Zucchini & Carrot Muffins

Here’s another delicious way to use up all those zucchini growing in your gardens this summer.  This hearty breakfast muffin is packed with grated zucchini, carrots and lots of chopped pecans for added texture. I like to use olive oil in this recipe because it adds a rich, fruity flavour — but you can easily substitute any other vegetable oil. What I also love about this recipe is that these muffins bake up with a nice, crusty top. This is also a muffin that freezes very well, so perfect for school day breakfasts (which, let’s face it, are just around the corner.) How is the summer slipping by so fast?

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup ground flax seeds
  • 2 large carrots, grated (1 packed cup)
  • 2 medium zucchini, grated (1 packed cup)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Grease a muffin tin or line with 12 muffin cups.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt, baking powder, flax seeds and pecans.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla.
  4. Add the grated carrots and zucchini to the egg mixture.  Stir to combine.
  5.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.The batter will be very thick.
  6. Spoon the batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups.  Bake for 10 minutes.
    Lower oven temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

*Yield: 12 large muffins

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Lavender Sugar Cookies

I recently spent an afternoon visiting some beautiful lavender fields in St. Eustache, just north of Montreal. It was spectacular to see the rolling waves of lavender, in varying shades of purple and blue, as far as the eye could see. I felt as though I had stepped into a Claude Monet painting — or something fancy and French like that. It was definitely inspiring. Lavender is often used in baking; it lends a floral flavour to sweets that is actually quite nice. It’s important to use sparingly, however, or you risk having your sweets taste like soap. I bought a bag of dried culinary lavender during my visit, and decided to add some to my favourite sugar cookie recipe. The result is a soft, chewy cookie with a delicate lavender flavour. These taste great with a cup of tea.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup lavender sugar**
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease baking sheets with non-stick spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and lavender sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs and mix until combined. Add vanilla.
  5. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in the dry ingredients. Mix until combined.
  6. Use a medium-sized ice cream scoop to form the cookie dough into balls.
  7. Roll the balls in sugar. For an extra touch of flavour and colour, you can add a teaspoon of dried culinary lavender to the sugar before rolling the cookies into it.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes.

*Yield: Approximately 16 large cookies.

**To make lavender sugar combine 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons of dried culinary lavender in a food processor or blender. Pulse until the lavender is evenly dispersed into the sugar. 

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Lavender fields in St. Eustache, Quebec.

 


Chocolate Chip Zucchini Brownies

This brownie recipe was born after I planted way too many zucchini plants in my tiny backyard garden. My dad warned me not to plant more than two; they’ll get very big, he said. I planted four. They seemed innocent enough until about mid-July when they turned into rampant monster plants that were taking over my garden and yielding dozens of zucchini per plant. Lesson learned. I discovered that zucchini works in everything from meatballs to these delicious brownies. These are cake-like, dense brownies loaded with milk chocolate chips. It’s important not to over-bake these to ensure they retain the ooey-gooey goodness we all love about brownies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chocolate chips + more for sprinkling

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease an 8×12 brownie pan with nonstick spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the vegetable oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla.
  4. Add the liquid ingredients and the grated zucchini to the dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined.
  5. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  6. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan and sprinkle a few chocolate chips on top of the batter.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes. The middle of the baked brownies should be slightly soft.  Do not overbake!
  8. Allow brownies to cool for about 20 minutes before slicing.

Our Favourite Zucchini Bread

I have a confession to make… I really don’t like zucchini. I’ve always found them to be pretty bland and watery.  But that’s exactly what makes zucchini the perfect addition to baked goods. This is a veggie that will melt right into anything you bake, adding some much-needed moisture to breads and brownies, without adding any weird, vegetable-y flavour to your sweets. Zucchini is also packed with vitamins and plenty of fiber. I like to use both green and yellow zucchini in this recipe because it adds a pretty pop of colour.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 medium yellow zucchini, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium green zucchini, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F and grease two 8×4 loaf pans with non-stick spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, oil and sugars.
  4. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture and mix until just combined.
  5. Stir in the grated zucchini and pistachios.
  6. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in centre of loaf comes out clean. Cool for about 20 minutes before removing from pan. This zucchini bread freezes extremely well and will keep for several months in the freezer.

