Chocolate Chip Muffins Will Help You Eat Zuchinni!

Yes you just read the title correctly. You will want to make these Chocolate Chip Zucchini muffins not just because they have some veggies in them, but because they taste amazing.. Trust me… my 2-year old nephew that does not eat veggies loved them! That made my day.

So why bake your own muffins? Life is busy right? Compare the ingredients that you get to choose to add to these muffins with those in a typical box of muffins from the grocery store. Your taste buds will thank you. And if you’re making them for others to enjoy, you’ll be confident in knowing you’ve created something with real food that tastes great.

Don’t feel like you have to eat them all the first day. These things freeze super well! Then you’ll have a quick breakfast ready to go for any morning.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup finely shredded and chopped zucchini
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (white whole wheat or pastry if you have it)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray or line with muffin liners. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Shred the zucchini and then chop it finely with a knife. This will help it really mix in and be less “noticeable” by skeptical family and friends.
  4. In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, canola oil, honey and vanilla. Add whole milk and stir until combined.
  5. Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until incorporated. Fold in shredded zucchini and chocolate chips. Don’t over mix. It’s okay if a few lumps remain.
  6. Divide batter evenly between prepared muffin cups and place in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let muffins cool in muffin pan until they’re safe to handle, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely and enjoy!

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First step is to shred the zucchini

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Then you want to finely chop it.

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After you pour the wet in with the dry ingredients, fold (not stir) in your chips and zucchini.

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And here they are cooled and ready to serve!
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This is what happens when you bake them for other people. You have to try one.

I adapted this muffin recipe from the Chef-In-Training blog.

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Quick “Restaurant Quality” Salsa at Home

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Anyone can make this restaurant quality salsa at home. It’s not too chunky or completely pureed, but in my opinion is the perfect consistency for dipping.

No blender. No food processor. Just tomatoes from a carton, some onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and a few seasonings.

My preference is to buy Pomi brand tomatoes in a carton. You want to get the finely chopped ones. This way they come ready to go for salsa. If you haven’t tried this brand before, you will be in for a treat. You can buy them at Publix or other local grocery store right next to the canned tomatoes.

Ingredients:

  • One 26 ounce carton of Pomi tomatoes
  • 1/2 of a medium sweet onion chopped small
  • 2-3 fresh garlic cloves pressed (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
  • Juice from half a lime squeezed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin (omit if you don’t have on hand)

Directions:

  • Mix all ingredients together in a non-metal bowl
  • Let sit for a couple of minutes and enjoy!
  • Will last for 4-5 days in the fridge

Granola 2 Ways – Slow and Fast

I have always loved cereal and have especially loved granola. In the last two months I’ve started making my own. It made great Christmas gifts for some friends and family poured into mason jars.

Some of you have asked for the recipe, so here goes.
The first one is baked low and slow and is well worth the wait.
I got the recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, 100 Days of Real Food. You can find it here. Below are the things I chose to add in it:

  • Oats – I prefer Bob’s Red Mill Thick Cut or Trader Joe’s Rolled Oats.
  • Almonds, walnuts, pecans and pumpkin seeds. I left out the sunflower seeds.
  • Get the unsweetened coconut from Whole Foods (or other similar store). It’s worth it. Much better than the other.
  • Add in some raisins, cranberries, cherries or any other dried fruit you like after it’s cooled a bit.

Then there are those mornings where you’d really like granola, but haven’t made it yet. That’s where this one comes in. You make it on the stove top and let it cool for a few minutes. Voila! Fast granola from scratch.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oats
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons raisins or cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, toast oats over medium heat until golden brown. Careful not to burn. Remove and set aside.
  2. In the same skillet, cook and stir the honey and butter over medium-low heat until bubbly, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Stir in the almonds, raisins, coconut and oats until coated.
  4. Pour into a large bowl or tray to cool.
  5. Enjoy with milk or yogurt!

Marinated Maple & Orange Salad with Turnips & More!

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I brought home some fresh “salad” turnips from a local market today that the lady working the stand described as “slightly sweet.” My three year-old son actually picked out this specific bunch because they were the “biggest” ones. She suggested we slice them in a salad. Two things came to mind: 1. I bet my boys will eat them sliced and 2. I can’t wait to make a salad with them tonight.

If you’d like to try it, here are the ingredients:

  • 1 Turnip (small to medium) sliced as thin as you can, then cut in half
  • Turnip greens attached to the turnip you sliced, Chopped in half
  • 1 Tomato chopped
  • 2 Red onion slices (thin)
  • 1/4 Cucumber sliced and cut in half
  • 1/4 cup Pecans toasted for a few minutes
  • 1 TB Maple syrup (the real stuff)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp Orange zest (before you cut up the orange) – more orange flavor with less liquid
  • 1 Navel orange cut into pieces
  • 1 TB fresh squeezed orange (from the rest of the orange along the rind)
  • 1 TB Olive oil

Finishing directions:

  • Put all vegetables into a bowl
  • Drizzle with maple syrup
  • Drizzle with olive oil
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Toss well with tongs
  • Sprinkle toasted pecans on top
  • Let sit for 5-10 minutes
  • Toss once more and serve
  • Optional: top with Parmesan, Manchego, Goat or Feta cheese (my wife and I both commented that the salad was great, but a little cheese would have been nice too)

I would love to hear if you try and how yours comes out!

