Ratatouille Shakshuka

How is it possible that the simplest combination of ripe-at-the-same-time ingredients turns out to be such a mouthwatering flavor explosion, no matter how you put it together?

Any way you plate it, this is a great combo!

I never get tired of rearranging ratatouille—eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, onions and tomatoes—and this time, I married the classic Provencal stew with a classic Jewish breakfast dish, shakshuka.

The first time I heard of shakshuka was during a pre-wedding meeting with Rabbi Mark, who formerly led Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, where my then-fiancé, Les, is a member. When our ceremony-planning conversation took a detour toward food and cooking (as literally every conversation with me eventually does), Mark asked if I’d ever made shakshuka, the Middle Eastern dish that is a breakfast staple in many Jewish households. I was stumped because I had never even heard of this dish, let alone made it. But that changed quickly, and it has become an occasional favorite at our house.

Shakshuka is a humble and hearty, tomato-based skillet meal, and a great way to use up whatever other vegetables you have on hand, with eggs simmered right into the sauce. It is very similar to a dish the Italians call “eggs in purgatory.” I especially appreciate how simple it is to pull together when I have had a busy week with little time to plan a menu. Up until now, I have made it only with the spicy flavors that are traditional to the northern African region, where shakshuka originated—cumin, paprika, hot pepper, garlic and oregano.

But this time, I took the concept of shakshuka northward across the Mediterranean Sea, into the south of France, using Herbs de Provence alongside all the beloved vegetables of ratatouille. The result, as you can see, was awesome!

Served with a light sprinkle of Parm-Romano blend cheese at the table.

There was so much nourishing comfort in the stewed vegetables, which simmered long enough to become soft and melded, and the delicate herbs were just right. I’m already craving it again!

As with most recipes, it’s helpful to have all your ingredients chopped and ready before you begin. For any stew, I like to cut up the vegetables into roughly similar size. This ensures more even cooking, and also makes it possible to get a little bit of everything in each delicious bite. I used a large zucchini, a large “millionaire” eggplant (the slender, Japanese variety), half of a large onion, half of a huge red bell pepper and three fresh, red tomatoes from my garden. In addition to the fresh ingredients, you’ll need a 15 oz. can of tomato sauce, a splash of dry white wine (I used dry French vermouth), a pinch or two of Herbs de Provence, and up to six eggs.

We’re going to need a bigger pot!

That’s a lot of veggies! I made this version of shakshuka in a larger pot than usual because I knew that tossing all of these fresh vegetables in my go-to cast iron would be a serious challenge, and I wanted to avoid making a big mess. The ratatouille also needs to be stirred as it cooks, so be sure your cooking vessel can handle the volume of ingredients as well as the mixing requirement. Choose a pot that has a snug-fitting lid, as this will be important for simmering.

The width of the pot is what matters, so you’ll have plenty of room to place the eggs.

Begin by heating the pan over medium flame. Add oil and start sautéing the vegetables. Eggplant soaks up oil fast so I held that back until the peppers, onions and zucchini had a chance to soften. Remember to season each layer with a pinch of salt and pepper, not only for flavor, but also because salt helps to draw excess moisture from the vegetables as they cook. During this stage, also add a few pinches of Herbs de Provence, a French blend that includes any combination of thyme, savory, rosemary, marjoram and lavender. These are delicate herbs, but they do pack a fragrant punch, so start with a small amount and inch up to taste.


When the vegetables are visibly softened, add the fresh garden tomatoes and give it a stir. Add the tomato sauce and dry white wine. If I have used a canned ingredient, I usually swish the wine around in the empty can to rinse out the last bit of flavor. Another quick pinch of salt and pepper, and then reduce the heat, cover the pan and allow it to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The vegetables will continue to soften, melding the flavors together, but the sauce should not reduce too much. While it simmers, take the eggs out of the fridge; they will set in the shakshuka better if they are closer to room temperature.


When the ratatouille stew has become very soft, crack each egg into a ramekin dish for easy transfer to the shakshuka. This may seem unnecessary, but trust me when I tell you that it is no fun at all trying to fish out itty-bitty pieces of egg shell that went astray into a big saucy mixture. If anything goes sideways with your cracked eggs, you want it to happen in the ramekin, not in your beautiful recipe!

Give the stew a gentle stir, and then use the back of a large serving spoon to create a slight depression for each egg to rest. This doesn’t have to be perfect, and you only need a spot about 3 inches across for each egg. I had room for six eggs in my large pot, but I only used four because I knew the extras would not warm up well without overcooking. Better to add fresh eggs when you heat up the leftovers.

Cook as many eggs as you plan to serve initially. Make more eggs when you reheat the leftovers.

Slip an egg into each depression and give the shakshuka one final pinch of salt and pepper before covering the pot. Keep the flame set on low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks still have a bit of jiggle to them.

I wish you could smell this! 😋

Scatter fresh, chopped herbs over the dish (I used fresh basil from the garden, but flat-leaf parsley would be nice, too), and serve immediately with a slice of crusty French bread. The best way to serve this dish is to use a wide, somewhat flat spoon to scoop underneath an egg, grabbing as much of the surrounding stew as possible at the same time. Sprinkle on a teaspoon or so of grated Parmesan for a big burst of umami flavor.


Ratatouille Shakshuka

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: average
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Choose a wide, covered pot for making your ratatouille, and prepare your workstation by chopping all vegetables before you begin.

Ingredients

  • 1 large zucchini, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 large (or 1 medium) red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large Japanese eggplant, chopped (or about 2 cups of alternate variety)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Up to 1 tsp. Herbs de Provence (or Italian seasoning, if preferred)
  • 3 small, fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 15 oz. can low-sodium tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
  • 6 large eggs* (see recipe note below)
  • Fresh basil or Italian parsley, for garnish

Note: If you wish, cook only the number of eggs you intend to serve initially. When you use the leftovers, fresh eggs will yield a better result at that time.

Directions

  1. Heat large pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute vegetables, beginning with only zucchini, onion and bell pepper. When the first vegetables begin to soften, add the eggplant and saute until all veggies are tender. Season with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence.
  2. Add fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce and dry wine, stirring to combine evenly. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove eggs from fridge during the simmer time.
  3. When vegetables are fulley softened, crack each egg into a ramekin cup for easy transfer into the pot. Use the back or a large serving spoon to make a depression for each egg. Slip the eggs into the depressions, season with salt and pepper and cover the pan.
  4. Cook over low heat about 8 minutes, until egg whites are set and yolks are still slightly jiggly. Serve immediately.


Summer Tomato Water Martini

The truth is, I have been fiddling with this martini since before my own garden-fresh tomatoes came to fruition. My first effort was accidental, right after my husband and I had returned from a vacation at the end of last summer. It was good, but kind of a one-off thing and I didn’t give it much thought. Months later, it popped up in my news feed—on Epicurious or Food 52 or, honestly, I don’t know where—and it sucked because it was February or March and I had to improvise because there were no garden fresh tomatoes available. So let me get this out of the way early: do not try this with grocery store tomatoes. Trust me on this.

Fast forward to mid-August, when fresh, homegrown tomatoes are available everywhere, from your own garden or the farmers’ market, and that makes a world of difference. The flavorful liquid that seeps out of those freshly sliced, vine-ripened tomatoes is absolutely begging to be part of a cocktail. If you love summer tomatoes and you are up for a fun martini experiment, this is for you!

I’ve made this cocktail with red heirloom variety tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, vodka and gin.
Try them all to find your favorite!

