Zucchini Pancakes

I love zucchini. I’m not sure why, but it could have something to do with the fact that they’re cheap, easy to cook, taste good grilled and represent summer. Oh, and who can forget the fact that they start with Z–I like the letter Z. Usually we just slice them into long strips and toss them on the grill with whatever protein we happen to be grilling, but I was in the mood for something new. We had a few zucchini in crisper and one was definitely getting a little gnarled. I used to be a zucchini bread making machine, but the problem is, I don’t eat zucchini bread. I’ve also been thinking about incorporating more vegetarian meals into our regular sequence for both health and financial reasons. I decided to make zucchini pancakes, which I made a few weeks ago and absolutely loved. I loosely followed Ina Garten’s recipe, but as you know, I strayed from the directions, as per usual.

Zucchini Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 medium zucchini (about 3/4 pound) ( I used 3, because that’s what I had!)
  • 2 tablespoons grated red onion (I ran out of onion, so this was omitted)
  • 2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten (I added an extra egg)
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Unsalted butter and vegetable oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Only do this step if you intend to keep the pancakes warm in the oven.

Grate the zucchini into a bowl using the large grating side of a box grater.

I drained the zucchini for a bit as it seemed extra watery.

Immediately stir in the onion and eggs. Stir in 6 tablespoons of the flour, the baking powder, salt, and pepper. (If the batter gets too thin from the liquid in the zucchini, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour.) Somehow I missed Ina’s direction that the eggs were supposed to be lightly beaten (and by missed I mean I read the recipe too quickly and didn’t notice.) I broke the eggs right into the mix (bad girl, you’re supposed to break them into another bowl in case you have a bad egg, no pun intended.) Anyway, I tossed everything into the mixture.

I mixed it up and added some grated carrots as I am wont to do. Doesn’t it look pretty?

Because I was feeling a little daring (and I like cheese) I decided to add about 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese rounded out by 1/4 cup of light cottage cheese. I’ve been adding cottage cheese to a lot of things lately and it’s seemed to work, so why the hell not?

At this point, I’m eyeballing the batter and adding a little more flour, as needed, if it seems dry. Because I had started this project when I got back from the gym at 8pm I was getting a little hungry. Good thing I had my gorp to keep me company.

I learned that word on my 6th grade camping trip and it kind of makes me giggle. In googling, one source says that gorp stands for “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts.” Well, I don’t like raisins.

Am I eating GOP?

Back to the pancakes…

Heat a large (10 to 12-inch) saute pan over medium heat and melt 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil together in the pan. When the butter is hot but not smoking, lower the heat to medium-low and drop heaping soup spoons of batter into the pan. Cook the pancakes about 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Place the pancakes on a sheet pan and keep warm in the oven. Wipe out the pan with a dry paper towel, add more butter and oil to the pan, and continue to fry the pancakes until all the batter is used. The pancakes can stay warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Serve hot.

OK–that’s what Ina wants you to do. I made the following adjustments. 1) I didn’t use a mix of oil and butter. I used just oil. I also used a non-stick pan. Last time I used a regular pan and I think they came out a bit better; you just have to keep an eye on things. 2) As previously stated, I didn’t use the oven to keep the pancakes warm. I loaded them on a plate between layers of paper towel.

Here are the pancakes frying. This was my first batch. They got prettier later. One note: be sure you don’t heap the batter on too thick. It will be hard to cook them all the way through.

Once I got the frying situation under control, I moved towards the sauce. I enjoy the yogurty, cucumber tzatziki, which is often found in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine and decided to make my version of the sauce. I began by slicing an English cucumber into paper thin slices. I would have used my mandoline but I really didn’t feel like washing another dish.

I love English cucumbers. Yes, they’re more expensive than your run of the mill garden cuke, but I feel as if they taste so much better AND they’re unwaxed and do not need to be peeled. Saving a step gets major points with me.

I tossed the sliced cucumber into a cup of fat free sour cream.

Then I added the juice from one lemon and salt and pepper. Ta-da! Tzatziki a la Row Home Eats!

We rounded out the meal with parmesan cous cous and a simple salad of chopped romaine and sat down to a romantic evening of Top Chef.

My husband wasn’t very happy that I commandeered his plate for a photo op before he had the chance to dig in. I told him that we must make sacrifices for the blog. I think he understand.

That picture is making me hungry. I think I’ll have some leftovers now. I love leftovers.

Turkey Bolognese

Have we gotten a chance to discuss my affinity for all things Italian? No? Ah, let me count the ways.

