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.
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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.

IMG_5639


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.


Milk Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Brownie cookies have become a bit of an obsession for me lately. They’re the perfect cross between a fudgy brownie and a dense chocolate chip cookie. This brownie cookie has a milk chocolate base and is studded with roasted, salted pistachios. It’s a delicious flavour combination — and the green pistachios contrast beautifully with the chocolate-brown cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup salted pistachios, chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease baking sheets with non-stick spray.
  2. Using a double boiler, melt the unsweetened chocolate, butter and one cup of the chocolate chips. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs and sugar until very light and fluffy. This may take several minutes.
  4. Reduce speed to low and very slowly pour in the melted chocolate mixture.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until just combined.
  6. Stir in the remaining chocolate chips and pistachios.
  7. Chill dough for at least 15 minutes. This is a relatively soft cookie dough and it will be very difficult to form into balls unless it has been chilled. Do not skip this step!
  8. Roll chilled dough into balls and place at least two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle a few chopped pistachios on top.
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

*Yield: 24 cookies

 


Strawberry Trifles

Strawberry season has arrived! I quickly snatched up a few pints of the first locally grown strawberries when I saw them on sale at the farmer’s market this week. I’m a big fan of trifles because they’re very easy to make and always look so pretty with all their colourful layers.  This trifle can also be made with raspberries, blueberries, or any combination of seasonal berries. I love making this dessert in mason jars, but you can also assemble it in a large trifle or glass bowl if you prefer.

Ingredients:

  • One Ciambellone (Italian sponge cake), cut into 1 inch cubes

For the strawberry compote:

  • 4 cups strawberries, quartered
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon zest

For the vanilla pastry cream:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla bean paste
  •  2 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Method:

  1. Make the strawberry compote: combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon zest in a small sauce pan.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer mixture for 15-20 minutes, until thickened. Pour compote into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cooled completely.
  3. Make the pastry cream: in a sauce pan over medium heat, bring milk to a boil.
  4. While you wait for the milk to boil, in a small bowl, combine the sugar, egg, egg yolks, vanilla and cornstarch. Whisk until smooth, making sure there are no lumps of cornstarch remaining.
  5. As soon as the milk starts to bubble, remove it from the heat. Slowly pour a few ladlefuls of hot milk into the egg mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Once the mixture has been tempered, pour it back into the saucepan with the milk and return it to the heat.
  6. Bring custard to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. This should take about 2 minutes. Once the mixture boils, continue to cook, stirring constantly, for an additional minute.
  7. Remove the custard from the heat and stir in the butter. Whisk until the butter is completely incorporated.
  8. Pour custard into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to touch the surface of the custard. This will prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool.
  9. Once the custard has cooled and set, gently fold in the whipping cream.
  10. To assemble the trifle, place a layer of sponge cake at the bottom of your mason jar. Next, spoon the pastry cream over the sponge cake, followed by a layer of strawberry compote. Repeat the layers until you have reached the top of your jar.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Yield: Ten mason jar trifles or one large trifle