*Yield: Two 8×4 loaves

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Zucchini from my father’s garden.


Italian Hazelnut Cookies

Italy is one of the biggest producers of hazelnuts in the world. It’s no wonder this nut features quite prominently in many Italian desserts. This recipe is a hazelnut version of my Italian Almond Cookies. With their crunchy exterior and soft, tender centre, these cookies are perfect with your afternoon espresso.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp hazelnut extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups hazelnut flour
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • whole hazelnuts, for garnish

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease baking sheets with non stick spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, hazelnut flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the sugars and oil.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Next, add the hazelnut extract.
  5. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add in the dry ingredients. Mix until fully combined. This is a relatively soft cookie dough.
  6. Form the dough into balls and roll into the powdered sugar. Place about two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Press a hazelnut into the centre of each cookie.
  7. Bake for 15-17 minutes.
  8. Store completely cooled cookies in an airtight container for up to one week. These hazelnut cookies freeze extremely well. They can be kept in an airtight container in the freezer for up to three months.

*Yield: Approximately 30 cookies

 


Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Strawberries have always been my favourite fruit. I think this may have something to do with my early childhood obsession with Strawberry Shortcake. For my fifth birthday, I received a Strawberry Shortcake doll as a gift. She had strawberry blonde hair and a plastic face that smelled like strawberries.  I spent hours combing that doll’s hair and smelling her face. It was a little creepy. My first cookbook was “Strawberry Shortcake’s Cooking Fun” by Michael J. Smollin. It included recipes for things such as Whizzer Fizzers, Apple Snackwiches, and Custard and Pupcake Cookies. I never actually made any of these recipes, cause in the 1980s Italian-Canadian kids didn’t really eat apples and cheddar on crackers or peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I now love all these things. I also love crumbles. They’re easy to make and you can use any combo of in-season fruit. Here, I’ve used strawberries and rhubarb. This crumble can be served warm or at room temperature. I’m sure one of Strawberry Shortcake’s Whizzer Fizzers would also pair nicely with this dessert.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 8 cups sliced strawberries
  • 4 stalks rhubarb, sliced
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together 3 cups of flour, 1 cup of brown sugar, baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt.
  3. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers. Add the egg.
  4. Press half the dough into the prepared baking pan and refrigerate.
  5. Add 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon and almonds to the remaining half of the dough. Place in fridge while you make filling.
  6. In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, rhubarb and lemon juice. Mix in 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. Stir until all the fruit is coated.
  7. Spread the strawberry mixture evenly over the chilled crust. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the fruit.
  8. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
  9. Cool completely before slicing.

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Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins

Berry season is here and there is no better breakfast than a warm, just-baked blueberry muffin. I use buttermilk in this recipe because it makes for a moist, perfect crumb which is studded with plenty of fresh blueberries. Be sure to turn off your electric mixer and use a wooden spoon to fold in the blueberries, or you’ll end up with green muffins (which are not too pretty but still very delicious — I learned this lesson the hard way.)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry
  • vanilla sugar, for sprinkling (optional)*

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and line muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a bowl, stir together 1 1/2 cups of flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the blueberries with the remaining 1/2 cup of flour.  Make sure the blueberries are completely coated in flour.  This will prevent the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of your muffins while they bake.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.
  6. Next, add the buttermilk and flour mixture in alternating batches, starting and ending with the flour.  Mix until just incorporated.
  7. Carefully stir in the blueberries and remaining flour.
  8. Sprinkle vanilla sugar on top of the muffins before baking.
  9. Bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

*Yield: 12 muffins

**To make your own vanilla sugar combine 1 cup of coarse sanding sugar with the caviar scraped from the inside of a vanilla bean.  Store in an airtight container.