Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

For a 4 and 6-year-old, my kids are not what I would classify as “picky eaters”. They don’t like spicy food, trying new things is always a challenge, and 90% of the time they tell me they’d prefer cereal to whatever it is I’m cooking. But my 6-year-old can inhale spring rolls and sushi at an alarming (and expensive) rate, my 4-year-old’s favorite snack is a Cliff bar, they both love fruit, drinking lots of water, and mostly understand that you don’t get a sweet treat unless you’ve eaten some “real food”.

They both love these chocolate zucchini muffins – and what’s better, they KNOW that they have green stuff in them and THEY DON’T EVEN CARE. There are a million recipes for zucchini muffins out there, but they tend to fall into 2 categories for me:

  1. Overly healthified, as in, there’s no way my kids would eat them.
  2. Full of sugar and vegetable oil, which kind of negates the health benefits we’re seeking. Essentially, a chocolate zucchini cupcake.

These are the Goldilocks of muffins for me – not overly sweet, so you feel like you made a healthy choice, but sweet enough that you feel like you’re getting a treat. Win/win.
Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

1.5 lbs zucchini (about 3 standard size)

2 cups flour (can use WW if you don’t mind a denser muffin)

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

6 TBSP butter (can substitute coconut oil)

2 eggs

1/4 cup sour cream or greek yogurt

1 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat to 350°. Grate the zucchini (no need to peel) on a box grater. Place the shredded zucchini into a colander and press on the top with paper towels to soak up excess moisture.
  2. Stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Melt the butter or coconut oil and whisk in the sugar (it’s not much, I do it in a Pyrex measuring cup).
  3. Whisk the eggs into the sugar/butter mixture and fold in the sour cream/yogurt. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. At this point, the batter will seem overly dry, but then add the grated zucchini and the remaining moisture will loosen things up. Stir until combined, then fold in the chocolate chips.
  4. Grease a muffin tin and fill with batter 3/4 full. I usually yield between 16 and 18 muffins. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

Kimchi Noodles

Until Robin started kindergarten last fall, I never really understood the allure of 30-minute meals. Before then we lived with my parents and I stayed home with my two pre-schoolers. By dinnertime, I was so excited to do something other than play Barbies or watch another round of Octonauts, I had 3 other adults (a dad and 2 grandparents) who were stoked to play with the kids, my dad loves cooking as much as I do so we worked together, and my mom always did the dishes. I never minded spending an hour cooking dinner with my dad with no impending clean up – and, as much as I love being a stay-at-home-mom, it was often the highlight of my day.

Of course, seasons change. We now live 28 whole minutes away from my parents, Robin’s in kindergarten all day, I’m only cooking for two adults, the kids have evening activities that make dinner complicated, and though I require everyone to do their part, I end up with the bulk of the dishes, too. While we were adjusting, we ended up picking up a lot of takeout, which was so great when we were 23, but at 33 your body just doesn’t handle Taco Bell like it used to. So here we are, renewed interest in 30-minute meals.

On Wednesday nights, Robin has a Daisy Troop meeting that lasts an hour 5 minutes from our house starting at 6. Eating at 5:30 is too early, and 7:30 is too late, but by the time I’ve dropped her off, chatted with the moms, and driven home, I’ve only got 40-minutes max to cook and eat before I have to leave to pick her up. My 6-year-old does not handle late pickups well.

Enter Kimchi Noodles – which can be cooked, start to finish, and eaten by me, a notoriously slow eater, in 40 minutes. If you love kimchi, noodles, and runny eggs, this meal is for you. As much as I like to brag about my kids loving a wide variety of foods, this dish is spicy and I won’t subject my kids to fermented vegetables yet, so they get macaroni and cheese at 5:30. Kimchi, gochujang, and udon noodles can be a bit hard to find, but they last forever, so stock up and you can bust this out when all you’ve got is eggs to work with.

Kimchi Noodles

9 oz. dry wide udon noodles (they come in a pack with 3 little portions – you only need one per person, so I either cook the 3rd for leftovers or save it for next time)

3 T butter

1 cup or so of kimchi (I use Mother-In-Law Kimchi – which is absolutely the best I’ve had and I use about half a jar) and some of the kimchi juice.

