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Archive for August, 2012

Last time, I offered a post detailing a few of the uses for zucchini that I utilize in handling my small farm’s huge overabundance of them. Those ideas were good, but a lot of people might already have their own bread recipes… Today I bring you a quick post describing a few more ways to use the little green fruits, one of which is a real shocker (especially with how good it is)! After all, I just picked 15 more zucchini the other day…

All of these ideas can also be used with other summer squashes.

Feeeeaaarrr the enormous head-eating zucchini plants!

– Zucchini and Tomatoes –

This is also a ‘lazy day’ recipe for me. You start with a tomato base. You can use them stewed, diced, as paste, or any other way really – that part is based on your preference. Since I also grow and can lots of my own tomatoes, this is never an issue, but you can definitely just use store bought too. I usually prefer a base with less chunks, so I’d use diced or paste, or if I wanted to use whole/halved or stewed, I’d let it cook a little before adding the other ingredients.

What I do is warm up the tomato ingredient in a medium to large pot. Once I have it good and hot, I’ll add chunked, sliced, or cubed zucchini pieces. It’s best to use mostly small to medium zucchini for this. You want to add enough zucchini that the tomato ingredient will flavor them all, but not drown them. That is, you want your zucchini well ‘sauced’ but you don’t really want a soup here. The shape and size of the zucchini pieces you add is again based on your preference. I prefer good sized chunks, as I like firmness and they don’t get as easily cooked down and ‘floppy’ as the slices, but that’s all up to you as you might prefer them that way! Optional ingredients to also add at this stage are things like onion pieces, mushroom chunks or slices, or other vegetables (I usually just add the mushrooms and several dashes of my favorite spices and herbs).

Let simmer for a while until zucchini is tender. Feel free to sample as you go. 😉

Once zucchini is done, remove from heat, dish into bowls, and cover with a generous helping of mozzarella (or other cheese if you don’t have mozzarella/cheese substitute if vegan). Enjoy!

In this same vein, do not be afraid to experiment with zucchini. Its mild flavor and easily manipulated texture lends it well to all kinds of variations on casseroles and savory pies.

They’re still spawning!

– Zucchini Soup Base –

This is one of my new favorite ways to use zucchini, as you can barely tell it’s there unless you really hunt… and that’s saying something, since in my last pot I added 5 whole fruits! It’s also pretty easy, in my opinion.

Start by making stock/broth. Take your pot and add a good amount of water (very scientific and accurate, I know). What size of pot you use depends on how much you want to make. I make a giant pot and we eat off of it for several days, but you can simply scale down and make a small pot – it just won’t use as many zucchini at once.

To make your starter broth, you can boil some meat and remove it to re-add later, using the cooking liquid. You can boil up some herbs and vegetables, spice/salt as desired, and make a nice veggie broth. You can do something as simple as adding enough bouillon cubes to the water to flavor it. Doesn’t matter – just make a little broth however you see fit.

Cut tops and tails off of zucchini and chunk or slice. If using really giant zucchini, they should be skinned and seeded first. Add to the broth and simmer until zucchini is soft. You can also add some skinned tomatoes at this stage if you like, since tomatoes go with zucchini so well, but it’s optional. I added 8 to my last batch.

Once zucchini and optional tomatoes are falling apart somewhat, blend up the mixture well with an immersion blender stuck right into the pot (don’t stick the motor piece under the water, and make sure to go a little easy on it so it doesn’t get too hot). You can also use a regular blender, pour the batch through a food mill, etc. but those are all messier and take more work (I love my immersion blender). Once blended, the zucchini will practically disappear and become what is basically a thickener in the broth. The only sign they’re there afterward are a few green flecks that sort of look like pieces of parsley or basil or something.

After this step, you can add other veggies, meat, or any other ingredient you wish to have in a soup. I added generous piles of chunked potatoes, carrots, green beans, corn, and celery. Cook until those ingredients are done/tender, salt/spice to taste, and you have your soup!

