Chocolate & Zucchini Eat Quick Bread

I’ve finally managed to break free from my Banana Bread rut. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like a slice of really good Banana Bread. The ponytails just love it and it is a great way to use up my never-ending pile of over-ripe bananas each weekend. But after a few months, the love starts to fade a bit.

I bought some zucchini to use in a veggie chili that I made recently and had a large zucchini left over. Then I realized it was time to start making room for another kind of loaf in my life.

I baked this bread on Saturday afternoon after my daughters’ swimming lessons, and the moans of hunger from the girls started about 10 minutes before I removed it from the oven. As soon as the loaf was cool enough to handle, I sliced and served a piece to each of them. When I turned around, I discovered that half the loaf was gone. In my house, you have to eat fast if you want to get your share. So, I think that this loaf is appropriately named. However, I might have also called it Chocolate & Zucchini Take Photo Quick Bread – since it was disappearing faster than the money in my wallet after payday. My husband Kevin has pointed out that I need to be patient, as the family is still getting used to this whole “cook and click” routine and that a picture of a partial loaf proves that it is a good recipe. Hopefully you agree?

Chocolate & Zucchini Eat Quick Bread

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup cocoa, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup sour cream (I used 1%)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350° and grease 9 ½” x 5 ½” loaf pan.

In medium bowl whisk together eggs, sugar, oil, sour cream and vanilla. In a second bowl, stir together the two flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Add zucchini and mix well. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes (until inserted toothpick comes out clean). Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

TIP:

  • Walnuts and/or chocolate chips would be a great addition to this recipe (1/2 cup). I didn’t add the nuts because the loaf is this week’s school snack. I also wanted the zucchini to be the star of the show so I held back on the chocolate chips this time.
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Greek Lasagna (a.k.a. “More Please Mom”)

As much as I love to cook, a bit of the joy slips away when my ponytails look at a dish and start to groan like their arms are being slowly torn from their socket, or make faces that imply a sock that has been worn for several months is dangling precariously close to their cute little nostrils. Naturally, I’m more drawn to recipes that I know are going to be guaranteed hits with everyone who eats at my table. Call me crazy, but their little smiles and nods of approval make the mountain of dishes that I always leave behind in the kitchen somewhat more bearable.

So, when I stumbled upon a recipe for Pastitsio (pronounced pah-stee-tsee-oh) last weekend, I headed straight to the kitchen to start the meat sauce. A rich creamy sauce over a meat-pasta combo—how could I go wrong? I actually set out to make Aubergine Lasagna, after reading a recent post by Charles over at Five Euro Foods – but I didn’t buy enough eggplant on shopping day. Mind you, pastitsio is actually very similar to Charles’ dish—both recipes include delicious béchamel and meat sauces.

The morning after I made this dish, I proudly consulted with Miss Kerassia, my authority on all things Greek. Miss Kerassia is a wonderful home cook who moved to Toronto from Greece some time ago. She works at my daughter’s daycare, and I look forward to her warm, welcoming greeting every morning. She tells me that Pastichio (as it is also known) is the equivalent of lasagne for Greeks, and it is a favourite go-to meal for her and many of her friends.

Kerassia educated me on how this dish has been influenced by Italy and Turkey, two neighbouring countries to Greece. Pastitsio takes its name from the Italian pasticcio, which means baked savory pies with meat, fish, or pasta. She talked about how the unique spice combination in this dish (cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice) is in fact reflective of Turkish origins. While I only sprinkled a pinch of cinnamon on top of the béchamel sauce before baking, Kerassia likes to add a cinnamon stick to the meat sauce while it is cooking—so I’ve added that optional step to the recipe below. However I should point out that the version that I made did not include any allspice.

If you’re looking for a smile or two next time you spend time in the kitchen, then I highly recommend this recipe.

Pastitsio (Pah-stee-tsee-oh) [Baked Penne with Béchamel Sauce]

Adapted from Three Sisters Around the Greek Table

Meat Sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb (500g) extra lean ground beef
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 28 oz tin crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1tsp thyme
  • 1 cup red wine
  • Pepper to taste
  • Cinnamon stick (optional)

Sauté onions with olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until soft (about 5 minutes). Add ground beef and cook until brown, adding salt to the beef as it cooks. Break up the beef as it cooks. Add the wine and cook until the wine is reduced by half. Add the tomato paste, crushed tomato sauce, oregano, thyme, cinnamon stick (if usin) and pepper. Bring sauce to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add some water. Remove cinnamon stick (if using) and remove from heat.

