Dina’s Zucchini Bread

It occurred to me yesterday that I’ve not made zucchini bread since I got married.

You know – 20.5 years ago.

Let me revise that: I have not made “my” zucchini bread since we got married. I have a vague memory of making a rather passable batch of something resembling zucchini bread at some point in time over the past 20 years.

If we’re going to be honest – I don’t really love zucchini bread.

I mean average zucchini bread.

It’s just kinda – eh – okay.

Not – wowza! Gotta make that again!

The reason I was able to ascertain how long it was that it had been since I made zucchini bread? The formula is still written in professional production quantities. I.e., you know, about 30 pounds worth of batter per batch from back in the day when I needed it written in those kinds of quantities.

So – given the fact that my husband LOVES zucchini bread and we’re in the midst of the zucchini boom that’s going on around here, I decided it was time.

Before we go forward – I feel in the interest of full disclosure that I should admit this: I’m a lazy baker. I like putting together stuff that basically I can throw together with half a thought and half as much effort.

This is not that kind of recipe.

It’s fussy.

I.e., it has a lot of ingredients and it takes a fair bit of prep.

All that said: TOTALLY worth the time and effort.

Here you go…

Dina’s Zucchini Bread –  -click hyperlink to go to PDF of the recipe.

Ingredients
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Nugmeg
2 cups Bread flour
1 cup Cake flour
2 1/4 cups Zucchini, shredded
1 cup Carrot, finely shredded
1 cup Bulgarian buttermilk
3 Large Eggs
3/4 cup Olive oil
1 cup Chopped nuts
1 cup Golden raisins
1 can Crushed pineapple
1 cup Angel flake coconut

Preheat oven to 370° F.

Do you know this little trick? You’ve got some flexible cutting boards around somewhere, right? Well – I measure my dry ingredients onto one of my flexible cutting boards, and then it’s a total cinch to scroll it up and transfer the ingredients into the mixing bowl.

I usually just start by throwing the sugars into the bowl of the mixer. Then I add in the remaining dry ingredients.

Here are the bread flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. If, per chance, you don’t have bread flour and cake flour on hand – switch out the entire flour amount for all-purpose flour. Life will decidedly go on.

Here (in clockwise rotation) are the zucchini, drained pineapple (with the raisins soaking in the juice below), coconut, chopped pecans, buttermilk and eggs, and carrot. Not pictured is the oil.

I think worth mentioning – you just don’t want to develop the gluten too much in this batter. Over mixing will make for a really tough final product. Yuck. One sure way to help prevent over mixing is to make sure your eggs and buttermilk and well blended together. You can tell in the photo above that the eggs are simply resting in the cup. In this picture below, they’ve now been mixed in completely.  (And can I just brag on my baby hens who have just come into lay?  Get a load of that gorgeous yolk coloring in there!)

This is what the batter looks like once the dry ingredients, buttermilk/egg mixture, and oil have been added. You know – before you add in all that other fussy stuff that makes it taste so amazing.

And this is what it looks like after all the fussy stuff has been mixed in and it’s been portioned into muffin tins.

This batter is really kinda on the runny side – its job really is to hold all of the yummy fussy stuff together.

I do, typically, sprinkle the tops of muffins with raw sugar – it gives a lovely little crust on top.

And here’s the finished product, in muffin form:

And loaf form:

And after breaking into one of these…

I can guarantee that it won’t be 20 years before I make them again.

Yum….

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Princess Bars

Every now and then a girl needs permission to embrace the whole princess thing.

It should include a pot of tea… and Princess Bars.

Silly me – I thought everyone knew how to make them.

I guess not, judging from the blank stares that people have given me when I asked what their favorite parts of Princess Bars were.

If I had to say what my favorite part were – the sweet, crumbly, coconutty base and/or topping or the fruit filling – well – it would depend on the moment. They’re just so right, it’s pretty much impossible to choose what’s best!

Things that make these unbeatable?

  1. They’re ridiculously easy to make.
  2. You can make them up, store them in a disposable aluminum pan in the freezer, and then bake them off at a moment’s notice.
  3. They’re a fabulous way to use up the tail end of last year’s jam or jelly!
  4. They have such a lovely, light, flavoring with the combination of extracts that you truly can use ANY fruit filling – anything from pineapple, or tropical blend, to crabapple, to berry of any type, to apple pie – and end up with an absolutely delightful result.

Add to that the fact that you will be loved forevermore whenever you happen to share them – well, a win all the way around, right?!

