Carrot Zucchini Cupcake Tailgate Snack

Mexican Free-tail bat flyout at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

Recently two grandmas and five grandchildren headed west looking for adventure. We had reserved spaces at Yolo Basin Foundation’s Bat Walk & Talk, a presentation by Corky Quirk, the renowned “Bat Lady” of Northern California, followed by a trip out to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to watch thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats emerge from their daytime sleeping space under the Yolo Causeway and fly into sunset tinted skies.

Corky’s presentation was about 45 minutes long it’s content great for both adults and kids. It’s informative and fun and towards the shared up close projected images of three different live bats showing us their differences. She even fed one mealworms and we watched it munch them down.

Now it was time to load into our cars and caravan out to the Wildlife Area to see the bats fly into the night sky where they would spend their time hunting moths. We followed the line of cars, led by Corky, to a spot far on the eastern side of the property. There we parked and gathered at a place not too far from where the bats would emerge from under the causeway. We stood and waited and then they appeared, thousands of little Mexican Free-tailed bats flying in a long ribbon like formation into the evening sky. It was a beautiful sight.

muffin tail gate party

Carrot Zucchini cupcake tailgate snack

Since there are literally thousands (estimated to be around 250,000 at last count) of bats that need to emerge, the flights come in waves and there can be some time in between where no bats are visible. Just the perfect amount of time for boys of 8 & 9 and girls aged 6 to become totally distracted and start looking for something to do. During one of these breaks I had the kids follow me back to our car for a little tailgate snack; homemade Cream Cheese frosted Carrot Zucchini cupcakes and a glass of pineapple/mango/passion fruit juice. Since I had a few finicky eaters, when asked what kind of cupcakes they were, I just said carrot cake; no sense complicating the veggie issue by mentioning that there was also grated summer squash in them. Two of the kids decided they loved the icing, which they licked completely off of the cupcake before returning it to me to say they didn’t like the cake part even though they didn’t even try it. The other three grandkids and the grandmas ate theirs without complaint and in fact, we found them to be delicious.  After our snack it was back down to watch more bats and a peregrine falcon that had come to see if it could catch a few snacks of its own. It was pretty exciting to watch it cut through the ribbon of bats and snatch one.  The excitement of the evening over we caravanned back through the wildlife area listening to the sounds of the frogs and seeing lots of Black-crowned Night herons flying around, also out hunting. It was deemed a good adventure by all and one we would recommend to all that have not had a chance to see this amazing spectacular.

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The recipe I used for the cupcakes was a modification of Carrot and Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, published by Real Mom Kitchen, Aug, 2011 a recipe she adapted from a Better Homes & Gardens recipe. I omitted the ginger and instead added the zest of one lemon and the juice of half a lemon. I didn’t put any zest in the frosting only because I didn’t have any more lemons. This is a great little recipe that I’ll be using again and again.

You can find other cake-like recipes where I have used zucchini on the following links:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

A California Gal Makes Hawaiian Muffins

A Tangelo and a Zucchini Met One Morning

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California Rice

Snow geese over harvested rice field

When I drive to work in the morning I cross a three-mile bridge over a floodway. This floodway, or bypass, was created early in California’s history to carry water away from the Sacramento River during high flows and prevent the city of Sacramento from flooding and so far it has done its job. Within this floodway a wildlife area was created in 1997, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. It provides habitat to hundreds of thousands of waterfowl that visit each winter as they travel the Pacific Flyway from Alaska and Canada down into California’s central valley. There are also rice fields alongside the wetland habitats within the bypass. They also provide food and shelter for scores of wildlife species. In fact, California ricelands provide habitat to 230 wildlife species, including more than 30 that have been designated as special status. Ricelands provide more than half of the food needed by wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley.

Rice production also benefits Californians in a big way, it puts more than a billion dollars into our economy, it supports local communities and premium California rice is found in every piece of sushi made in America. So if you eat sushi, you’re eating rice grown right here in my back yard. So, how did rice get to be such an important crop? It certainly isn’t native to our area.

Like so many things in California you could say it all started when Sutter found gold in “them thar hills”. The California gold rush brought thousands of fortune hunters to California. Immigrants from all over the world came, the largest group were Chinese workers hired by the mines and the railroad. Rice was an important part of the Chinese diet and it had to be imported from China or Japan. European and Asian miners who didn’t fair well in their search for gold turned to their previous profession, farming. Some saw rice as a potential crop.