1. I studied Italian for many years in high school and college

2. I live in a predominately Italian-American neighborhood

3. My husband is part Italian

4. Although it may seem “boring” or “safe,” Italian cuisine is one of my favorites

5. Oh yeah, I got engaged in Italy. In a vineyard. Yup, my husband is the best.

6. When we got married and I contemplated the pros and cons of changing my last name (and after the husband nixed my suggestion that he take my last name,) I very seriously suggested that we make up a new Italian last name and both adopt it. How could would that be?!

I also love all things pasta. Unfortunately, my waistline does not love my fondness for pasta, but you will come to see that we eat past a couple of nights per week.  Last week, when I was on my cooking frenzy, I decided to defrost the ground turkey that had been sitting in the freezer for a few days. One of our less lofty goals is to empty out the freezer a bit (I haven’t told my husband, but this is my new inspiration for freezer emptying.) We’ve been eating quite a few burgers this summer–nothing wrong with a good burger!–and it was too hot for meatloaf, so I decided to do something different with the ground meat. Although it’s a bit off season, my husband and I love a good bolognese, so I thought I’d whip one up. And, if all else failed, I could freeze it for a later meal. Ah, the irony.

Turkey Bolognese

1 lb. ground turkey

1/2 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1/4 cup red wine

2 cans crushed tomatoes (or use fresh if you so desire)

Olive oil

Fresh herbs (in lieu of fresh herbs, I’m a fan of dried oregano)

Probably some other stuff that I’ll remember as I’m typing it up…

I started by sauteeing the carrots and onions in olive oil until they started to soften, about 2-3 minutes.

Then I added the fresh herbs. When cooking most things, it’s best to add fresh herbs closer to the end. However, when using more robust herbs, I find it’s ok to add them in the beginning. I added chopped parsley, oregano, thyme and sage.  I probably would have tossed a bay leaf in there if I had thought about it. I would have also added a tablespoon or two of tomato paste if I had some.

Instead, I added the turkey meat and began to brown it. I only browned it for a few minutes until I couldn’t see any more pink (it’s important to cook turkey all the way through, but this was going to simmer for a while.) I then tossed the red wine in and let the alcohol cook off. After a minute or so, I added the crushed tomatoes. I know, I know, I’m using canned tomatoes in the middle of the summer. I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel comfortable doing the whole tomato peeling and seeding thang so I use canned tomatoes sometimes. I’m ok with this part of my life. I also get a good deal on them at BJ’s, so there.

After mixing thoroughly, I turned the stove down to simmer away for the rest of the day. When my husband came home from work, he was greeted with the very Italian scent of tomatoes on the stove–a smell that often makes it way up and down the streets of South Philadelphia. I fit right in.

Carbo Loading

Recently, my husband and I have both challenged ourselves to doing new things. My challenge has been this blog and I’m feeling pretty good about things thus far. Ironically, while my challenge has been about cooking, eating and sitting on my couch, writing, his has been a little more active.

My husband is one of those people that is notoriously difficult to shop before because he never seems to want or need anything (don’t worry, I balance that out quite well.) The famous story involves a shopping trip when he was a child. His grandmother took him and his sister shopping and told them that they could pick out one toy each. His response: “no thank you grandma, I don’t need anything.” His sister, who is a little more like me, took the opportunity to ask if that would enable her to get two gifts!  For this reason, I always try to note when he says he likes something so that I can add it to my list for birthdays and holidays and so that I can tell others what he would like.

This past Christmas, we decided to keep gifts very low key. After a lovely dinner and small gifts, my father-in-law called everyone into the kitchen for one last gift. I assumed it was something for his wife, but we walked into the kitchen to see a huge, bulky item covered with a sheet. He then announced that he wanted to give his son something that he had not had the opportunity to give him as a child–he lifted the sheet and exposed a beautiful Trek bike with clipless pedals for a serious bike rider. Now, my husband has always enjoyed cycling (and we have numerous bikes and bike parts in our basement to prove it.) His father, on the other hand, is a cycling fanatic. He is in amazing shape and competes in races and triathlons on a regular basis. In fact, he just placed second at a triathlon this weekend. What an inspiration! My husband was extremely touched by this gesture and thus set out to learn how to ride this new style of bike (clipless pedals are the type that you have to buy a special shoe that clips onto the pedals and is supposed to create a smoother and more powerful ride. I’m still not sure why they’re called clipless though.)

This isn’t really reading like a food blog, is it…

Fast forward to this summer. My husband has mastered the clipless technique and has been going on long rides 4-5 days per week. When he saw an advertisement for the Gran Fondo, he knew it was something that he wanted to attempt. Gran Fondo is Italian for big ride and it is an “Italian-style mass ride” with increments of 30, 60 and 100 miles. My husband decided to attempt the 60 mile course. For days in advance, he prepared his body, including hydrating, no drinking and getting plenty of sleep. The night before the ride, it was carbo loading time (cut back to food blogging.)