When the local growers started selling a few heirloom tomatoes at their market stands, I tried this idea again, and it was so much better. The red heirlooms are so juicy and sweet, and the success of this martini twist gave me even more reason to be excited about my own harvest of heirloom and yellow tomatoes. And here we are. 🙂

Regardless of the type of tomato you use, the unique sweetness and acidity will add an exceptional brightness to a martini. I have tried this with both gin and vodka, and a variety of spirit-to-vermouth ratios. It’s good many different ways, so my recommendation is to try it yourself to find the balance that is perfect for you. My personal favorite (at least this week) is made with top-shelf vodka, in a 4-to-1 ratio with dry vermouth, no bitters and at least 1 part seasoned “tomato water.” A full description with amounts is at the end of the post, in a click-to-print recipe card.

But for now, watch to learn:

Wash and slice a ripe, room-temperature tomato (or several, depending on what you need them for) and arrange the slices on a plate. Sprinkle with a fair amount of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper (don’t skip this!) and walk away for about 15 minutes. What you’ll find when you return is a plate full of beautifully seasoned tomato water underneath the slices. Use the tomatoes for whatever you wish—a tomato sandwich, perhaps—but don’t toss that tomato water! Carefully pour it off into a shot glass or small bowl, grab your martini fixins and chill down your glass with ice and water.


Measure your vodka (or gin) and vermouth into a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Add the tomato water to taste. I have discovered that you need at least a tablespoon to really savor the flavor it adds to the drink. If you see excess moisture on top of your tomato slices, drain that off into the mixing container as well. Add a generous cup of ice cubes and shake or stir to chill the cocktail.


Empty the ice water from your chilled glass, and immediately strain the martini into the glass. Garnish with a pickled cocktail onion or olive, and a small piece of tomato if you wish.

Cheers to summer!

Summer Tomato Water Martini

  • Servings: 1 cocktail
  • Difficulty: average
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This super-simple twist adds a bright, fresh, summery flair to an otherwise classic martini cocktail, and I have found myself slicing up tomatoes just so I can make another one.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe, garden fresh tomato (any variety, but heirloom is best)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 oz. good vodka (I have used Grey Goose and Ketel One with terrific results)
  • 1/2 oz. dry vermouth (my fave here is Dolin)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 oz. seasoned tomato water
  • 1 cup ice (for mixing)
  • Pickled cocktail onion, olive and/or piece of tomato (for garnish)

Directions

  1. Slice tomato and arrange the slices on a plate or shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper and let rest about 15 minutes. Chill martini glass with ice and cold water.
  2. Add vodka and vermouth to a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Transfer the tomato slices to another plate, or use them in a salad or sandwich. Drain the remaining tomato water into a small bowl or shot glass. Measure at least one tablespoon of it into the cocktail glass. Add ice and shake or stir until chilled.
  3. Empty ice water from the chilled glass. Strain the cocktail into the glass and garnish as desired.
  4. Repeat at least twice per week until all the tomatoes are gone.


Zucchini & Yellow Tomato Pizza

We are turning a corner on our side-yard vegetable garden, and I am finding myself a bit flummoxed because for the first time in years, we actually have a tomato harvest! When I made the decision to plant this year—and it was definitely my decision, given that I’m the one who is home more during the day to tend to it—I swore that I would pull out all the stops in repelling the deer that reside in the woods behind us. Nothing I had tried in the past worked for more than a week, and dammit, I wanted tomatoes this year! If you have a similar problem, stop playing around with sprays and wind chimes (they don’t work anyway) and stop scattering human hair and soap shavings and whatever else you’ve tried, and just go get one of these—order it now, I’ll wait.

Here’s me, pretending to be a deer approaching from the woods…

The yard enforcer motion-activated sprinkler is by far the smartest thing I’ve bought this year, and friends, we are about to reap the benefit of so many tomatoes!

I planted an heirloom variety this year, called “Brandywine,” and they are large, sweet and juicy—perfect for tomato sandwiches and caprese salads. I am fond of the color of the Brandywine tomato—it’s sort of a blushy pink-red color, rather than the orange-red that is typical. They have a pleated sort of appearance, and a few wrinkly lines on the skin, but I don’t mind it and it certainly doesn’t affect the quality.

There’s nothing better than a simple tomato sandwich for a summer lunch!

Right next to those is a grouping of four Roma tomato plants, and I have been astonished to see how many fruits developed on these plants. They are extra-long fruits, compared to the wimpy Romas at the grocery store, and we are planning on canning a few things with those when they are ready—mainly homemade pizza sauce, I suspect. The Roma tomato is a determinate plant, which means they will likely overwhelm me by ripening all at once. I hope we’re ready!

Our sunbathing beauties!

Finally, the luscious, yellow “Lemon Boy” tomatoes, which were the first ones to ripen, and I love the slight tang they bring to my plate, despite being lower acidity than many other tomatoes. Lemon Boy is a hybrid variety, and it is indeterminate, so I’ll have plenty of fruit to harvest for a few weeks, which I love.

These Lemon Boys are the tomatoes I’m excited to share today, and of all the dishes I’ve made with them recently, this pizza stands out as a favorite because it really speaks to the transition of my garden. To date, I had struggled to keep up with the zucchini yield, and you can bet I won’t ever plant four of those again! It was about three weeks ago that I noticed vine borers had attacked my vibrant squash plant, and you know what that means—game over. I hate those things!

But we had a few squash that were near-ready, so I let them mature before I yanked the infested plants out of the garden. And just about the time I did so, I spotted this perfectly ripe, ready-to-enjoy Lemon Boy.

Hello, handsome! 🙂

I wanted to slice it on the spot and savor it with nothing but a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, but I restrained myself and made it a co-star with one of the last zucchini of the season on this summer pie. This dish felt like a passing of the baton in my garden. As my summer squash takes its final bow, the tomatoes are right on cue for center stage, and they were terrific companions on this fresh pizza. I just love this part of summer!


This is a thin crust pizza and it begins with my favorite sourdough base. The sourdough starter and the long, slow ferment in the refrigerator gives my dough a deep, complex flavor and the texture is always just right, thanks to our beloved pizza steel. If you want to level up your pizza game with only one move, this is the thing, right here. It takes the hottest temperature your home oven can put out and intensifies it to make the most beautifully blistered crust that is crisp on the bottom and chewy on top. It’s the closest you can get to brick oven at home.


The zucchini was cut up into bite-sized bits and lightly sautéed in a bit of olive oil, and I salted the yellow tomato slices a few minutes ahead, giving the juice and flavor plenty of time to bloom. I didn’t bother taking pictures of these steps because it’s simple enough to figure out. The rest of the pizza is also straightforward, including a store-bought sauce that we love (at least until our Romas are ready), plenty of freshly shredded hard mozzarella, some thinly sliced spring onions that I picked up at the farmers’ market and a scattering of basil leaves, which have also been good to us in this year’s home garden.

Here’s how it goes, beginning with shaping the ball of sourdough. As always, thanks to my dear husband for his photography skills for this part of the show.


Zucchini & Yellow Tomato Pizza

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
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This dish felt like a passing of the baton in my garden. As my summer squash takes its final bow, the tomatoes are right on cue for center stage, and they were terrific companions on this fresh pizza. I just love this part of summer!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into small wedges
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling onto pizza
  • 1 large yellow tomato, sliced and salted to release excess moisture
  • 1 small spring onion (or sweet onion), thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup favorite pizza sauce
  • 1 cup shredded, low-moisture mozzarella
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan or parm-romano blend
  • Small handful of fresh, small basil leaves

Note that my method uses a heavy pizza steel, preheated at 550° F for one hour. If you don’t have a steel, use a pizza stone at the highest temperature recommended for your product. At lower temperature, baking time will require adjustment.