How to defeat it??!?!?

– Zucchini Cobbler –

This was a recipe I stumbled upon one year in zucchini-desperation. I had so many and I was so sick of them that they were all just going to end up in my compost. They weren’t selling and I couldn’t even give them away fast enough.

Then I read about this. It’s not salty. It doesn’t have tomatoes. It was a completely different take on zucchini than any other recipe I had ever seen before. The best part is… it tastes and feels almost exactly like apple cobbler. A lot of people will be fooled if you don’t tell them it has zucchini in it. A few extra picky eaters might be able to sense that something isn’t quite right, but no one I have ever fed this recipe to has disliked it. Now, it is admittedly not very healthy, but man is it good, and very unusual.

The best part is, it uses quite a lot of zucchini, and you can put big zucchini in it too – somewhat big ones even work BETTER than little ones for this, because they come out more apple-like!

However, the preparation is a bit more labor-intensive than the above ideas.

Zucchini Cobbler

8 c. peeled, chopped zucchini (A little further detail about this ingredient – you want to skin the squash first, then slice in half lengthwise, or in quarters if a bigger zucchini. Scoop out seeds and center pulp. Then with the skinless ‘shells’ that are left, slice width-wise into pieces that should look pretty similar to thin, crescent shaped slices of apple)

2/3 c. lemon juice

1 c. sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

4 c. flour

2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. butter, chilled

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • – In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook and stir zucchini with the lemon juice until zucchini starts to get tender. Stir in 1 c. sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and the nutmeg, cooking a minute more. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • – Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 10×15 inch baking dish. In a large bowl, combine the flour and 2 c. sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture starts to look like coarse crumbs. Add 1/2 c. of this mixture into the zucchini mixture you made before. Press half of what’s left into the bottom of your baking pan. Spread the whole pot of zucchini mixture over this, then sprinkle the rest of the butter mixture on top of that. Dash with the last tsp. of cinnamon.
  • – Bake 35-40 min. or until the top is golden. Serve warm or cold.

A few of my added notes on this recipe:

  • – I overdo it with the spices when I’m cooking the zucchini mixture. I always add extra cinnamon as well as a dash of cloves. It’s up to you if you do this. I am a giant spice lover.
  • – I use a 9×13 pan because I don’t have a 10×15. There are no changes. It seems to work fine, it just fills it up allll the way.
  • – I have “accidentally” used really soft or even fully melted butter for this recipe before. It works almost as good, it just makes a gooier topping instead of a crumby one, so you just have to be a little more creative with spreading it out/pressing it into the pan. It bakes and crisps up just fine, though.
  • – I do not dash with cinnamon after – the cinnamon overkill I do in the earlier step takes care of all my cinnamony needs.
  • – Adding some oats to the topping mixture in place of some flour, or sprinkling oats on top before baking, is sometimes a nice touch.
  • – I almost always leave it in closer to an hour. Just keep an eye on it and see when it’s done to your visual satisfaction.

Allegedly, you can also use zucchini to make a remarkably apple-like pie, using a similar preparation/ingredients as is employed in this cobbler. I have never tried it, though.

When this is a ‘bad day’ for you, you know your squashes are going crazy!

My plants are now infected with powdery mildew, and they’re winding down a little with production as compared to the beginning of their season. However, the disease will not kill them – they’re all still setting new blossoms, and will until the first frost, so there will still be plenty of zucchini madness to come!

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Highly aromatic, lemongrass grows in thick, cascading clumps that make an attractive indoor or outdoor plant. This plant isn’t just a beauty; it also has medicinal properties and can be made into a delicate tea. In addition to being healthy, this herb will also impart a citrus flavor into any cuisine. If you’ve been interested in experimenting with it, growing lemongrass couldn’t be easier.

