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Zucchini & Carrot Latkes

If it seems I am obsessed with zucchini lately, rest assured I will move onto other things once the frost comes. In the meantime, however, I’ve got some zucchini to prepare.

I pulled out this great zucchini and carrot latke recipe (see below) I cut out from the newspaper years ago and decided to make it for dinner along with some steamed kasha as a whole grain side. Latke means pancake, traditionally made of potatoes, but this recipe offers more vegetable goodness than plain potatoes. 3 zucchini

The first thing I noticed in the recipe is that it called for “4 large zucchini.” I had to literally laugh out loud and ask the anonymous recipe writer, “Just what do you mean by large, girlfriend?” Here are the three zucchini I had recently harvested. The smallest could be rightfully considered “medium,” or even “large,” at least by supermarket standards. And the largest shown is actually half of what it once was (notice the plastic wrap on the tail end). If one half is that huge, just imagine what the whole thing looked like.

The really scary part is that this was the smaller zucchini of the two I harvested after vacation. The larger one I actually cradled in my arms like a newborn as I delivered it to a neighbor’s house. I had warned her that it was enormous, to which she had cockily replied, “Bring it on! I’m not scared!” Her eyes were pretty wide when she answered the door to a squash the size of a cricket bat! I trust she was up to the task.

shredded zucchiniI decided that the remaining half of the large zucchini would suffice for the “4 large zucchini”. I shredded it in the food processor, and then did a few handfuls of baby carrots. I dumped them in a large bowl, added 2 chopped scallions and eggs and mixed. The dry goods came next, but I didn’t have any cardamom and couldn’t think of a good substitute, so I just skipped it. No one commented on its absence!

The recipe recommended frying them on the stovetop with oil spray and some peanut oil. Out of peanut oil, but I found some macadamian nut oil that added a different sort of nutty flavor — very enjoyable. I greased up the non-stick griddle I rescued from a garage sale and started to fry tablespoonfuls of batter until they were golden brown.

I wanted to make them small, appetizer-size rounds so they would be fun for the kids to eat, but it took way longer than I had anticipated to fry all those little pancakes: more than 2 hours of constant activity. The kasha idea went the way of the protein, leaving the latkes as the only element of our evening meal. Sigh. The best laid plans… Yes, it’s always good to be reminded as to why I love one-pot meals! Zucchini & Carrot latkes

Luckily, the kids scarfed them down almost as quickly as I could make them. They dipped them in organic, unsweetened ketchup, while my husband and I topped them with a dollop of sour cream and a smidgen of seaweed-based faux-caviar called Caviart that I found at a food show and we love. Yum. We ate every single one, and there were many.

I realized about half-way through the frying that it would have been better to use our little fry-baby and deep fry these latkes at high heat in a mix of canola and nut oils. They would have been crispier. I love doing this with potato latkes.

There was one Thanksgiving where I had purchased 10 lbs of potatoes to make mashed potatoes for 40 and learned that morning that someone else had already done it. That was pre-children, when we used to host an annual “Day after Thanksgiving/Home for the Holidays” party for everyone we knew who was in town (often more than 75 people came!). The next day I turned those potatoes into piles of deep-fried mini-latkes, helped immeasurably by the early arrival of my sister- and brother-in-law who took over the frying and allowed me to dress for the party. The latkes were a huge hit with the party guests.

The other thing I wished I had done would have been to set the shredded zucchini into a colander to drain for about 15 minutes before using. The zucchini released so much liquid that by the time I reached the end of the veggie shreds in the batter there was about a cup or more of watery liquid left in the bowl. I would have prefered to have had a drier batter.

Regardless, these Zucchini and Carrot Latkes were a huge hit at our house for dinner, and I was happy to see both kids ingest a good amount of vegetables without a sqabble!

Zucchini and Carrot Latkes
6 servings

4 large zucchini
4 large carrots
1/2 cup chopped green onions
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour (try using whole wheat flour for a healthier version)
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground pepper (I used white ground pepper — my current fave)
vegetable cooking oil spray
peanut oil for frying

Using the shredding blade in a processor, shred the carrots and zucchini. Transfer to a large bowl and add the green onions and beaten eggs. Blend well. Add the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cardamom, salt and pepper.

Spray a large frying pan with a vegetable spray. Add a little peanut oil and with a large oval mixing spoon, drop by spoonfuls into the hot oil. Allow the pancakes to set before turning. When crisp, remove and place on paper toweling to remove any excess oil.

These can be made in advance. Place on a cookie sheet and heat in a 400-degree oven when ready to serve.

