Friday, November 19, 2010

The great pie experiement, part 2: First thoughts

That's all I have to show you for my first pie experiment. Why? Well, never having made pie before I wanted to focus on the process and not worry about cleaning my hands between steps so I don't get flour all over the camera. Now that I have the basic steps down, I can go back, make another and share pictures of each step. I told you this would be a process.

I can sum up my thoughts on my first attempt in this way: OK. I mean, it was good overall but each component had problems that I want to fix. The crust with a biscuit-like texture, there was way too much liquid in the filling and the pie was pretty flat overall. All this came together to make an pretty good apple pie in flavor, but just an OK pie in terms of the textures I prefer. Luckily, this weekend my dad comes to town for our Thanksgiving and I will be making another pie. I'm pretty I've figured out what went wrong and I know this next one will be even better!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Culinary bucket list: The great pie experiment, part I

I began cooking when I was young. To be honest, though, I can't definitively tell you what the first thing I helped my mom make was or when I made my first complete meal. My memory is fuzzy from those times. I've read that divorce will do that to young people.
What I do know is that cooking has always been an escape for me. When I am stressed or troubled or tired, taking a few moments to cook something has always focused me and helped me solve my problems.
As time has gone on, cooking has become a way to challenge myself. So in the back of my head I've begun to list the things I want to eventually accomplish as a cook, call it my a culinary bucket list. The list includes things like making biscuits from scratch (check, though I think I really need to keep practicing to be a success at these), beating egg whites to stiff peaks by hand (halfway there!) and making pie.
I've never made pie by myself, though I LOVE pie. That may be my problem, though. I may love pie too much. My standards involving pie are so high and my ability to tolerate my own failures is so low that, until recently, I thought I might implode if I couldn't create a delicious version of my own favorite food.
But in every cook's life there's a moment in which you suck it up and make the damn pie. And that is what I did last night - I made pie crust. And today, after letting the dough chill in the fridge overnight, I will make my very first honest to goodness apple pie with pie dough that I made all by myself and if I screw it up, I have husband who will eat it anyway and pretend to love it.
If you feel like it's time to suck it up and make your own pie, I have collected a vast knowledge of pie tips. Much of the advice contradicts itself since it is coming from a wide variety of sources who have spent many a night crying themselves to sleep after ruining their pie. Luckily for me they didn't implode, but instead got back up the next morning and made pie again, thereby perfecting their recipes for the rest of us to try out. So here's my current base of knowledge. Read them all. Because food bloggers have a knack for being hilarious. And Alton Brown is just awesome, even if I'm not planning to do a shortening and butter pie crust (BUTTER ALL THE WAY!):

When I have my own experience, I will definitely be sharing with you what I've learned and I hope you will do the same.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hamburger Helper without the 'help'

When I was a kid we were often caught up in the Hamburger/Tuna Helper craze. At least once a week we had one of these easy and fairly cheap meals. And we loved them. Mom seriously had at least 10 cans of tuna in the pantry and as much frozen hamburger stocked in the freezer so that we could make this whenever she wanted without running out. It might have been the first real meal I made all by myself.
I haven't had Hamburger/Tuna Helper in a long time, but I recently got a craving for it. Not to knock the convenient invention, but I prefer to know exactly what is going into my meals. And then I got to thinking: How hard would it be to mimic Hamburger Helper with fresh, delicious ingredients? It turns out that it is so easy I'm disappointed I haven't been making this dish my whole life.
The challenge I had in creating this, was really the seasoning. I wanted to keep this from being just a meaty pasta sauce. I think I balanced it well enough, but, as always, feel free to tweak as you wish!

Homemade hamburger helper
2 lbs ground beef, browned
Olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 med. onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 cup chopped mushrooms
Salt and pepper
1 cup red wine (I bought a $8 bottle of Pinot Noir, which turned out to be delicious.)
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 (28 oz.) can of diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can of tomato sauce
1 tbsp. Oregano
1 tbsp. Thyme
2 tsp. Basil
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 box elbow macaroni

1) Brown the ground beef, drain (I do this for health reasons) and return to your pot.
2) Add the chopped garlic and onions. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are softened. When the onions are softened and just turned translucent, add the red bell peppers and mushrooms.
3) Once the peppers/mushrooms are cooked to your preference (I like them to keep their texture, so I cook them a little less so they will survive boiling), add the red wine. Scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon in case anything is stuck to the bottom (This is called deglazing the pan. If you have a nonstick pan, likely nothing actually stuck and you don't have to worry about it, but stir it all together anyway).
4) Add everything else except the pasta and stir to combine. Add half a cup of water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for a half hour.
5) Add the macaroni, stir, cover and let simmer until the pasta is tender. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom.