Directions

  1. Place a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and saute zucchini until tender. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Use a paper towel to blot excess moisture from the tomato slices.
  2. Shape pizza dough into 14″ round, and place on a flour and cornmeal-dusted peel for easy transfer to the oven. Drizzle on a small amount of olive oil and season the dough with salt and pepper.
  3. Spread on the sauce, keeping it at least 1/2″ inch from the edges of the dough. Scatter shredded mozzarella over the sauce
  4. Arrange the vegetables on the pizza, beginning with the fresh tomato slices. Follow with the zucchini bits, sliced onions and garlic.
  5. Finally, tuck in the basil leaves for a fragrant bite of summer. Sprinkle the parm-romano blend over the pizza and finish it with a quick zig-zag of olive oil.
  6. Slide onto the preheated pizza steel and bake for 6 minutes, until crust is golden and blistered and cheese is bubbly all over.
  7. Transfer to serving pan, slice and enjoy!


As a side note, it looks like I will be purchasing a second yard enforcer for next year, to keep the squirrels out of the low parts of the garden!

At least the squirrels have smaller mouths! 🙂


S’mores Brownies

Ooey-gooey. It’s the only honest way to describe a s’more—with its melty, oozing richness of milk chocolate, warmed and softened by a fresh-from-the-campfire toasted marshmallow and squished between two delicately crispy, honey-sweetened graham crackers. It is a little dessert sandwich that says, “come on, be a kid again!” This beautifully sticky, utterly sweet nostalgic treat is fantastic on its own, but now I’ve just gone and made it even more sinful by baking it into a rich, dark, fudgy brownie.

Why in the world would I do such a thing, when I’m supposed to be watching my calories? One reason: National S’mores Day!

You probably think these are ridiculous, and you’re absolutely right!

What Goes Into S’mores Brownies?

There’s no campfire required to make these, and you don’t have to get carried away making them from scratch, either. My s’mores brownie recipe (like all my brownie riffs) is based on my favorite brownie box mix, and I am confident that it would work well with your favorite, too. All you need (besides whatever the brownie box says) is a sleeve of graham crackers, a little melted butter, a jar of marshmallow cream, two Hershey’s milk chocolate bars and a smidge of cream cheese.

The main ingredients are exactly what you’d expect. You’ll also need a little butter, a dab of cream cheese and whatever is required for making the brownie batter.

This would be a fun and tasty activity with the kids, the grandkids, the neighbor kids, the big kid you married or perhaps just the kid in you! There is playfulness in making them, and my hubby even joined the action during assembly—it’s funny how quick he is to lend a hand when dessert is involved, and he was definitely excited about these.

S’mores brownies are excellent when served in their just-cooled state after baking, but (as my husband discovered) they are also great cold from the fridge. My neighbor reports that they are awesome warmed up for a few seconds in the microwave—you know, bringing that melty gooiness back to life. We even tried them warmed with a small scoop of ice cream on top. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a bad way to enjoy a s’mores brownie.

The cold, creamy ice cream was a nice complement to the ultra-rich s’mores brownie.

How to Make S’mores Brownies

Did I mention that making them is easy? You’ll find an easy click-to-print recipe at the end of the post. It includes all the measurements and directions I used. But first, some eye candy!

I started with a graham cracker base—the same as I would make for a cheesecake or key lime pie. My graham crackers were packaged in “stacks,” which are basically just pre-halved graham squares for quick and easy s’more making. I used two stacks for the crumb base. Prepare your baking pan with a few swipes of cold butter along the bottom and sides to ensure easy removal of the ooey-gooey brownies, with all its sticky sweet fillings. Add graham crackers to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse several times to break them up into rough crumbs. Then add the melted butter and pulse again several times, until the mixture resembles coarse, wet sand. Transfer the crumbs into the buttered pan and press firmly onto the bottom, but not up the sides. Bake a few minutes to set the crumbs and then let it cool.


For the marshmallow layer, I used the same trick as in my S’mores Ice Cream last year—I used an electric mixer to combine the entire jar of marshmallow cream with a small amount of cream cheese. This knocks out the airy bubbles, making it more manageable for layering inside the brownies. Scoop this mixture into a zip top bag, seal it and set it aside.


Make the brownie batter according to package instructions. If you are obsessed with dark chocolate (ahem, like me), feel free to add a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder to the dry mix first. I planned to use Hershey milk chocolate in the layers (for its ooey-gooey properties), so the addition of cocoa is how I got my dark chocolate fix. Spoon roughly half of the brownie mixture as evenly as possible over the baked graham crust. Don’t try to spread it, as this will dislodge those beautiful crumbs. Just spoon it and let it ooze into place.


Next, snip a small corner off the bag holding the marshmallow cream and gently pipe it all over the first layer of brownie batter. I did my best to keep this layer from seeping to the edges, because marshmallow tends to turn hard and chewy if it cooks too much. My hubby jumped in to help at this point, as he had opened up the Hershey bars and broken them into individual pieces for layering onto the marshmallow cream. He may also have been doing a little quality control for me—a.k.a. taste testing the chocolate bars—and it was fun hearing him describe how he broke the bars into little pieces like that when he was a kid. You know, to make the chocolate bar last longer. 🙂

We arranged the chocolate with a little space in between so the marshmallow had plenty of room to ooze.


The rest of the brownie batter was layered on, and it was tricky to spoon it on evenly without creating a muddy swirl. Next time, I might use a zip top bag to pipe that on as well, but the swirls were not too pronounced. A few broken pieces of extra graham cracker, and our brownies were ready for the oven! My box mix suggested 45 to 50 minutes, and I gave it the full 50. My s’mores brownies were a bit on the “fudgy” side, and I think a few extra minutes in the oven would have been just fine.

Now, the hard part. Waiting for them to cool!

As much as I’d love to claim that the calories fell out when we cut them into squares (spoiler alert—they didn’t), I think I’ll just declare that I’m glad National S’mores Day only comes once a year!


S'mores Brownies

  • Servings: 9 or 16, depending on how you cut them
  • Difficulty: average
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There’s no campfire required to make these, and you don’t have to get carried away making them from scratch, either. My s’mores brownie recipe (like all my brownie riffs) is based on my favorite brownie box mix, and I am confident that it would work well with your favorite, too.

Ingredients

  • 1 box brownie mix, plus ingredients listed to make them (usually oil, water and egg)
  • 1 Tbsp. dark cocoa, optional for extra rich chocolate flavor
  • 1 sleeve honey graham crackers (or two “stacks,” if your package is like mine)
  • 3 Tbsp. salted butter, melted
  • 7 oz. jar marshmallow cream (or fluff)
  • 2 Tbsp. plain cream cheese
  • 2 full-size Hershey milk chocolate bars, broken into individual pieces
  • 1 or 2 additional graham crackers, broken into pieces for top of brownies

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F, or temperature recommended on the brownie mix. Place rack in center of oven. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. Break up a sleeve of graham crackers (or two stacks) into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break them into coarse crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse several more times, until mixture resembles wet sand.
  3. Transfer crumbs to buttered baking dish and press firmly onto the bottom but not up the sides. Use a small, flat-bottomed dish to make this easy. Bake graham crust for about 7 minutes, enough to set the crumbs. Cool to room temperature.
  4. In a small bowl, use an electric mixer or sturdy whisk to beat cream cheese and marshmallow fluff together. Spoon mixture into a quart size, zip top bag. Seal and set the bag aside for now.
  5. Make brownie batter according to package instructions. If using dark cocoa, add it to the dry ingredients before blending.
  6. Carefully spoon about half of the brownie batter onto the cooled graham crust. Do not spread the batter, as this will disturb the delicate crumbs.
  7. Snip a corner of the zip top bag and use it as a piping bag to distribute the marshmallow cream over the brownie batter. Try to keep the cream about an inch away from the side edges of the dish.
  8. Arrange the individual Hershey pieces all over the marshmallow cream. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just aim for uniform coverage with a bit of space in between each piece.
  9. Carefully spoon the remaining batter over the layers of marshmallow and chocolate pieces. I found this easiest by using small spoonfuls, beginning around the edges of the dish first, to keep the chocolate pieces from being pushed to the outside.
  10. Break up about two additional graham crackers (or four, if using the stacks); arrange them randomly over the top of the brownies.
  11. Bake for the full time recommended on the brownie package, until the top of brownies is done to its usual state. (If you’re using a favorite brand, you’ll know what they should look like on top)
  12. Cool to room temperature before cutting and serving.