Bechamel Sauce

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 ¼ cup of milk
  • 2 tbsp grated romano cheese

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the flour and mix with a spoon until the flour and butter are combined. Gradually add milk and whisk (using magic whisk) continuously to avoid any lumps from forming. Simmer until sauce is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Remove sauce from heat before it reaches boiling point. Add the cheese and set aside until ready to use.

  • 5 cups penne pasta, dried
  • ¼ cup grated romano cheese (or pecorino/mizithra)
  • 2 tbsp grated romano cheese (or pecorino/mizithra)
  • 6 slivers of butter
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch nutmeg

Prepare meat sauce and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta until al dente (or as you like it).

Place the cooked penne in an 11” x 14” in baking dish (rectangular or oval) and sprinkle with the cheese.

Pour the meat sauce on top of the penne and mix together until the penne is evenly coated with sauce.

Prepare the béchamel sauce and spread evenly on top of the pasta with meat sauce.

Top the béchamel sauce with cheese and slivers of butter. Sprinkle on cinnamon and nutmeg. Place in a preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Let the dish sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

TIPS/NOTES

  • I actually used my own white sauce recipe for the Béchamel and added some grated romano cheese, as the original recipe suggested. (I add a cup or so of grated cheddar cheese to the sauce when making Mac & Cheese.) My version makes less than half of the original recipe, but it is enough to cover the entire pasta dish (I was trying to minimize the number of rich calories). You could easily double the sauce recipe when you feel like splurging (I intend to at least one time in the future).
  • I really recommend using the magic whisk when making a Bechamel or white sauce. It works wonders at getting out any lumps in the sauce. I bought mine at the kitchen shop in St. Lawrence Market.

Kitchen Sink Granola Bars

They say that many hands make light work. But, I think that all depends on the size of the hands.

Although little hands—like those of two energetic and competitive (“no, I want to add the honey”) ponytails —certainly do make things more fun. Well, fun in a making sure your helpers don’t eat all the ingredients before they are added kind of way. Okay, and fun in a bonding kind of way too.

These granola bars are perfect for making with little ones, because there are only four simple steps involved. Measure. Add. Mix. Pour. Of course you must also put them in the oven, but that is no different than lifting a spoon or a fork to your mouth, is it?

The end-result of all that adding and mixing is pretty tasty, and rather healthy I might add. These are perfect to make if you’re looking to reduce the number of pre-made, store-bought snacks (with packaging) in your world. Not that there’s anything wrong with buying snacks—we all have busy lives. I just like to mix things up (literally) and add some homemade snacks to our routine. These are fast and easy.

I’ve adapted the recipe that I found with some substitutions, and added in a few extra goodies. We really like this recipe, but if you have a granola bar recipe that you recommend, I’d love to hear about it. 

Kitchen Sink Granola Bars

Adapted from the printed version of TogetherFamily.ca

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • ¼ cup wheat germ
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup dried blueberries (substitute with chopped dried cherries or dried cranberries)
  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup butterscotch chips
  •  ½cup marshmallows (optional)
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the oats, sugar, wheat germ, sesame seeds, cinnamon, flour, raisins, dried blueberries, coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, marshmallow (if using) and salt.
  4. Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil honey, egg and vanilla. Mix well.
  5. Pat the mixture down well in the pan.
  6. Bake for about 25 minutes, until slightly golden brown. Be careful not to overcook.
  7. Cool for 5 minutes and then cut into squares. Do not let them cool completely or they will be difficult to cut. Once cut, let cool completely before removing from the pan—as they crumble easily if they have not had time to set.

TIPS:

  • When adding your ingredients with your measuring cup, be sure to add the oil before the honey. The oil coats the measuring cup, making the honey slide out more easily.
  • We also added ¼ cup of cranberries, along with the blueberries because we had lots on hand. We didn’t add any nuts because the school is a nut-free zone.
  • Be sure to follow instruction #7 because they will be too hard to cut if you don’t cut them shortly after taking them out of the oven. And, if you try to remove them from the pan right after they are cut, they will be crumbly.

