Chocolate Zucchini Brownies and Vanilla Ice Cream

At Purdue we had to take cooking labs as part of the Hospitality major. In the labs we worked in a mock restaurant where everyone was assigned roles that lasted the whole semester. I don’t know how they assigned us to the roles because we didn’t answer any questions about what we liked or where we had experience, but there always seemed to be a system to it.

Students with restaurant backgrounds were put on the line, cooking the entrees. People with strong, bossy personalities were expediters, inspecting every plate before it went out to a customer. Pretty girls, who wanted to be wedding planners or in sales, were servers and would spend the lab learning new napkin folds. People who didn’t want anything to do with restaurants and the food industry were put on the dish washing machine… and they hated the lab.

It wasn’t a hard system to crack.

And, for some reason, I was always put in charge of desserts.

I think the reasoning there was: She’s in a sorority and has a cute face but a little chub. She must like to bake.

Okay. Sure.

Guilty as charged.

I did.

At eighteen only real kitchen experience I had was baking with my mom at home.

So the system hit the nail on the head.

And, I did pick up quite a bit about making great desserts from the labs at the university and in the classes I took in Europe. (Yes. I was, somehow, assigned to desserts there as well. Sizing me up translated the same way all the way on another continent.)

Too this day I still like to make desserts, I just try not to do it often as I have this problem where everything sweet and wonderful tends to go to my behind. Does any one else suffer from this crazy phenomenon?

But, if I had to pick a favorite dessert to make it is hands down ice cream. We got an ice cream maker for our wedding and I love it. It is such a neat tool and makes ice cream making super easy. I have made sherbets, herb infused ice creams and more.

I decided that I wanted to make ice cream this weekend because I wanted to try the ginger syrup from the trip to Atlanta. The grower at the farmer’s market mentioned it is great drizzled over vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla ice cream is ridiculously easy to make. There are a whopping four ingredients in it versus the, like, forty in the ice cream at the store. Best of all, it has this great, creamy, authentic flavor.

As I dug through my pantry to find the vanilla extract, I thought about what also goes great with cold vanilla ice cream: Warm, fresh baked brownies.

Get ready for dessert overload because in this post I have my super easy vanilla ice cream recipe and a great chocolate zucchini brownie recipe using some of last summer’s frozen zucchini.

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And in the spirit of full disclosure, the ginger syrup was excellent on the fresh made ice cream. The gingery bite of the syrup on the cool, creamy vanilla ice cream elevated my basic vanilla ice cream to a ten.

Gingery drizzle.

Gingery drizzle.

Vanilla Ice Cream
1 ½ cups whole milk (… it’s temping to try to save calories and use skim or a lower fat milk. Don’t do it. The texture isn’t right.)
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 cups heavy cream
1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Use a hand or stand mixer to combine milk and sugar in a medium sized bowl. Mix until sugar is dissolved, about three minutes.
Mix in heavy cream and vanilla.
Pour mixture into the ice cream maker’s chilled freezer bowl. Mix for about 25 minutes.
Transfer to a container and freeze for at least two hours before serving.

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Chocolate Zucchini Brownies
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ melted butter
1 cup flour
Pinch of salt
¼ cup unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 cup chocolate chips and a handful for topping

Pre-heat oven to 350.
Spray an 8×8 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, zucchini, vanilla, sugar, butter and salt until combined. Stir in flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and allspice. Just combine.
Add chocolate chips and mix until incorporated.
Pour batter into baking pan. Top with a handful of chocolate chips. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the center is cooked through.

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… In defense of my super decadant afternoon snack, I also planted a whole flat of lettuce today. It’s all about balance, right?!

Uh, yeah.  If you need me, you can find me at the gym.

Uh, yeah. If you need me, you can find me at the gym.

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One Bird, Two Ways

This past fall, Adam and I raised fifty free range chickens for their meat, in addition to the egg laying hens.

If you knew me any time before 2011, go ahead and say it.

I know your thinking it.

Trust me. I thought it plenty of times too.

What. The. Hell.

What the hell am I doing with over fifty chickens in my backyard?

The only “chicken” in my backyard growing up was when we would play it in the pool.

Things that were in the backyard of my youth? A Jack Nicholas golf course and a large swing set… that was painted one of three colors permitted by the Home Owners Association.

I never looked into it, but chickens probably didn’t make that “permitted” list.

… Just a guess.

As insane as it does seem, it’s my reality. And, now with a freezer full of great, pasture raised chickens it all makes sense and it’s all worth it.

Don’t worry, friends… I have not totally converted. We took the birds somewhere else to get processed. They took care of everything, so our birds look just like a whole chicken I would get at the grocery store. Phew.

Adam and I have been experimenting with all sorts of recipes with these birds. This week, using one bird, we made two great and very different meals.