Happy cooking,
John

Bacon, Parmesan and Green Bean Pasta

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When you need a quick pasta dish that the whole family will like, try out this recipe. It’s a one dish meal. You can serve a green salad on the side also if you want more veggies (3 out of 4 of us at that too). My boys both loved it, but who can blame them with bacon, bacon fat and spaghetti?

I used this recipe from Tasty Kitchen as a base, but tweaked it a bit. I cut the recipe in half, which was perfect for my family (2 adults and 2 small kids), but adjust it to your needs.

Ingredients:

  • Six strips of bacon
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese shredded
  • 1/4 cup of whole milk (or cream)
  • 1 cup of frozen cut green beans
  • 1/2 yellow or sweet onion diced
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 8 oz. spaghetti (or other pasta)
  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes chopped (optional topping)

Directions:

  1. In a skillet with lid (contains splatters), fry the bacon. When done, remove bacon onto paper towel. Leave bacon fat in pan (this is the good stuff).
  2. Sautee onion and garlic in bacon fat for three minutes, and then add in green beans. Cover and cook for about 8 minutes. Stir periodically, and cook until beans are done to your liking.
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  3. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until done (according to package instructions).
  4. Place milk (or cream) and cream cheese in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until cream cheese is melted, and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat. Add the parmesan cheese, egg, and pepper. Whisk until blended.
  5. Drain pasta (reserving 1/4 cup of hot water) and return to pot. Immediately add the white sauce and toss to coat. The hot pasta will cook the egg. Dump pasta mixture and crumbled bacon into the pan with the veggies.  Add the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce.
  6. Serve!
    (This is an easy dish for your kids to use tongs and serve themselves getting some protein, pasta and veggies in one grab)

4 Things That Helped Me Cook Better Stir-Fry

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Want to cook stir-fry like the kind you get at a typical Chinese restaurant? You can. Just a few things to keep in mind before you start.

1. Get a wok. Now not just any wok will do. You can spend a lot of money on one, get a cast-iron or non-stick… but none of those are needed. The cast-iron ones are too heavy to handle once they’re hot and the non-stick ones will never get hot enough to actually sear the food. You want a carbon steel wok. You can find one online or in a store for as little as $14.99 and it will do the job! Just read the instructions first. You’ll spend about an hour after you first get your wok to season it with heat and oil. Then you’re set.

2. Clean your wok with oil and salt. Pour about a tablespoon of canola oil in the wok and sprinkle in some kosher salt. It will resemble a paste. Then scrub it with a paper towel. Don’t ever use soap to clean it. Rub out the salt but leave some of the oil, which helps it develop a great coating.

3. Let the wok heat up well before cooking. Add some oil. [good fat is not bad]

4. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Put too much meat or vegetables in the pan at once and you will steam them instead of searing them.

Here’s a couple of bonus tips: I always prefer using fresh veggies to stir-fry. Frozen will work, but it helps to steam them first before putting in the wok. Don’t be afraid to pick up a bottle of pre-made stir-fry sauce from the grocery store. They really work and taste pretty good. Once you get the hang of the cooking part, then experiment with different sauce recipes.

Knives (Guest Post)

Every meal that I prepare begins in the same place, at the cutting board. I love to prep the meal by cutting, chopping, and dicing all the ingredients I will need before I ever turn on the oven or stove. The cooking process is so much smoother and faster when you don’t have to stop and chop veggies between steps.

Morimoto's Knives

I place great stock in the knives that I use and take great care of them. Get a good knife, treat it properly, and it will have a very long life. If you don’t treat your knives well, it doesn’t matter what quality of knife you buy, they will not last you. Top of the line knives can dull, pit, or rust from misuse (even stainless steel, don’t be fooled). So, if you’re looking for ways to care for your knives, here are a few tips from my kitchen to yours.

First, make sure you have an appropriate cutting board. Wood or plastic are the two best options out there as they are softer, providing more give against your knife and therefore doing less damage to the sharpened blade. If you have a board made out of a hard surface with no give (glass, marble, stone), get rid of it! Contact with a cutting board is the most frequent cause of a dull blade.

Even if you are careful about your blade and cutting surface, your knife will dull in time. You will need to sharpen your blade with some regularity as your knives begin to dull. I cannot recommend a specific timeline for this as everyone uses their knives with different levels of regularity. The picture below shows an extreme example of wear on a knife. The knives are from Iron Chef Morimoto’s restaurant. The top knife is new and the bottom is one that has been used for three years.

If you notice your knife start to dull or if you feel yourself using more force to cut an object, please make sure and sharpen your knife (Many knife companies will even sharpen your knives for you if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself!).

Finally, washing and storing your knives are important. NEVER wash your knives in the dishwasher. The heat and abrasive chemicals will damage your knives faster than any other method. Instead, hand wash your knives directly after each use with warm water, mild dish soap, and a soft sponge. Dry them directly after and store them. store them either in a drawer or a knife block. If you store them in a drawer, it is best to leave them in their sheath. When using a sheath, though, make sure it is not leather, as leather will hold moisture which can pit your blade. Storing your knives in a knife block is the best option, and I tend to recommend standard wooden knife blocks.

If you follow these simple steps to caring for your knives, your knife set should last you a long time.

Happy chopping!
Danny Bennett