egg and butter vanilla bakery emulsion, combine. Add the water called for in the powdered buttermilk (in this case, ½ c ), combine, then add half of the flour mixture and combine. Add in the cream soda, combine, then add the rest of the flour mixture.

Fill liners 2/3 with batter and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick is inserted into the center and comes out clean.  Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

Once cooled, fill with butterscotch ganache.   Insert tip of squeeze bottle into cupcake and fill just until the ganache comes out of the top of the cake.

To make the icing, combine butter and vegetable shortening in a large mixing bowl until creamy.  Add butter vanilla bakery emulsion and salt.

Add the confectioner's sugar one cup at a time and incorporate completely after each addition.  The icing will appear dry after adding all of the sugar.  Add the merengue powder.

Add milk and beat until life and fluffy, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Fold in the butterscotch ganache.  Scoop into piping bag affixed with desired tip and add water as necessary to make the icing easy to pipe.

Note: because of the milk in the icing, the icing should be refrigerated if not being used that day.   

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Different Kind of Fertilizer

It's been three weeks since my last vegetable garden update.  We have a bunch of green tomatoes and cute little cucumbers with bubble-shaped pricklers all over them.  The basil and mint plants are doing fine too.

No seeds...
I was definitely most hopeful about my zucchini plants.  Once we got back from vacation they seemed to flourish and there were small zucchinis popping up everywhere.  However, the zucchinis remained small, the buds would fall off, and they'd start to wither.  One of them even turned brown and rotted.  I had no idea what could be going on, and my dad gave me the seemingly wild suggestion that the plants weren't being fertilized.  How could the plants not be fertilized?

Over the past few years, honey bees have been dying out in huge numbers.  Between infestations of mites and the pesticides that people have been spraying on their lawns, there just aren't that many honey bees around anymore, especially in suburban neighborhoods like my own.  And when I thought about it, I really hadn't seen any bees here the entire summer.  Sad, right?

Although people can't do anything about the mite infestation (except for the beekeepers who treat their hives), anyone who owns a house can do their part.  Interestingly enough, I found out that when bees wake from hibernation the first things they gather pollen from are dandelions and clover flowers.  In fact, the only time I've really seen bees this summer is on lawns with clover.  Now, drive through a suburban neighborhood and take a look at the lawns.  Lush, green, even cut grass free of dandelions and clover, leaving nothing for the bees to collect to make their nectar.  Leave the dandelions alone and if you have a spot in your yard that isn't manicured, grow clover.  Clover fields are so pretty, and those little white flowers are not intrusive and provide tons of pollen for honey bees.  Plus, clover grows better than grass anyway.  Also, the pesticides aren't just killing the plants, they're killing the bees too.  When the bees land on a flower or plant that has been sprayed with pesticides, it can carry the pesticides on their body or in the pollen back to the hive, therefore risking infecting the entire hive with toxins.  And bees have such a terrible reputation to begin with however it's the wasps and yellow jackets that will sting you relentlessly, not the honey bees.  They're just looking for flowers to collect pollen and will only sting you if they feel threatened, say if you step on them accidentally or swat at them as they fly past you.  I could go on and on about the perils of honey bees thanks to everything I learned while working at the National Zoo, but the bottom line is stop spraying pesticides and leave the clover and dandelions alone.

Alright, now that my rant is over, it's time to get to the main topic of this post: fertilizing your own flowers (ew).

Every plant has male and female flowers.  The female flowers are the ones that produce the fruit (or vegetable).  First, you need to identify the male flowers and the female flowers.  The male flowers have an appendage called the stamen, which contains the pollen.  When a bee lands on the stamen, it picks up pollen, then travels to a female flower and deposits the pollen on the pistil.  The plant takes the pollen, uses it to fertilize the egg, and you get your produce.

But back to our original problem: no bees!  What is one to do?  Well one site suggested picking the male flower, removing the petals, and rubbing the stamen on the female flower's pistil.  I felt so dirty just reading that so I decided to go the alternative method and collect pollen on a cotton swab (you could also use a small paintbrush) and rub it on the pistil.  This method of artificial fertilization made me feel less like a flower pervert.  Don't judge me, I really want to make zucchini bread.