Because it’s only the two of us, we don’t need a whole bird for a meal so halving the chicken is a great way to insure there aren’t any left over’s. Here are the steps for dividing a whole chicken in half:

Note: I now understand why magazines, like Real Simple, walk readers through tips like these with illustrations. Photos of raw meat just don’t look that pretty. But, today, I am scraping vanity because I do think it helps seeing how it really works.

Put the chicken breast on a cutting board breast side down with the neck pointing away from you.

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First, starting from the front of the chicken, insert the knife and work it from the neck to the tail of the bird, cutting right along one side of the backbone. It is important to cut as close to the bone as you can.

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Make the same cut on the other side of the back bone and remove the spine.

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Keep the chicken breast side down and make a small slice in the skin and cartilige by the neck. Fold the chicken back and forth in order to snap the breastbone.

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Remove the “Keel” bone. This is the bone located inbetween the rib bones.

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Cut off any cartilige on the breastbone. Once removed, cut the bird in two down the middle of the breast.

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Make a small slice in the skin to tuck in the leg.

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Ta-Da... Done!

Ta-Da… Done!

With the first chicken half, we made Jerk Chicken.

We were in Jamaica the last week of Janaury and were welcomed back to the midwest by major snow storms and bitter cold. So, a couple nights ago, I picked up a six pack of Red Stripes and decided to make the quintessential Jamaican entrée.

Soaking up the sun!

Soaking up the sun!

My goal was to pretend like we were on the island, but once I put the chicken in the skillet, I didn’t have to pretend. My whole kitchen smelled like Jamaica. Yah, mon!

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1 habanero pepper, stem cut off
1 bunch scallions, but into pieces
2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon allspice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Juice of one lime
2 tablespoons of vegetbale oil
3 ½-4 pounds chicken pieces

In a food processor, puree peppers, scallions, garlic, thyme, brown sugar, allspice, soy sauce, lime juice and oil.

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Put mixture into a large zip lock bag with the chicken pieces.

Let marinate in the refridgerator for at least one hour or up to twenty four hours.

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Grill until cooked through or sear on the stove in a skillet that can go in the oven and move into the oven for thiry minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Use oil or spray to prevent sticking before cooking.

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If your going to have Jerk Chicken, you've gotta have some Red Stripes's to wash it down!

If your going to have Jerk Chicken, you’ve gotta have some Red Stripe’s to wash it down!

And with the other half of the bird I made a soup using some of our frozen garden vegetables. This super simple, spicy soup was easy to make and, excluding the spices, came straight from the backyard!

Frozen garden poblano peppers and sweet corn

Frozen garden poblano peppers and sweet corn

2 cups diced poblano peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 diced large onion
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 minced cloves of garlic
32 ounces chicken broth
5 cups cooked and shredded chicken (Adam cooked the chicken the day before and seasoned it with a handful of spices from the pantry. Salt and pepper works great. You also could use a rotisserie chicken.)
4 cups of fresh or frozen corn
Black pepper to taste
Crumbled Queso Fresco or Moterary Jack Cheese for topping (If desired)

In a large pot, saute olive oil and onions over medium heat about 5-8 minutes. Add the spices and garlic and saute for a minute.

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Add chicken broth, shredded chicken, corn and poblanos and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for thirty minutes.

Diced Poblanos

Diced Poblanos

Shredded Chicken.

Shredded Chicken.

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Serve right away. (… But, the left over’s make a great lunch!)

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Root Loot

During our visit to my parent’s home in Michigan earlier this month, my mom took Adam and me to Holland’s Farmer’s Market. Holland is about twenty five minutes away from my parent’s house and is a really neat little town.

The Farmer's Market/dish crew.... got to love family dinners.

The Farmer’s Market/dish crew…. got to love family dinners.

Holland is home to Hope College, where my little brother is a freshman and a strong backstroker on the swim team. The community plays up the connection to the country, Holland. It is decorated with traditional windmills and hosts a Tulip Festival each spring. There are also a bunch cute boutiques and unique restaurants that I cannot wait to check out on a future visit.

But, it is clear the town value’s the farmers market. A whole street is set up for the market which is open twice a week from May to December.

And even during the first weekend in December, the market was full of produce, baked goods and beautiful Christmas décor.

One vendor was offering a deal where you could fill a large department store bag full of any root vegetables of your choice. Adam and I took him up on this offer and filled our bag with Red, Yukon and Sweet Potatoes, lots of carrots, yellow and red onions, beets, and a celery root.

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The following are recipes showing what we did with some of these great root vegetables.

Homemade Terra Chips:

I love Terra Chips. If I buy a bag, it rarely makes it into my home unopened because I always seem to “need a snack” on my drive home.

But, I hate how they are so expensive.

So, using some of my beets, sweet potatoes, and Yukon potatoes from the Holland Farmer’s Market, I decided to make my own.

