SQUARSH! (which is what my dad always says, and I totally just realized now that it's him doing a bad Philly accent while saying it. Der.)

We have a lot of it right now, mostly because while the CSA keeps on a coming with summer squash and zucchini we are slacking hard at keeping up.  Mostly because no one in my house loves squarsh the way some people love squarsh.  I mean, it's fine, but it's certainly not my go to summer veg for anything.  Which means that the lovely squashes and zucchinis lie waiting in the crisper drawer until they turn gross and go to live with Jesus in the compost pile. 

Though because of this, I've got three solid options for ways to use up a ton of zucchini or summer squash!  Two are tried and true by yours truly, and one is a Julia Child recipe and never doubt the Julia, my friends. NEVER.


Zucchini Spread

AKA CRACK.  This is the shit, yo.  It's so so good, and so so simple.  Essentially, slow poach zucchini and/or squash in butter and oil with garlic.  Then eat it all on crusty bread or crackers. Or on toasted multigrain bread with tomato and salt and pepper with a plop of fresh ricotta.  Crap, now I'm hungry.

  • 3-5 zucchini or squash, or a mix thereof, washed and cubed
  • 4-6 smashed garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • pepper

Place a medium heavy saucepan on medium heat, and melt the olive oil and butter together.  Before it starts to sizzle, throw in the garlic and zucchini/squash cubes.  Give a stir, cover and cook on medium low for about 15 minutes or until the zucchini has started to soften.

Reduce the heat to very very low, and continue to cook, stirring pretty often.  You want to melt the zucchini into a spread by cooking out most of the liquid without creating mush.  If it starts to brown, add a bit of water (or white wine).  It should take about an hour to essentially make the zucchini butter.

Can eat it warm, room temp or cold. It'll keep for about a week in the fridge, but also freezes really well.  Can also use it as a tart filling, by spreading on defrosted puff pastry, and folding over the edges, then baking.  

Next up? 

Corn and Zucchini Saute

I grabbed this from a Fine Cooking article years ago, and never looked back.  They had some other options for sautes in there, but this was by far the tastiest. I've tweaked it a bit as I've gone along to better suit my tastes.  While the recipe calls for raw corn cut off the cob, I've also used leftover grilled or steamed corn (cut off the cob), and in a pinch frozen corn. It scales up easily as well, so I've often doubled the amount of zucchini with no problems.

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-1/2 cups small-diced sweet onion, (or half a large onion). Regular onion is also fine
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt; more to taste
  • 1-1/4 cups small-diced zucchini (or more--anywhere from 1 medium on up)
  • 2 slightly heaping cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 medium ears), or from leftover cooked on the cob
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • Scant 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • Scant 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. chopped fresh mint (optional, I never have it)
  • One-quarter lemon, or splash of lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Melt 1 tbsp butter with the olive oil in a large straight sided saute pan or dutch oven over medium low. Add the onions and 1/2 tsp of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent--abt 5 minutes. Crank the heat a bit and cook a little longer until the onions are light gold and shrunken.

Add the other 1 tbsp butter and the zucchini.  Cook over medium, stirring occasionally until the zucchini is also slightly shrunken and nearly tender (abt 3 minutes).  Add the corn, the garlic and the rest of the salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, and scraping up the bottom of the pan until corn is tender.  Add in the cumin and coriander and cook for another 30 seconds or so. 

Off heat, add mint, if using, pepper, and a solid squeeze of lemon juice.  Give it another stir and let sit for a few minutes for the moisture of the veg to soften the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan.  Scrape it up and stir again, taste for salt/pepper/lemon.  

And third, via Food52 is

Julia Child's Zucchini Tian.

  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds zucchini
  • 1/2 cup plain, raw, untreated white rice
  • cup minced onions
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • large cloves garlic, mashed or finely minced
  • tablespoons flour
  • About 2 1/2 cups warm liquid: zucchini juices plus milk, heated gently in a pan so as not to curdle
  • About 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese (save 2 tablespoons for later)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A heavily buttered 6- to 8-cup, flameproof baking and serving dish about 1 1/2 inches deep
  • tablespoons olive oil

coarsely grate the zucchini or squash, and place in a colander set over a bowl. For each pound/2 cups of grated squash, toss with 1 tsp of salt.  Let the squash drain for 3-4 minutes--do not throw out the veg water!

