Can Cupcakes Mend A Broken Heart?

Oreo Cookie Cupcakes
It was a gift from my mom for my 20th birthday and I knew we were destined to be the best of friends. It was stylish, yet practical. Not too big, not too small. Just the right size to hold a summer’s worth of shorts and tees . . . and a souvenir or two from my travels. It was the cadillac of backpacks. And it was all mine.

Old backpack

And while it has definitely seen better days—it’s faded and well-worn at the seams—it remains a treasured possession. A dear old friend.

Recently my old backpack set off on a new adventure, with a brave new explorer. My trusted old friend went to camp with my seven-year old ponytail. It was her first weekend away.

Getting ready for camp

I was quite excited about my daughter’s milestone adventure with her Girl Guide Brownie Troop until we started loading up my old backpack with her weekend essentials. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with emotion. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was setting sail on one of life’s great adventures myself? Okay, so this time it’s camp. Next time it’ll be Europe, right? Where’s the pause button?

There were definitely tears. But not from me. (Okay, I did come very close.) The tears were from a younger sister who was utterly devastated to be excluded from this grand adventure. I needed a distraction.

A helping hand

So I pulled out my baking pans and we set to work. Within no time, the cloud of flour in the air and cookie crumbs on the counter, floor and all over my ponytail’s little face worked their magic. The injustice of being younger was soon forgotten.

The thrill of an oreo in every cupcake was the perfect diversion.

An oreo in each cupcake

And something to look forward to once they were baked and decorated.

A peek inside

Oreo cupcakes + dinner with a best friend from kindergarten = a very happy little ponytail.

As for mom? Well, she enjoyed the cupcakes too . . .  but she has realized that she needs to cherish every last minute with each of her two little ponytails. Even those times when she wants to pull out her hair from all the craziness and the tantrums . . . because one day that backpack will be headed for Europe. What do you think the odds are that the girls will take me too?

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Oreo Cupcakes

Cupcake recipe from Bakerella

Cupcakes:

  • 1- 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa
  • 1- 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 22-24 Oreos

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line tray with baking cups.
  • Place one whole cookie in each cup.
  • Mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl using a wire whisk.
  • Add the eggs, oil, vanilla and milk and mix well until thoroughly combined. Add the hot water and mix until combined.
  • Using an ice cream scoop transfer the batter into each baking cup so it’s about three quarters full. Makes 22- 24 cupcakes. (Yield was 23 for me)
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Oreo Buttercream Icing

(Adapted from my Peanut Butter Buttercream Icing Recipe)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3- 1/2 to 4 cups icing sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 6 tbsp crushed cookie crumbs (approx 5- 6 oreos)

In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about a minute. Add 2½ cups icing sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully incorporated, about 30 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and milk, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Add remaining one to one-and-half cups of icing sugar and beat until incorporated.  Then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice. Add cookie crumbs and beat on medium-high for one minute until well incorporated.

Frost the cupcakes when cool.

Decorate with mini oreo cookies (optional)


“There Are No Words . . .”

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“There are no words to describe how good this is,” said my husband after just one bite of the Nutella Molten Lava Cakes that I made for a dinner party over the holidays. One of the ponytails was quick to follow up with: “This is the best dessert ever!”

So, it is without hesitation that I recommend this recipe to you as one to make when you want to impress and delight your dinner guests. Your guests will love the luscious chocolately goodness that oozes onto your plate and melts in your mouth. You will love how easy it is to make.

Now, I have to say that I’m all for making my husband happy these days. He really hit the ball out of the park on Christmas morning with a beautiful new automated cappaccino maker and the Larousse Gastronomique Culinary Encyclopedia. Both items were a complete surprize, as I had forgotten all about the book recommendations that many of you left on the blog post for my book giveaway in November. I owe a special thanks to Tandy from Lavender and Lime for recommending this book. It’s nice to know that my husband reads the blog, isn’t it?

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From what I’ve read so far, this book is a must-have for foodies. Packed with recipes, tips and detailed explanations, it is regarded as the French cooking bible. In fact, Julia Child once wrote, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it, without question.”

I’m sure that this book will successfully keep me out of trouble for countless hours this year and I promise to share a few highlights with you.

In the meantime, I’ll be able to keep up with working by day and blogging by night thanks to my convenient new source of caffeine! (I must tell you that I’m addicted to cappuccinos!)