But early attempts to cultivate long grain rice failed time and time again. It wasn’t until 1908 that a USDA soil specialist discovered that a Japanese medium grain variety, Kiushu, was better suited to northern California’s climate and soil. The first successful crop was grown at the Belfour-Guthrie Ranch in the community of Biggs just after the discovery and by 1912 the rice industry was established. Today California’s rice industry flourishes in the Sacramento Valley and a small portion of the San Joaquin Valley. About half of the rice produced in California stays in the US, the rest is exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Middle East. Rice is also produced in two other principal areas of the United States: the Grand Prairie and Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri and the Gulf Coast of Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

One of the things I like to make with California short grain rice is risotto. I’ve been using it for years now and prefer it to the more traditional Arborio rice from Italy. To me Risotto is a comfort food, much like mac-n-cheese.

Farmhand Risotto

Tonight I put together a risotto hearty enough to satisfy a hungry farmhand or just a very hungry gal looking for some comfort food. It combines short grain rice, chicken stock and vegetables fresh from this morning’s Farmers’ Market, fresh carrots, crimini mushrooms, onions and tender spring spinach. I also used celery and country sage sausage, a touch of fresh thyme from my garden, a pat of sweet butter, some baked garlic cloves I had on hand, and a sprinkling of grated Asiago cheese just before serving. Served with a simple mixed green salad and a glass of wine it was the perfect dinner on this rainy spring evening.

Additional information and recipes for California rice can be found at California Rice Commission.

3/10/11 – Annie’s article  for step by step information on how to make risotto.

“What’s in the Fridge?” Salad.

Today is our second day of 100+ temperatures. Last week it was the 80s so we really haven’t had time to adjust to days in the 100s. Truth is, I never adjust to that kind of heat. The only good thing about hot days is the mornings. I love puttering in my garden or sometimes just enjoy sitting in my swing drinking coffee and watching the birds on their morning quest for seeds or nectar. It’s definitely my favorite time of day during the summer months.

My appetite and energy related to cooking takes a nosedive during the heat (I consider heat any temperature over 90). So today when I was hungry but didn’t want to heat up the kitchen by cooking I decided to make one of my “What’s in the fridge?” salads. I like this salad because it’s light, refreshing and uses up of all kinds of veggies. It’s also a good place to use leftover chicken or chunks of cheese. If I have leftover cooked bacon that’s a definite addition.  It’s literally what ever I have on hand in the fridge, hence the name.

Today’s mix included sliced Crimini mushrooms, shredded carrot and summer squash (from my garden), sugar snap peas, sliced at a diagonal into 1/2″ pieces, spinach, chard, radicchio leaves torn into bite size pieces  and a mix of baby lettuce leaves. I chop and shred the veggies, holding the leafy veggies and meat cheese, etc aside and place it all in a bowl. Then I toss the mix with a nice vinaigrette (I make my own using 6T olive oil, 3 T red wine vinegar, 1 t Dijon mustard and one crushed garlic clove), then add the chicken, bacon or cheese (today a very nice crumbly Gorgonzola) and toss again. I always add the leaf veggies last and toss the whole mixture just before serving. If you want to expand beyond the fridge for ingredients you might check your cupboards for croutons or toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds. They are all nice additions. Be creative and just use what you have.

Annie’s Asian Slaw is another favorite hot weather meal of mine. You can find the recipe for that one here.

The forecast says the weather should start to cool down after tomorrow. I hope so! Meanwhile, I’ll be heading to the fridge for ice cold peppermint tea and salad ingredients.

Spring Musings

I follow a considerable number of blogs, many of them on food, others on nature; its mysteries and wonder. To me they are all related for they all have one thing in common, earth and all that it has to offer, nutritionally and visually. But the earth like anything else can throw me a curve now and then offering up trying scenarios.

This weekend has been rainy and windy, encouraging me to deny my urge to get outside and instead stay inside and finish my income taxes and some other chores I have been procrastinating about. Thankfully, I completed those yesterday.

Those chores done, I have one more glorious day to myself. This morning my itch to get outside hasn’t lessened. It is the first day of Spring but unfortunately it is still very wet and very windy, so to ease the itch I donned my raincoat and headed out to take myself to breakfast, then over to the Farmers’ Market, which considering the weather was surprisingly well attended by both vendors and customers although I noticed a considerable lack of “easy-ups” because of the wind. We are lucky that our market is situated under an elevated part of the freeway so there is some shelter from the elements. Not the most beautiful location but definitely functional. This morning I bought Brussels sprouts, yellow onions, a small sized acorn squash, shitake mushrooms, Fuji apples and Purple Haze carrots, the subject of today’s post.

If you have never seen Purple Haze carrots you are missing a truly beautiful vegetable. Their wine colored skins encase bright orange cores that retain their color when lightly cooked or used raw. They are not only beautiful to look at they are heavenly to eat having and earthy sweet taste and crisp texture.

When I researched them I found several interesting facts:

1. Purple carrot varieties are actually one of the first originally cultivated varieties among all carrot colors. They can trace their origins back to the 10th century in what is modern day Afghanistan.