2-3 T gochujang paste, depending on how spicy you want to go.

1/2 cup of any kind of broth or water

eggs

optional: broccoli, green onions, and/or sesame seeds – but it’s fine without any of those.

  1. Start the water boiling for the noodles and cook according to package directions (usually about 4 minutes. In a large skillet or dutch oven, melt 2T of the butter over high heat and roughly chop the kimchi. When the butter starts to sizzle, add the kimchi and gochujang and stir everything together. If you’re using broccoli, add it here and cook with the kimchi mixture for about 5 minutes until nice and caramelized.
  2. Turn the heat down a little, add the broth and whatever leftover kimchi juice you have to the kimchi to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking until the noodles are done. Drain the noodles and add them to the kimchi mixture and stir and cook it all together while you do the eggs.
  3. In a small frying pan, melt a pat of butter over high heat, then crack in the egg and cook until the edges are set (around a minute). Flip the egg and count to 10, then serve over the noodles (my husband likes 2 eggs, I usually only like one).
  4. Garnish with some sliced green onions or sesame seeds if you’ve got them.

 

2017 Book Review

I take New Year’s Resolutions very seriously. I love goal setting and the idea of a fresh year to make changes, but I try to steer my resolutions to be more practical and specific – usually a small life change that I can maintain. Past resolutions have included not hitting the snooze button, giving up diet soda, trying new restaurants, and using a turn signal.

So, my 2017 resolution was to read more books. I also paired it with a focus word of PRESENT – because my goal was to read more and spend less time mindless on the internet. After a few weeks, I evolved my goal into reading 52 books for the year -averaging a book a week.

I’m proud to say that as of yesterday, December 30th, I finished my 52nd book. Because I read a lot, people often ask for book recommendations, so I thought I’d share my “best of” for 2017 – with a few caveats. First, I didn’t purchase any books, I only read from the library overdrive on my Kindle – so I tend to run my maximum amount of holds and sometimes don’t get new releases for a while. Second, I love nonfiction and some of my books were weirdly specific (a book on sibling rivalry, 3 books on dog training, etc.). Third, I like serious books, but I also read for entertainment and that often comes in the form of Elin Hilderbrand. It’s kind of like when you need to watch House Hunters or Friends reruns after you watch the PBS Vietnam documentary – balance, yo. So I’ve given you a few categories.

Finally, as embarrassed as I am to admit it, until this year I hadn’t read any of the Harry Potter books. I don’t typically like fantasy, I was just a little too old when they came out, and then by the time I thought I should try, 7 books just seemed really daunting (particularly in the years I was teaching and had babies). So this year, once I’d established that I’d be reading a lot, I gave them a try and convinced my husband to do the same. We both absolutely love the series – I’m through the first 5 books and waitlisted at the library for the Half-Blood Prince. I can’t really rank them because you need to read them in order, and I think most people have already read the series, but if you haven’t, I would highly recommend starting. It’s beautifully written, character-driven, and I’ve stayed awake late at night with each book unable to put it down.

Best “Light” Reads:

  1. The Crazy Rich Asians series, by Kevin Kwan – It’s a 3-book series and if you want to be entertained, it’s your best bet. I’ve heard there’s a movie coming, too, which I can see being fabulous.
  2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – I read it before I watched the HBO series and both are excellent. I also read Truly Madly Guilty, and it was good, but I didn’t like it as much.
  3. One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid – A quick, easy read, but I couldn’t put it down and thought about it long after I’d finished.
  4. I love Elin Hilderbrand because she comes out with new books all the time and they’re light, easy reads with interesting characters, but some are better than others. The Identicals and The Rumor were the best two I read this year. I also read the 4-part Winter Street series and it’s great if you need a heartwarming Christmas read.
  5. The Royal We by Heather Cocks – if you’re counting down the days to Prince Harry’s wedding, you’ll love it.

Best Serious Fiction:

  1. Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams – I’m not sure whether it would fall more under historical fiction or a love story, but I couldn’t put it down. I have several more Beatriz Williams books on hold for 2018.
  2. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – Beautifully written and conflicting – my mom and I discussed the outcome for days.
  3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – Look, I was totally turned off by this because the movie looked lame, but I needed something to read late one night and it was on the front page of the library page, so I tried it and I loved it. The sequel was just OK, I didn’t love it.
  4. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – We read this for book club and I was totally into it. It’s historical fiction, but based on actual female spies during WWII.
  5. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – A really hard read, but in our current socio-political landscape, it’s an important, perspective-changing read.