Garden Veggie Spiral Quiche

About once a week, my husband, Les, flashes me his phone to announce what has appeared on his Facebook page—“Five years ago, today!” It’s usually a throwback photo of our dog, Nilla, and I always love the ones that were taken years before I even met them. She was an adorable little fluff pup, and he has taken a ton of pictures of her through the years! The other day, though, he presented me with a picture that was instantly familiar— a pretty, fresh-from-the-oven spiral quiche made of fresh zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant from our own garden. The timing was remarkable, given that I had made plans to make the same recipe with veggies from this year’s garden, just days apart from the one I made in 2017. For your comparison, here they are, side by side:

Is it a quiche or a tart? Let’s just call it delicious.

My inspiration for this brunch-worthy dish came directly from Pinterest, but the recipe did not. It was one of those pins that appeared with an exciting image, but no title or description, and a link that led to absolutely nothing. But I took the clickbait in stride because at that point, I had all the inspiration I needed; my mind was already racing with my own ideas for creating such a pretty pie. I’d use thin slices of eggplant and squash from my own garden, layering them around and around inside a blind-baked pastry in my springform pan. I’d slip a few store-bought carrot slices in wherever I could make them fit, and then I’d pour an omelet mixture over the whole thing and bake it until the eggs were set. I was not blogging at that time, so it didn’t occur to me to write down what I had done—I just followed my instinct and used what was fresh from the garden at the time. I had one measly cherry tomato that year (the deer got the rest), and I showcased it by placing it right in the center.

As it happens, the same things are fresh from the garden at the same time this year!

This is a veggie-packed quiche! I ended up swapping the parsley for fresh basil, and I skipped the fresh onion and garlic.


This was a delicious, meatless dinner, and I dressed up our quiche servings with a generous spoonful of marinara sauce and some sprinkles of our favorite parm-romano blend cheese. It was hearty and satisfying, and just look at all those layers of vegetables.


I began with a homemade pastry dough, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use a pre-made crust; be sure it’s the kind you can roll out, rather than a crust already in a tin. Because of the spiral, this will work best in a baking pan with straight sides. I used a springform pan, but a regular 9-inch cake pan with straight sides will work fine as well.


At this point, I made a mistake and you have probably already spotted it. Trimming off the excess dough, even with the top of the springform pan, seemed like the logical thing to do. But I didn’t take into account that the crust would shrink during blind baking, and the pan did not have any slope to keep it in position. The better choice would be to keep a bit of dough hanging just over the edge of the pan. Or, as I suspect was my method in 2017, use a double layer of foil to hold the pastry in place during baking. So, my advice here is, “do as I say, not as I do.” 😊

Follow whatever blind-baking method feels right to you, and check on it during baking. I docked a few holes in the pastry (the bottom and the sides), laid a parchment round into the pan and filled a shallow layer of dried beans to keep it from bubbling. One of these days, I will buy some pie weights! As you can see, my trimming method backfired, and the dough slid down the sides a bit. Live and learn—let’s call it “rustic,” shall we?


Allow the crust to cool completely while you prep the veggies. Trim and slice the zucchini, squash, eggplant and carrots into 1/4” thin planks. This was a task for the mandolin, which is serious business, so I didn’t attempt to take pictures of that process. Use a knife if you must and aim to keep the planks as uniformly thin as possible. The carrots were cut into thinner, 1/8″ slices. Sprinkle all the veggies with salt and pepper and arrange your ingredients for easy assembly. Combine beaten eggs with ricotta and whisk evenly. Shred the cheese and chop the basil into strips.


When the pastry is cooled, layer the zucchini and eggplant slices around the pan, overlapping them slightly to eliminate gaps. Don’t worry about keeping the slices even—it’s natural for some of them to sit higher in the pan—and expect that you may have a few veggie planks left over. Wiggle in the carrot slices wherever they fit, and then sprinkle the shredded cheese and sliced basil over the tart.


Pour the egg-ricotta mixture slowly over the veggie swirl, taking care to let it seep evenly as much as possible. This was a bit tricky with mine, given that my pastry had collapsed in several places, but it worked out OK. In a nod to my 2017 tart, I also placed a cherry tomato in the center before I slid it into the oven. About an hour later, the eggs were set and the veggies were tender, but there was a fair amount of excess moisture pooled on top in spots.

I used a paper towel to blot away the excess moisture, and tucked it back into the oven for another minute or two.

The moisture was not disastrous, and it didn’t make the crust soggy, but next time, I’ll salt the vegetables longer to draw out moisture, the same as I do with eggplant for moussaka or eggplant parm, and my instructions reflect this suggestion, too. More lessons learned. 😊


Garden Veggie Spiral Quiche

  • Servings: 8 wedges
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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It’s fun to make, and uses up some of the fresh veggies coming out of the garden! This was delicious for Meatless Monday, or make it the star of the show at a summer brunch.

Ingredients

  • 1 rollout pie pastry (store-bought or homemade; my recipe is below)
  • 1 large or 2 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 2 medium Japanese variety eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 1 medium yellow or zephyr squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/8″ planks
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1 tsp. dried minced onions
  • 1/2 cup shredded gruyere or cheddar cheese
  • Small handful of fresh basil leaves (or substitute Italian parsley)
  • Marinara sauce and grated parmesan, for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare and blind-bake the pastry in a 9″ springform or other straight-sided cake pan. Allow it to cool to room temperature.
  2. Spread out the veggie planks and season them generously with salt and pepper. Allow them to rest for about an hour, to draw out some of the moisture. Blot dry with paper towels. Select a smaller, “bendy” slice or two for the center of your quiche.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and ricotta until evenly blended. Stir in dried minced onions.
  4. Arrange zucchini, eggplant and yellow squash planks in the cooled pastry crust, overlapping slightly and alternating veggies for visual interest. Wrap the reserved slices tightly around your index finger and place it in the center (it will unwind to fill up the space). Tuck carrot slices in wherever you can make them fit.
  5. Scatter shredded gruyere all over the veggie spiral. Slice or tear the basil leaves and scatter those over the quiche as well.
  6. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the tart, taking care to let it seep down between the veggie planks. The mixture may or may not come all the way to the top.
  7. Bake the quiche at 350° F for about an hour, until eggs are fully set and vegetables are softened. Let it cool at least ten minutes before slicing and serving.