Princess Bars

Ingredients
3/4 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/4 Cups Sugar, granulated
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Butter (at room temperature)
1 Large Egg, beaten
1 Large Egg yolk, beaten
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Maple flavoring
1/4 teaspoon Almond extract
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 1/4 Cups Cake Flour
2 Cups Coconut (fine, unsweetened)
2 Cups Fruit Preserves

Preheat oven to 375° F.

  1. In mixing bowl with paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, eggs, and extracts/flavoring.
  2. Mix together flour and coconut just to incorporate. Add to the creamed mixture and mix to streusel consistency. Do not over mix! Scrape the bowl several times, fluffing mixture and breaking up large clumps. Use a very light hand with this mixture!
  3. Place about half of the mixture into the bottom of a clean, unlined quarter sheet pan (13″ x 9″).
  4. Pack down into the bottom of the pan with your hands; you may use a rolling pin to compact. The dough should be solid and completely cover the bottom of the pan.
  5. Top the dough with fruit preserves. It should be fairly thick – at least 1/4 an inch thickness.
  6. With the remaining streusel mixture – make certain that it is completely broken up – no big clumps! Sprinkle on top of the fruit filling, distributing evenly. Press down very lightly.
  7. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. It will be a lovely golden brown on top. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

Notes:

These freeze beautifully before baking.

You can conceivably use ANY fruit preserve as the filling.

Home Made Mayo

It wasn’t that many years ago that I didn’t know you could make your own mayonnaise.

I mean – hello?! – raising her hand to confirm that yes, she indeed, is a product of mass marketing.

Make your own mayonnaise? I thought.

What’s even IN mayonnaise?

And if you read the label of the mayo that most folks keep in their fridge – you know, the mayo that gets stored at room temperature on the shelf until you open it up (ewww) – you’d see:

Which some folks would be just fine with.

I’m not.

I kept wondering why my mouth would be burned and blistered after I’d have mayonnaise, and then I read the label.

DUH.

I’m allergic to soy!

So when I heard someone mention they made their own mayo I was A-M-A-Z-E-D.

Really?

You can do that?

Oh my yes, and not only can you (it’s easy – I promise!) – you should.

Honestly – once you have the home made stuff, you’re just not gonna be happy with the yucky store-bought stuff anymore.

Yeah, it’s that good.

So – without any further ado – let’s make some Home Made Mayo!

First, the ingredients: Egg, oil, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice. (Sorry – the oil didn’t make it into the shot!)

I know! – Right?! – Only FOUR ingredients, okay 6 if you count the salt and pepper.

I should say right here and now – I’m making a double batch here – the basic recipe (here’s the link) is one egg – this post has twice the called-for amount of the ingredients. Just want to make sure we’re on the same page and all.

It’s all about balance, mayo. And getting emulsification going.

I’m all about getting a good result and doing it efficiently. So – I pull out the Cuisinart. I love my Cuisinart. 🙂

So let’s stop a minute and talk ingredients, okay?

Eggs: First – the fresher the eggs the better this mayo is going to come together AND taste. Yes, I know, not everyone has hens in the backyard and can walk out the door, gather the eggs, and then make mayo like I can. If you don’t have your own egg-laying little miracles in the backyard – find someone who does and buy a dozen from them!

Also – you can use whole eggs, or you can use just the yolk. I’ve been known to use one whole egg and one egg yolk in a (double) batch. You can mix it up. If you use the whole egg it’s going to be a smoother, looser consistency when it’s all said and done. If you use just yolks – which is totally a-okay – just be prepared to maybe need to thin the consistency out with a few drops of hot water at the end.

This particular batch I used 2 eggs that the girls laid this morning. Hence, the lovely bright orange yolks.

Oil: I prefer to use Extra Light Virgin Olive Oil. LOVE the stuff. You can use whatever oil that you prefer – the big caveat here being you want the oil to NOT convey a lot of flavor. Something neutral is best.

Acid: This recipe is using lemon juice – and the stuff in the refrigerator to boot! Yes, you could use fresh-squeezed lemon juice – it’s SO good. I just happen to be out of lemons at the moment. You could use white wine vinegar. I’ve used rice wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar, and lime juice, etc… Yes, each one brings a different flavor profile to the finished result – just keep that in mind.

Mustard: If you’ve known me any length of time you know I’m biased. When I find something that’s good – well, why use something else?! That’s how I feel about Dijon mustard. Yes, I use Grey Poupon. Why mess with perfection? I guess you could try others – I have in the name of saving a few pennies. SO NOT WORTH IT! So now you know my bias about Dijon – just use the good stuff, okay? Okay!

Into the bowl, with the metal blade in place, place the eggs, 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and 2 Tablespoons of oil.

Now, put the lid on and turn the thing on.

Process for ONE MINUTE.