Best Nonfiction:

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – It’s hard to recommend a book that makes you ugly cry, but I think it was the best book I read this year.
  2. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – I’ve heard the audiobook is even better as it’s narrated by Trevor Noah. This is not a “how he became famous” autobiography, but rather a dark, honest look at growing up in South Africa post-apartheid.
  3. A Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes – lighter, but if you’re looking to get inspired and Oprahed, this is your best bet.
  4. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – Do the audiobook. Unexpectedly, this is a well-researched look at modern dating culture around the world, but it’s also funny. If you love Master of None, you’ll love the book.
  5. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzi – You truly can’t imagine that such a person exists in our time. The book is a bit dense with Pakistani and Taliban history, but her spirit and drive is remarkable.

I also loved My One Word, Bread and Wine, Love WarriorSiblings Without Rivalry, and Instant Mom.

Don’t waste your time:

  1. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher – I think she’s an interesting person, but this particular book was terrible.
  2. Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi – I always liked her until I read this book.
  3. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly – A fantastic story, but honestly, the movie is much better.
  4. The Vacationers by Emma Straub – a book with no point.
  5. Class Mom by Laurie Gelman – meh.

So there you go, 15+ books to read this year and 5 to not. Happy reading!

 

Hominy Casserole

The “freshman 15” is a pretty predictable college situation. The combination of 24-hour dining halls, lack of organized mealtimes and homecooked food, lack of structured sports practices, and, well, beer, can all be blamed. In my case, going from a home where my parents cooked delicious food to a dorm where the food was, in my opinion, subpar, and walking everywhere had a surprisingly opposite effect – I lost my freshman 15. In the dining hall, everything tasted about the same level of “blah” but nutrition information was displayed so I always just picked the healthiest option, drowned it in cholula or sriracha, and went from there.

Oddly, hominy was a staple of the Texas Tech dining hall in the early 2000s. I had never encountered hominy before college, so I lovingly referred to it as “mutant corn” – and I usually ate a scoop if it was an option (I actually wasn’t far off – hominy IS kind of a mutant corn). During that same time, I started dating my husband and his family also, shockingly, served mutant corn often. Their hominy was far superior to dorm hominy, so in the 13 years since eating it the first time, I’ve never found a need to cook it any other way.

This hominy is the ultimate comfort casserole. It’s totally benign, it’s good leftover, and it’s so easy, I’m kind of embarrassed to put it in a blog, except that my only copy of the recipe exists in an email from my mother-in-law from 2005.

Hominy Casserole

2 cans hominy (white, yellow, or one of each)

3/4 cup sour cream

1 large or 2 small cans of diced green chiles

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°. Stir the drained hominy, sour cream, and green chiles together. Fold in half of the cheese.
  2. Pour the mixture into an 8×8 casserole dish, season with salt and pepper, and top with the remaining cheese.
  3. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling.

Chocolate Cupcakes

I don’t have much to say about these cupcakes other than that they’re basically the perfect chocolate cupcake. They’re moist, rich, not lacking in chocolate, and don’t have any weird specialty ingredients. I haven’t made another chocolate cupcake in years because these are, actually, the best.

They’re great topped with a basic buttercream, French buttercream (if you’re a true player), chocolate frosting, cream cheese frosting, or as a hi-hat. They’re the perfect chocolate cupcake base. They DO have coffee in them (divided out it’s a pretty negligible amount), but while I wouldn’t send them to school, I don’t mind if my kids have one.

Chocolate Cupcakes

yields 24 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee (my Nespresso only makes a bit more than a cup, so I use a strong variety and top it off with hot water).