One of the most amazing pasta dishes I’ve ever made has been a fresh angel hair pasta tossed with local baby arugula, heirloom tomatoes and fresh chevre from Green Aisle Grocery, an awesome little grocery on Passyunk Avenue. If you haven’t been there, check it out! The owners, Adam and Andrew Erace are super nice and the store is dog friendly. You can’t beat that! They’re also the only store in the city at which you can buy Zahav hummus. YUM! Anyway, I was hoping to recreate the pasta dish but didn’t get a chance to stop at Green Aisle before dinner so I made do with what I had.

I started by roasting grape tomatoes in the oven at 400′ with lots of garlic and olive oil for about 30 minutes. The picture isn’t the best, but the caramelization that occurs in the oven is absolutely out of this world (not to mention the smell!) You also end up with a sort of tomato-infused olive oil. I know it’s the height of tomato season so please don’t hate on me for using grape tomatoes that probably came from somewhere far away. We usually eat tomatoes from the Farmers Market only, but there’s something about roasted grape tomatoes that drives me crazy–and the sale at Iovine’s didn’t hurt either.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I boiled water for the capellini and prepared my greens. I used baby arugula and some sort of impulse buy microgreen mix from Iovine’s. Aren’t the microgreens gorgeous?

After draining the pasta, I simply tossed in the greens and mixed until they were slightly wilted.

Then I added the tomatoes

Oh wait, can’t forget the cheese. Goat cheese makes everything taste better.

Top it with a generous splash of olive oil from Fattoria Fibbiano, the amazing agriturismo where we were engaged in 2008, and we were ready to eat!

The next day, my husband woke up early and joined almost 2,000 of his closest friends to ride the challenging 63 mile course. He finished the hilly ride in just over 5 1/2 hours and I couldn’t be more proud.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

One of my all-time favorite cookbooks is Molly Stevens’ All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking.  My mother introduced me to this cookbook a few years ago and I snatched it up at our favorite discount bookstore up in the mountains. As you can see (take a look at the lower right-hand corner) Jewels loves this book as well.

She’s not normally a chewer but I must have had some meaty remnants on the pages and who can resist that?  Anyway, I’ve made a few recipes in this cookbook, but my go to crowd pleaser has always been the Red Wine Braised Short Ribs with Rosemary and Porcini (p. 241 if you have the book.) This is one of those dishes that just has winter written all over it. I’ll usually serve it over noodles or mashed potatoes and finish the night with clean bowls and happy bellies. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in a rut and will never make short ribs any other way. For that reason, I decided to be adventurous and do some summertime cooking–grilled short ribs. I got them from my butcher, Harry Ochs at the Reading Terminal, and went home with all intentions to grill.

As I puttered around the kitchen on Monday (after doing some preliminary research online) I started getting nervous about making grilled short ribs. I consider myself a beef short rib aficionado–what will happen if I don’t grill them correctly? My fears overcame me and I decided to do another version of the braise. I tooled around the internet a bit and decided that I’d do a beer braise in the crockpot. It is TOO HOT to have a braise going in the oven these days.

Remember that time I mentioned my inability/refusal to follow recipes? This is a perfect example. This is the best example of a recipe that you’ll get from me.

4 beef short ribs, cracked (apparently this makes for better flavor according to my butcher)

1/2 onion, chopped roughly

2 carrots, peeled and chopped rougly (ok, fine. I used a bunch of baby carrots)

2 celery stalks, sliced

3 cloves of garlic, smashed

Splash of wine

1 bottle lager

1 dry bay leave

fresh herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary)

Olive oil, salt and pepper, of course

_______________

Molly Stevens told me that short ribs would benefit from 24 hours of light salting, so I laid them in a pyrex lasagna dish and brushed them with a light dusting of salt the day before I started my preparation. This is an optional step.

I began my browning the ribs in the olive oil. When they were sufficiently browned (5 minutes, give or take) I tossed them into the crock pot and added the chopped veggies (carrots, onion, celery) and garlic to the pot. I forgot to take a picture of the browning meat. See, I’m new to this whole blogging thing. After a minute or two, I added the herbs and bay leaf.

After giving the veggies another two minutes to soften, I added a splash of red wine and scraped the brown (delicious) bits from the bottom of the pot. I let the wine reduce, and added a bottle of lager.