2.  Carrots are the second most popular vegetable in the world, second only to the potato. In my book they are above the potato.

3.  The hybrid variety, Purple Haze, was named after the 1967 song of the same name by Jimi Hendrix.

Now as far as facts go the last fact was definitely the most interesting fact that I dug up. If you, like me, are curious about what the connection might be you can read more about the song and its inspiration here. I’m still not sure I get the “why” of it but I definitely think it interesting.

I did several things with this bunch of carrots; I shredded some and mixed them with equal amounts of shredded Fuji apple, roasted walnuts and just a hint of mayonnaise for a salad and the balance of them I used in a recipe for a coconut carrot muffin another nice way to eat your veggies!

Coconut Carrot Muffin and a cup of hot ginger tea

Coconut Carrot Muffins with Mascarpone and Toasted Walnuts

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (½ cup for muffins, ½ cup for topping)

1 cup oat flour (you can use whole wheat if you prefer)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

½ lb carrots, washed and shredded

½ cup shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 325°. Oil muffin pan (I used a Texas sized pan that makes 6).

Roast walnuts on baking sheet until just browned. Set aside to cool. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla until mixed. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Mix in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Stir in the carrots, walnuts and coconut. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until springy and golden. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

After the muffins were cooled I just barely warmed some Mascarpone cheese, then liberally topped each muffin and sprinkled them with chopped toasted walnuts. It’s best to serve these immediately after adding the topping. The muffins, without topping, will store for several days if kept in an airtight container.

As I sit here typing I keep thinking about getting outside. There seems to be a storm inside as well as outside, one minute I’m ready to put on some rain garb and join mother nature and her blustery wet weather. I could fill the bird feeders and check on the section of fence that blew down last night, make sure there’s not more.  The next minute I decide to stay inside for a little longer, hoping for a break in the action, I enjoy my hot ginger tea and muffin.

Maybe they should be called “The Glory of Morning Oat Muffins”!

I was going through some recipes the other day looking for something new to try and I came across an oat muffin recipe I had copied off a blog I follow. I have one that I love and make all the time but wanted to try something new. This one looked intriguing; raisins, carrots, apple, coconut, applesauce and pecans. What’s not to like? The recipe is called Morning Glory Oat Muffins and comes from Honey & Jam, a visually beautiful site that has great recipes.  Anything that is beautiful and tastes good too is a winner in my eyes.

So last night I measured and grated, and grated and measured, then mixed and filled and baked; then I cleaned up. I really should have waited until daylight so I could take some decent photos but I didn’t. So if you want to see lovely photos of these luscious muffins look at Hanna’s her work is inspirational. Everything looks soooooooo good.

I have to tell you the smell of these baking was pretty hard to resist. But, resist I did. I didn’t eat any until this morning at breakfast and they were well worth the wait.  As Hanna said on her blog, “It’s basically cake for breakfast”. But even better than that, it’s healthy cake.

I have already thought of several ways I want to try these using different ingredients. I would like to try using oat or almond flour instead of the wheat; try different chopped dried fruit instead of the raisins and try walnuts or toasted almonds instead of the pecans. Sliced almonds sprinkled on top might be nice too. Definitely going to freeze what I have left over so I can enjoy then for the rest of the week.

Tonight I’m going to revisit the turnip gratin I posted last January. I got some beautiful turnips at the market this morning and have a couple of potatoes that need to be used. Some sautéed mushrooms and chard on the side and I’m going to be a happy camper. I may even open myself a bottle of wine to go with the feast. Have a great week everyone!

Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dumplings

I wonder how many of you are making turkey soup today? One of my favorite reasons to roast a turkey is to end up with the carcass and bits and pieces of turkey that I can make into a rich broth.

Since it’s a Sunday I was off to the Farmers’ Market early. The market was pretty quiet this morning with some of the farmers enjoying a holiday and some of the customers waiting until it was warmer out. It was a nippy 36° when I headed out around 8:30. On my shopping list, leeks & carrots for the soup. Not on the list but looked too good to pass up; onions, crimini mushrooms and a nice little head of broccoli to stir-fry later in the week. Also picked up some Sickle pears and Fuji apples.

Here’s the Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dumplings recipe I came up with today: You’ll need a couple quarts of broth (if you don’t have enough turkey, supplement it with chicken) and a couple of cups shredded turkey meat.  In large pan sauté 2 sliced leeks (about 1lb, white part only), 2 stalks celery and 2 carrots that have been rinsed trimmed and diced in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Cook covered, for about 5 minutes, add the stock and a few fresh sage leaves; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the turkey or you can do like I did and add it just before serving the soup. If you don’t have turkey you can make this with chicken and chicken broth.