I picked this one because it was cheap and also because the company plants a tree for every bottle purchased. It turns out that it is a pretty good Pinot Noir and I would definitely buy it again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stewed garbanzo beans and chicken

I'm a big fan of repurposing my leftovers in new dishes. There's a show on Food Network I watched a lot (when I had access to cable) that revolved around the idea. The host would show you how to cook a big meal when you had more time and use the leftovers from that meal to stretch into two more dinners the rest of the week.
For me it's more about saving money than time, but not eating the same thing every night of the week is also a perk.
After the wedding we took home a bit a food. We ate most of it over the honeymoon, but we had several grilled chicken thighs leftover that I had frozen to use later. So when I stumbled on a recipe that I had every ingredient for (even a can of garbanzo beans I had been saving for a batch of hummus that never appeared) on Budget Bytes, I couldn't wait to get started. So I present my version of Greek stew with garbanzo beans and chicken.

Stewed garbanzo beans and chicken
3 chicken thighs
1 med. yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
olive oil
dried oregano
dried thyme
crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz. can of dices tomatoes
1 8-oz can of tomato sauce
1 can of garbanzo beans, drained
feta cheese

1) Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large, deep skillet over medium/high heat with 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. The oil is ready when it has a wavy appearance. Cook the chicken pieces on each side until golden brown and crispy (5 min. each side). (Mine were already cooked, I just crisped up the skin in the pan.
2) While the chicken is browning, dice the onion and garlic. Once the chicken has browned, remove it to a plate and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook the onion and garlic until they are soft and transparent.
3) Add the canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaves, oregano, thyme and half of the chopped parsley to the pan. Stir well to combine then add the chicken pieces back to the pot. Reduce the heat to low, place a lid on the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
5) After the stew simmers for 20 minutes, remove the lid, drain the chickpeas and add them to the pot. Continue to simmer for 15 minutes without a lid.
Serve with couscous and sprinkle with feta cheese.

I made my couscous with chicken stock instead of water and added golden raisins to it. I have no final picture because everyone ate it too quickly! That seems to be a regular happening around my food.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saying goodbye to my best friend

When I was about 4 or 5 years old, a dog appeared in my life. All I remember of this dog was that it might have been black, it might have been big and it definitely chewed a chunk of my parents' orange couch off. If I remember correctly we were taking care of the pup for a family friend, but the incident with the orange couch swiftly ended that dog's time with us.
I tell this story because it quite possibly was the first time I became obsessed with owning dogs. At the time we'd had a cat for a while and I loved cats. But a few days (maybe even weeks) with a puppy brought out the dog lover in me.
Over the years we got a new kitten, a couple of fish and a cockatiel, but my pleas for a dog went unanswered.
But, when I was about 8 years old, we went to visit a litter of brittany spaniels. The wriggling mass of reddish-brown and white fur might have been the cutest thing I'd ever witnessed in my relatively short life. But it was one in particular, the apparent "runt" of the litter, who stole my heart (and the hearts of my mom and sister).
We took that little girl home and named her Kelly (after the uninspired name "Brittany" was tossed about). To this day I have no idea why we dubbed her that, but I generally called her Kellybelly. 8-year-old's will do that.
Two years later, my frustrated stepdad decided to get a new dog because Kelly was too "bullheaded" to be the bird dog he had wanted. That year Kelly was exiled from the most of the family's hearts. She was no competition for a younger, more amusing puppy. Yet, when everyone was drawn to Misty, our new German shorthaired pointer (who, incidentally, turned out to be even more unsuited for hunting), I would join Kelly on her bed. She would put her head on my leg and I would tell her about my day. That's when she became my dog.
Over the years we protected each other and I could always count on her to comfort me when it was called for. She would be there to keep my toes warm during the freezing winter nights in the mountains. When I had fights with my step-dad, I would usually escape to the side porch, where she would come running and shove her head under my arm in her version of a hug. She never failed to make me smile.
These memories are what I hold onto now that I am forced to say good-bye to my best friend. Home is not really "home" without her.
But the cycle continues. The night after Kelly was put down, I crawled into my own bed and promptly started to cry. Miyagi has generally slept on the floor because of my husband's allergies, but when allowed on the bed, he usually prefers to sleep on Travis' side and doesn't want to be touched. If you pet him he'll move farther away and if your feet are touching him, he'll often chuff at you and jump off in disgust. But that night, Miyagi got up and walked over to my side of the bed and stared at me. Eventually, he put his head on the bed next to my face and licked some tears off my nose. Then crawled in to bed next to me and I wrapped my arm around him, just like I had done so many times with Kelly. Instead of protesting, he snuggled closer. I will never forget Kelly. But it hurts slightly less knowing that I can build a similar relationship with Miyagi.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: "Bottom line" reviews