Popcorn: a perfect snack

 I love popcorn. When faced with a freshly-made bowl, I can never stop myself from cramming large handfuls at a time in my mouth, as if someone will take it away before I’m finished. This unladylike habit may have come from fighting for my share among the rabid popcorn eaters in my family while growing up. You’d think I’d be beyond it by now.

I remember using those convenient microwave popcorn bags, but I stopped years ago. One reason was how disgusted I was to find mice had invaded a Costco-size box of the bags and spread artifical butter flakes all throughout this built-in storage unit in my old apartment. I won’t paint the picture, but the mice must have had some kind of rockin’ party judging from the debris left behind. The other reason was learning about what was happening to the factory workers who made the microwave popcorn.

It seemed that the synthetic, artifical butter flavor used in these microwave popcorn contains diacetyl, a natural by-product of fermentation, and when diacetyl becomes airborne in the form of fumes, it can cause terminal lung disease. The workers on the assembly lines making microwavable popcorn were becoming mighty sick.

This week, the 9/5/07 issue of the Rocky Mountain News reports that the first consumer of microwave popcorn has been diagnosed with lung disease due to diacetyl fumes. The only cure is a full lung transplant.

Now, this guy reportedly consumed “several bags of extra butter flavored microwave popcorn every day for several years,” but think about it: do you really want to ingest a product that contains an additive that is known to cause lung disease when heated and inhaled? Now that you know what breathing in the buttery aroma of that bag of steaming popcorn is doing to your lungs each and every time that microwave door opens, do you still want to choose this method for making popcorn?

Not me.

popcornFor more than 15 years I’ve been in love with my Presto 04830 PowerPop Microwave Multi-Popper

Just put in a special “power concentrator” cup at the bottom, pour in a scoop of organic popcorn kernels, close it and microwave for about 2 minutes or so. Perfectly popped popcorn every time.

Popcorn is a great snack since it is fun to eat, very filling, and a whole grain so it won’t raise your glycemic index. It’s full of fiber and complex carbohydrates (the good kind!), and when cooked this way, it is a satisfying no-fat treat. I like to season it by pouring about 1/3 into a large bowl and spraying it with olive oil, then sprinkling with fine-grain sea salt, like the Celtic Sea Salt® shown here. Repeat in layers with the remaining two thirds. Sometimes I add some ground dried chipotle or Tony Chachere’s Original (creole) Seasoning to give it a kick.

If you’ve got any fun popcorn flavorings, please feel free to share them by clicking “post a comment” below!

Cream-free Creamy Squash Soup

I was faced with three large crookneck squashes (see what they looked like in my post for Zucchini soup). My creamy butternut squash soup recipe beckoned.

But wait: these were not butternut squash. Would crookneck squash give me that sweet, substantial, creamy smooth tongue-sensation that a butternut never fails to deliver? Would the soup be too watery to be filling and satisfying? I had to know.

simmering squash cubesFirst, I weilded my vegetable peeler and gave the bumpy, rough yellow rind the thinnest of peels. Ideally, I prefer to eat the skin and all of summer squash since once you peel something it no longer is a “whole food” containing everything needed for complete and efficient digestion, but these had been sitting around a few days and the rind looked pretty tough. My kids aren’t big fans of skins, either, and I wanted them to eat this, too. So I compromised with a super thin peel that removed the outer layer of skin but left the darker layer containing most of the nutrition.

After scooping out the seeds with a grapefruit spoon (try it: it works really well), I cut them into chunks and covered them with about 2 cups of purified water in a saucepan. I brought the water up to a boil, then simmered until the squash was fork-tender but not mushy.

By setting a colander into a soup pot in my sink, I saved the cooking water and any vitamins that had leached into it. Leaving the water for a moment, I dumped the squash back into the saucepan and used my handblender to puree. Handblenders are one of my favorite kitchen appliances because you can do your blending right in the same pot, without adding a blender to your dishes chore. This is the handblender I have. Braun MR430HC Multiquick Deluxe Handblender & Chopper

Now, to melt 3 Tbsp. butter or trans-fat-free margarine or just heat olive oil, and saute the squash for 3-5 minutes. This soup could be completely dairy-free (yes, a dairy-free creamy soup — how can that be? stay tuned as the secret ingredient is coming…), but I really like the savory flavor real, organic butter gives the squash. I keep sticks of butter in the freezer just for times like these.

squash soupBreak out the whisk and whisk in 1 beaten egg and 3 Tbsp. semolina flour until the mixture attains a pastelike consistency. Semolina is the super finely ground duram wheat flour used to make pasta. In this recipe, it gives the soup body and heft. Mmmmm….

