Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Holy hell, are these delicious. I literally had to give all of these away so as not to continuously eat them. The reason for their creation? A friend's birthday request for zucchini bread matched with my constant need for dark chocolate.

After some research, I stumbled across the recipe from College Baker Girl. Her online version was the closest match for what I was aiming for in my foodie quest. I tripled her original recipe and of course altered it for my personal tastes: less whole wheat flour with the addition of white flour, added brown sugar and almond extract, replaced the oil with cinnamon applesauce. Imagine fruity, sweet, filling, chocolaty, moist...yum.

Now, stop reading and check out your cupboard, see if you have the ingredients to make these. If not, off to the store with you! You can thank me later. Enjoy!

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
Adapted From: College Baker Girl

  • 1 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup white sugar 
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/8 tsp salt
  • 3/8 tsp baking powder
  • 9 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup milk, rice or almond works as an alternative milk
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract 
  • 2 1/4 cup shredded zucchini
  • 6 tbsp dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line a muffin tray.

In a large bowl combine the flours, sugars, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and cocoa. Mix thoroughly.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, applesauce, eggs, vanilla and almond extracts. Add the shredded zucchini and stir. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until just combined. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tray, filling each cup to the top and sprinkle with dark chocolate chips.

Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. If making mini-muffins, bake 12-15 minutes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Local Eats: Red Agave

Back in the day when I used to reside in Las Vegas, I had a habit of having nights out on the town where with the assistance of kind friends we would seriously indulge in our love of food. Quality was top priority, including the vino, and we had the most deliciously sinful and exquisite dinners. Even though I no longer have the restaurant mecca that is Las Vegas as my foodie ground, getting to know Eugene's local fine dining has been a pleasure and recently with the great company of the Dude. Last night's foodie adventure: Red Agave Restaurant & Cantina. Always a show stopper, in my book. And one of the very few places in town where you can order a Roma (if I'm not mistaken, they invented it!) or a Log Cabin, complete with hunks of bacon as garnish. 

We started off our foodie adventure with a few tapas: Ahi Ceviche and Seared Scallops with Dungeoness Crab Hash. If you hadn't picked up on it yet, I fell off of my vegetarian band wagon for this one. I can't tell you the last time I had a scallop, let alone a buttery, heavenly one. It was decadent! On a funny side note, if you look really hard you can see my dinner mate in the spoon's surface (kind of Escher-esque).

And the Ahi Ceviche tasted fresh, complex with the avocado sauce, and definitely is a new favorite of mine.

For dinner the Dude went with the Anderson Ranch Lamb Birria while I jumped into a plate of Poblano Chile Relleno. Both were astoundingly good, although the mole sauce that came with my dish was extra amazing. We paired up the meal with a bottle of tempranillo and had a grand old time of things. My advice: don't miss the opportunity to dine here. Whether it be an early dinner, a birthday celebration, or a late night snack over drinks, Red Agave will delight your taste buds. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The New Garden

It's been a bit quiet of late around this blogging corner. There has been a big influx of change here on the  urban homestead, the first and foremost being this year's garden!

If I haven't been as social these past few weeks, it's likely because I have been tilling earth trying to make something of the yard. So far I have in the ground or in pots strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, zucchini, peppers, lettuce, chard, garlic, chives, onions, marigolds, peas (above), pole beans, cucumbers, kohlrabi, and cabbage. Not to mention my herb garden, which I added more thyme and lavender to this past weekend.

I'm blessed in that one of my neighbors a few streets over runs a beautiful nursery and garden center of sorts from her home. I picked up quite a few of my new starts from her and can't wait for more. This Anna Russian tomato plant is one...an heirloom variety from a Russian immigrant handed down over generations. How rad is that?!

One of my mantras this year is companion planting. For instance, not planting my tomatoes near my cabbage or using marigolds to deter pests in the garden. Organic gardening is very important on this urban farm, so I try to use alternative methods for keeping pests at bay and encouraging healthy growth of my plants.

My first harvest of the season - radishes! And from two-year old seed. Next up, I'm hoping to harvest a few young potatoes from the potato bins and maybe some garlic. If you live in town, let's be garden trading friends!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Simple Pesto Pizza

On the road again... yes, that might be my theme song this next while. With all that life has thrown at me of late, I'm finding more solace being out on the road than usual. Seeing old pals, new and familiar places, watching spring blossom across the country. The only down side to work travel is that I have so little time to cook and bake. However, being the planner I am I spent winter and early spring stashing away a few good recipes and treats to keep this little blog going. One of my favorites is this easy breezy Pesto Pizza recipe.

Ok, so maybe it is a wee bit on the easy breezy side of things but it's still food and it's still delicious. And it still gets the job done in satisfying my pizza cravings. I don't know about you, but I firmly believe that pizza making is an art form all of its own and is different for everyone.

For this pizza, it's fairly simple. I used a store-bought rosemary pizza dough from the local market, although when time allows I try to make my own. Assemble your favorite toppings and instead of tomato sauce use some fresh pesto. If you have the chance to make it homemade - go for it! Ah, homemade pesto...what a blissful creation. If you are like me and usually running out of time, most markets make or offer fairly decent fresh pesto (look in the refrigerated pasta section).

Roll out and/or hand toss your dough (I usually do both), add some pesto as a base sauce, then go to town with your toppings. This time around I added onion, artichoke hearts, a few kinds of white cheese, fresh herbs from the garden as well as some dried ones, and mushrooms. Pop that bad boy in the oven and bake until light golden brown. Enjoy!