Yep – just 1 minute. That’s all you need to get this emulsification thing going.

Here’s what it looks like just as that one minute is almost up:

Now… You know the little tube-y thing that’s in the shute in the lid of your food processor? It’s got a dribble hole in the bottom – brilliant people who designed them. Now – making sure the lid is on and locked – turn the food processor back on, and take 1/4 a cup of the 2 1/2 cups of oil that you need for this recipe and put it in that dribble tube. See?

And this is what it looks like after the first 1/4 cup of oil has been added in and it’s been processed for a couple of minutes…

…kinda bubbly and no big oil slicks on the top, right? Hooray! That means emulsification is doing it’s thing!

So – what do you do if there is an oil slick on the top? Put the lid back on and turn the thing back on for another minute or two. Chances are it’s going to incorporate in that time and everything is going to be okay.

Now – with the food processor running – dribble in the oil, in a very fine stream.

It’s gonna take a little while. See the time stamp on the pictures? The one just above was taken at 2:57. The one below – when all of the oil has been added in and incorporated was taken at 3:12.

And this, my friends is what it looks like when it’s mostly done:

Some people don’t want salt and pepper or any other spice in their mayo. I just like it better with the salt and pepper, so I added in 1 teaspoon of Mediterranean sea salt and about 1/4 a teaspoon coarse ground black pepper.

…and then processed again for maybe another 15 or 20 seconds. Then, Voila!

It’s all done!

I wish you could smell it and touch it. Smells fabulous, and the texture is satiny smooth and wonderful.

This double batch made a bit more than 3 1/2 cups of mayonnaise wonderfulness.

Now – before we get any further, you need to know you can seriously put a twist on this recipe.

Try adding in some freshly minced – or – OH! – roasted – garlic cloves. YUM.

[Memories of sitting on the patio of a little cafe along the promenade in Benidorm, Spain – with the sun shining on the Mediterranean just steps from where we were sitting, dipping those fun little skinny breadsticks in a wonderfully garlicky mayo. :sigh: Must go back to Spain!]

Or maybe a few leaves of just-picked-and-brought-in-from-the-garden basil. :swoon:

Or how about a little green onion and/or chive?

See where I’m going with this? The possibilities are nearly endless!

So – here’s the thing, I do this kind of revolutionary thing after I get the mayo into my storage container…

I put the lid on, set the timer for 4 hours, and then leave it on the countertop in the kitchen.

Yep – you heard me right.

I don’t speed it right to the fridge.

Why?

So those lovely little probiotics can get to work and get established in there, that’s why.

After the 4 hours are up, off to the fridge it goes, and it can stay there for about a week and a half. This is not – after all – your store-bought, preservative-laden, mayo. It will go bad, and why eat bad mayo when it’s so easy to whip up another batch of the good stuff?

Okay – so see? It was SO easy.

Go make some mayo. Really – completely worth the 20 minutes of your life it’ll take up.

Spicy Sausage Lasagna

When I was considerably younger – gosh, like half of my current age. (Gee, that was a while ago!) I worked at Nike International, Ltd. Not too terribly long into my employ there I met the nicest, funniest, most gracious lady by the name of Ardy. She was not only nice, funny, and gracious, but she – oh, so importantly – shared my faith, and an appreciation and love of good food.

Early on into our relationship Ardy learned I knew how to crochet. She proposed a swap… she had a lovely antique dining table that she’d like to have covered with a crocheted table cloth, and I had a Bible that was in tatters… she thought I could perhaps crochet her a table cloth, and that perhaps she could have my very favorite Bible rebound in leather.

I quickly agreed to her proposed course of action and glibly told her it’d take me a few weeks to make her tablecloth.

HA!

Over the course of the :ahem: year-long making of said (even if I do say so myself) lovely tablecloth I would stop by her lovely home to have the table try the tablecloth on for size.

We, of course, would have to make dinner.

Ardy was one of those people who just encouraged my heart by being. She had this amazing fullness of all of the good things that get stuffed into who you are when you’re a child of God and just kinda ooze out of every pore because you’ve started to become more and more like Jesus. Having the very precious honor and privilege to share a meal with she and her husband in their lovely home was nothing less than a balm to my soul.

We talked food a lot, Ardy and I. One day she said, “Oh – I make the world’s best lasagna!” To which I said, “I don’t know how, because I make the world’s best lasagna!” We laughed, and then she proposed that one our next table-fitting, we combine forces to take over the lasagna-making world. I, of course, agreed!

