Sunday, August 25, 2013

When Life Gives You Zucchini

Lemony Zucchini Bread
I'm still a rather novice gardener. Last year I attempted my first tomatoes, onions, and herbs all in neat little barrel planters lining in the unforgiving rocky "soil" of our rental house. This year, as an official homeowner, I went fairly ambitious with my first real garden. Our new home came equipped with four generously-sized raised beds and hours of sun exposure each day. Tomatoes, eggplant, kale, onions, cucumbers, and a large variety of herbs have been flourishing in spite of my previous reputation as a "brown thumb." I decided to plant one zucchini plant because they are such notoriously abundant producers. What surprised me, however, was not the amount, but the sheer size these monsters will swell into. I would check on the garden in the morning and find a couple of zucchinis not quite ready for harvest, that evening they had engorged to the size of footballs. I mean, I like zucchini enough, but what the hell am I going to do with forty pounds of it? Young, small zucchinis are tender and flavorful, but when they get too big, they lose much of their sweetness leaving them a poor option for a stir fry or gratin. Luckily, the pulp is excellent for baking and zucchini fritters. I grated up one of the larger beasts and came up with this tangy and moist quick bread. I dash of ginger powder gives it just the right bite. Enjoy it with your morning coffee as the summer begins to wane.

-  2 c. grated zucchini (use a large box grater)
- 1 c. white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 c. vegetable oil
- 2 c. flour
- 1/2 c. sour cream
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- juice and zest from 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger 

Preheat oven to 325˚ F and lightly spritz a 9x5" loaf pan with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl combine sugar, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest, and oil. Beat with a whisk until ingredients are creamy and smooth. Stir in grated zucchini. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, and cinnamon. Slowly add dry ingredients to zucchini mixture, whisking as you go. Fold in sour cream and gently mix until batter is smooth. Pour mixture into loaf pan and bake in oven for 50-60 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the bread. If it comes out clean, you're good to go! Allow bread to cool slightly before running a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool before slicing and serving. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Stout Out Loud!

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Chocolate Espresso Buttercream Frosting
 It was my beloved's birthday last week and it was time to celebrate! When I asked Matt what he wanted to do for his birthday, he responded without hesitation: "Power Hour." Power Hour, if you are not familiar, is an exercise power drinking - taking a shot of beer every minute for 60 minutes. It's become a bit of a birthday tradition for Matt - much like my own birthday marathon (involving running rather than drinking). To go along with the evening's centerpiece activity, I decided to develop a couple of beer-themed recipes including sweet and smoky beans slow-cooked in beer and, of course, a beer-themed dessert. The result was a moist, chocolatey, and subtly sweet cupcake with a fluffy buttercream topping. These were definitely a hit for chocolate and beer-lovers alike.

- 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
- 2 c. sugar
- 12 oz. dark chocolate stout (such as Guinness)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 4 eggs
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 c. flour
- 1 c. sour cream

- 1 c. sugar
- 3 large egg whites
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
- 2 sticks plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into tablespoons
- 4 oz. extra-bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
- 2 Tbsp. espresso powder
Preheat over to 350F˚ and line a cupcake tin with paper liners. Spray very lightly with vegetable spray, set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl blend together melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and melted chocolate with an electric mixer until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and add stout. Mix thoroughly on medium-high.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and add eggs, one at a time, alternating with portions of flour mixture with the machine running on medium. When the mixture is well combined, add sour cream until just mixed. Spoon batter into prepared cupcake liners until they are 2/3 of the way full. Bake in batches in oven for 12-15 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked through and springy.

Allow to cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Whisk together eggs whites and sugar in a medium-sized double-boiler. Place the double-boiler over medium-high heat and whisk together over heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the warmed egg and sugar mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Add vanilla and whisk together at medium-high heat until the mixture is glossy and stiff, about 8 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and turn mixer back on to medium heat. Add butter, a couple pieces at a time making sure the mixture becomes fully incorporated before adding more. Once all the butter is incorporated and mixture is light and fluffy, add melted chocolate and espresso powder and mix until fully blended. 

Frost cooled cupcakes with an offset spatula. Buttercreams can be delicate, store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator if making ahead of time. Allow to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.