Use your favorite pie pastry recipe, or take a shortcut with a store-bought, roll-out crust. Below is the recipe I used for mine.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat)
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup very cold water

Directions

  1. Combine the two flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse one or two times to evenly mix.
  2. Scatter the butter cubes all over the flour. Pulse about five times until the butter bits are smaller and coated in flour.
  3. Slowly pour the cold water into the chute of the processor. Run continuously as you add the water, and mix just until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic film; wrap it up tightly and refrigerate at least one hour or up to overnight.
  4. To blind-bake the pastry, preheat oven to 350° F. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured countertop and drape it into the springform pan; trim off excess, but allow the dough to catch the edge a bit. Use a fork to prick a few holes into the dough; this helps reduce puffing while baking. Lay a piece of parchment over the bottom of the crust and fill with ceramic beads (or dried beans work well). Alternative, gently lay a doubled sheet of foil directly over the raw crust and up the sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, just until pastry is set but not golden. Allow it to cool before filling.



PB&J Ice Cream

Of all the foods I loved as a kid, few were as simple and pleasing as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The combination of protein-rich, salty, sticky peanut butter and sweet, cool, fruity jelly (or jam) is so satisfying, and I still love it today. My personal favorite way to enjoy this kid-friendly classic is fried, exactly like a grilled cheese sandwich—this preparation seems to elevate a PB&J sandwich into something more suitable for, ahem, grownups. I guess I’m still trying to be one. And, as I learned last week, the flavor combo also translates nicely to summer’s favorite dessert.

The kid in you will go crazy for this ice cream!

When National Ice Cream Month rolled around this year, I already had a long list of flavor ideas to try, but some of them will have to wait because July is slipping away. This one, however, is too fun to let slide, and I’m even willing to make an exception to my “trying-to-eat-healthier” summer. After all, what could be more fun than PB&J ice cream???

It’s smooth and peanut butter-y, with little dots of fruity sweet jelly throughout. Mmmm!

The ice cream base is literally one of the simplest I have ever made. It is only four ingredients, including the fat-free version of sweetened condensed milk that I discovered when I made my Reduced-Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream at the start of this month. This was such an exciting discovery, because the fat-free condensed milk still provides the texture that makes ice cream so addictive. The rest of the base is whole milk, a slight amount of light cream and a smooth, natural peanut butter.

Choose a smooth natural peanut butter, not one with a grainy texture.

For full disclosure, I confess that this is not my usual go-to style of peanut butter; I prefer the type that is nothing more than ground peanuts and sea salt—you know, the kind you have to stir and keep in the fridge—but most of those have a slight grittiness that would not play well in this smooth ice cream base. After much label perusing, I went with this Skippy brand “natural” peanut butter, which is smooth like the Jif of my childhood. It does not contain partially hydrogenated oils, but it does have some amount of palm oil, a somewhat lesser crime. It keeps the peanut butter mixed, silky and spreadable—exactly what I needed for this recipe. I also considered one of the peanut butter powders that have become widely available, but I’ll save that experiment for another day. Though it may not be my favorite peanut butter for sandwiches, we can always use it up by making a batch of Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies!

My base has plenty of peanut butter flavor on its own, and with addition of a pinch of sea salt, the contrast of salty-to-sweet is exactly what I wanted. But then I went wild and added more peanut butter, in the form of a ribbon made of salted, crunchy peanut butter. I layered it with the frozen base, and after some time in the freezer, the ribbon has a texture that is almost like peanut butter chips. Finally, the “J” part of this PB&J ice cream—and for this, I brought my childhood favorite flavor of Welch’s grape together with my current-day favorite of French mixed berry preserves. Together, they were soooo good!

Past favorite, meet present favorite. This jelly is my JAM! 🙂

Mixing up this ice cream was so easy, and I’m honestly starting to wonder why I ever went through the trouble of making a custard base. Besides being crazy creamy and having fewer steps, this egg-free type of ice cream base is also ready for freezing in less than half the time as custard ice creams. Just whisk together the condensed milk and smooth peanut butter (I used my handheld mixer for this task), then add the milk and cream. I did not add vanilla because I wanted a pure peanut butter flavor. Chill it down in the fridge for an hour or two.


When you’re ready to churn, give the ice cream base a quick whisking to reincorporate any ingredients that may have settled. Pour the base into the ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. Measure out the chunky peanut butter and the preserves-jelly mixture into separate, small zip-top bags. This will make it easier to layer them in ribbons throughout the frozen base. Put both bags on standby in the fridge until the freezing is completed.


When the ice cream reaches the desired consistency, splash in a tablespoon of vodka (assuming only grownups will be eating it), to ensure a smooth scooping texture, straight from the freezer. Transfer the ice cream into an insulated freezer container and snip the corners of the peanut butter and jelly bags, making it easy to squeeze ribbons of PB&J into layers of peanut butter ice cream.


Don’t worry about swirling the ribbons—doing so will only make the ice cream look muddy. Just lay the ribbons down in a criss-cross kind of way, and trust that the swirls will happen on their own when you scoop out the finished ice cream.

Swirly and delicious.

And don’t worry if you have a little extra PB&J in the squeeze bags because—wait, what are you doing, Love?

I guess a recipe like this brings out the kid in everyone! 🙂

PB&J Ice Cream

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
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This ice cream is the very best of two childhood favorites, all swirled together in one easy, creamy bite!

Ingredients

  • 14 oz. can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1 Tbsp. vodka (optional, mixed in at the end for improved texture)
  • 3 Tbsp. crunchy natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. each grape jelly and mixed berry preserves

Directions

  1. In a large pitcher bowl, whisk together condensed milk and smooth peanut butter until completely smooth. Stir in sea salt to boost the salty peanut flavor.
  2. Whisk or stir in milk and light cream. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour or two, until fully chilled.
  3. Set up the ice cream maker and give the base mixture a quick whisking to re-blend any ingredients that have settled. Pour into the ice cream machine and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions. During the last minute of churning, blend in the vodka (unless serving kids or non-drinkers, of course).
  4. While the ice cream is churning, measure out the chunky peanut butter and the jelly combination into separate, small zip-top bags. Refrigerate until ready to layer.
  5. Transfer the frozen ice cream to an insulated freezer container, about one-third at a time. Snip a small corner off each swirl bag. After each partial layer, squeeze a ribbon of peanut butter, alternating with a ribbon of jelly/preserves.
  6. Finish the ice cream with a final layer of ice cream base. Cover and freeze several hours for best scooping texture.



Buffalo Chicken Salad

One of things I love about food blogging is participating in the “National Days” that are related to popular comfort foods. I’m not sure who is responsible for deciding what day is right for celebrating chocolate chip cookies or fried chicken or pepperoni pizza, but I know it’s fun! Here on Comfort du Jour, I have paid particular attention to National S’mores Day, and this year will be no exception (watch for that on August 10th).

This Friday is National Chicken Wing Day, proclaimed as such in 1977 by then-mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., Stan Makowski—and for this gal, who was born and raised just south of Buffalo, that’s a big deal! But I’m torn, because I have really been trying to dial it back on the heavy foods to get my health back on the right track. As much I love Buffalo wings (oh, how I do), I can’t justify deep frying tiny, skin-on chicken pieces, drenching them in sauce and then dragging them through bleu cheese dressing, just because it’s a “National Day.” Talk about a calorie explosion! I wanted to see if I could find a lighter way to enjoy the flavors associated with this “taste of home.” Here it is—Buffalo chicken salad.

This has all the flavors of Buffalo wings, without the deep-fried calories!

All the flavors are represented: tender chicken (obviously), spicy Buffalo wing sauce, bleu cheese, even celery—but at a fraction of the fat and calories of the usual preparation. The chicken here is lean, skinless breast meat, and you can make that part super easy by picking up a deli-roasted chicken (you can use the rest for another meal), or you can poach them at home with a few aromatics and some chicken or veggie broth, as I did:


The dressing that wraps around the chicken shreds carries all the other flavors, beginning with mayonnaise and sour cream—just enough to hold it all together—and ending with however much Franks RedHot sauce tickles your fancy. To give it a really good kick, add a few pinches of cayenne pepper or keep it colorful with less heat by adding a spoonful of sweet paprika. This recipe is totally flexible to match your heat tolerance.