Just before cooking squeeze a handful dry over the bowl and taste. If it's too salty, give it a quick rinse and taste again.  Squeeze gently by handfuls, letting the juice run back into the bowl. Dry on paper towels.

Drop the rice into boiling salted water, and boil exactly 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the onions in oil about 8-10 minutes until tender and translucent. Raise the heat slightly and stir until lightly browned.  Stir in the grated and dried zucchini and garlic. Toss until almost tender.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir over moderate heat about 2 minutes.  Take off heat.

Gradually stir in 2 1/2 c. warm liquid (zucchini juice plus milk).  Make sure the flour is well blended and smooth.

Return to med high heat and bring to the simmer, stirring.  Remove from the heat and stir in the blanched rice and all but 2 tbsp of the cheese.  Taste for seasoning and turn into a buttered baking dish. Scatter the rest of the cheese on top, and drizzle the olive oil over the cheese.  

Bake at 425 degrees until it bubbles and the top is nicely browned.  The rice should absorb all the liquid.

fruit cake

Not like, the gross, heavy, holiday fruit cake of December-times.  But a delicious, light, buttery tea cake dotted with fruit (plums, usually).

mmm cake.

Once again, this comes from attempting to use up the CSA's bounty--in this case the fruit share of the CSA.  The problem here, really, is that the man I married doesn't like warm or cooked fruit.  Because . . . um . . .  Ugh, forget it. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW ANYONE COULD NOT LIKE FRUIT DESSERTS. Specific kinds of fruit? Sure, not a problem. Hate on cherries all you want or whatever.  But ALL FRUIT desserts?  Ugh.  


And of course, the biggest little is ALSO not a fan of the fruit desserts.  I am holding out hope for the little one, still.


We had a ton of plums coming our way from the CSA, as per usual.  The biggest little won't eat them straight, and the littlest little only wanted whole plums (which, since these were the tiny sugar plums are like large cherries, with stones.  All kinds of choking hazards), and then would only take one bite.  Sigh. 

I ate a bunch, I gave a ton to our sitter, and then I did what I always do when faced with a cooking dilemma: searched Smitten Kitchen for "plums".  Let me tell you, Deb knows her cooked fruit desserts (BECAUSE SHE IS A SANE MEMBER OF SOCIETY, AHEM, FAMILY MEMBERS WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS.  Also one day I will post about the apple cake recipe from smitten kitchen, which SHOCKINGLY, JBB will eat). Because what I wound up making was this, purple plum torte.  

Originally published in the New York Times by Marion Burros, and then republished by popular demand in the fantastic and highly recommended New York Times Essential Cookbook (affiliate link), edited by the talented Amanda Hesser of Food52 amazingness, it's essentially a very simple butter tea cake (lighter than a pound cake), with halved plums popped on top and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  The plums sink, the cake rises, and you wind up with a delicious fruit-studded cake that is addictive, moist, and keeps REALLY well.  

Plus, to better to suit my needs? The amount of fruit is adaptable and the recipe is easily memorized. I am nothing if not lazy.  Too lazy to even look up a recipe more than once.

Don't they look so pretty? This isn't all of them.

And then. AND THEN.  Apricots showed up.  A lot of them. And I was flummoxed.  Because while I love dried apricots, they are not my most favorite fruit to eat out of hand.  The littlest little out and out rejected it with a big fat "NO," and a stomping off. I'm not a big jam maker, and while we did have a lot of apricots, we didn't quite have enough to warrant that sort of project.  And so they sat for a few days, slowing growing riper and riper, edging toward overripe. And if no one would eat them, they'd be wasted.


And so, with little left to lose, I figured I'd mess with perfection, and tweak the plum cake recipe.  Cause really, cake plus stone fruit, right?  I mean, I could imagine the cake with berries or peaches super easily.  Why not apricots?