You may or may not have noticed, but I have tweaked my layout again. It looks almost the same, but I have tweaked my font and color choices. But really I did all this because I have also added a new page to my blog.
As time has gone on, I've found myself offering more and more reviews on books I've read, movies I've seen and other things I felt you needed to know about, good or bad. I've finally gathered these reviews in one place. I've named the page "Bottom Line" (found between the blog name and posts) because I tend not to be wishy-washy with my reviews. If I hate a novel, I'll tell you. And if I love a movie, I'll insist you see it. I'm all about the bottom line in my opinions.
These reviews span back at least two years, so feel free to check out the page and reread (or read for the first time) those posts. In the process, I revamped and reorganized some of the reviews so there is a little continuity between posts. I also ended rereading every post, and I actually want to go back and read at least one book and I definitely need to sit down and watch the biopic Chaplin again. Maybe after we've moved in and I'm not in the middle of a six-day workweek.

EDIT: Not to change things up too much for you, but I've added a second page (called "An outsider in Suffolk") featuring links to all the columns I've written for the Suffolk News-Herald. I've allowed comments on that page, so if you have any thoughts on my columns or ideas for new column topics, please share. Thanks.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm back!

Well, I've actually been back from my honeymoon for a few days now, but I sort of felt like I needed even more time to recover from the craziness. That and there's been a lot to accomplish since I've been back. I have not really accomplished much of it, but I have gotten one big thing finished. I set up an site for everyone to upload their photos of our wedding.

Our first dance, photo by Paul Beck (my dad)

Wedding photos tend to be the biggest chunk of change for many brides/grooms and their parents. In order to save some money we asked my stepfather to be the official photographer and then told everyone else not to forget their cameras. After the wedding I planned to set up an online account with a photo service where everyone could upload their photos.
This is the only thing I've really accomplished since returning. My house is still a mess. Miyagi seems to have forgotten large chunks of his training. I have piles of gifts (which we are really grateful for) from extremely generous friends and family that I'm hoping to finish writing thank-you notes for soon. And on Friday we are moving back to Newport News.

You may now kiss the bride, photo by Myrna Teague (my great aunt)

But I have officially set up a pro account on Flickr. Everyone can upload their photos there so I can download high quality original copies instead of shrunken files from Facebook. That helps triple the total number of photos I have access to when I'm finally able to afford printing good quality copies. Looking through my stepfather's pictures, I've realized he doesn't have the right eye I wanted for catching some of the details of the wedding (which I worked so hard to visualize and my friends and family worked even hard to implement). He did capture the basic photos you want, but some shots were missing. Having others take photos as well allowed me to have shots I wouldn't have gotten if I had depended on just my stepfather's shots. Such as this shot from my new sister-in-law:

Table settings, photo by Jenny Land (sister-in-law extraordinaire)

So if you plan to get married, I really recommend doing this if you can't see spending $3,000 (minimum!) on wedding photos.

Technical gibberish, or Why I chose this method
I chose Flickr because for about $25, I get unlimited downloads, storage and access to the original sized uploads.
Why is this important? Well, I wanted the chance to Photoshop photos that might not be perfect (most have beautiful potential, but many need a little tweeking) and that is extremely difficult to do when you are working with sizes that have been shrunken down for web use.
Facebook, for example imports photos at a resolution of 72 pixels per square inch and a size of about 720 pixels wide by 540 pixels high. For comparison, the camera my dad was using saved pictures at 4,272 pixels by 2,848 pixels at 72 psi. That may sound like gibberish to you, but pixels hold the information that make up the building blocks of a photo. So, the more pixels, the more information I have to work with. Ergo, I can make a beautiful photo perfect.
At the same time, to print photos they need to be at least 200 psi for quality printing. If you resize the Facebook photo to 200 psi, it can be printed no bigger than 3.6 inches by 2.7 inches. And that is too tiny for me to use.