Getting Started

Purchase lemongrass stalks that are fresh and still green; avoid stalks that are turning brown and drying out. The ones I purchased were beginning to yellow, but still rooted. Each stalk will multiply to create several new stalks by the end of the season. Fresh lemongrass may be difficult to find in some regions, so I suggest looking in specialty shops—I found mine in an international food market.

Watching Grass Take Root

I prefer to make a fresh slice on the end of the lemongrass to help it take in water until the new roots form. Now simply plop them into a jar of water, making sure the bottom bulb section is covered. After 2-4 weeks, roots and new growth should begin to appear.

Watching Grass Grow

Once 1-2” of roots develop, the lemongrass may be planted into soil. If unable to plant right away, don’t worry–lemongrass is patient. It was still chilly outside when the roots developed on mine, so I left mine in water until the roots were approximately 5-6” in length and the weather had warmed.

Choose a well-draining container to plant the stalks in. When planting, ensure that soil covers the root base. To prevent a risk of rot, do not bury into the soil any deeper than where the highest root nodule is. Water thoroughly. The stalks may feel loose at first, but will soon grow new roots to anchor them securely into the soil.

Lemongrass is not frost-hardy and must be brought inside if temperatures dip below 45°F/7°C.

Health benefits

According to The Herb Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing and Using Herbs (Harding, 2006), lemongrass has many medicinal benefits such as:

  • Lower fever, especially malarial
  • Treating stress-related symptoms
  • Aromatherapy
  • Aids digestion
  • Essential oil relieves muscle aches and pains, injuries, and poor circulation
  • Insect repellent

Making tea

Lemongrass tea is a delicate, citrus flavored tea. It can be made by either steeping the top leaves or the stalk of the plant. The top leaves make for a lighter citrus flavored tea. Simply cut up the leaves and steep as normal—approximately 5 minutes.

When using the stalk, peel off the outer leaves—these are bitter. It is necessary to bruise the stalk by either bending it several times or crushing it under the blade of a chef’s knife. Cut the stalk into pieces. Add to boiling water and steep until preferred strength is reached—approximately 5-10 minutes.

Cookery

Lemongrass is one of those mystery herbs you typically see sold as dried, brown stalks in a little glass bottle at the grocery store. Well-known in Thai cuisine and common in Southeast Asian dishes, lemongrass can be added to soups and curries or made into a tea. It pairs well with coconut milk and will provide a delicate and acidic lemon flavor to balance and compliment a dish.

Lime and Lemongrass Cooler

Servings: 4

  • 2 limes, peeled and each cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 small lemongrass stem, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbps. Sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 crushed ice cubes
  • Âœ cup water
  • 4 slices of lime
  • Soda water, to top off

Place lime pieces, lemongrass, and crushed ice cubes in a food processor.

Add the water and sweetened condensed milk, process for a few seconds, but not until completely smooth. Strain the mixture into glasses. Add a slice of lime to each glass and top off to taste with soda water. Serve at once.

Enjoy!

After removing, the outer leaves of lemongrass make great cat toys!

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The zucchini plant is a fairly tough customer. If the soil is of good quality, it can grow to massive sizes, its huge leaves much larger than your whole head. Little spiny hairs cover its leaves and stalks, irritating and itching the bare arms of those who are sensitive to them. At least in my plantings, it seems to shrug off all insects, animals, and disease, save for the powdery mildew that sometimes saps its strength (but never seems to fully kill it) in the cooler days of late summer. Its foliage is often nicked or lopped off by an accident with my harvesting knife, but more just grows back to replace it, the vines perpetually lengthening as you pick from them until they are feet long at the end of the season. The same things are true for summer squash – they are, after all, the same species.

These plants are also legendary for how prolific they are. It seems that everyone who grows them – and even those who live near those growers – know of their amazing ability to pop out fruit after fruit. Tales abound of zucchini stuffed in mailboxes, or of piles of giant lunkers left on steps or porches. I sell them 2/$1, but even with that and eating them besides, I’ve still brought boxes to work before in an effort to prevent them from going to waste.