But it called for a few more tweaks.  First, I was almost out of sugar, having made the cake a few times.  I did, however, have some leftover maple sugar that just wasn't getting used up.  Maple sugar to me often feels a bit sweeter than the equivalent amount of granulated sugar, so I eased off of the amount slightly.  

Lazy.  And handy!

Second, my previous plum cake was still cooling, and occupying my springform pan, so another pan needed to be found.  9" cake pan, lined with foil. Did I mention the cake freezes beautifully after baking, when wrapped in tin foil and popped into a ziploc? I was going to wrap the sucker up in the foil ANYWAY, so why not line the pan with it first, to make it easier to yank that sucker out of a regular cake pan and have the wrapping all ready to go right there?

(Yes, I did make two of these cakes one right after the other.  I had to finish up the rest of the plums, the mixer was out,  and the butter was already softened and room temp and I'm not about let THAT go to waste you monsters.  Plus the littlest little yelled at me because there was no cake and damnit, he wanted CAKE.  And trains.  And shiny things. And OOOH! A car! A car!  I digress...)

The process for the cake is quite simple, and though I used a kitchenaid, you don't need to use a mixer for it if you don't have one.  Just be sure your butter is room temp, to make things easier on your mixin' arm while creaming the sugar and butter.

First, the butter and sugar(s) are creamed together until light and fluffy.  Because the maple sugar is a bit grainer and slower to dissolve than regular granulated sugar, I followed a tip I picked up from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, and let the mixer go for a bit longer than normal to really allow the sugar to fully incorporate and dissolve into the butter.

action shot!

While the mixer is creaming things, measure out your dry ingredients--flour, baking powder and a giant pinch of salt.  I always like to measure my flour with a kitchen scale because a) it's more accurate, b) it's a ton easier to just scoop into a container that's easy to pour from until you hit a number on the scale, c) if you are measuring more than one thing, all you need to do is tare/zero out the scale, and continue measuring ALL IN THE SAME BOWL.  Once again, it all comes down to laziness. I weighed my dry ingredients into a glass measuring cup (which DO NOT measure dry ingredients with a measuring cup for liquids, you will be WAY off the amounts.  Unless you're using a scale), gave it a stir with a fork instead of sifting or whisking.

Add your eggs to the butter and sugar, mix until incorporated, dump in the dry ingredients and stir just til mixed. Dump batter into the pan, and arrange the fruit on top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar--I used vanilla sugar cause why not?-- and a bit of lemon juice and into the oven it goes for 45 minutes or so.  Less than 15 minutes prep from the start of cutting the fruit. My kind of cake.

so pretty! pre-sprinkling with cinnamon sugar.

The actual recipe with amounts and the like is here:

Maple Apricot Tea Cake

a variation on the famous plum cake. Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, The New York Times Essential Cookbook, and others.

  • 1 cup (125 g.) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 BIG pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons, or 1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1-2 teaspoons for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup maple sugar (brown sugar would also be great here--if using brown or white sugar, increase amount to 1/2 cup)
  • 2 eggs
  • 8-12 small apricots, halved and pitted. Or a little less than 1 pound fruit, halved.
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fetch a 9" springform pan, or if desired line a 9" pan (springform, per recipe, or regular cake pan) with foil. If using a regular cake pan, LINE THE PAN or you won't be able to get the cake out nicely. I sprayed with baking spray, just in case, but it's not necessary.

In a small bowl (or large measuring cup--see above) stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.  In a mixer, cream the softened butter and granulated and maple sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Lower the speed, and add in the eggs, mixing to incorporate.  

Stir in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated.  Give the batter a stir by hand, and scrape into prepared pan, smoothing the top.  Set the halved fruit, skin side up, on top of the batter.  Sprinkle the fruit with the cinnamon, then the reserved 1-2 tsp of sugar (if your fruit is tart or not fully ripe, use the larger amount), and then sprinkle the lemon juice on top.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Aim for batter, not fruit when testing. Let cool completely in the pan, then remove.  