Coming soon
Finally, I wanted to let you know that I am going to be doing a lot of posting in the near future. Not only do I want to go through some of the awesome details of the wedding, I have several other posts I've been putting off, including: several book reviews (including The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender and Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber), a photo tour of our new home and the setbacks and triumphs we've hit while training Miyagi.
So, please come back soon and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1 cake vs. 80 (cup)cakes

We are now having cupcakes, for many reasons. This way everyone can have some of the cake and also we don't have to worry about cutting the cake for everyone. Also, my cake topper is a bit too heavy for a cake to hold it up without collapsing. Anyway, the cupcakes will be arranged like four tiers with the cake topper at the top. Like these:

Though, most assuredly not this tall. LOL.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Turtles and cake toppers

This is our cake topper. It's so awesome we're getting a cake so that we have something to put it on. It was gonna be a small cake, but now I'm worried people will want cake instead of pie. Plus you KNOW the cake will be awesome. I suppose we'll have to figure it out soon. I mean I only have a week and 3 hours.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mainstream Avant-garde: The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd

I've mentioned I've been reading a lot, right? Well, I figured it's time to start sharing my thoughts on what I've been reading. So, look for a weekly review of the books I've been reading. I'll attempt to post on Tuesdays so you always know when to check back for tips on a good book, or to ignore my blog if books really aren't your thing.

Today's book is called The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters. Chip Kidd, a man known more for his graphic design skills than for his writing, authored a novel. The book is set in the 1950's and follows a college freshman as he acclimates himself to a new school and his seemingly random decision to be an art major. Kidd touches on themes of love, young relationships and even a first foray into gay infatuation.

Upfront I have to admit that the book really isn't that great as a novel. As a collection of entertaining anecdotes and lessons on life, Kidd does deliver some great one-liners and surprising twists. Considering it had been a while since I had been able to read books for fun, it offered a quick summer read with just enough substance to leave me hungry for more books.
But my favorite part about the book was the design of it, likely furnished by Kidd as well. Depending on how you look at the edge of the pages, you can see some of the graphic design teacher's favorite life lessons to the students.

As a designer myself, I got a kick out of it. Unfortunately for people picking up this book with intention of delving between it's pages, the best thing about it really is this quirky design choice.

Bottom Line
I wouldn't necessarily run out and buy this book, but if you feel like a quick, entertaining read, I wouldn't mind loaning out my copy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On blog upkeep and life updates

What can I say? I've been busy. While I haven't gotten much accomplished in the past few months, I've still felt as though my life is full of everything I'm doing and everything I need to get done. In any case, I've been neglecting my blog specifically and my writing in general. My editor asked me if I would write a column for the paper and I froze. Imagine that! Me, the writer, refused to write. And I felt I was justified since I didn't really have anything to say. And yet, that is blasphemy of the highest order to a self-proclaimed writer. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said "You don't write because you want to say something; you write because you've got something to say." And it's been eating at me ever since that day and I wish I could say that I have offered to write a column to make up for my earlier refusal. Unfortunately, I cannot say that since I haven't actually done it.
So if I haven't been writing, since I obviously haven't, what have I been doing?
Well, if you're reading this post I am relatively confident you've seen the new redesign of my blog. I love the new look of my blog. Sometimes I'll just scroll up and down the page to see how my posts look on the new backdrop. Apparently along with having lost my ability to want to write, I've also lost my ability to have a life.
I've also been cooking. If you are reading this post I am also reasonably confident that you've seen my many posts detailing recipes I've been trying out. You'll have to deal with seeing many more of those since I just received 3 awesome cookbooks for my bridal shower. I've also been spending quite a bit of time with Miyagi, though mostly we just cuddle on the couch together as I watch this or that t.v. show online. And I've been working and planning a wedding (Less than a month to go!).

The books I've read in the last month (I'm almost done with Crescent).