For the dumplings: while the soup is cooking mix 1 cup flour, ½ cup cornmeal, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves in a large bowl. In another small bowl mix together 1/3 cup milk, 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, beaten lightly together to blend and 1 tablespoons melted butter. Lightly stir the liquid mixture into the dry mix until it is just combined. Drop dumpling batter in 12 to 14 heaping tablespoon portions on the surface of the simmering soup. Cover pan and simmer over medium-low heat (do not allow the soup to boil) until a knife inserted into the center of a dumpling comes out clean, about 10 minutes.  Makes 6 – 8 servings. I really liked the dumplings. The texture and flavor were great. I’ll definitely try them again. The soup as always was good and will be even better when I reheat it for a meal later this week. I separated out the dumplings into a container of their own when I put away the leftovers. I’ll probably try steaming them or heating them in the microwave to reheat them.

If you’re not sure how to make turkey stock here is Aunt Maymie’s turkey stock recipe: 1 turkey carcass (broken into pieces so it will fit in the pot) and whatever bits and pieces are left of the turkey. If there’s dressing still stuck on the carcass I just leave it.  If you didn’t use the giblets for gravy now is the perfect time to use them, except the liver. I think the flavor of liver is too strong so I never use it, I give it to the cats. One likes it raw the other likes it cooked. Anyway, once you have the carcass in a stock pot add one whole onion stuck with two whole cloves, a couple of carrots cut into large chunks, a couple stalks of celery (leave the leaves on if the stalks have some), a few sprigs of fresh parsley, fresh thyme sprigs and a few leaves of fresh sage. Next I cover the carcass with water and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and simmer until the carcass is falling apart (an hour, sometimes a couple of hours). Let the stock cool down then strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth that has been placed over a large bowl. You may have to ladle the stock a little at a time depending on how big the sieve is. You can use the stock right away or freeze it for future use. It’s hard to say how much broth you’ll end up with. The final amount will depend on how big your turkey was.

A little of this, a little of that and you have the one-pot option.

Have you ever found you have just a few carrots, maybe a little spinach and just a handful of green beans in the refrigerator but there’s not enough of any one of them to feed two people much less three or four?  Here’s an easy solution; The one pan option, or as some might call it stir-fry.

I love stir-fry. I don’t always use it to solve the little of this, little of that problem. Sometimes I choose it because I can cook everything in one pan, which a lot of the time is a huge motivating factor. Whichever reason, I’ve been keeping track of some of the ways I made quick, tasty, easy to clean up meals over the last month and here are the results.

Version 1

A curried version using Crimini mushrooms, onion and garlic, zucchini, carrots and leftover chicken served over brown rice mixed with a little curry sauce.

Version II

An Asian version using Shitaki mushrooms, onion and garlic, snow peas, spinach, yellow summer squash served over brown rice flavored with a little oyster sauce.

Version III

This one I came up with after my experience with the fava beans. In this version I used Crimini mushrooms, onion and garlic, chard and feta cheese served over left over rice penne pasta.

Version IV

A celebration of the first green beans of the season was the occasion for this simple stir-fry of Shitaki mushrooms, onion and garlic, green beans all flavored with bacon bits and served over brown rice.

I start by sautéing the mushrooms, then add the onion and garlic, sometimes I remove those ingredients to a serving bowl then brown the longer cooking veggies like the squash, green beans or chard stems, then I’ll add back in the mushroom/onion mixture put what ever greens I’m going to use on top, add a little liquid (water, broth, wine) to create steam and cover until the greens just wilt and the thicker veggies are just right. If I really don’t want to clean another pan I will sometimes put the rice or cooked pasta in with the thicker veggies and the liquid, cover and let it all steam for a little while then add the greens to wilt them right before serving.

This is one of those things that you’ll want to play around with. There is no wrong way. Just think of the colors and textures of what you have on hand and what might taste good with them as a flavoring. I used curry sauce, oyster sauce, feta cheese, and bacon in these versions but  you might want to try soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or even a BBQ sauce. Herbs are also a good addition.  Nuts and seeds are good ways to add protein if your not adding cheese or leftover meats. And, don’t forget tofu. Tofu is really great in these stir-fry dishes. I usually don’t cook rice or pasta for this dish I usually have some leftovers that I use. If you do cook pasta especially for this, use some of the pasta water when you do the steaming.

I am using a wok style pan but a large fry pan can work too. Just make sure you have a lid that fits the pan you are going to use. For oil I use either olive oil or canola oil. The addition of a little sesame oil to an Asian style version is very nice.

Just use your imagination, the options are endless and now that we have a whole new selection of summer vegetables coming to market I’m sure I’ll be trying some new combinations. How about you? Let me know what you come up with. I love trying new ideas.