They were great and really easy. The beet chips were sweet and balanced the more savory flavors of the potatoes.
I loved having them around as a snack. Can’t beat getting a serving of vegetables but feeling like you are eating chips. (And saving you the $8 Terra bag…!)

The colors were amazing!

The colors were amazing!

Ingredients:

3 medium beets
1 large sweet potato
3 medium Yukon Potatoes
Olive Oil

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.

Slice all veggies ¼ inch thick. I used my mandolin. Toss sliced vegetables with oil.

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Lay vegetables on a large cookie sheet.

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Bake for thirty minutes and place on a cooling rack. Chips will continue to harden as they cool.

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Consume within 48 hours.

Turning up the Beet on Risotto:

I recently was asked what my favorite thing to cook is. And honestly, I was stumped. I love to cook. Eggs, dessert, breads, vegetables, large roasts, soups, stir fry’s, homemade pizza… I could go on and on.

Then, it came to me at work when I was assisting a chef at my Alma Mater: I love to cook risotto.

I came to this discovery while cooking risotto for eighty sorority women. Even though the muscles in my shoulders burned from stirring the massive amount of Arborio rice, I knew this was my love.

It’s great anytime of year, but there is just something so cozy about it when it’s chilly outside. It is also so versatile. Risotto prep starts the same every time, but you can add all sorts of ingredients towards the end to make it your own. My mom often adds parmesan and scallops. That evening on campus we added coconut milk and toasted coconut flakes to the risotto as it served as an accompanist to some island style chicken.

I was searching for something to do with our farmer’s market beets other than roasting them and through my searching, found that goat cheese pairs great with the sweetness in the beets. Inspired by my risotto at the sorority, I thought it could be a great combination.

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And it was.

Ingredients:

3 medium beets
1 shallot, chopped
1 Tablespoon of butter
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of Arborio rice
6 cups of chicken stock (… It may take less. I have found with any risotto recipe that I use far more broth than is called for. It is just a lot easier to be prepared and have more ready. I can easily use any leftover broth with something else. Also, for this, we actually used our turkey stock…worked just fine!)
4 ounce log of goat cheese
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse any dirt off beets, pat dry. Roast Beets for 40 minutes. Easy way to do this is just place on a sheet of foil. Doesn’t hurt to drizzle a little olive oil on the beets. Once complete, let cool and remove skin. Cut into ½ inch pieces.

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Heat up stock in a sauce pan. You want the stock just to steam, not boil.

In a large, high sided skillet (We have found our wok works better than a skillet… I had forgotten about this when I made this risotto.) heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add the shallots and cook for about three minutes. You don’t want them to brown. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.

Reduce heat to medium and add a half cup of stock, stir until absorbed. Continue with a half cup of stock at a time until rice is cooked through.

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Remove from heat and stir in beets, butter, and goat cheese. Top with chopped chives.

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Roasted Whole Chicken and Root Vegetables:

So, the oddball in out root loot was the celery root.

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I had never cooked or had one, so we decided if there ever was a good time to give it a try, this was it.

It is a weird looking vegetable. And, really, not all that pretty. But, I read that what it lacks in looks, it makes up in flavor.

I also read online to prep it you need to remove the skin. I used a vegetable peeler and it worked okay. The skin is a bit thicker than anything on a carrot.

We had just had fifty of our free range chickens processed and we were eager to give them a try. We decided to roast one of the birds so it just made sense to roast some veggies as well. Using a few other of the root vegetables on hand we made a great meal when a couple friends were joining us for dinner.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (Ours are about six pounds… Chickens at the store are typically smaller than this.)
1 Onion cut into 1/2 inch pieces (We used a yellow onion, but I wish I had grabbed a red one instead. It would have added great color.)
5 Carrots cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Celery Root, cut into ½ inch pieces
Salt and Pepper
Juice of one lemon
Red Pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 425.

Rub salt and pepper onto chicken. Place on baking sheet and cook for twenty minutes.

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While cooking, season vegetables with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and lemon juice. Toss to coat.

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Add vegetables to baking sheet, turning to coat in the chicken drippings.

Continue to roast until vegetables are tender and the chicken is reaches at least 165 degrees internally and the juices run clear. (Should be about forty more minutes.)

Let chicken rest about five to ten minutes before serving.

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Pairs well with an oakey Chardonnay... and fun friends.

Pairs well with an oakey Chardonnay… and fun friends.

Savory Sweet Potato Fries:

Sweet potatoes seem to be all the rage these days. They are even showing up on menu at fast food restaurants!

But, I can’t knock them. They are full of nutritional benefits. For starters? They are a great source of Vitamin C, which is great this time of year because it helps ward off the cold and flu viruses. And another reason to eat sweet potatoes this time of year is because they are full of Vitamin D. Which, most popularly, we get from sunlight. Which, also happens to be in short supply as we near the Winter Solstice.