This recipe made four generous servings of chicken salad. I served it on leaves of soft butter lettuce as dinner, alongside an impromptu slab of garlic toast; the latter was my husband’s genius creation made from leftover hot dog buns and a few sprinkles of our favorite parm-romano blend cheese. It was a great meal, both for the flavor and the satisfaction of throwing a low-calorie twist on a classic comfort food.


Buffalo Chicken Salad

  • Servings: about 4
  • Difficulty: average
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This is an easy way to enjoy the flavors of Buffalo wings, but without the high fat and calories. Adjust the amount of Frank’s RedHot sauce to match your desire for heat.

Ingredients

  • 2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream
  • 3 Tbsp. Frank’s RedHot sauce (give or take, depending on your heat preference)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup bleu cheese crumbles
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika, optional for color
  • A sprinkle of fresh, chopped parsley for garnish, if you’re feeling fancy

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, RedHot sauce, lemon juice, pepper and garlic powder. Whisk until evenly combined. Adjust hot sauce to taste.
  2. Add shredded chicken, onions and celery to the dressing bowl. Fold gently to combine ingredients. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings to taste.
  3. Fold in bleu cheese crumbles and sliced scallions, plus paprika if desired for extra color.
  4. Cover and refrigerate Buffalo chicken salad until ready to serve.

If you prefer, you can poach the chicken breasts yourself. Simply place them in a shallow pot with aromatics, such as celery, onion, fresh herbs and black peppercorns. Pour in enough chicken or vegetable broth to cover the chicken about halfway. Bring to a slight boil, then cover and simmer about 20-30 minutes until chicken is cooked through and tender.


When I got to the bottom of the bowl of Buffalo chicken salad, I lost my way a little bit on the whole “light and healthy” thing. I couldn’t resist putting an over-the-top spin on it. I know, but it sure was delicious, and still not as heavy as chicken wings! 🙂



Zucchini Sunshine Pancakes

“Zucchini—it isn’t just for dinner anymore!”

As I whipped up our breakfast this past weekend, I kept imagining this as a useful advertising slogan for anyone who is, like me, trying to use up an explosion of squash coming out of the garden this time of year. It’s easy to get bored with eating it the same few ways, and it occurred to me this week that I had not tried many ways to incorporate zucchini into a breakfast dish. Sure, I have occasionally tucked leftover sauteed zucchini into an omelet, but I wanted something more interesting—something new. The weekend is the only time I venture beyond the most basic of breakfasts, and though I considered making a version of morning glory muffins (subbing zucchini for the usual shredded carrots), I wanted something simpler, and that’s what made me think of pancakes.

Shredded zucchini would cook quickly inside a pancake batter, I figured, and I could use up a decent amount of this summer vegetable (which is technically a fruit) that has overtaken my countertop and refrigerator. Fresh citrus—in the form of juice and zest from a lemon and an orange—would make the overall flavor of my zucchini pancakes bright and sunny, just like the Saturday morning we would enjoy them.

The bright citrus was like a shot of sunshine in my zucchini pancakes!

For the body of my pancakes, I used a tried-and-true recipe that already has its own health benefits. Unlike typical, carb-heavy pancakes, these are packed with protein, thanks to Greek yogurt, ricotta and whole eggs (which also offer an assist in leavening the batter). The only flour in the mix is white whole wheat (King Arthur brand), and I added a few quick shakes of ground cinnamon to spice things up.   


What I love about these pancakes, other than the fact that they have lots of good-for-me ingredients, is that I don’t suffer any sugar shock effect a few hours after breakfast. Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates, which help keep blood sugar levels stable longer than highly processed white flours. And the protein from the yogurt, ricotta and eggs keeps my hunger at bay for hours. I have made these pancakes dozens of times, and this is the first time I’ve jazzed them up with extra ingredients, though it surely won’t be the last.

Grab an apron, and I’ll show you how easily I whipped them up!


The first step is to get the wet ingredients blended really well. A whisk is the best tool for this, or you could use an electric mixer. Get the mixture smooth and even, and then squeeze in the orange and lemon juices. Whisk it again to incorporate the juice and zest of the citrus fruits.

Next, blend in the shredded zucchini and flour mixture. I did this in stages, the same as I did recently for my Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread with Drunken Raisins recipe. You want to avoid overworking the mixture once the flour hits the batter, because excess stirring causes gluten to develop, and that results in a tough pancake. Stir or whisk in about half of the shredded zucchini first, then fold in half of the flour mixture, then the remaining zucchini and then the remaining flour ingredients. Folding is easy—use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to circle the bowl, turning the batter over onto itself. I did this “folding” action about 10 times, until I couldn’t see any unincorporated pockets of dry ingredients.


Any pancake or waffle batter performs best when it has a chance to rest several minutes after mixing, so I waited until the batter was ready before I began heating my range-top skillet. You can use a large cast iron pan or an electric skillet if that’s what you have. Heat the cooking surface over medium heat, leaning a little toward medium-low. This is a tricky thing, because every stove is different, and even different burners on the same stove can have a different heat output. I have found that the best way to ensure the temperature is right is to make a couple of small “test” pancakes. Your heat should be at the point that the first side of the pancake is golden brown at about the point that the edges begin to look dry on top. If it’s too brown, reduce your heat slightly and try another test pancake. If it’s too pale, increase the heat slightly and try again. It’s nice to have a test pancake for another reason as well—you get to sample the goods!


When you’ve confirmed the griddle temperature, carefully spoon or ladle out your pancakes onto the heated skillet or griddle, about 1/4 cup per pancake. Keep some distance between them for easy turning, and keep them relatively small to ensure the middle cooks through. Mine were no larger than the palm area of my hand, and I didn’t bother trying to make them in perfect rounds. The yogurt and ricotta make for a heavier batter than is typical for regular pancakes, so the visual cues for doneness are also different. You may not see large bubbles form and pop on the surface; watch for the edges to appear slightly dried out, and a little bit of swelling in the center of the batter. It should take about four minutes for the first side, and two more to finish them.


My camera angle didn’t quite capture the rising action of the pancakes after they were turned, but when you make them, you’ll see that they puff up quite a bit on the griddle. Every bite was fluffy, tender and satisfying, with the fiber goodness of zucchini and the light, sunshine-y citrus.  

Every bite of these zucchini pancakes had a bright, citrus-y flavor, like sunshine on a fork!

Serve these with real maple syrup or switch it up with a spoonful of warmed marmalade or tangy lemon curd.


Zucchini Sunshine Pancakes

  • Servings: about 10 pancakes
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Shredded zucchini and citrus provide a fresh burst of summer flavor in these protein-packed pancakes. For best results, let yogurt, ricotta and eggs stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before mixing.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain, Greek-style yogurt (stir well before measuring)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 3 large eggs (or 2 extra large)
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 navel orange
  • 3/4 cup shredded fresh zucchini, blotted dry with paper towels
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur brand)
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Real maple syrup or warm marmalade, for serving

Directions

  1. Whisk together (or mix with electric mixer) the yogurt, ricotta and eggs until the mixture is smooth and even.
  2. Stir in juice and zest of lemon and orange.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Whisk or stir half of the shredded zucchini into the yogurt mixture. Add half of the flour ingredients to the bowl and fold gently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to combine. Fold in the remaining zucchini, and then fold in the remaining flour ingredients, folding about 10 times to ensure all the flour is fully incorporated.
  5. Preheat griddle or skillet to medium/medium-low temperature. Allow pancake batter to rest during this time.
  6. Cook a test pancake to ensure heat is correct; the pancake should be golden brown on the first side when the edges appear dry on the top. Spoon or ladle about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto the skillet; the batter will be thick, but resist the temptation to thin it or spread it out into flatter rounds. Pancakes should be ready to turn after about 3 minutes. Stack them on a platter to keep them warm until all pancakes are cooked.
  7. Serve hot with real maple syrup or warmed marmalade.



