Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chocolate and Zucchini

The title of this post is an homage to one of my favorite food blogs, Chocolate and Zucchini, which I read regularly for ideas. Her food and her blog are much more sophisticated than mine, and her writing is really an inspiration: it's fun, it's fresh, and it stretches the limits of how I think about cooking and food. If you like my blog? You'll like hers better.
Anyhow, today I'm offering a recipe for Zucchini Spice Bread, along with some photographs of the delicious artisan chocolate from D, an early Valentine's gift. It has to be refrigerated, and he knew that it would be impossible to hide, so it was gifted last night instead of today. I was more than happy to receive it a day early, because it is so. fantastic. A chocolate experience beyond any other.
The chocolates he purchased me are from Vosges Haut Chocolat, a chocolate boutique that specializes in luxury chocolates married with exotic ingredients in an "East meets West" theme: "The infusions of rare spices and flowers combined with premium chocolate give a delicate balance of flavor, leaving you with a layered and lingering sensation of spice and chocolate." Kind of pretentious sounding, but the idea is great and the chocolate is magnificent, so it evens out in the end. It comes in a beautiful purple box -- the dark truffles didn't have a bow on them, but D asked nicely and they were happy to oblige. I tried the Balsamico truffle last night, made with balsamic vinegar with a topping of hazlenuts, and it was a delicious combination. I'm slightly jealous of D, who went with a bolder flavor: Black Pearl, made with ginger and wasabi with a topping of black sesame seeds. I'll have to get myself one of those sometime -- it seems so good! I'm a little disappointed that three of the truffles are flavored with anise, which is not something I usually enjoy, but there's a good chance that those will be good anyhow, even with that licorice flavor.
Besides the chocolates, which perked me up immensely, yesterday was not such a good day -- it snowed over a foot here, and most people didn't come in to the office. I got stuck outside for over a half an hour because the door was jammed shut, and I had to open up the library in under ten minutes. Not fun. Today it was the same story. It's a real pain being the only person here in the mornings, especially given the creep factor: the library is big, cold, dark, and completely still, although the occasional professor will sneak in after-hours, giving me a great scare as I'm running around humming to myself. Add that to a variety of other lame things -- including the foot of snow and my feet getting wet on the walk home -- and I was not a happy camper. So I decided to bake some zucchini bread. Baking always makes me happier: the careful measuring out of ingredients, the feeling of the raw dough in my hands, the scent of the bread blooming in the oven... it's so soothing. Plus, we had a zucchini that had been hanging around for quite some time in the fridge, and while it wasn't even near extinction -- it was nice and firm, rather than old and mushy -- it was time for it to become food. So zucchini bread it was.
I got this recipe from my good old standby friend, The Bon Appétit Cookbook. God, I love this cookbook -- although it was a gift, it's extremely inexpensive for the amount of recipes you get, and it comes with a free year-long subscription to the magazine. If I were in the market for a new cookbook? I'd buy this one. I also really enjoy the orange and white motif: very classy. Another thing I like about it is that its index is well-planned. So many cookbooks have shoddy indexes, which really works against them, because what kind of person wants to wade through a jumbled mess of words just to find an appropriate recipe? Not so with this cookbook: within minutes after deciding that the weird foods in our pantry couldn't be combined into one satisfactory dish, I was able to whip up this bread. Thank you, beautifully organized index! You have saved me once again!
Now, a word of warning: I halved this recipe, because it required two zucchini and I only had one. It came out perfectly; in fact, the standard recipe seems like it would be too big for the pan size it requires. I guess it would fit, but it would definitely take too long to bake: the recipe requires an hour and a half; with the halved recipe, I baked it in an hour. I think that an hour and a half is too long to wait for zucchini bread! Especially since I wanted to serve it at dinner.

Zucchini Spice Bread
Begin by buttering and flouring a standard loaf pan, and preheating the oven to 350º. Whisk together 1-1/4 cups all purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/8 a teaspoon of baking powder. I must confess -- I eyeballed that last one. I'm in the market for some odd-measured measuring spoons, but I haven't gotten around to buying them yet.
In a mixing bowl, beat 2 smallish eggs (I always buy large eggs, but I picked out the two tiniest. Can you tell that the recipe calls for three eggs?) with an electric mixer until they're foamy. I used my KitchenAid for this, using the wire whisk attachment, and it only took about 2 minutes for the eggs to reach the desired consistency. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating until the mixture becomes thick and pale -- with a hand electric mixer, this should take about four minutes; in the KitchenAid, it took only two. Slowly beat in 1/2 a cup of vegetable oil, then add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
On a low speed, beat in the flour mixture in three additions. You don't want to add the flour too quickly -- this prevents it from incorporating properly and you'd end up with lumpy batter. Once the batter is smooth, fold in 1 cup grated zucchini. I used a cheese grater to grate my zucchini, which proved difficult. Next time I'll just use a peeler and a knife like a normal person. You can also fold in 1/2 a cup of chopped toasted walnuts, but I didn't do that: not only did I not have any walnuts anyhow, I'm not too fond of them in my zucchini bread.
Pop the bread in the oven for about 1 hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. The top should look dry and crusty. Let it cool in the pan for about five minutes, then remove and allow to finish cooling on a rack. Or just dig in to the warm bread -- it stays together pretty remarkably, even when it's hot.
For dessert? Did I mention the snowstorm that we were hit with? Somehow, a lot of snow piled up on our balcony, and D was able to get some fresh snow for an authentic snow cone topped with maple syrup. He's been wanting to do this for years, and there was finally enough snow -- clean, pure, just-fallen snow -- that he was able to feed me two whole cups. And there's plenty more where that came from. I'm both happy and upset about the amount of snow we got: not enough to cancel work, but enough to make me a proper snow cone. Deeeeeelish.

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