Food is Love, Love is Food.

A blog devoted to the connection between meals, memories and the special moments in our lives.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First of the Summer: Zucchini Bread

Summer has officially arrived, both on the calendar and in my house. Teachers look forward to the end of June with a certain amount of glee. It is not that we are dying to get rid of our students. In fact, it is very hard to say goodbye to many of them at this time of year, after spending so many hours getting to know them and working with them. It is just that as adults, it is such a wonderful feeling to have that stretch of summer ahead of you: countless possibilities, uninterrupted hours to spend with one’s family, with friends, or on hobbies. Eight weeks in a row, where one does not wake up with the first thought of: “what am I teaching today?” As an adult I appreciate this more now that I did when I was a kid. Since I am the last of all my teacher friends to join the party that is summer, I jumped right in, head first. My girls and I have already had 2 dentist appointments, spent an afternoon at the mall, gone to a pottery class, had dinner at Nana’s house, and spent time working in our garden. All in a day and a half! The garden is really looking lovely, and it is producing vegetables quite rapidly. We have already harvested 12 zucchini and summer squash, 3 radishes, and bunches of basil and parsley. All the chiketty doo-doo we put into the soil has really paid off. Of course, I spent last Saturday doing a month’s worth of weeding in one morning, so now, our garden is no longer the laughing stock of the community garden field. Aside from giving a few squash to my mother-in-law and our neighbors, what is a gardener to do with all those zucchini? Zucchini bread, of course! The following recipe can also work as muffins, if you adjust the cooking time.

Zucchini Bread

3 cups shredded zucchini (I used zucchini and summer squash)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup rolled oats
2 cups flour (I used oat flour)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp. cloves
½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
½ cup raisins (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 loaf pans or 24 muffin tins. Mix zucchini and other wet ingredients in a large bowl. Add dry ingredients and mix to incorporate. Pour into loaf pans, and bake 50 to 60 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for at least 10 minutes, then remove from pan and let cool completely.

Note: If you are looking to make this a relatively healthy bread, substitute applesauce for the vegetable oil, and egg substitute for the whole eggs. With the oats and the oat flour, it will be a low fat, high fiber bread. MT626WGKQ9HQ

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Early Summer Salad: Faux Panzanella

Have you ever found yourself thinking about something, and somebody else mentions that very thing, then you can’t get it out of your mind? That is what happened to me this week, and, of course, it involved food. I was talking to a friend about Panzanella, that yummy toasted bread, tomato, cucumber and basil salad, suggesting that she could make it for an outdoor party she is having. It is perfect: nothing to wilt in the hot sun, and the more it sits, the better it tastes. It is cool and refreshing as well. Then, I found myself with three fourths of a leftover loaf of good Italian bread (Sperlonga, from Wholefoods), which was past its prime, and my husband happened to mention that we could make Panzanella with it. All within days of my conversation with my friend. Serendipity! I had to make it. The only problem, of course, was that it is not prime tomato season yet, and I would have to make do with mediocre supermarket tomatoes. They clearly could not be the star of the show, as they are in real Panzanella. I wanted the salad to be a meal rather than a sidedish, so I improvised, made a few changes and substitutions, and viola! A perfect early summer salad. It has everything I love best. And although my husband is getting a little tired of hearing me declare: “I could eat this every night for dinner!” in this instance, it is really true.

For the salad:  (makes 4 good sized servings, enough for dinner)

5 cups baby arugula
1 ½ cucumbers, peeled, sliced into rounds, and then cut into half circles
4 large tomatoes, cut into chunks
½ medium red onion, sliced thinly
large handful kalamata olives, cut in half
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
10 whole cloves of garlic confit (see recipe)
large handful fresh basil, ripped
¾ to 1 loaf of good crusty Italian Bread, cut into cubes (great use for leftover bread!)
2 tbsp. garlic oil (see recipe)
sprinkling of kosher salt

Place bread cubes on a cookie sheet, drizzle with 2 tbsp. garlic oil, and toss to coat. Add salt, and place in oven at 350 degrees. Turn cubes every 5 minutes or so while toasting. Cook for about 15 minutes, depending on how dry the bread was, until the bread cubes are lightly browned and very toasted. Set aside to cool.
Combine all other ingredients in a large shallow bowl.


6 tbsp. garlic oil
sprinkling of red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar, to taste.
1 tsp. salt

Toss with salad ingredients. Toss in the toasted bread, and add more oil and vinegar if necessary. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Recipe for Ingredients: Garlic Confit and Garlic Oil

This is my most unusual post yet. It is a recipe for an ingredient. Actually, 2 ingredients. I know, it sounds weird to have to make ingredients, but we do this quite often, and indeed, you have to make it often and in small batches, as the product will only keep for 10 days in the refrigerator. But oh, in those 10 days, the wonderful and marvelous things you will think to do with this magical ingredient!

I am talking about garlic flavored oil and its delicious byproduct, garlic confit. After making it, we can’t help but stand around the stove top dipping crusty bread into the oil, and smearing the soft cloves of garlic on the bread. Then we store it in an airtight container in the fridge for several days, or until it is used up, which typically comes first. It is aromatic, nutty in flavor, delicious in soup, pasta, salads, drizzled on roasted or grilled vegetables, or just for dipping your bread into.