So, all those (self diagnosed…) Seasonal Affective Depression Disorder sufferers out there? Sweet Potatoes are for you us.

I think sweet potatoes already are pretty sweet, so I wasn’t looking to jazz mine up with brown sugar like they are traditionally done. So, I went the savory route with these fries based on a recipe from the Williams Sonoma blog and they were spot on.

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Ingredients:

About 2 large sweet potatoes cut into batons about ½ inch thick
2 Tablespoons of grape seed oil
Salt and Pepper
3 Tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place sweet potato batons on baking sheet with oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Make sure the potatoes are spread out so that they cook evenly.

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Roast for about twenty five to thirty minutes, stirring halfway through. You want the potatoes to be tender and a little browned.

While roasting, combine parmesan, parsley and garlic in a bowl.

Add the warm fries, toss gently to coat. Serve right away.

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It’s 95 Degree’s Out and I am Freezing…

For the last week or so we have had HUGE takes from the garden every day. While this is exciting, it’s also a tad overwhelming. I finally had the feeling of, “Oh, geez… How are we ever going to eat all this food?”

The baby shower was great timing last weekend because I was able to use plenty of produce from the garden. I made a big salad with the mixed greens and just had different toppings and dressings so people could make it their own. I also prepared this great cucumber salad we have already made multiple times this summer. It’s really simple to make and only requires a few ingredients. That’s always a win for me.

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Recipe: http://www.takingonmagazines.com/cucumber-salad-from-all-you/

Another recipe that we made for the party is also a go to in the summer is this sautéed zucchini side dish. We have been making this recipe for two years now; I pretty much know it by heart. The flavors go together so well and compliment any meal.

… Sorry no awesome iPhone picture. But, there is one at this link to the recipe: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Garden-Zucchini—Corn-Saute

Thanks to the bounty of produce accumulating on my counter top, I decided it was time to do some freezing. Freezing is a great way to preserve fruits and vegetables and is much simpler than canning. Frozen veggies are good for about twelve months.

Or, so I read.

I, of course, had never done this before, but it really didn’t seem too bad.

I started with snap beans because ours were towering and full of peas. I have been picking them for about two weeks. They make great additions to salads and even serve as a great snack with some hummus or without. The flavor of these peas has been incredible.

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After work I spent about thirty minutes picking as many of the larger beans that I could find (…in the massive heat wave that is hitting the Midwest currently) I headed in to get to work in the kitchen.

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I cleaned and snipped the end of the beans with a knife.

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Next, I got everything set up to blanch the beans.

Blanching is when you heat up veggies and then quickly cool them to lock in flavor and nutrients. I actually had not blanched anything since lab courses in college, but it is, fortunately, really easy.

I set a pot on the stove top to bring to a boil, a big bowl full of ice and cold water, and a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. The beans were put in boiling water for two minutes. I then lifted them with a large straining spoon and dunked them into the ice water.

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The instant they hit the water they turned a bight, beautiful green, just like I remembered would happen from that early morning lab. The beans were in the ice water for two minutes as well. I then strained them out and placed them on the cookie sheets. The paper towels quickly absorbed their moisture.

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I repeated the process until my many snap beans were blanched and drying on the cookie sheets. I took another paper towel and pressed it on top of them to pick up any remaining water.

Next, you can put them directly into a ziplock bag to freeze or you can freeze them on the cookie sheets, then put them in ziplock bags after they had frozen. I choose the put them in the freezer on cookie sheets because it will prevent the beans from freezing stuck together.

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I am so looking forward to using a handful of these summer beans throughout the winter in side dishes or stir fry’s.

Next, it was onto the zucchini. I thought I was in the clear with zucchini after the shower. I had sliced the nine zucchini’s I had in my kitchen to serve the crowd. After all that I was certain I wouldn’t have to worry about zucchini for little while.

Silly me…

Today- two days later- there were already six on my counter top.

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You can blanch sliced or diced zucchini and it is great for stews and casseroles, but my poor little refrigerator ice maker needed to play catch up after the ice bath for all the snap beans. Maybe some other day.

Instead, I grated two zucchini’s and portioned them into ½ cup servings.

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I wrapped each portion in saran wrap, put them into a zip lock bag, and placed them in the freezer. (Helpful Tip: Be sure to date and label whatever you freeze. This will help you out nine months from now when you cannot remember what you did today!)

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This grated zucchini will be great for all sorts of baked goods, like zucchini cakes or muffins. I put them in half cup portions to make it easy to add to any batter. I was able to get eight cups out of two zucchini’s.

All in all, not bad and it really didn’t take too long. Now I can combat that feeling of panic that we will never be able to eat everything by knowing we will be eating from this garden all year long.

I already cannot wait to use these frozen items on a day in December, when I am feeling frozen myself, and remember how HOT it was today.