Heat for a few more minutes until heated through, season lightly with sea salt (remember that the butter will give it a salty taste, too) then transfer into the soup pot (pour the squash water into another container first). Over low heat, whisk in the reserved water from boiling the squash along with 2 cups of broth. I love the little 1-cup, single-serving broth-in-a-box options from companies like Imagine. Look for them in the soup sections of regular and health food grocery stores. Simmer for about 30 minutes, whisking often, particularly during the first 10 minutes. If still too chunky, use handblender to puree again.

Taste and add sea salt just until the flavor pops. Top with freshly chopped parsley. Serve with toasted whole grain bread, which is what I would have done, had we had any bread in the house when I made this!

The verdict: it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of squash you use in this soup. The butter saute step imparts a tongue-smacking buttery sensation that perfectly compliments the thick, almost applesaucy texture that gives the mouth something to work on and makes it more satisfying than a brothy soup.

This soup freezes well and makes a hearty treat on a winter night.

Avocado-Tomato Salad

One of my weight-loss/weight-management/healthy eating secrets is my lunchtime salad ritual.

Like many people, my weight fluctuates, especially when I lapse into poor eating habits and end up eating too many processed foods. Yes, I have my weaknesses — mostly around desserts!

So I try to follow a routine that includes a salad for lunch. I believe it can be an enormous quantity of food, as long as it is based in a leafy green and is mostly vegetables, nuts and seeds. The other 20-30% can be protein, grains and/or fruits.

Sometimes I chop up the leftovers from my Glorious One-Pot Meal the previous night and add a bunch of fresh lettuce and a vinaigrette.

The fresh greens are important as they provide enzymes our digestive systems need to function effectively. Anything other than iceberg lettuce is suitable. I like to switch things around between various types of lettuce, spinach, kale and chard.

Avocado-Tomato SaladThe other day I received a bag of fresh tomatoes from my mother. I had a ripe avocado and some beautiful green leaf lettuce for a base. A monster cucumber from my garden that I’ve been trying to work our way through contributed green-jacketed cubes of creamy white. These were my vegetables and fruits.

Poor avocados: They got a terrible rap during the fat-phobic 80’s. The truth is that avocados are full of unsaturated fats, the kind we need to cushion our organs, feed our brains, and give us healthy skin and shiny hair. Avocados are one of nature’s most perfect foods: you can live off avocados and water for quite some time. They were one of the first foods I fed my babies when they began to eat. At some point, we’ll talk about making your own babyfood, but that’s another post.

Then I added my toppings to my salad.

Annie’s Naturals Shitake & Sesame Vinaigrette has been a favorite since I first discovered it in the early 90’s. Vinaigrettes are usually a healthier choice than creamy dressings laden with saturated fats. When looking for a vinaigrette, choose one without any trans-fats, artificial sugars or artificial flavors.

And then the seeds. Sunflower seeds make any salad into a party! I buy mine in the bulk food bins at the health food grocery store.

I keep a variety of yummy toppings in cannisters on my counters not only for convenient additions to my salads, but a handful often makes a great snack, too. Besides sunflower seeds, you’ll see roasted pumpkin seeds (shelled and unshelled, some flavored with teriyaki), dried cranberries, dried currents, sun-dried tomatoes (not the kind in oil; these come packed in vacuum-sealed bags), pistacios, shelled almonds, sesame sticks, and various other goodies that catch my fancy.

Oh yes, and did you notice what’s floating inside my water glass? It’s a cucumber slice! Cucumber-infused water is unbelievably refreshing. I first learned of it in a fun little modern-Vietnamese restaurant in Denver called Parallel 17.

Plantar Warts

First, let me assure you that this is NOT my foot!

Plantar wartThis is my friend Pete’s foot as it looked last weekend. Pete, an avid athlete, was scheduled to participate in a triathelon but had to back out at the last minute due to the pain from a new Plantar wart.

Plantar warts occur on the soles of the feet. They look like hard, thick patches of skin with dark specks. Plantar warts may cause pain when you walk, and you may feel like you are stepping on a pebble.

Pete is removing it by soaking cotton balls in apple cider vinegar and securing them to the wart (he’s using duct tape — what can I say? He’s a guy.). You can kind of see that the apple cider vinegar is eating a hole through the middle of the plantar wart. This is only after a few days of using the vinegar and he definitely noticed a difference already.

Apple Cider VinegarApple Cider Vinegar is a great thing to keep around the house. I love using it in salad dressings (remind me to give you my broccoli-slaw recipe — fantastic and so easy!), and you can even drink a bit of it straight to ease indigestion.

** Addendum to the post:

Be sure to look at an update to this plantar wart story, as well as to check out all the comments for helpful tips from readers!