Garlic-Rosemary Roast Beef and Versatile Blogger Award

Over the holidays, I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Eva at Kitchen Inspirations, which I humbly accepted. Eva is a long-time friend, who I have known for more than 20 years. Food has been a constant in our friendship—we’ve shared a meal and a laugh in countless restaurants in both Toronto and out West (Eva and her husband John visited me when I lived in Vancouver), and our homes. Receiving an invitation to dinner at Eva’s is akin to winning the lottery because you are guaranteed a Michelin star-worthy meal with perfectly-paired wines. One memorable evening was a relaxing international tapas dinner in front of the fire, which I’m not soon to forget because all the courses were captured on a printed menu keepsake. Fortunately Eva and John took an instant liking to my husband Kevin 10 years ago—so much so, that I’m not sure where their alliance would fall if my husband and I ever separated. Let’s hope we don’t have to put that one to the test ever.

I made two recipes from Eva’s blog for our New Year’s celebration and I highly recommend them both. The Caramelized Onion and Cheddar Dip and Cheez-Itz crackers were both gone in a flash.

Blogs I Nominate for Versatile Blogger Award:

  • The Gouda Life – This is a blog I have followed for quite a while. Kelly’s fresh and fun approach to food is down-right addictive. I highly recommend this blog. (I made her Green Lentil Soup with Brown Butter Curry last night. Kevin and I both loved it, but I’m afraid it wasn’t a hit with the ponytails.)
  • With a Glass – I recently discovered this blog and I’ve quickly become a big fan. Isn’t everything better “with a glass” of something adult-friendly? The photography is lovely and I have a long list of recipes that I’d like to try.
  • Two Peas & Their Pod– This is another recent discovery. I was instantly attracted to the wide range of cookie recipes on this family-friendly blog.

Other Blogs I Enjoy (they also received the award over the holidays)

As part of this award, I’m to share 7 Things About Myself

  • I made my first roast beef last week. I never liked roast beef growing up, so I’ve just never made it. My inspiration came from reading the online version of Everyday Food on our new iPad (the online version is THE BEST). The Rosemary-Garlic Roast Beef and Potatoes with Horseradish Sauce just looked so good and simple to prepare. And it was! This is a great dish to prepare when having company—just prepare the rosemary-garlic rub in advance and then sear the beef about 40 minutes before you want to eat and pop it in the oven. I used a sirloin tip and made the recipe’s horseradish sauce, along with roasted asparagus.

  • I used to live in the basement of my good friends Eva and John (Eva from Kitchen Inspirations). It was more years ago than I’m willing to admit. They offered me a nice space at a very reasonable rate, and it worked out quite nicely. It was the only time in my life I’ve been known as Bargain Basement Barb, although Eva still likes to call me that on occasion (mostly when I’m being cheeky, so very rarely).
  • For my first summer job, I was an elevator operator at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (Alberta, Canada). It was back when the hotel was managed by Canadian Pacific and I worked there for two summers as a university student. Our crew of elevator operators will go down in history as the last crew—the elevators were automated shortly after we left. The elevator was controlled by a manual lever, and you had to watch for numbers on the shaft wall as you ascended or descended and then release the lever at just the right moment to ensure a smooth landing for passengers. You can imagine how many times I was asked if the job had its “ups and downs” by tourists. I was definitely on the fast track, as I was promoted to Tea Service Waitress my second summer. The view of the lake is one of the most spectacular in the world, and when I look at pictures of it now I still feel as though it is my own special little corner of the world. The hiking was incredible, and we took full advantage on our days off. The most challenging and memorable hike of my life was an overnight excursion up to a stone cabin called Abbot’s Hut (here’s a video of the hut), which is perched at the top of a glacier path called The Death Trap and straddles the British Columbia/Alberta Border.

I'm the swiss miss on the far left.

  • I was chased by a wild pig while on vacation in Jakarta, Indonesia. My friend and I were out late one night trying to find a place to get something to eat while staying at a remote inn just outside Jakarta. After being chased by what sounded like a wild pig (I was too afraid to turn around), we returned to the isolated inn empty-handed and hungry. I have no idea where we were, but I don’t recommend that you stay there.
  • My first 10 km run was the Vancouver Sun Run, which I ran with three good pals. We called ourselves the Red Rovers and we were known for our ability to talk fast and run slow.
  • I was a “temp” in London, England for a summer during university. Over the course of my two months working there, I lived in a couple of different flats—one at Seven Sisters and one at St. John’s Wood. Can you guess which flat was just down the road from the walkway where The Beatles’ Abby Road album cover was photographed?
  • My all-time favourite chocolate bar is Toblerone. I spent a few days in Switzerland during the summer I worked in England and I thought that I’d died and gone to heaven when I discovered the vending machines were filled with Toblerones and Lindt chocolate. Not sure why I didn’t just stay there and settle down. No really, why did I leave?