But most of all, I've been reading - a lot. And that, at least, is good penance for my recent blasphemy. As my good friend Leighton has often said on her highly entertaining blog, "Read a lot, write a lot – that's the golden rule for all writers to follow." I'm just bulking up on the first part before I get on with the second. And let me say this: There is nothing better than reading a book because you want to read it and then enjoying almost every single moment you've been reading. I get to the point when I near the end of a book where I'll struggle with wanting to get to the end because I want the fulfillment and wanting to put the book down so I can prolong my enjoyment. Such is the curse of finding so many good books to read. Honestly, I have no idea why I still don't have a library card. I would read those books so hard if my bank account didn't take such a hit with every book I buy.
But it's not just books. Every month I read the new National Geographic Magazine, every week I check out the Sunday Magazine from the New York Times and almost every day I scan a huge assortment of blogs, ranging from anecdotal blogs written by friends, to food-, design-, book- and wedding-based blogs written by people whose names I don't even know, nor care to. But I do know the title of their blog and have often enjoyed the stories, photos, inspiration and advice they've shared.
When I was a child, books were my friends, sometimes my only friends, if you don't count the cats or dogs I've confided in over the years. From the age of three (thank you, Hooked on Phonics), I've devoured any scrap of the written word that I could find. Even now, I remember the mistakes of characters in what I've read and I use those mistakes to shape my own path. Many of the Sunday Magazine articles, which are often first-person ruminations on a writer's marriage or another's life in therapy, have helped me recognize aspects of myself. In fact, you could say that my love of reading has increased my circle of friends exponentially. Though, I guess not knowing most of these sources keeps them from truly being my friends. I say all this to counter my mother's old admonishments that I was wasting my life with my nose stuck in a book.
And yet, I must acknowledge that I've been using reading as an escape from what I should be doing, be that writing, taking classes in multimedia journalism and nonprofit communication or even planning a wedding. While reading has been beneficial, and still is, it's time I recognize when I've had too much of a good thing (people who know me know that's never been my strong suit).
I find trying to make myself productive harder and harder when I'm not letting anyone down by not accomplishing a task (I always worried about letting professors down. Letting myself down has been a non-issue since I tend to just revise my expectations of myself as I fail to meet previous ones).
And now I will be getting to the point: I'm going to try to write more, without getting caught up in what I think people want to read. This is about what I have to say, which, it turns out, is a lot if this post is any measure. But here's the caveat: Just because what I'll be writing is what I "have to say," doesn't mean it's of any interest to you, dear reader. The point is to get those juices flowing again, regardless of the menial subjects I will likely be writing about. But please yell at me if I seem to stop writing for a long period of time. I would like to be held accountable for not living up to my proclamations about who I am. So, let's see if I can prove, even to just myself, that am a writer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wedding Decor: On folds, fans and fun

Less than a month and I'm just now considering decorations. What am I considering? Well I'm falling love with these:

And these:

And these:

And, yes, especially these arbor decorations (cause I'm really not feeling the plain white arbor):

They can't be hard, can they? In fact, I could easily start right now and do a few during every show I watch and I'd be done in a week or two. Now I just have to buy tissue paper and maybe some origami like paper.
Can I just say how much I love the Internet and it's plethora of tutorials?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wedding notes: On hair

It's one of the least important aspects of my wedding (to me) and yet it seems to be one of the first things women tend to ask me, right after what color my dress is (ivory) or what shoes I'll be wearing (yellow Converse). Who knew that hair was so important among us females. I certainly didn't. In any case, my hair will most likely be simple, just like every aspect of my wedding. For a few ideas, see the following wedding porn (as Ariel of Offbeat Bride fame calls it):

I like the simplicity of pulling back some of the hair, but leaving the rest loose. Plus you can't beat fresh flowers.

Long and loose, with a curling iron to add a bit of flair.

And then there is the low bun with a floral accent, which I'm leaning towards if it is hot and I don't want to get overheated.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wedding Notes: Dancing with my dad

One of the first things I thought about upon getting engaged was my dad. I was excited that he would walk me down the aisle and that we would have a father/daughter dance. I remember a father-daughter dance we had in Illinois which was sponsored by the girl scout troop my mom was a leader in. It's a pretty foggy memory for me because I was only five or six, and yet it's stayed with me for most of my life. It's this memory I want to honor at the wedding, but I also want to honor all of the great times we've had together. We really are great friends. When I make huge decisions in my life, he's always the first person I call. In fact, I called him first when Travis proposed. I even called him before adopting Miyagi because I didn't know if it was the best decision.
In that vein I've been putting a lot of thought into what our song will be and I'm torn between songs that convey love and what our relationship is and songs that remind me of him, but don't necessarily speak to our relationship.