Dark Chocolate Sorbet

Here we are, knee-deep into July, and I’m taking a break from the overflow of zucchini coming from my garden to share another ice cream. No, it isn’t zucchini ice cream—pretty sure nobody would even try that—but it is unusual, and technically not ice “cream” at all. Nope, it is a sorbet, with plenty of real dark chocolate, and though it does not have a bit of dairy product (nor substitutes), there are two surprise ingredients that give it tremendously creamy texture.  

I’ve been seeking ways to update old favorites for better health, and that means eating lighter and limiting saturated fats. I was pretty excited last month to discover that I could use the fat-free version of sweetened condensed milk to create an ice cream that is equally creamy to its full-fat counterpart (check out my Reduced-Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream if you missed it). But this time, I wanted to go a different direction, using no cream or dairy whatsoever. I’ve made sorbets plenty of times, but they always had fruit juice or puree in them, and I knew this would not. I’ve made chocolate ice cream several times as well, but those recipes all involved melting solid chocolate with cream or milk, so that was a no-go. Last summer, I made a luscious chocolate syrup that became a ribbon through my S’mores Ice Cream, but I wasn’t sure how to make a larger batch of that while avoiding “icy” texture that is common to sorbet. Somehow, I needed to merge these ideas in a way that would still give me the creamy texture I crave in frozen dessert.

My deep-dive into this dark chocolate sorbet was largely inspired by a dessert I saw on another blog earlier this year. Back around Valentine’s Day, one of my blog buddies (Dorothy, from The New Vintage Kitchen) shared a recipe she had made for her husband, called “love your heart chocolate pudding.” I was enthralled by Dorothy’s adaptation of one of her husband’s favorite dessert treats (using avocado in place of saturated fats), and it had reminded me of a similar product I’d seen many years ago at Whole Foods—a dark chocolate gelato, made with avocado. Attempting my own version of this has been on my culinary bucket list for a long time, and this was exactly the inspiration I needed.

Armed with information on a number of different methods, I set out to mix and match my way to this recipe. When it came down to it, this sorbet was surprisingly easy to make, and I’ve got the scoop for you, right here in the middle of National Ice Cream Month!

One scoop is all I need to satisfy my sweet tooth!

One of my favorite resources for ice cream ideas is a little spiral-bound book I picked up years ago on the clearance shelf at TJMaxx. It includes an entry for “bittersweet cocoa sorbet,” which was a syrup-only base, described as intensely bitter on the chocolate front—more than I was aiming for, anyway—so I considered it a starting point and made several adjustments to the recipe to tone it down and make it my own.

Call me fainthearted. This was a good starting point for my sorbet.

For my simple syrup, I dialed back the cocoa by half, increased the sugar (mine was turbinado) and used one less cup of water. Sweeter is better, especially if I want my husband to enjoy it with me; I also knew that heavier concentration of sugar in the simple syrup would make it freeze softer. Thank you, Alton Brown, for your wisdom over the years.

To underscore the richness of the cocoa, I applied three specific ingredients: real vanilla paste for complexity and balance, espresso powder to deepen the chocolate flavor, and a pinch of salt to bring out the best of everything. I am a firm believer in using a touch of salt in every dessert.


The syrup itself was heavenly, with a deep flavor of dark chocolate. But the real magic happened in the blender, when I combined the chilled syrup with two healthful ingredients—frozen banana and avocado! I use frozen ripe bananas in all my smoothies, and it does an amazing job of adding body and texture to the mix. I wasn’t sure whether the flavor would overwhelm the chocolate flavor, and I’ll share my thoughts about that at the end. The avocado was soft and ripe, and I placed it in the refrigerator the night before, to help me stay on schedule for freezing my sorbet mixture right away.


After one minute on the “smoothie” setting of my blender, I had my results. Admittedly, I was not emotionally prepared for the thick, silky texture of this sorbet base! It literally had the viscosity of prepared pudding, and it was luxurious and delicious, even in this unfrozen state.

Oh. My. Goodness.

My hunch is that I could have transferred this blended mixture directly into my insulated container and sent it straight to the freezer. The base definitely increased in volume in the blender and I think it would have frozen into a dense, almost-custardy sorbet. But my ice cream maker was already set up and ready, so I proceeded to freeze it as I would any ice cream. Near the end of churning, I poured in just a splash (OK, two) of Godiva chocolate liqueur, to help keep the sorbet from freezing solid. Disregard the grainy appearance in these photos; it honestly does not have a grainy mouthfeel at all—just creamy, smooth and very chocolate-y, like a frozen Dove chocolate melting on your tongue.


So, let’s talk about the banana. I had some hesitation about how much flavor it might impart to my dark chocolate sorbet, and the answer is—quite a lot. I don’t mind the flavor, and the chocolate does shine through prominently, but the next time I make this sorbet (and trust me, there most definitely will be a next time), I will ditch the banana in favor of a second ripe avocado. It was the avocado fruit that lent the smooth creamy texture, and that makes sense, when you consider than an average avocado has 29 grams of healthy fats. There is absolutely no flavor of avocado in this sorbet, so I figure the tradeoff would only improve the richness of it.

As for this banana-forward batch, my husband suggested we play that up by nestling a scoop of our dark chocolate sorbet into a banana split with some fresh strawberries, and now I think I know what we’ll enjoy for dessert this weekend. 😉


Dark Chocolate Sorbet

  • Servings: 8 scoops
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

This sorbet has all the richness I crave in an ice cream, but without a bit of dairy! Choose a good quality dark cocoa, and use a ripe avocado. If you prefer, swap the banana for a second avocado.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa (I used a combination of Hershey’s dark and King Arthur’s double dark dutch cocoa)
  • 1 Tbsp. real vanilla paste (or 1 tsp. real vanilla extract)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. espresso powder (optional, but it intensifies the chocolate flavor)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 ripe banana (peeled and frozen ahead; omit for a second avocado if you wish)
  • 1 ripe avocado (put in refrigerator the night before)
  • 1 Tbsp. chocolate liqueur or vodka, optional for improved texture when frozen

Directions

  1. Combine water and sugar in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Sift cocoa powder to eliminate clumps. Add to simple syrup and whisk until blended. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. The syrup should reduce slightly and have a thicker consistency when finished.
  3. Remove syrup from heat. Stir in vanilla paste, espresso powder and salt. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until cold.
  4. Set up ice cream machine. Gently stir the chocolate syrup to reincorporate ingredients that may have settled.
  5. Add syrup to blender, along with frozen banana (broken into chunks) and avocado flesh. If your blender has a smoothie setting, use that to mix the sorbet base. Otherwise, pulse a few times to combine and then use the blend and/or puree settings until the mixture is completely smooth with no lumps.
  6. Pour mixture directly into ice cream machine and follow manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. Add liqueur (if using) in the final minute.
  7. Transfer sorbet to an insulated container for freezing. Place a piece of waxed or parchment paper directly on the surface of the sorbet to minimize ice crystals.



Green Gazpacho Shooters

It isn’t easy being green—unless you happen to be this gazpacho! I know, you’ve probably only seen gazpacho in shades of red, and perhaps with a few green bits of pepper or scallion on top. But when I visited our farmers’ market last weekend, I discovered that most of the tomato vendors had sold out. That is, until I spotted these beauties at a booth near the back.