When I learned to make lasagna years and years ago by a mostly only Italian-speaking older lady who did a lot of pointing and gesturing and speaking rapid Italian at me in the hopes that I might somehow learn a thing or two, it was always made with a mixture of lean ground beef and sweet Italian sausage for the meat portion. Honestly – it was fabulous – and you can find the recipe for it here. But Ardy made a lasagna with a sliced spicy Italian sausage – and honestly, that was the really only significant difference, the meat sauce factor – and it was fabulous.

I thought it only fair to share the fabulousness with you.

Here goes…

First, you start with cooking a pound of lasagna noodles:

I use my deepest stock pot – I think it’s a 7 quart size, and put about 3 Tablespoons of sea salt in there, get it going to a boil, and then drop in the noodles one at a time. Once they’re all in, let it cook for 10 minutes.

While the noodles are cooking, slice up the sausage. I found these at Costco – they’re an organic hot link, beef and pork, and honestly, not burn your lips off spicy, but they’ve got a lovely little level of heat in there.

I slice them fairly thinly.

Once they’re all sliced up, transfer them to a large sauce pan, and sauté them. The goal here – in all honesty – is to just brown them up a bit, and sweat off some of the fat.

Once the sausage is warmed through and browned up a bit, drain the fat off and return it to the pan.

Now you’re going to add in 2 29-ounce cans of tomato sauce, and 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste. I also add a couple of Tablespoons of dried parsley, about 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of coarse ground black pepper, a couple of Tablespoons of dried basil, and about a teaspoon and a half of dried oregano.

Remember that the sausage is pretty flavorful, so you don’t need a ton of doctoring here.

Go ahead and stir it up completely, slap a lid on, and keep it at a simmer while you move on to the other components.

About now the lasagna noodles are cooked. Go ahead and dump out most of the hot water, and then run cold water over the pot of noodles:

Once it’s all cooled, lay the noodles out on a sheet pan or a sheet of aluminum foil so that they’ll dry out a bit. Just set them aside.

Now, time to shred the mozzarella. Yes, you could pull out the food processor and do this in moments. BUT – one, the food processor weighs a ton and is a lot to clean up, and the truth of the matter is that it’s only going to take a few minutes longer to do so with a box grater. This is two pounds of mozzarella.

Now, time to put together the cheese sauce.

This is two pounds of Ricotta cheese, one pound of cottage cheese, six lovely fresh eggs laid just today, about a cup of shredded parmesan cheese, a couple of Tablespoons of Garlic Salt, a couple of Tablespoons of dried parsley, and about one Tablespoon of dried basil. Pull out your hand mixer and mix this baby up until it’s all nicely incorporated. Here’s what it’ll look like:

A quick word about cottage cheese. It seems like it’s a love it or hate it kind of ingredient. If you say – I hate cottage cheese so I’d leave the cottage cheese out – that’s fine – live it up. The truth of the matter is that I absolutely DETEST cottage cheese. A good portion of the fact for that being that I’m allergic to a lot of dairy stuff and cottage cheese is one of those things that once consumed makes me wish someone would shoot me and put me out of my misery. The beauty with this is that once it’s cooked, there’s really no discernable cottage cheese – and somehow the cooking of it kills off the bad enzyme that kills my gut, and makes it a very happy thing to consume! So…. if you’re convinced cottage cheese is evil, you just might find that in this application it’s not quite so bad.

Okay – so time to assemble! Using half of each ingredient, start layering.

First, a layer of noodles. I make sure that they overlap a bit:

Next, cheese sauce:

Now, meat sauce:

And now a layer of mozzarella:

Now repeat:

I should mention that on the second layer of lasagna noodles I change the primary direction of the noodles. First layer they went width-wise. This layer they’re length-wise. I use left over noodles to patchwork any gaps.

Also – I should also mention that this is a saucier lasagna than some others. You just need to know that going in. It’s sloppy and messy – but well, oh so very worth dealing with!

Here’s what it looks like ready to go into the oven:

Probably important to point out that this is a HUGE batch of lasagna. I typically make a big batch like this once every month or so. We’ll eat on it for lunches and snacks over the course of a week – and believe me, there are never any leftovers that don’t get consumed in that period of time.

If I’m feeling extra thrifty, I’ll purchase several disposable aluminum pans and portion this out to make two or three smaller lasagnas – one to eat for now, the balance to put in the freezer for later.

So – it goes in a 375 F oven for about an hour. I want it to temp out between 150 and 160 F.

Once it’s done, remove it from the oven and let it sit.

Like for at least half an hour.

Seriously – it needs the rest – and you’ll be a happier camper for the wait.

And that’s pretty much all it takes. We love this dish – it’s so yummy. And yes, it’s not a 30 minute meal – but it’s worth every minute invested in creating it!

See?

What did I tell you? Messy! BUT – totally yummy!