Our dinner guests Tammy and Les asked for the recipe for these Nutella Molten Lava Cakes, so this post is really for them. They both enjoyed these molten lava cakes and liked that the recipe is no fuss, no muss. (The microwave conveniently melts the butter, chocolate chips and Nutella for you and then you just have to stir in the remaining ingredients.) The recipe is from my new favourite cookbook Savory Sweet Life, which my mom gave me for Christmas along with Ina Garten’s Foolproof.  I’d say all around I’m a pretty lucky foodie, wouldn’t you? (Remember, my husband reads this blog . . .)

Molten Lava Cakes

Nutella Molten Lava Cakes

Makes 12 cakes; recipe from Savory Sweet Life

Cakes

10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1- 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

3 large eggs

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Garnish

confectioners’ sugar

Nutella

Whole hazelnuts, toasted

fresh strawberry slices

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Place the butter, chocolate chips and Nutella in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat the mixture in the microwave for 60 seconds, and then in three 30-second increments, stirring it until smooth after each interval. Stir the flour and confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate-butter mixture. Mix in the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.
  3. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are firm but the centres are still soft.
  4. Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for 3 minutes to set up. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the cakes and invert them onto a cutting board. Transfer each cake to a serving plate. Lightly dust confectioners’ sugar over each one, followed by a dollop of Nutella, a hazelnut and strawberry half (optional).

Notes:

  • Molten lava batter can be made up to a week in advance. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and cover it with plastic wrap. Store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake them. Set the muffin tin on the counter while the oven is preheating. The baking time will be the same.
  • Because I only needed six of these cakes for my dinner party, I scooped the batter for six cakes into my muffin tin to cook that day and the remaining batter into six small ramekins to store in the fridge for a later date. This worked well. I just found that the cakes in the ramekins needed to cook for a minute or two longer than they day that I first made them.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cupcakes

Some days, brushing your teeth or getting to the office on time feels like you’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. You know those days?

Those are the days that you pray you have some left-overs in your freezer and that there’s something good on TV that night.

I’ve been having quite a few of “those days” lately. By the time I get both ponytails dropped off at daycare and make my way downtown on the subway (which never seems to be running on time), I’ve feel like I need to grab a stiff drink instead of just a coffee. I’m even more tired at the end of the day, so I’ve been sticking to the meals that I know are fast and easy– and I haven’t been trying many new dishes.

I did manage to find the energy to make Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cupcakes for my husband’s birthday. Peanut butter cups are his favourite and I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate them into my desserts (like the Moose Tracks Ice Cream Pie). This recipe was fun to make with the girls because they could peel the peanut butter cups from the wrappers and drop them into the batter at the right time. I think they were worth the effort. Isn’t is always worth the effort to make things for your family?

I also made my own frosting this time and I was glad that I gave this a try. I must tell you that I never have the meringue powder usually required to make buttercream frosting and I don’t like to use egg whites when kids will be eating them. That’s why I’ve always just used icing from a tin. So, when I found a buttercream recipe that didn’t require either ingredient, I just had to try it. You can make this without the peanut butter for an all around buttercream frosting.

Chocolate Cupcakes With PB Cups

(Makes 18) Adapted from allrecipes; by Ladan

  • 1 bag peanut butter cups miniatures (320 grams/12 oz)
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and salt.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the oil and sugar until well incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition; add the vanilla. Alternate adding the flour mixture milk; beat well.
  3. Add one scoop of batter to each paper liner, then add one peanut butter cup and top with one more scoop of batter. Liner should be just under ¾ full. Repeat until batter all used.
  4. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker’s Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream

  • 2½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2½ – 3 ½ cups icing sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 6 tbsp peanut butter

In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about a minute. Add 2½ cups icing sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully incorporated, about 30 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Add remaining one cup of icing sugar (if using) and beat until incorporated.  Then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice. Add peanut butter and beat on medium-high for one minute until well incorporated.

Frost the cupcakes when cool.

Top each cupcake with a piece of pb cup (Cut each pb cup in half; cut each half in thirds)

NOTES:

  • I used an Atecco 843 decorating tip (closed star). I bought it at Placewares in St. Lawrence Market.
  • I found that this buttercream frosting recipe was just enough for 18 cupcakes when piping the icing. It would make more than enough for icing by hand.
  • Be sure to peel the paper liners off the cupcakes carefully, as the pb cup may stick to the bottom on the odd cupcake if you don’t peel carefully.
  • Given that there are so many nut allergies out there, I wouldn’t recommend making these cupcakes with peanut butter for a kids party. However, you could easily omit the peanut butter cups in the cupcakes and the peanut butter in the frosting.
  • I like the consistency of the buttercream with the extra cup of icing sugar added (35 cups in total).