Every recipe that I saw was for “porter braised short ribs” but guess what? I didn’t have any porter so lager was going to have to do the job. I let the mixture bubble away for another minute or so, cooking away all of the alcohol. Then I poured it on top of the browned short ribs and set my crockpot on low.

Just a note on our crockpot. My husband’s good friend gave it to him as a present a number of years ago. It is a big box store cheapie, but does the trick. It just goes to show that you don’t always need top of the line items in your kitchen. We won’t discuss my love affair with Le Creuset at this time…

I cooked the ribs for about 7-8 hours on low and then let them cool to room temperature. These ribs, like other braises, soups and stews, tend to taste even better a day or two after cooking as the flavors have time to settle and develop a richness. We tossed it in the fridge for dinner the next night which was perfect because I was having drinks with a dear friend for her 29th birthday and wouldn’t be home until later that evening.

When it was time to cook them, my husband skimmed the fat off the top (hmmm…what to do with that tastiness sitting in my fridge…) and set the crockpot on low for an hour or so. I had hoped to make gnocchi or fresh pasta to go with the ribs but realized that I had none of the ingredients for either, so we settled for boxed whole wheat rotini (ah, my love hate relationship with whole wheat pasta. I’m trying to like it; really I am.) and broccoli. The result? Fall-off-the-bone-goodness with the rich meat flavor and the subtle lager lingering in the background. Verdict? I think I prefer the red wine braise but this was much less labor intensive and let’s just say I cleaned my plate anyway!

Scalloped Tomatoes

Ever since I saw this post on Tom Foodlery’s blog, I’ve been interested in the idea of making a tomato-y bread pudding. I’m not normally the biggest tomato fan in the world, but there’s just something magical about market fresh tomatoes in the height of the summer. Coincidentally, a few days after I filed that in my mental “to make” list, I came across this post on Smitten Kitchen. It was kismet. I was destined to make this dish. At Sunday’s visit to the Headhouse Market, we picked up a large container of tomatoes from…I forget which vendor. They were very nice and I enjoyed our informative conversation about where I got my shirt (Old Navy) and how to best store corn (moist, in the fridge.)

I intended to make the dish last night with a leafy green salad, but instead spent the night scrubbing our kitchen and storing all counter items in plastic tubs in preparation for the exterminator. Woo hoo! Instead of cooking, we ordered from Taqueria Los Jalapenos, which has–hands down–the best burritos in the area. We order from “Three Jalapenos” (that’s our nickname for the spot due to their website) a couple of times per month.

With a stale baguette and five ripe tomatoes in hand, I knew that tonight would be my make or break night for the Scalloped Tomatoes. Something you will come to learn about me is that I have difficulty following directions.  Whether it’s Ikea furniture (to my husband’s dismay,) speed limits or recipes, I always tend to find my own, shall we say, adaptation. This is one of the reasons that I have struggled with the concept of blogging my cooking. I will *almost* never be able to share an accurate recipe with my readers.

You have been forewarned. What follows is the recipe that I used as an outline. I will do my best to share my minor personalization of the dish as we go along.

Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons
Adapted, only slightly, from Ina Garten (by Smitten Kitchen)

3 tablespoons olive oil (
2 cups bread from a French boule, in a 1/2-inch dice, crusts removed (I went closer to 3 cups and used a stale baguette from Acme)
2 1/2 pounds plum whatever good tomatoes you’ve got, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly slivered basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high. Add the bread cubes and stir so that they are evenly coated with oil. Cook cubes, tossing frequently, until toasty on all sides, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are toasted, add the tomato mixture and cook them together, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in the basil. Fresh basil on top of this tomatoey goodness? Yes, please! This deserves its own photo.

Pour into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese. I mixed some of the parm into the dish (probably about 2 tbsp) and topped it with panko as well. Why? Because that’s how I roll. This picture is pre-parm and panko crusted.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly.  It should look a little something like this.

If you’re so inclined, eat it with some fresh (stored moist and in the fridge) corn and a leafy green salad. But only if you’re so inclined.

Smitten Kitchen also suggests topping it with a poached egg for brunch. Too bad I won’t get a chance to do that. Maybe next time. This dish was well received by all (my husband and myself, that is.) We enjoyed the opportunity to try summer’s bounty in a new and unique iteration. I especially loved crunch that remained on some of the croutons while others got a little soggier with tomato yumminess. The basil also imparted yet another reminder of summer. I was too lazy to snip herbs from out front (basil is kept out back, the rest are out front. Don’t ask.) but would probably add some fresh oregano and thyme next time around. Or maybe not–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Overall, scalloped tomatoes receive an enthusiastic 2 thumbs up!