Zucchini Bread

If you're like me, you have zucchini plants multiplying at a rate you couldn't possibly consume without hating zucchini by next summer, and you're resenting your decision to "just plant two" because one couldn't possibly be enough, right? You try to give them away, but for some reason everyone but you is privvy to the squash-spitting plant's overpopulating tendencies and all your co-workers offer a polite "no, I've got my own, thanks."


Apparently there are 1,357,039 other bloggers (rough estimate) who are also thisclose to the edge of similar zucchini-induced madness. If I were more creative this weekend and less pressed for time, I would have stepped outside the loaf pan and come up with something more enticing than zucchini bread, but hey - it took the biggest, honkingest zucchini out of my present squash collection and I got to use my fancy new julienne peeler in the process. Of course between the three of us we couldn't finish the whole loaf, so now those same co-workers who refused my raw zucchini offerings are munching on the spoils anyway.

I found this recipe to come out a little on the dry side. Next time, I'll reduce the flour slightly and will also grate the zucchini as specified instead of julienning it - I'm curious as to whether the julienned strips released less water than the grated would have.

You will need:

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar (packed)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups grated fresh zucchini
2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
1 cup dried cranberries or raisins (optional - I did not include)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix in the grated zucchini and melted butter. Add baking soda and salt, then the flour, a cup at a time, incorporating completely after each addition. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg and mix. Fold in the nuts and dried cranberries or raisins, if using.

Divide the batter equally between 2 buttered 5 by 9 inch loaf pans, or pour into one by loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour (check for doneness at 50 minutes) or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.
Adapted from Simply Recipes.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

As much as I like to make bread and as often as I would rather make something at home than buy it at the store, I generally have no issue with storebought bakery bread. Yesterday, though, Josh propositioned that I change it up a little, and find a recipe for burger buns and make them at home. Why not?

I turned to Annie's Eats, which I can usually count on for a pretty dead-on version of any homemade store-bought item, and once again, I wasn't let down. Unfortunately, I screwed them up the first go-round.

Generally I like to measure flour in weight, not volume. So not really thinking about it, I measured out 24 ounces of flour (3 cups). It was only after my dough turned rock-hard that I realized I'd done something wrong - volume and weight are not always exactly interchangeable. Oh well. Next time I'll do the research first. I wound up having to go to the store anyway for more bread flour and briefly considered the stupidity of the situation...I was at the store, so why didn't I just pick up a pack of burger buns?

I forged ahead though, and after deflecting the snarky "you sure come here alot" comment from the grocery cashier, I quit trying to be cool and actually followed the recipe on my second attempt. The dough came together and rose flawlessly. The buns themselves were airy and crisp, and substantial enough to hold up my drippy early summer cheeseburger.

You will need:

3 tbsp. warm milk
1 cup warm water
2 tsp. instant yeast
2½ tbsp. sugar
1½ tsp. salt
1 large egg
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2½ tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Egg wash (1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water), for adhering sesame seeds

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the milk, water, yeast, sugar, salt and egg. Mix on medium speed to combine. Add the flours to the bowl, and mix on medium speed until incorporated. Add the butter - make sure it's completely softened to avoid chunks of butter throughout the dough.

Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed for about 6-8 minutes. This is a sticky dough, so don't add extra flour. Instead, flour your hands and transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat all the dough in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Turn the dough out onto a pastry mat, then divide the dough into 8 equal parts with a chef's knife.  Gently roll each portion of dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet, 2-3 inches apart.  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise again, 1-2 hours, until nearly doubled.

Set a large metal pan of water on the lowest rack of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center. Brush the tops of the buns lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake the buns about 15 minutes rotating halfway through baking, until the tops are golden brown. Do not overbake! Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Split and serve with your favorite burger.

Recipe from Annie's Eats.

Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs

My neuroses surrounding events and parties and all they entail may officially be getting out of control.