Better the second day, keeps well covered at room temp.  To freeze, wrap with foil and place in a gallon ziploc bag. 

Nicoise Salad, of a sort

Last week, my CSA gave me almost all of the ingredients for a solid nicoise salad: little red potatoes, green beans (technically we got both haricots vert and regular old green beans).  We only missed the tomatoes (which I had on hand), the olives (which I tasked JBB with getting), the eggs (also on hand), and tuna (which would never come near my salad nicoise because I hate seafood and fish--that's another post for you).

And so, dinner was born!  Well, technically, dinner for me.  Because let's face it, my kids would much rather go to town on some buttered noodles and broccoli (trust, I know I'm lucky on the broccoli front), and JBB would rather die than have anything that includes olives come near him. WHATEVER MORE FOR ME THEN,SUCKERS.  

Normally, this would be a composed salad that you'd arrange prettily on the plate.  But screw that.  I was hungry so I threw everything--save the eggs--into a bowl and tossed it all together with the dressing, then ate it. 

First thing I did was to cut the potatoes down to bite-size pieces, the pop them into some heavily salted, cold water in a saucepan.  I brought that to a boil, and while that was taking forever to boil, I trimmed the green beans.  I hate trimming green beans, but I hate the stem ends more, so trim I do.  

Once the potatoes were boiling, I let them cook for about 8 minutes, or until a fork went into a piece relatively easily. While they were cooking, I took a big salad bowl and made some vinaigrette in the bottom of it.

honestly, I'd eat this by itself every night, too.

Here's where the lazy comes into play:  Rather than draining the potatoes and then setting another pot of water on to cook the beans, I fished the potatoes out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and put them them into the bowl with the vinaigrette in it, and then dropped the green beans into the already boiling salted water for about 2 minutes.  When the green beans were cooked but still crunchy, I drained the whole thing and added them to the potatoes, and tossed with the dressing while everything was still warm.

I don't do seafood, so no tuna, but I do love eggs on things, so I rinsed out the saucepan a bit, and then filled it back up with cold water, added three eggs, and made some perfect 8 minute eggs. (Remember: cold water plus eggs; bring to boil; cover, turn off heat, and set timer; when timer goes off, dunk in ice water and eat.)  

Look at that tomato!

While the eggs were perfecting, I chunked up some tomatoes, and threw in a bunch of pitted kalamata olives that JBB had grabbed from Trader Joe's, tossed those in with the potatoes and green beans.  Then once the eggs were done, and dunked in ice water to cool them quickly, I peeled them, quartered them, and added them (and more salt and pepper) to the salad. 

And then I ate it all.  (Not really--I had a ton left over so I had more the next day)




the only way to make vanilla extract

Once upon a time, I promised you more info on how to make your own vanilla extract.  And so it shall be.

There are a billion different posts on Pinterest and the like about making your own vanilla extract.  And I'm here to tell you that they are straight up bullshit.  Not because it's hard to do--it isn't.  Or because the ingredients are super expensive--they aren't. Or because the end result is not as good as commercial extracts--it's WAY BETTER.

They're all essentially the same concept: pour vodka or a neutral spirit (grain) over a split vanilla bean. The problem is that they claim you can make decent extract with one piddly little vanilla bean.  You can't. One vanilla bean in a little bottle of booze does jack all.  (I lie: it makes a meh vanilla vodka. Throw in three, and you have a much better vanilla vodka.)

And here, dear reader is the true secret: what you need are a half pound of vanilla beans and a big ass jar. 

actually, this is in dire need of some topping off. 

Yes, vanilla beans are expensive. When you buy them at Williams-Sonoma or specialty cooking stores and buy the itty bitty canister of two premium beans. But I get mine from Ebay.  Because honestly, I'm making vanilla extract, and I'm not putting the beans on display.  I don't need pretty, fat grade A beans that come at a premium price.  I just need good flavor and bulk.  You can get a half pound of beans from Ebay sellers for about $30.  

Get yer beans, a big ass jar (I got one of the biggest ones with a locking bail at the container store--similar to this one [affiliate link], but any wide mouth, glass, airtight jar will work), and a bottle or two of cheap (but not trashy burny hurty) vodka.  