Garlic Confit and Garlic Oil

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
20 cloves of garlic (more or less), peeled

Place the garlic cloves in a saucepan, and completely cover with olive oil. Place on the stove top and bring to a simmer. Allow garlic and oil to remain on the burner for about ½ hour, or until the garlic can be easily pierced with a fork. Stir occasionally, and make sure that the garlic cloves do not begin to brown. Let cool, and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use or discard within 10 days. According to FDA guidelines, flavored oils should not be stored longer than 10 days, due to risks of terrible things which I cannot bring myself to mention here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Anise Toast for Papa Terry or How to Make your House Smell Like an Italian Bakery

As the old cliché goes, it takes a village to raise a child. While I did not grow up in a village, I was certainly a child who benefited from the guiding presence of many wonderful adults. My father died while my sister and I were young, and although we have missed his warmth, love, gentleness and sense of humor our entire lives, we were so very blessed to have several wonderful men in our lives who each demonstrated those qualities and characteristics. Our Uncle Jimmy, my father’s brother, connected us to our Irish roots, wrote poetry for us, and fostered in us an intellectual curiosity. He kept our father present for us in ways I could not begin to thank him for. Uncle Bobby and Uncle Mike took us on many an adventure, and sometimes Christmas shopping. Uncle Norman helped maintain our house. Anything that needed fixing, he fixed, and I never remember him complaining, which is something that I marvel at now that I have a house of my own, and realize how much work it is. Uncle Ralph demonstrated commitment to family. Uncle Vinnie, my father’s first cousin and one of his best friends growing up, told me a new story about my dad each time I encountered him, and in many ways, helped me to come to know my father as I grew up. Our dear friend George kept us laughing with his wild sense of humor, referring to us always as ‘the rug rats.’ My mother was wise to surround us with such selfless people.  Without even knowing it, these men helped us to understand what good husbands, fathers and friends looked like, and I will always be grateful to each of them for what they gave of themselves and the roles they played in my life. I can’t help but think that my dad would be proud and grateful too.

My husband’s father died shortly after the birth of our youngest daughter, Anna. While I am glad that Bill got a chance to know his two granddaughters, it saddens us that our girls have never known what it is like to have that grandfatherly figure in their lives. But, just as I was fortunate, so too are they, to have the loving presence of several grandfatherly figures in their lives. All of my uncles and Michael’s uncle are loving and bighearted, as are many of our family friends. Just this past weekend, in fact, my girls were treated to two outings, dinner and ice cream, by the dad of our friends and neighbors. Papa Terry was in town! His irreverent sense of humor and fun has endeared him to our girls. A retired dentist, he once extracted two very stubborn baby teeth from Anna’s mouth at our kitchen table, then gave her five dollars because she was such a good sport. He is wild and boisterous, and a good and generous man.

His favorite drink is Sambuca, so much so that he and Grandma Rose named their dog Buca. Wanting to thank them for being so generous of their time with my children, I decided to bake one of my grandmother’s cookie recipes, anise toast. It was a hot and muggy day here in Connecticut, but for Terry, turning on the oven was a small price to pay. If he found it strange that I sent Anna and Brynn over with a coffee mug looking for a shot of Sambuca, he never said so. My intent was to make a glaze for these cookies with a little Sambuca and confectioner’s sugar, but that didn’t happen, as Terry was out of the anise flavored liquor. The glaze I made was a little less intense in flavor, but at least the kids could try it. The baking of these cookies will make your house smell just like an Italian bakery, which is another benefit. Bake these cookies for someone you want to thank, or just for yourself!

Vincenzella’s Anise Toast:
6 Tbsp. Crisco
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp anise flavoring
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups flour

Beat Crisco and sugar in a mixer until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs. Beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Shape the dough into a long, slightly flattened roll on a cookie sheet covered with either a silpat sheet or parchment paper (should be about 4 inches wide and the length of the cookie sheet). Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool in place for 5 minutes, then remove, and slice diagonally so that cookies are about ¾ inch wide. Place the cookies on their side (cut side facing up) on the cookie sheet, and put the cookie sheet back into the oven for about 5 minutes. Flip the cookies so the other cut side is facing up and continue to bake for another 5 minutes. Remove cookies and cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, place cookies next to each other and drizzle glaze over them.
For glaze:
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 ½ tbsp. milk or half and half
½ tsp anise flavoring

Mix well and drizzle over cookies.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

It’s beginning to feel a lot like summer! Beautiful sunny and warm days, the garden starting to show some promise, my window boxes beginning to bloom, a pool party and the first official barbecue of the season all say it’s so. One of the things I have come to love about summer is cole slaw. It is not something I grew up with; being Italian, we had pasta salad, green salads, there was even an attempt by my mother in the 1970s at the ‘three bean salad’ that everybody was into. Primarily, though, our salads were of the vegetable variety with dressings that were some variation on the olive oil and vinegar theme. So the discovery in my adulthood of cole slaw was a little earth shattering. I am not a huge fan of cabbage in general, so I assumed cole slaw was something I would never care for. Of course I had seen cole slaw and had even tried it, but I was never a fan because the slaws I had tasted were always something at a fast food restaurant or commercially produced. The were soggy and limp. Not until I had a homemade version was I sold. The combination of cool, crisp and creamy is perfect for the summer, and is especially good with something spicy. A simple homemade dressing on top of shredded cabbage and carrots is all you need for the perfect accompaniment to just about any summer cookout.

Cole Slaw:

6 cups shredded cabbage
1 large carrot, shredded
2/3 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
2 tbsp. white vinegar
¾ tsp. celery seed
¼ tsp. salt, or to taste

Place shredded vegetables in a large bowl for tossing. Whisk all other ingredients in a small bowl, then pour over cabbage mixture. Mix well and allow the cole slaw to sit for at least a short time in the fridge. Remember that the slaw will settle a bit as it sits. Serve cold and enjoy. Cole slaw is one of those salads that stores well, so it is good even the next day.