Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Favorite Zucchini Brownies

I love a good brownie. I love a good zucchini, too.

Once, in junior high, a friend and I doorbell-ditched a mutual crush, leaving behind a big old zucchini from her mom's garden on his porch. Well, we got caught, which should have been embarrassing, but when you leave a giant zucchini on someone's doorstep, how can it not be funny?
So, to sum up, I am and always have been easily amused. That's the moral of my tale.

But anyway...

All I really hear when we're talking about zucchini brownies is the word "brownie".  Lots of other zucchini brownie recipes I've tried have been too cakey because the zucchini adds so much moisture to the mix, even when you squeeze some of it out. This recipe is the best one I've tried.

I love that you don't even have to squeeze the liquid out of the shredded zucchini -- instead of struggling against the zucchini's moisture, this recipe makes use of it. It's like magic, really. You press the crumbly batter into the pan and while the brownies are baking, the zucchini releases its moisture, creating a great brownie texture. My lazy side thinks that's just fantastic, and my sneaky side loves feeding it to my son and thinking about the veggies he's eating for dessert.

Without the frosting, these are even vegan, if that's your thing. Generally, I'm not a fan of frosting on brownies, but I think the frosting is necessary here. You can probably substitute something for the butter in the frosting to make that vegan, too. But since I'm not an authority on vegan substitutions, I won't venture to suggest what you might use.

It's easy, it's yummy, it's a brownie... Are you on board yet?

Frosted Zucchini Brownies
from Blog Chef


for the brownies
½ c. canola oil
1 ½ c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 c. fresh, grated/shredded zucchini

for the frosting
6 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ c. butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. milk
½ tsp. vanilla

for the brownies
In a large bowl mix together oil, sugar and vanilla until well mixed. In another bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add to sugar mixture a little at a time until incorporated. Fold in the zucchini. The batter will be dry and crumbly, don't worry. Spread the mixture evenly into a greased and floured or parchment-lined 9x13" pan. Press lightly to get the batter into an even layer.
Bake at 350ยบ for 25-30 minutes, until the brownies spring back when gently touched. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool before frosting.

for the frosting
Melt together the cocoa powder and butter in a small saucepan. Set aside to cool slightly. Using a mixer, blend powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Add in the butter and cocoa mixture, and mix for a minute or two. Spread over cooled brownies, allow to set up before cutting.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How to Make Your Menu Plan Work For You

I'm not as organized as I would like to be. I will freely admit to that. But one thing I do have down pretty well is planning our weekly menu. My mom used to sit down on Saturdays and plan the meals for the week. She explained to me how important it was in helping our home run more smoothly. In my experience in my own home, this has proven true for me as well. I've also learned a lot over the years about how to make up a menu that will work for real life with a real family and changing schedules.

So if you struggle with meal planning, here are my tips. Hope they help you, too!

1. Ask for input. They're the ones eating it, so your family would probably love some input on what you make. Get them in on the plan so they can get excited about what's coming up. I feel free to ignore my preschooler's plea for pasta every night. Not gonna happen, buddy.

2. Pull out your planner. Take a look at the week ahead. A super busy week? Plan things you can pull together quickly and save that risotto for times when you have a little more leeway to spend time at the stove. Don't plan to try a new recipe on a day you know will be stressful. It never ends well. (Can't imagine how I know that...)

3. Prep ahead. Is there a day when you could get some prep done for the rest of the week? Can you chop veggies during nap time? (My current most-employed strategy.) Think of what you could prepare in advance so you don't end up giving up on dinner prep when the time comes around. Pay a little attention to the next night's meal on the night before, and you can stay on track. Pull things out of the freezer to thaw, check produce and other ingredients the night before and you will have a lot less stress the day of.

4. Use what you have. If your pantry is anything like mine, you have no real need for 72 hour emergency food supplies. We could survive quite nicely for several days on what we have stocked already. I like to take inventory of what we have lingering and use it up.

5. Plan around what's on sale and in season. Planning around sale items helps your budget immensely, and planning around what's in-season will mean more delicious produce at a better price. It takes a little research on your part, but can really way off.

6. Plan a variety of meals. Apart from the obvious notion that no one really wants to eat the same thing over and over, what I mean by this is to be sure to plan some meals which rely on the pantry and other meals that rely on fresh produce. Plan meals early in the week that rely on your fresh produce, and pad the rest of the week with pantry meals. That way you'll make use of your fresh fruits and veggies before they have a chance to spoil.

7. Be flexible! Just because you thought Saturday might be a good night for that chicken noodle soup doesn't mean that you have to have in on Saturday. If it sounds yummy on Thursday instead, or Saturday looks like it will be too hot for soup, just swap them! No big deal. Same applies if you have produce that is going south and needs to be used sooner than anticipated. (Or how about those pesky avocados? I can never guess when they will be just right for my recipe.) Know which meals to skip. Those pantry meals I was talking about? Those are the first ones I look at when something changes in the week. Maybe I just don't have the energy to cook at all one night, or we get invited out somewhere. No problem. We'll order in and I'll pick a meal from the menu to bump -- one that has ingredients that will keep into the next week. Then I put that meal early in the next week's plan to use up what I've already bought (see tip #4).

8. Consider having "theme days". I don't mean taco night every Thursday, though if that floats your boat, go for it. I mean general categories. Plan one night a week for leftovers, unless you never have any (for example, my husband generally takes our leftover portion for his lunch the next day, so we rarely have leftovers hanging around). In the past I've done something like this:
Monday - soup, salad, or sandwiches
Tuesday - meat free or seafood
Wednesday - ethnic/international food
Thursday - something super easy, probably from the freezer (or the freezer section of the grocery store)
Friday - breakfast for dinner
Saturday - pasta!
Sunday - crock pot or make-ahead meal

Do you have any tips that help you plan menus for your family? I'd love to hear them, so leave a comment.

Happy Meal Planning!