In the end, I was glad that all the red ones were sold out!

The grower assured me that these little gems were indeed ripe, and as sweet as any other baby tomatoes. I don’t remember the variety of the tomato (artisan-something-or-other), but I figured it would be, at the very least, a fun twist on the chilled summer soup I planned to serve at our 3rd of July shindig. I picked up some fresh spring onions and a few yellow tomatoes, too, figuring they would help supplement my gazpacho with garden-fresh goods. The soup wouldn’t be red, but it would be interesting, and I was committed to using farmers’ market ingredients as much as possible.

That raises an important point about shopping local and eating with the seasons—it puts you at the mercy of the harvest, and you either go with the flow or go hungry!

I consider every trip to the farmers’ market to be a treasure hunt!

Fortunately, nobody went hungry at our house that evening, and this easy appetizer was the first thing we shared to get the party started. My instinct was to serve the gazpacho as “shooters,” a quick and simple starter that could be prepped ahead and served, sans silverware, as guests arrived. And I could have served them that way, if I had left off the delicate cubes of yellow tomato, cucumber and avocado, but those made the cups so much prettier, even if we did need to hand out spoons! An additional “garnish” of roasted paprika-dusted shrimp made the shooters substantial enough to hold everyone over for the feast that would come off the grill later.

This was a fun way to welcome guests with a fresh taste of summer!

This recipe was very easy to make (gazpacho always is), and I prepped everything but the shrimp a day ahead, which worked well because gazpacho flavors really develop overnight. Step one was to strip the skins off the tiny tomatoes—you don’t want to put those in the processor, unless you like little bits of peel sticking to your teeth. For this task, I did a quick blanch-and-shock treatment. Bring water to a boil in a pot, and prepare a separate bowl filled with ice water. Cut an “x” on the bottom of each tomato to give the peel an easy place to break. Gently lower the tomatoes into the boiling water, a few at a time, and only for about a minute, and then immediately scoop and transfer them into the ice water. This immediately stops the cooking process, shocking the tomatoes so that the peels can be easily stripped away.


I repeated the process with the larger, yellow tomatoes, which I took time to de-seed first (I kept the seeds for another purpose). I held back the flesh of about half a yellow tomato to use later for garnish, and the rest went into the large bowl of my food processor with the little green tomatoes. A few of them had tougher stems, which I cut off, but most of them were tender enough to toss into the mix.

I haven’t shared much about my processor yet, as I’m still learning all the bells and whistles, but I promise I’ll give it a proper introduction soon. For now, I’ll say that it is quite large (14-cup capacity) and it has a cool “Blendermix” ring that is designed to keep the bowl contents in check when you puree ingredients. I love this because it eliminates the need to stop and scrape down the bowl during mixing. Less work for me is never a bad thing!


When I was satisfied with the smoothness of the tomatoes, I tossed in most of a peeled and seeded, cut-up cucumber (I reserved part of it for a topping), a chopped spring onion and about half of a chopped jalapeno. If you like heat, you can leave the seeds in the jalapeno for a bigger bite. I stripped them out to accommodate guests who may not enjoy heat as much. It’s always easier to add spice than to take it away! Depending on how much texture you want in your gazpacho, you could either pulse in these extra goodies or puree the dickens out of them. I went with plan B and whizzed it up nice and smooth, then transferred the soup to a pitcher bowl and stirred in a splash of red wine vinegar and a quick swirl of good, extra virgin olive oil (Spanish, of course).


Gazpacho is best when it has had some time to “relax” in the refrigerator, so at that point, I covered the pitcher bowl and chilled it overnight. Remember the yellow tomato I set aside earlier, and the last bit of cucumber that didn’t get pureed? My intention was to use them as a garnish/topper on the gazpacho at serving time, so I sprinkled them with salt and combined them in a small bowl that also went into the refrigerator. A little bit of texture on top of the gazpacho would add visual interest and something to tantalize the taste buds on those first few bites.

Even the yellow tomato was so juicy! I reserved the seeds and excess juice for another purpose.

To serve the gazpacho, divvy it up into cute little cups or glasses. We did this an hour or so ahead of our friends’ arrival to save time and last-minute fussing, then tucked them back into the fridge. Top each cup with a few cubes of the reserved tomato-cucumber mixture, and a few cubes of fresh avocado. If you wish to garnish with the roasted shrimp, check out my previous post for Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail—the process was the same, but for this gazpacho recipe, I tossed the shrimp with a little bit of salt, garlic powder and sweet Spanish paprika.


This green gazpacho was a perfect starter for the summer meal to come from the grill. It was light, flavorful and very refreshing, and though it was a simple course—from its short list of ingredients to its ease of preparation—everyone loved it so much, they were still talking about it as we hugged our goodbyes.

It doesn’t get much sweeter than that!

Green Gazpacho Shooters

  • Difficulty: average
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This easy green gazpacho can be made ahead in half an hour and is terrific as a starter course for a summer meal off the grill! This recipe requires a food processor, or it can be made in a blender, though you may need to process the tomatoes in batches.

Ingredients

  • 2 dry pints of ripe baby tomatoes (green or otherwise)
  • 3 smallish yellow tomatoes (one will be reserved to chop for topping gazpacho)
  • 1 spring onion or small sweet onion, rough chopped
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and quartered with seeds removed (reserve a chunk of this for topping)
  • 1/2 medium jalapeno, rough chopped (use the seeds if you like it hot)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. good quality, extra virgin olive oil (preferably a Spanish, fruity variety)
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, cubed (this will be a garnish at serving time; do not add it to the blended gazpacho)
  • Roasted paprika-dusted shrimp, optional for garnish (cooking instructions included in note below)

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil and fill a separate, large bowl with ice water.
  2. Wash all tomatoes and use a paring knife to cut a small “x” on the bottom of each.
  3. Carefully lower the tomatoes (a few at a time) into boiling water, and turn them a few times until the peels begin to loosen. This will only take about one minute, unless the tomatoes are less ripe. Scoop them out and immediately transfer them to the ice water bowl, taking care to fully submerge them. Repeat until all tomatoes have been blanched and shocked.
  4. Drain the tomatoes of excess water and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the large blade. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to break up the large pieces, and then process continuously until the tomatoes are pureed to a smooth consistency.
  5. Add the cut-up onion, cucumber, and jalapeno to the processor. Pulse, then puree continuously to desired consistency.
  6. Stir in the vinegar and olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Transfer gazpacho to a pitcher bowl and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  7. Dice the reserved yellow tomato and cucumber into bite-sized bits. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Combine these in a bowl and refrigerate to use as a garnish on the soup.
  8. To serve, divide the gazpacho into cups and top with reserved tomato and cuke bits, plus roasted and chilled paprika shrimp (below).

These paprika-spiced shrimp are very simple to make, and you may prep these up to a day ahead. Be sure to give them enough time to chill completely in the fridge before serving time.

Ingredients

  • 12 to 16 shrimp (enough for two shrimp per gazpacho serving)
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Spanish sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • several twists freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Peel and de-vein shrimp, keeping tails intact for presentation. Pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Add shrimp to a zip-top freezer bag. Drizzle in olive oil and add seasonings. Seal and shake to evenly coat the shrimp with seasonings.
  4. Arrange shrimp on baking sheet. Roast for about 6 minutes, or until shrimp are just barely opaque. Remove from oven and arrange in one layer on a plate. Place the plate directly into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to stop the cooking process. Transfer to a covered container and keep chilled until ready to serve.