3/4 cups cocoa powder

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3/4 cup white sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°.
  2. Stir the cocoa powder into the hot coffee until dissolved. Set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and both sugars for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract and beat until fully combined. Stir the baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the flour in a small bowl.
  4. Add the flour mixture and coffee mixture to the batter in a few alternating additions. I usually do about 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 of the coffee, and so on until everything is combined and smooth.
  5. Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full (be careful not to overfill – they will grow) and bake 18-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

P.S. I used this same batter to make my son’s birthday cake last year – it easily can convert to 2 8″ or 9″ round pans, but you’ll need to bake for quite a bit longer (30-40 minutes).

Lamb Meatballs with Orzo

I love autumn, with the crisp air, jeans and sweaters, changing leaves, and firepit evenings. Unfortunately, in North Texas fall doesn’t actually start until about November. It’s still hot, we’re still wearing shorts, and if we go out after dark we still get eaten by mosquitoes. It’s a difficult time because we get these little teases of cooler weather – we’ll get a few mornings in the high 60s, the leaves do change, and our power lines are filled with birds flying south. But then we still have to plan flexible Halloween costumes because it could be anywhere from 25 to 95° when we trick-or-treat.

That said, it’s hard to not start buying into all the fall hype – the clothes, the activities, and, of course, the food (sparing pumpkin spice lattes because it seems weird to order them iced). So we’re sweating in our scarves and boots, wearing tank tops to the pumpkin patch, and eating lamb meatballs anyways because it’s October and we’re tired of salad. These meatballs taste like fall, they’re easy, and make your house smell amazing. This recipe will feed 4-6 adults. They do, however, take a bit of time, so plan accordingly.

Lamb Meatballs

2 lbs. ground lamb

1 normal sized bag spinach

1 large (or 2 small) red onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed

1 small container of feta cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup panko

2 cups orzo

3-4 cups chicken or beef broth (water will work in a pinch)

S&P

lemon and mint leaves for serving

olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Pour the spinach into a large bowl and microwave for about a minute until it’s nice and wilted. Set aside to cool. In the meantime, mix together the lamb, onion, garlic, panko, eggs, and about 3/4 of the feta cheese. When cooled, add the spinach, a generous shake of salt and pepper, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and, using your hands, squish everything together and form into meatballs a bit smaller than ping pong balls.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet (I use a dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Fry the meatballs for a few minutes on each side until they’re browned on each side (10-12 minutes). I usually fry mine in 2-3 batches. Move the cooked meatballs to a plate to cool.
  4. When all meatballs are cooked through, in the same pan add the orzo and 3 cups of broth and stir together. Put the meatballs on top of the orzo, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.
  5. After 30 minutes, check and see if the broth has been absorbed – if it seems dry add in a bit more, and bake uncovered for 10 more minutes. Serve with lemon wedges, mint leaves, and top with the remaining feta.

 

 

 

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

My mom has been making Linda McCartney’s Macaroni and Cheese for as long as I can remember. It’s a huge crowd pleaser – everyone loves it (kids and adults), it’s great as a side for BBQ, and it’s easy to make. When I lived with my mom, it was super easy to make this macaroni at any time because either the cookbook it resides in or my mom was present to remind me of measurements, times, etc. But alas, we moved, my mom kept Linda, and sometimes I want to make the macaroni myself.

One time I was making it and couldn’t get a hold of my mom, so I googled it (because these days most cookbook recipies have been reblogged). Fortunately, it had been blogged in unaltered form, but the blogger, whoever he or she was, said they tried but HATED the recipe. Which is absolutely ridiculous. Basically, I don’t want anyone who can’t appreciate the best ever recipe for baked macaroni and cheese getting hits on their blog, so I’m sharing it here.

Linda McCartney’s Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. shell macaroni (she says 12oz, but I use the whole bag)

2 cups milk

1 egg

3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 Tbsp butter

S&P

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°. Boil the macaroni for half of the prescribed time (5-6 minutes). Meanwhile, whisk the egg into the milk and grate the cheese. Stir half of the cheese into the milk mixture.
  2. Drain the half-cooked pasta and pour into a 9×13 casserole dish. Stir the butter into the pasta to melt it. Pour the milk, egg, and cheese mixture over the pasta and stir everything together. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, season with salt and pepper, and bake for 30-40 minutes until the cheese is bubbly.

We had it with steaks last night, which was great because we could focus on steak cooking while the macaroni was baking and everything was done at the same time.