This is especially true when your plants are cranking out two-headed mutants.

Because of this extreme overproduction, zucchini fans are often scrambling for things to do with it. You can only eat so much fried squash or zucchini-based stir-fry before it gets very tiresome. Thankfully, over the past few years I’ve gained knowledge of several things to do with them when I have 30 of them on my table and can’t move them fast enough. I’ve decided to share some of these with you, because I know that right now my plants are in full swing and will be cranking them out for weeks to come.

– Zucchini Chips –

These consist of thin crosswise slices/rounds of zucchini that are coated with (optional) seasonings and dried. A mandolin slicer makes it really easy to produce the slices, but you can do it by hand with a knife too as long as you are able to make a rather thin cut. You don’t want it extremely thin, though, because there’s a lot of water to them and drying will turn too-thin slices into little more than squash-flavored paper that tears apart when you touch it. Around 1/4″ or so seems to work well for me.

No skinning or seeding is needed as long as the zucchini is not gigantic – just rinse for debris and then cut the ends off and you’re good to go.

They are very easy to produce with a small dehydrator set at veggie setting/130-140F. It takes several hours, but they are hard to ruin this way. They can also apparently be done in a low-temperature oven as well, though I have little experience with this method. When seasoning, go light – the flavor concentrates as the slices dry. My favorite flavors are Hidden Valley ranch (it comes in a powder form you can just sprinkle on) or cinnamon sugar.

– Zucchini Bread (or Muffins) – 

This is a great way to use up ugly zucchini or giant ones of great size (though you still may want to skin and seed really, really big ones because those parts get tough and hard). The zucchini is grated finely before going into the recipe, making age and appearance less important. The recipe below is my aunt’s, and I’ve used it dozens of times to make delicious quickbread out of my surplus. You can easily pour it into muffin tins or cups to make individual portions out of it, too. No alterations are needed to do this.

You can throw in other things you like, or subtract those you don’t. For example, I often leave off nuts or exchange cranberries or blueberries for them, and I sometimes omit coconut if I don’t have any on hand. I also add more cinnamon than called for, and almost always toss in a dash of clove as well.  The recipe seems tolerant of changes as long as you keep the basic ingredients the same. This recipe also freezes extremely well if wrapped closely in aluminum foil and then placed in a gallon Ziploc (wrap the sealed end of the Ziploc around the loaf and press out excess air, taping in place if desired). I have kept it frozen for over 3 years with no significant loss in quality.

Aunt Smith’s Zucchini Bread

3 eggs

2 c. sugar

-> mix these ingredients together, then add…

3 c. grated zucchini or summer squash

1 c. oil (any mild tasting oil will work)

2 tsp. vanilla

-> mix these ingredients together, then add…

3 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 c. chopped nuts, coconut, berries, or other mix-ins (optional)

Bake about an hour at around 350 degrees. Watch for doneness after 40-45 minutes – prick into center with a toothpick to test. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Makes 2 regular loaves.

Still taking over the table?

– Stuffed Zucchini –

This is one of my semi-lazy methods of dealing with extra zucchini. Cut the ends off and slice once lengthwise, as ‘down the middle’ as possible. Scoop or scrape out some of the seeds to make a crater. Stuff the crater with stuffing, cheese, other veggies, or anything tasty that your heart can dream up. If you don’t want to bother with that, simply stuff with Stove Top stuffing mix or some other equivalent. Bake in the oven until it looks delicious. I usually default to baking at 350 degrees F.

Sometimes it works better to precook or parboil the zucchini for a few minutes before stuffing, or to tent foil over the baking sheet and remove at the last few minutes if browning is desired, although this isn’t strictly necessary because I have had success without precooking as well.

– Pickled Zucchini –

Zucchini and summer squash can be pickled using most recipes that call for cucumbers. I only like sweet or bread and butter pickles, so that’s all I make, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use them in a dill recipe too. Feel free to try them in any recipe you already use. Just be aware that they’ll turn out a bit softer than cucumber pickles, at least in my experience. I find that they’re best if cut into spears and seeded before the pickling process.

