Saturday, August 28, 2010

Zucchini Bread with Pineapple


I'm sure that most of you gardeners out there are up to your ears in zucchini by now and are scrambling for any delicious way to eat them before they go bad, and you've probably already had as many zucchini bread recipes thrown your way as you can bear, but hear me out. I'm not a huge zucchini bread fan (pumpkin is my go-to squash for bread making), but this stuff is good. I came across the recipe on this website a few weeks ago and bookmarked it, thinking I might, maybe, one day, sometime in the distant future, want to try zucchini bread. A few days later, I purchased a ginormous bag of zucchini at the farmers' market (four bucks for a huge bag- enough to fill a brown paper grocery bag!) and decided it was time to give zucchini bread another chance. Usually, I'll test out a few different recipes and find different aspects I like about each and then combine them into one uber-recipe, but this bread is almost perfect as is. I do sometimes swap out half the flour for wheat flour and play around with the nuts and dried fruit, and I omit the nutmeg because that screams "HOLIDAY SEASON" to me, but the base recipe yields a deliciously moist breakfast bread that I wouldn't want to change.

Zucchini Bread with Pineapple
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients:

3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (I grate mine a bit finer when using wheat flour, just because I prefer the texture that way).
1 can (8oz) crushed pineapple, drained
3 cups all purpose flour (or replace half with wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup raisins

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixer, beat eggs. Add oil, sugar, and vanilla; continue beating mixture until thick and foamy. With a spoon, stir in the zucchini and pineapple.

2 In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A third at a time, add dry ingredients into wet and gently stir (by hand) after each addition. Add the walnuts and raisins, blend gently.

3 Divide the batter equally between 2 greased and flour-dusted 5 by 9 inch loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour 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.

Makes 2 loaves.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fig and Balsamic Jam, a la Thomas Keller


While perusing the produce section of my local Whole Foods yesterday, I had a temporary moment of stupidity as I walked up to two precariously balanced pyramids of fresh figs and suddenly just had to have some. I know very well that figs are one of the most perishable fruits out there and that they need to be eaten soon after harvesting, and that there is nary a fig tree anywhere here in the greater Chicago area, so therefore these figs would probably, well, stink. Yet somehow, my brain completely short circuited and I happily skipped out of the store with two pints of fresh figs and delusions of some sort of blue cheese/fig/prosciutto hors d'oeuvre that I could nibble on over the course of a languid summer afternoon while reading a book on my front porch overlooking Napa Valley (yes, the whole valley. Hey, I said "delusional," didn't I?). Fifteen minutes later, as I stood in my cramped town home kitchen with an adorable babbling two month old on my hip, I tasted a fig and realized that my prosciutto-wrapped daydream was not meant to be, and that I needed to find a plan B.


Plan B came in the form of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home.
If you have never perused this book, get thee to thy local bookstore and take a gander. Thomas Keller (he of The French Laundry *insert choir of angels*) is the man. I can't think of one recipe of his that I've tried that didn't rock my face off, and this one is no exception. Some of his recipes can be a bit fussy, but this one is simple: Cut up fruit, add balsamic and spice, simmer, finish with lemon juice, and cool. If you're wary of the ingredients (vinegar and peppercorns in jam?), don't be. The balsamic vinegar simmers down enough to lose most of the vinegary punch and adds sweetness, and the peppercorns add just enough of an earthy undertone to keep it from getting too sweet. If you've ever had mulled wine with peppercorns, it's very similar. The resulting jam is just sweet enough to still fall in the category of jams eligible for smearing on toast for breakfast, but savory enough to be well-utilized as an ingredient in tomorrow night's dinner. I'm eying a pork roast recipe in Ad Hoc at Home that calls for a cup of the jam. If you don't have access to fresh figs, dried figs will work perfectly fine, too.

Fig and Balsamic Jam
Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller

Ingredients:
2 lbs. Black Mission figs, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (use a good-quality sweet balsamic)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, tied into a sachet (I ran out of cheesecloth and ended
up using a tea ball)
Fresh lemon juice

Directions:
Combine the figs, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a sachet in a large saucepan and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring to break up the large pieces of fig, keeping a chunky consistency, until the jam reaches 215 to 220 degrees F. Remove from the heat.

Remove the sachet and stir in the lemon juice to taste. Spoon the jam into a canning jar or other storage container, cover, and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.