For the former I've come up with two songs:
Nickel Creek -"When you come back down"
Beatles - "In My Life"

When I think of my top three favorite bands, Genesis(and Phil Collins) always makes the list, and that is all thanks to my dad. The first song I remember learning the words to was "I Can't Dance." (The music video is hilarious; you must click on the link and watch it).
While the song always invokes memories of driving in my car with Dad, that song isn't exactly appropriate for the occasion. I have come up with a Genesis and two Phil Collins song I could see dancing to:
Genesis - "Follow You, Follow Me" (This actually makes me think of having nightmares as a kid and knowing it would be alright because Dad was there.)
Phil Collins - "You'll Be in My Heart"
Phil Collins - "Can't Stop Loving You"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A taste of childhood: Zucchini cupcakes

Until I was in middle school, my favorite thing that my mother ever made was banana bread. I remember marveling as she measured the flour, sugar, eggs and butter from memory. She used to let me mash the bananas and fold them in to the mix. She always made two loaves and I remember always being angry that she would give one away. Even the "heel" of these golden brown loaves were delicious and I knew nothing would ever make me feel better than to eat a slice, warmed and spread with butter.
Of course even our childhood favorites must someday make way for evolving opinions. While I still love banana bread and often request a loaf from my mom, my heart has pined for a bread that puts the banana variety to shame. I'm still not sure what possessed my mom to sneak a vegetable like zucchini into bread, but I am forever thankful that she happened upon that idea. My mouth still waters at the thought of the dense yet moist loaf, striated with slivers of green. Mom used to grow zucchini the size of a loaf of bread in the summer. She always grew far too many and often froze some for use in the winter. It never occurred to me to attempt the recipe for one trivial reason: I didn't have a food processor. The idea of shredding zucchini (or cabbage or carrots or apples) had always (irrationally, I admit) seemed dependent on owning the contraption. And then I purchased a value pack of 5 large zucchini at Farm Fresh and I knew it was time to brave the uncertainty and shred the squash with the handheld cheese grater that had never occurred to me to utilize.
And so, dear readers, I am finally able to say that I have made my own zucchini-based dessert. Not the perfect bread that I grew up with and dreamt about, but some things should be left to a mother to make for her daughter as she aims to use up a bounteous harvest. I instead chose to go with a more portable package - and something a little more sweet.

Zucchini-Walnut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Loosely Adapted from Eggs on Sunday's Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Someday I will make that chocolate zucchini cake, but this seemed a little rich for Travis, and I wanted to introduce him to the wonders of zucchini desserts without covering up the zucchini. Most of my tweaks involved using the ingredients I had on hand as well as following my gut feeling on a few measurements/ingredients. Feel free to try the original recipe, but I always encourage you to trust yourself when it comes to your cooking.

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (a substitute for oil that I always use)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter(soy)milk (See a recipe for making your own buttermilk
here, under the heading "replacing buttermilk")
1 tbsp. plain soymilk
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini (about 2 1/2 medium)
1 cup crushed walnuts
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup powder sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place cupcake wrappers into a cupcake pan, or butter and flour it if you aren't into wrappers.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter and applesauce until they’re well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  4. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk in 3 additions each.
  5. Mix in the grated zucchini, then the walnuts.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool completely.
  7. While the cupcakes are cooling, mix the the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla extract on low speed until the sugar is incorporated.
  8. Beat the mixture on medium to medium-high until frosting is light and whipped, about 3 - 4 minutes. Frost the cupcakes once they are cooled.

I shredded the zucchini as soon as I bought it since it was the value pack from Farm Fresh, which really is the "we-have-to-sell-this-today-or-it-will-rot" pack. Of course, 5 fairly large pieces of zucchini for just over $2 is an amazing deal and it's a neat money-saving trick I've been using lately.

I then stuck it in a bag in the freezer until I would have time to make this recipe.

If you choose to do this, just dethaw the zucchini and wring most of the liquid out in a paper towel or cheesecloth. Freezing adds a lot of water and baking requires that you be very specific with the liquid to dry ratio.

There were no spices in the original recipe, which struck me as odd because the dish just screamed for a bit of cinnamon. It's no sweat if you don't have the rest, I just happen to have them on hand. At the very least add some cinnamon. Maybe 2 tsp. if you are dropping the cloves, nutmeg and ginger?

As I strive to be more ecoconscious in my choices, I must acknowledge that cupcake wrappers are wasteful and really unnecessary. A mixture of equal parts shortening, oil and flour has always kept my baked goods from sticking to the pan and I would have gone that route if I hadn't found another product that I will share more details about in a future post.