The easiest bread and butter pickle recipe I use is as follows. Spices can be substituted or added to depending on what you like.

8 cups sliced cucumbers or zucchini (chunks, spears, or round slices work equally well)

2 c. sliced onions

2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. vinegar (I use cider vinegar)

1 1/2 tsp. pickling salt

2 tsp. mustard seed

1 tsp. turmeric

2 tsp. celery seed

Place all ingredients together in a large pot. Heat on medium to high heat until liquid starts to boil, stirring the mixture to soak all ingredients in the brine. Pack in hot, sterilized jars and seal. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Makes about 2 quart jars.

Pickled peas, zukes, cukes, and summer squash help to stuff this old cupboard

Zucchini is right up there with my green beans as far as overabundance goes, and its texture and mild flavor lend it really well to all kinds of interesting applications. Stay tuned for Part II of this article, where I reveal one of my favorite (and most unexpected) ways to use summer squashes, as well as a great way that you can use up several of them and barely even notice their presence!

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When I was a little girl, my dad would share stories of the yogurt his grandmother made in a jar without modern simplicities. Yogurt is still a refrigerator staple for my father, but the cost of buying it can quickly eat away at the thrifty shopper’s wallet. Making yogurt is not only a fraction of the cost, but is one of the few old traditions that can be made simple.

What is needed?

  • Milk
  • Yogurt or freeze dried yogurt starter
  • Pot
  • Candy thermometer
  • Containers or jars
  • Whisk
  • Spoon
  • Powdered milk (optional)

Heat the Milk

Heat the milk to 185ÂșF (85ÂșC). Stir frequently to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of pot. As the milk cools, powdered milk may be added (optional). The addition of powdered milk will create a richer, thicker yogurt.

Let milk cool to 100ÂșF-120ÂșF (38ÂșC-49ÂșC).

Add Yogurt Starter

Add the yogurt starter to the cooled milk. I typically add approximately 2 tablespoons per pint of milk. Whisk the yogurt starter into the milk to evenly distribute the bacteria. I am using a favorite yogurt brand; however, they do sell freeze-dried yogurt starters. If using premade yogurt for a starter, try to choose a brand you prefer as they all have different tastes. The yogurt must contain live active cultures and should not have any added flavors.

Distribute Mixture

Distribute mixture into containers—I prefer mason jars to keep water out.

Keep the Mixture Warm (100ÂșF-120ÂșF/38ÂșC-49ÂșC)

Place the containers into a cooler filled halfway with hot water (100ÂșF-120ÂșF/38ÂșC-49ÂșC). Don’t have a cooler? An electric yogurt maker, a preheated crock pot wrapped in towels, or sunny window sill work as well.

The Waiting Game

Let sit for 6-12 hours, or overnight. I prefer to leave mine overnight, but I recommend rechecking the temperature of the water-filled cooler to make sure the proper heat is being maintained.

Fresh cultured yogurt.

Prefer Greek Yogurt?

Strain the yogurt in cheesecloth until desired consistency is achieved. Alternatively, use a white kitchen rag or towel. Whey will drain from the yogurt as it thickens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to make Yogurt Cheese? 

Yogurt cheese is a healthier alternative to cream cheese and is very easy to make. Simply strain yogurt through cheesecloth overnight until the yogurt is thick and spreadable.

Tips

  • If yogurt doesn’t turn out and temperatures were correct throughout, try switching brands. I went through two brands before I found one that cultured correctly.
  • Save a little yogurt to use as a starter for the next batch.
  • Honey drizzled over Greek yogurt.

    Add any flavor to taste: jam, honey and maple syrup all work well.

  • Save leftover whey from strained yogurt to boost the health of tomato plants.
  • Whey is a healthy addition to any diet.

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