Simple Pesto Pizza
  • Pizza dough (store bought or homemade) 
  • Pesto sauce (store bought or homemade)
  • White cheeses - mozzarella, asiago, parmesan, chevre/goat cheese, etc. 
  • 1-2 cloves fresh garlic, minced or pressed 
  • 1/8 cup diced onion
  • 1/8 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/4-1/2 can artichoke hearts, drained and rinced 
  • fresh and/or dried herbs - oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil

Preheat your oven to 425 F or whatever the store-bought pizza dough requires.

On a floured surface, roll out the pizza dough into a large circle. Hand tossing is also encouraged as it adds a wonderful texture to the baked pizza dough. Using a fork, prick the pizza dough throughout. Add a good layer of pesto sauce, then add a layer of the various cheeses on top. Next add the minced garlic, onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and dried herbs.

Using either a pizza stone or a baking sheet, place the pizza in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes or as the pizza dough directions specify. Let the pizza cool on the counter for a few minutes, then slice and serve. Tastes delicious for breakfast the next day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Move!

Well, the big day arrived. About two weeks ago, actually, and damn me for not posting about it sooner. These little ladies have been enjoying spring from their new home for the past while.

We call it the Mini Coop. A Panda-sized chicken tractor, painted red for kicks. This one is much more portable and transportable that the giant behemoth we have for the first generation flock.

Barney and the wee gals love it. And after some time, they'll get integrated into the larger flock with the more mature ladies. Due to social chicken dynamics, waiting until the younger pullets catch up in size to the full grown hens usually benefits everyone in the end. For now, they will become acquaintances through the fence in a slow and patience process.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Races & Easy Homemade Croutons

Happy Kentucky Derby Day! Err, a few days late. My time keeping has been off this last while, which I partially blame upon races. Races as in which you run, not the other kinds. This past week or two have been filled with several races for me.

First off, the Eugene Half Marathon which I did splendidly in. A giant heartfelt thanks to the stellar friends, fans, and volunteers who made this race the best one of my life. My runner's high lasted me a week, finally crashing this past Sunday.

Riding a week-long high kept me far from doing my usual chores, such as grocery shopping. I suddenly found myself with quite a bit of stale or day-old bread to use up, and quickly. Hence queue the Easy Homemade Croutons. Instead of doing a lot of hardcore baking, I spent the week making croutons and daydreaming of running another race...or two. On my mind are the Butte To Butte race this July and the Eugene Women's Half Marathon in September. I'm still undecided at the moment, however I am really digging the idea of having a solid goal for this summer.

Which then leads me to the final race of this past week - the Kentucky Derby. After spending all of Saturday (race day) at a kickball tournament, a friend came through for me by recording the Derby and airing it post-tourney. Needless to say none of my horses won, or at least not the in any order that would have led to a good payout. However, Animal Kingdom's comeback was pretty impressive!

So after rambling on about races and whatnot, I should spend a few moments talking about these tasty croutons. Making homemade croutons is easy as pie (ha) and saves you from wasting food. Depending upon the salads or planned uses for the croutons, you can alter the flavor matrix to suit your tastes. I tend to like to use a lot of garlic, fresh herbs, maybe a little parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Homemade Croutons
  • Leftover day-old bread: french, sourdough, sandwich, any works
  • 1/2-1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the bread into cubes about 1” square. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, powders and spices. Drizzle olive oil over bread.

Toss bread cubes until evenly coated with seasonings and oil. Place the seasoned bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer.

Cook for 25-30 minutes or until croutons are nicely golden brown. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day & Lavender Coffee Cake

What would the world do without mothers? It would be a compassionless place, that's for sure.

Mothers bring life into the world, spreading warmth, reassurance, and laughter wherever they go (in most cases). With just the right combo of gentle nudging and tough love, mothers prompt most of us to be better people. I, for one, am very grateful for mine.

In an ode to my mother who happens to be farther away from me than my baked goods can usually safely travel, I made a Lavender Coffee Cake for those folks in my daily life. Discovered and shelved away quite some time ago, this recipe is an oldie but goodie. I opted for the classic bundt cake style, and have had nothing but raving reviews about it.

Exploring this cake in a cupcake format may be in my future. I can't even begin to describe the rich scents coming from the oven while I was baking it. The changes I made in the adaptation were slight: using more dried lavender buds, adding almond extract, and going with non-fat yogurt for the milk base. While I can't even imagine this cake sticking around longer than a few days, I did notice that the first three were the most flavorful. Enjoy!

Lavender Coffee Cake 
Adapted From: Joys of Lavender

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tbs. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
Other Ingredients 
  • 3/4 cups butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tsp. dried lavender buds (pulse this in blender with 1/2 cup of above sugar)
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of non-fat yogurt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the pan size(s) of your choice. If you have extra lavender buds, sprinkle a few on the bottom of the bundt pan to decorate the top of the cake once baked.

Mix together the topping ingredients and set aside.

Next, mix together the batter ingredients and set aside.

Cream the butter. Then add the sugars and then the eggs one at a time. Beat until light and fluffy. Blend in the yogurt and dry ingredients, alternating between the 2. Add the vanilla and almond extracts.

Put half of the batter into your pan. top with 1/2 of the topping. Swirl it in gently with a fork so it is just lightly blended. Repeat with the remainder of the batter and topping.

I used a bundt pan, which required about 45 minutes. The original recipe calls for the following cooking times:
  • One 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan 50 to 60 minutes.
  • One 9-inch springform pan for 60 to 70 minutes.
  • Two 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch loaf pans for 40 to 50 minutes.
  • Two 8-inch round or square cake pans for 30 to 35 minutes.

Bake until done. The top will spring back when pressed gently in middle or use toothpick or knife in center of cake, If it comes out clean, remove from heat and cool for 10 minuets before you remove it from your pan.