Take your sharp paring knife, split each bean in half, the long way, and pack in the jar.  You don't need to bother scraping out the seeds.  Top with the vodka, and seal.  Keep in a cool dark place for at least two weeks (longer is better) before decanting the liquid into smaller containers. 

I originally made my jar to make Christmas gifts in 2008.  I decanted a bunch of extract into smaller bottles, including one split bean for decoration, and then just left the big jar in the pantry.  I refilled my own bottle (and my mom's) from the stash, and when the liquid level gets low in the big jar, I just top it off with more vodka and let it chill. I have not replaced the beans, and as they're covered with booze they are just fine.  

Every so often, I steal a bean from the big jar, let it dry out, and bury it in a canister of regular old sugar. Give it a shake, and after a week or so, voila: vanilla sugar. Which is KILLER in baked goods. And coffee. And also makes a fantastic gift in a mason jar. When the sugar level gets low, just top it off.  When the vanilla starts to fade, steal another bean from your jar of extract and repeat.

Adventures in the CSA! Cauliflower

I know I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to write about the magic of roasted cauliflower.  Why? Because it is the SHIT, man.  I could eat a whole head of roasted cauliflower and make myself ill (knowledge born from experience, my friends)--it's crunchy and savory and so so much better than any other form of cooking the veg.

My CSA delivered a great looking cauliflower head, with tinges of purple.  Not too big, thankfully saving myself from myself.

I snapped the leaves off the head, then sliced the florets off the stalk.  Then I sliced the florets themselves into thin-ish slices/crumbly pieces, dumped all of that onto a sheet pan, and doused with a hearty douse of olive oil.  Normally, I would have peeled a few cloves of garlic, left them whole and dropped them in there too. Several BIG sprinkles of kosher salt later and a good toss later, voila:

purply cauliflower about to be delicious purply cauliflower

You want the veg in a single layer, for the most part. Technically, the picture above is a bit crowded, but the cauliflower shrinks substantially as it roasts so I wasn't too worried.  If you get the pan too crowded, or the veg not in a single layer, everything will steam and not brown the way you want it too.  Which is a bummer to say the least.  

Pop it into a 450 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or so, stirring things up every 10 to 15 minutes, or until you get this:

mmm, roasty. (also, see what I mean about shrinkage?)

See that brown? The color on the cauliflower? That's the minimum of what you want.  Honestly, I could leave that pan in the oven for another 5 minutes or so and still be just fine.  (DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO--need I remind you of the clafoutis?)

If after 30-35 minutes your cauliflower is only slightly golden brown, give it another stir, and LEAVE IT IN THE OVEN.  Roasted vegetables aren't just "cooked through" to be edible, they're browned and nutty and delicious when they're dark brown (but not burnt!). Also, don't forget the salt.  It's not just flavor, it helps draw the moisture out of the veg, which evaporates in the hot oven and speeds up the caramelization and browning.  Plus it's salt.

It is SO GOOD, you guys. SO GOOD.  I ate about half of it before I finished up the rest of the dish (caramelized onions--in the background there--sauteed zucchini noodles, goat cheese, roasted cauliflower, and butter).

Also, this is a default cooking method for veg for me, and has been for years.  Carrots are CRACK cooked like this. CRACK. 


I am not exaggerating when I say that I have been waiting my entire life for this:

Blessed be the Toasted Cheez-It

For real.  It's a grand day.  I bought four boxes.

One time? My mom and I decided to take matters into our own hands, emptied a box of Cheez-its onto a sheet pan and toasted them ourselves.  We considered ourselves geniuses. We were not wrong.

Tony Bourdain says what we all feel

From an interview with Atlanta Magazine, comes this from Tony Bourdain:

I love Ina Garten. She’s one of the few people on Food Network who can actually cook. When Ina Garten roasts a chicken, she roasts it correct. When Ina Garten makes mashed potatoes, those are some solid mashed potatoes. In many ways I want Ina’s life.

WE ALL DO, TONY. We all do.