The Banana Bread Switch Up

You are in desperate need of a coffee. You head to the cupboard to grab some filters—but they are not there. You can feel the panic rising as you look in another cupboard, then another. Finally, success…there they are right next to the Cheese Whiz. That’s funny, you didn’t put them there. You breathe a sigh of relief as the coffee brews. Now, just grab a mug and…what the hell, where are the mugs?

I’m sure that this is the scenario (or one very similar) that played out many years ago for my mom. I had just started my first full-time professional job (the one where I met Eva of Kitchen Inspirations) and I had moved in with mom so that I could get my financial feet on the ground. First thing I did was completely rearrange her kitchen.

Need I point out that she wasn’t impressed? Mom was particularly upset when she discovered that several of the items she needed hadn’t just been “relocated”—they’d been thrown in the garbage. I’d like to blame it on my youth—the verve of my adventurous twenties—but I can’t.

I’m just that way. I like to switch things up. You know, make them my own. I know that I’m destined to get what’s coming to me one day soon, as I have two very spirited and strong-willed ponytails.

But until then, I continue to switch things up—particularly with my mom’s recipes. This time, it’s her much-loved banana bread recipe. (It has quite a following with the after-church social crowd at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.) Although, this time I don’t think she will be mad at me—I didn’t throw anything out.

Mom’s Original Banana Bread

  • 1-½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. Mix dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking soda) in small bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix wet ingredients (bananas, sugar, egg, butter and vanilla) in large bowl. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
  3. Pour batter into greased loaf pan.
  4. Bake at 350° for 45 – 50 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

#1 Switch Up: Whole Wheat Butterscotch Banana Bread

  1. Replace 1-½  cups all purpose flour with ¾ cup of all purpose flour and ¾ whole wheat flour.
  2. Add ½ cup butterscotch chips after completing step 2 in directions for Mom’s Original Banana Bread and mix well.
  3. Follow steps 3 and 4 of same directions.

#2 Switch Up: Marbled Chocolate and Peanut Butter Banana Bread

  1. Prepare Mom’s Original Banana Bread batter.
  2. Divide batter in half, placing second half in a new bowl.
  3. Add 2 tbsps of peanut butter to first half of batter and mix well.
  4. Add  2-½  tbsps cocoa powder to second half of batter and mix well
  5. Pour chocolate batter in half of greased loaf pan.
  6. Then, pour peanut butter batter in other half of greased pan.
  7. Using a knife or skewer, pull and swirl chocolate batter through peanut butter batter until you are happy with the marbled effect.
  8. Bake at 350° for 45 – 50 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate and Black Beans – Original or Common?

You may be starting to sense a chocolate theme in my recent posts. Well, this fascination with chocolate all started two weeks ago when my husband Kevin and I went to dinner at Victor Restaurant here in Toronto. The restaurant offers an Iron Chef dinner option, where you select a feature ingredient and they prepare a five-course dinner battle around that ingredient. Each chef or cook in the Victor Kitchen prepares a different course and you rank each of the courses based on four criteria. At the end of the meal, you tally up your scores and the chef or cook’s dish with the highest ranking wins. Doesn’t that sound fun?

So it’ll come as no surprise that we chose chocolate as our theme ingredient. That’s right—five glorious courses each prepared with chocolate in some shape or fashion. I’m going to summarize each of the dishes at the end of this post, but I want to start by telling you about our first course and how it inspired today’s recipe.

We started with: Chocolate Soup with Black Bean Salsa, topped with Crispy Pumpkin Seeds, Cilantro and Crispy Pork Belly and Tortilla Strips. As we tasted the delicious soup, Kevin started to work on his rankings and I have to say he was taking it all very seriously. When he got to the “how original or authentic was the dish” category, he started to talk about how the flavours were the same as my chili (which has a bit of chocolate in it) so he felt it wasn’t that original. I countered that it was in fact original for a savory chocolate soup to have those same flavours. Out came his BlackBerry, followed by a Google search on “chocolate and beans.” Well, this resulted in hundreds of black bean brownie recipes—but no chocolate and black bean soup recipes. In the end, Kevin still felt it wasn’t that original because obviously the chocolate and black bean combination was pretty popular in the form of brownies. So tell me, what do you think? Was this an authentic/original dish—or a common one? Which one of us was right?