The next problem was determining when my flowers would be open.  I checked on them in the morning and at night and didn't see any flowers beckoning me to pollinate them.  Some mornings my male flowers would be open, but not my female ones (another reason why they may not be getting pollinated).  This morning, I went to walk Shadow at 8:30 and I saw two huge yellow flowers - both open.  I brushed it off and assumed they were both male until I saw a zucchini growing behind one of them.  I almost postponed Shadow's walk for fear of the plants being closed when I got back, but Shadow can really be quite vicious so I didn't want to upset him.

The pollen seeds will brush off of the stamen.
Catch them on a cotton swab or paintbrush.
The flowers were still open when I got back, and as I was pollinating them I took a closer look at each flower and they really are beautiful.  I saw pollen on the pistil when I had finished transferring it so hopefully it worked!  Although I think next time I will use a small paintbrush instead of the cotton swab because about half of the pollen I collected just stuck to the cotton fibers.  Happy pollinating!

Brush the pollen onto the pistil.
Doesn't matter where, just make sure it transferred
Update: Picked my first cucumber today and threw it in a salad.  And it had seeds!!  At least one of my plants is seeing some action.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Right Equipment

Last week, after much advising (heckling?) from my brother, I caved and decided to drop some real money on a professional tennis racket.  I went to Dick's to look at some rackets to see what size handle I should get, and even though I didn't leave with a racket I did leave with a pair of shorts with pockets.  For WEEKS I had been searching for tennis shorts with pockets.  I went to Sport's Authority, TJ Maxx, Marshall's (where 2 friends found their tennis shorts), Modell's, and Dick's twice.  The second time I was at Dick's, I asked a woman if they had shorts with pockets, got a negative response, and went to look for a hanger to attack someone with (believe me, after 3 weeks of searching you'd be frustrated too).  I absentmindedly began flipping through another rack of shorts when all of a sudden I noticed something: these shorts had pockets.  I couldn't believe it.  And then showed the employee and she couldn't believe it.  And then I told the people at the cash register that they had to keep these shorts in stock because I would be back to buy more.

For those of you who also suffer from the fact that manufacturers don't believe women need pockets in their shorts, these are the ones I got (mine are blue).  They were in the training section.  Who knew?

Anyways, this post isn't about those shorts (or maybe it is), it's about having the right equipment for when you play.

For weeks I was playing with a tennis racket that was too small, had dead strings, and the grip tape was peeling off.  I thought about getting the racket restrung, but my brother's friend who was going to do it said he'd probably snap the racket because I was yet again playing with a youth racket.  That following week, my brother's friend led me to tennis warehouse and I immediately went to the sale section.  I picked mine based on weight, size of the head, and (of course) color.  I absolutely fell in love with this racket - it was the perfect size and weight and had the right specs and it looked awesome.  And it was $80 off!  Even though it was still $70 but what ever it was $80 off!  I ordered it and had it strung with these nice strings and it finally came in the mail yesterday.  So, I grabbed my friends and hit the court today.

Although it didn't make me play like I pro (I'm not going to lie, I was kind of wishing it would), almost all of my balls were making it over the net.  The racket took the impact of the ball, leaving less pain in my elbow and shoulder.  I felt like I had more control and my swings were coming easier, plus playing with a new fancy racket gave me a lot of confidence.  It was like I was in Ollivander's shop picking out a wand and I found one that chose me, that worked for me, and I performed well with it.  Ok that's a little corny but I have Potter-fever.  You'll benefit from this fever as well, I have something Harry Potter related planned for this weekend!!  But, more on that later.