This is why. All this, plus 40 different lists of things to buy/do/bake/cook, is party central. Am I hosting a dinner party? My parents' anniversary? Not quite...it's Alyssa's 9th birthday in a couple of weeks, and judging by everyone's surprise that there will be 1) a theme, 2) homemade paper goods and cake, and 3) a massive spread of party foods, I may have gone a little mental.

But you know what I say? I love the kid. I love her like she was my own. You love your kids too, I know this. But perhaps you didn't get your degree in Event Management, then after being unable to find a job in said field, rely on the occasional kid's party, work luncheon and Christmas dinner to fill up that cavernous space inside you that can only come from not doing for a living what you truly, truly want to do.

I'll tell you...that space hurts a little. So Alyssa's party is not only for her, and for the family and friends that will be joining us, but yes, it's for me too. Just tell me to shut up when I complain that I've run out of room in the fridge to house my spread the night before the party.

What that has to do with baked ziti, I don't know. It was a quick weekend meal when the party planning had gotten into full swing and I was looking forward to starting my paper crafts for the party (I made her banner myself).

You will need:

1 pound dried pasta shapes, your choice
28 ounces prepared Marinara sauce, homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought
1 pound shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 14-ounce container of Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
Small handful fresh basil, chopped
Small handful fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 pounds mini meatballs (recipe follows)

Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain, and pour into a casserole dish. Immediately pour Marinara sauce and stir to coat each noodle.

Combine Ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, basil and parsley in a bowl with salt and pepper. Dot over the top of the pasta and meatballs, and swirl into the sauce with a spoon.

Nestle prepared meatballs throughout the casserole. Sometimes I do neat rows, other times I just toss them in. You just want to make sure that every spoonful will have a few meatballs when the dish is served.

Top with shredded Mozzarella cheese and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Serves 8-10...or 3, with plenty of freezable leftovers.

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Olive oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 medium onion, diced
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
Chopped fresh basil
Chopped fresh Italian parsley
Dried oregano
Salt, pepper and sugar to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once oil starts to shimmer, add chopped onion and stir. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Pour in the crushed and diced tomatoes. Fill up the 14-ounce tomato can with water and add to the pot. Stir to combine, cover, and allow sauce to heat to bubbling. Once it has started to bubble, reduce heat and add basil, parsley and oregano. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar.

Occasionally I'll add about 4 ounces of red wine at this point, but it's completely optional. Cover the sauce and cook over medium heat for a minimum of 30 minutes - but cook it over very low heat all day if you can!

Mini Meatballs

Olive or vegetable oil for browning
2 lbs ground meat (I like a combination of 80/20 beef and ground turkey)
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, smashed
Small handful fresh parsley, chopped
Small handful fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Note: start with the given measurements – you can always add more later. Once your mixture is combined and your oil is hot, make a tester meatball and adjust the seasonings to your taste (I usually add more cheese and salt).

In a large bowl, combine ground meats, egg, cheese, herbs and salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the smashed garlic cloves and heat gently, both to brown the garlic and infuse the oil slightly. Once the garlic cloves are browned, remove from oil and chop to add to ground beef. Combine well – it helps to use your hands instead of a spoon. Get them dirty!

Start rolling your meatballs. Of course you can make them whatever size you like, but for this recipe I like them to be about the size of a large gumball – which would equal about a tablespoon of the meat mixture. Roll them into balls and place them on a plate until you’re ready to fry. When you’re ready to go, raise the heat to medium-high and add them to the pan. If you think of your skillet as a clock, I like to start at the 6:00 position and work my way around clockwise so I always know which meatball I started with, and thus needs to be turned first. Keep them about an inch apart so they brown evenly. Do not disturbe them and in about 2 minutes, they will be browned and ready to flip with tongs (they may not be cooked all the way through, which is fine - they'll finish cooking in the oven). Work your way around the pan the same way you put them in - first in, first out.

Drain on paper towels, add to ziti and sauce, top with cheese and bake.