I decided on the spot that I would make a Black Bean Brownie recipe for you as a tribute to this amazing dinner and our lively dinner debate. I whipped up a batch right away, altering the recipe a bit as I went along. The brownies were super easy to make and surprisingly tasty. The ponytails didn’t suspect for a minute that the brownies were made with beans. There you have it—flourless Chocolate Black Bean Brownies! Who knew? (Apparently the hundreds of people who have blogged about black bean brownies…)

Black Bean Brownies

Adapted from Allrecipies.com (Canada) by Elizabeth

  • 1 15.5 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp instant coffee (optional)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (I used milk and white chocolate swirl chips)

 Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Lightly grease an 8” x 8” square baking dish.

3. Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips in a blender and blend until smooth.

4. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.

5. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top of dish.

6. Bake in preheated oven until top is dry and edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.

Victor Restaurant (at Hotel Le Germain, Toronto)

Iron Chef Dinner — Theme Ingredient: Chocolate

Dish 1:   Chocolate Soup with Black Bean Salsa, topped with Crispy Pumpkin Seeds, Cilantro and Crispy Pork Belly and Tortilla Strips (Total score 34 out of 40; each of us could award up to 20 points, with up to 5 points in 4 categories)

Dish 2:   Lobster and Scallops with White Chocolate Velouté in Puff Pastry (Total score 40 out of 40; THE WINNER of the Challenge; prepared by the Salad Cook and apparently his 1st win!)

Dish 3:   Duck and Soba Noodles, with Chocolate, Mushrooms and Bacon in a Cocoa Butter Sauce (Total score 33 out of 40)

Dish 4:   Organic Beef Tenderloin, White Chocolate Potatoes Purée, Spinach, Pickled Onion and Beets, with Cocoa Sauce drizzled on the side (Total score 38 out of 40)

Dish 5:   Flourless Chocolate Cake, Brandied Cherries, Chocolate Ice Cream, and Chocolate Truffles with Crushed Praline (Total score 33 out of 40)

Essentially Victor’s five chefs/cooks created this menu just for us, as we were the only ones in the restaurant participating in the Iron Chef dinner that night. It was an absolutely unique and delicious dining experience that we both LOVED. I highly recommend the Iron Chef Dinner Challenge at Victor Restaurant. However, you must book your Iron Chef dinner well in advance when you provide them with your theme ingredient. It was $80 per person for the meal, and $40 per person for the wine pairings.


Two BFFs: Sweet and Salty

Bad or good; ugly or beautiful; sweet or salty—conventional wisdom has taught us that if one of these qualities holds true, then the opposite is automatically untrue. And then along came Thai cuisine into the mainstream a number of years ago, to teach us that sweet and salty can co-exist in mouth-wateringly delicious ways. Now it seems that we think nothing of adding salt to our caramels and other sweet confections.

This cookie bar recipe will show you that not only can sweet and salty get along well—they can in fact be BFFs. They get along so well that they are dangerous. Yes, these cookie bars are that good. It is dangerous for me to be alone with them, as they are dangerously good. Just ask the colleague who had one at our company pot luck last week. She chased me as I was picking up my Tupperware container, so that she could have the leftover crumbs. Yes, they are dangerous.

The credit for this recipe goes to Maria from Two Peas and Their Pod. (Her photos of these cookie bars are way better than my pic!) I didn’t change a thing because the recipe was perfect as is. I highly recommend this recipe, as these bars are super easy to make and a sure-fire hit for any pot-luck lunch or night home alone.

Chocolate Chip Salted Caramel Cookie Bars

  • 2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 10 ounces caramel candy squares, unwrapped (about 35 caramels by my calculations)
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling over caramel and bars

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 2-quart baking pan (11 x 8 glass Pyrex dish).

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the melted butter and sugars together until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix on low, just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

4. In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the caramels and heavy cream. Microwave caramels on High until caramels are melted, stirring every 20 to 25 seconds. This will take about 2 minutes, depending on your microwave.

5. Divide the cookie dough in half. Press half of the cookie dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula. Pour hot caramel over the cookie dough. Sprinkle caramel with sea salt. Drop spoonfuls of cookie dough over the caramel and spread dough with a spatula until the caramel is covered. Sprinkle the bars with additional sea salt.

6.Bake cookie bars for 30 minutes or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool bars on a wire rack to room temperature. Cut bars into squares and serve.


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.