Moral of the story - if you're going to invest a lot of time into something, you will not regret putting the money down for some great equipment.  After using this new racket, my shoulders, elbows, and forearm are not as sore as they normally are, my hits were looking relatively better than before, and I had slightly more control (something that will definitely come with practice).  Making sure you have the right equipment is important for all sports and activities.  Would you go running in a pair of old Converse?  Or would you go biking without bike shorts (believe me, that's an experience no one would want to have)?  Or would you play football with cheap pads?  Ok you get the point: the right equipment will change your game immensely.  And look at it this way - if you put a good amount of money down for your new equipment, you'll definitely be motivated to get a lot of use out of it.  I will be playing tennis for the next 2 days.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blueberry Streusel Cake

I had a bounty of blueberries left over from the red, white, and blue fruit salad I had made for the 4th and needed something to do with them.  I've been reading the Pioneer Woman's blog for a couple of weeks now and I absolutely fell in love with it.  Her pictures are beautiful, her stories are charming, and her Bassett Hounds are hilarious.  I decided to search her site for a blueberry recipe and found one for a blueberry crumb (streusel) cake.  Think of it as a blueberry coffee cake.  I love coffee cake and anything with streusel topping, plus this recipe called for 2 cups of blueberries which was pretty much the rest of my store.

The cake come together nicely, but for the streusel topping I needed a pastry cutter.  There's a shopping center near me that seems to have everything I could ever possibly need: a Dick's, Michael's, and a Chef Central.  I've never been in Chef Central before but I fell in love with it the same way I did with Fairway Market when I found the vanilla beans.  I was dragging my brother and his friend along so I had no time to gawk, but I do look forward on trips there in the future.  I love Jersey and it's shopping centers, nothing else compares. 

So anyways, I'm back home with my brand new pastry cutter.  I had all of the ingredients for the streusel in a bowl and just began mashing it as if I was mashing potatoes, rotating the bowl while pulling the pastry cutter towards me and scraping butter off of the pastry cutter every once in a while.  The streusel went from a powder to a crumbly brown topping after about 5 minutes of hacking at it.  I sprinkled it over my cake and it only covered half of it.  More streusel!!  I doubled the recipe and that seemed to cover it well.  Also, when I made the first batch of streusel the butter was at room temperature and it did not have that nice crumbly texture.  The second batch I made with butter right out of the fridge and although more difficult at first it made a nicer streusel.  I stuck it in the oven and came back exactly 40 minutes later to find this:

Cake entering the oven
Cake leaving the oven

The cake devoured my streusel topping!  The second I pulled the cake out of the oven I wanted to cut into it but I knew I had to let it set and cool down a little first.  What happened to my streusel topping?  Did it get mixed in with the cake batter or was it its own layer?  Why did the cake rise above the streusel layer?  The streusel actually ended up sinking to the middle of the cake.  You could still taste the streusel, though, and it was delicious!! I had two servings.  I have no idea why this happened; my dad suggested that I add the streusel topping halfway through baking while another site suggested that I didn't use enough flour.  So, the streusel was moist, but the cake cooked perfectly to give it a slight crunch.  There's also something wonderful about cooked blueberries.  Regular blueberries are kind of "eh" to me, but when they're baked, and all of the water leaves the fruit and you're left with the sweet sugars of the berry oh wow it's just so good.

I'll be making this recipe again and again.  Except what I should have done was use my own recipe for a white cake, I just didn't really think about it when reading this recipe.  Oh well, for next time...

See that gooey layer above the blueberries?
That's the streusel topping.

Blueberry Streusel Cake
After about 2 minutes of cutting with a
pastry cutter - not quite ready yet!
Yield: 1 9x13 in cake
Prep Time: 25 minutes        
Bake Time: 40 minutes

For the cake
- 2 c flour
- 2 ¼ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 5 tbsp butter, room temperature
- ¾ c sugar
- 1 egg
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ¾ c milk
- 2 c fresh blueberries

Finished streusel topping.
For the streusel topping
- ¾ c butter, slightly chilled
- ½ c sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ c flour
- ½ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13 in pan with butter.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a separate mixing bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla extract.  Add half of the milk and combine, followed by half of the flour mixture.  Repeat. 

Fold in the blueberries until evenly distributed.  Do not over-mix or else the blueberries will break.  Pour into prepared pan and place in oven.

To make the streusel topping, combine butter, sugar, cinnamon, flour, and salt in a bowl and cut with a pastry blender until the butter is completely combined.  The mixture will be crumbly but soft and will become a light brown color. 

After about 35 minutes, pull the cake out of the oven and sprinkle the streusel topping on top.  Place cake back in the oven and continue to bake for 5 – 10 more minutes, removing once the streusel topping is a golden brown.  Sprinkle with sugar if desired.  

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman