Spicy Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

spicy chocolate zucchini muffins

It’s the time of year (or perhaps the end of the time of year) when zucchini is so abundant that people leave it in bags on your porch, hoping you won’t know who to blame. This has not happened to me, I don’t have a porch, but the (over)abudance of zucchini is real. If you’re looking for an alternative to your average zucchini bread, zucchini latke, roasted, sauteed, blended or fried zucchini, try these muffins. They’re sweet but not too guiltily so, and quite richly chocolate, with a little kick to spice up your life.

Spicy Chocolate Zucchini Muffins – 12 muffins

Wet Ingredients:

  • ½ cup raw zucchini (1 med/small)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3/8 cup chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T egg white
  • 5/8 cup mashed bananas
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp orange zest

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 3 grinds pepper
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries (or cherries)
  • 2 T cocoa powder
  • flake salt (for finishing, optional)


1.  Grate the zucchini and set in a colander with 1/4 tsp salt to drain and pre-heat oven to 350F.
2.  Measure out and mix all the dry ingredients.
3.  Melt chocolate chips with 2 T vegetable oil and stir until smooth.  Add the other 2 T vegetable oil, the egg and egg white, and mix until well incorporated.  Mash bananas and add to the chocolate mixture.  Add vanilla extract and orange zest, then mix.
4.  Squeeze moisture from the zucchini and add to chocolate mixture and blend lightly.
5.  Oil a muffin pan, mix the dries into the wets until just incorporated and spoon into the muffin pan.  Top with flake salt if available.  Bake for 20 minutes.

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Speeding Up Our Food

Luis pointed me towards a fascinating piece over at Edible Geography called Fueling Mexico City: A Grain Revolution.  Along with the fascinating bits of history and culture from a part of the world I’m less familiar with, some parts rang true and very close to home.  The gist of the article is that in Mexico, corn is the main staple and, until very recently, it took a lot of time to prepare (1 person in 5 dedicated to making tortillas all day, every day).

While this may sound far removed from American life, recent changes parallel food trends here.  In the past twenty years, changes in technology have led to mass produced tortillas.  They don’t taste as good, but practically everyone buys them.  Why?  Because it means that the woman of the house, or her daughter, does not have to spend all day, every day, making tortillas.  Families eagerly make the exchange: quality of food for time with family or the money that time can bring.  This very deliberate trade off has dramatically increased the middle class in Mexico City.

Luis asked my opinion on the piece and what came out was that the choice is not surprising.  I think pretty much everyone would take the option of lower quality food if they could have additional time to earn money, get an education or spend it with family.  This is in fact the choice we see being made in our country by people in low income communities every day.  Fast food prevails over the home-cooked meal.  When time spent cooking is time not spent earning money to pay for rent or college, and when fast food is cheap and plentiful, the choice is not really a choice at all.

If we actually want to help our country eat better, reduce rates of diabetes and obesity, and continue building our middle class, we need to make the cheap and quick food also quality food.  This requires tackling our food system from at least two directions: removing subsidies for corn and soy which are made into processed foods that make us ill; and subsidizing whole fruits, vegetables and grains that are good to eat (as well as putting out information on quick and tasty ways to cook these foods, since many young adults don’t know what to do with raw ingredients when faced with them – regardless of economic status).

We cannot continue to allow the quality of the food we eat to be an indicator of social status.  Everyone deserves to eat good food, not just people who have two hours to spend making dinner, like I did last night.  And if we’re going to change this, we have to acknowledge that time has become a commodity just as much as corn, and we need to find ways to make Slow Food available to those with less time to spend on it.

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Carrot Orange Soup

Across the country, farmers’ markets have their own individual and regional flair, personalities.  Some are more produce based, others have lots of value added goods and they all vary in their seasonality and product selection.  One of the major differences I’ve enjoyed between SF markets and those in NYC is citrus.  We had no citrus fruit at the NYC Greenmarkets, since it didn’t grown in our region.  Here, there is an incredible abundance of citrus: oranges, grapefruit, lemons, mandarins, limes, kumquats!  I’ve been stocking up regularly and enjoy keeping scurvy at bay.

In addition to my new access to this plethora of citrus fruit, I was the happy/lucky recipient of a cookbook titled “Citrus” for my birthday last month.  I’ve had a great time flipping through it, ogling the pretty pictures and trying a few recipes as they strike my fancy.  One of the first that I made (and which I’ve made three times now in the last month) was for curried orange soup.  It’s delicious and easy.  I’m calling it carrot orange soup here because the base is carrots and while it has a fantastic array of spices in it (a true Indian curry), it doesn’t use curry powder or have the particular taste associated with a store bought curry powder blend.  The addition of the orange juice also makes this an exciting departure from the typical curried carrot soup.

So, in celebration of spring and local citrus and vibrant colors and flavors, enjoy this with a slice of hearty bread!

Carrot Orange Soup6 servings


  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter (could use olive oil if desired)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lb carrots, chopped (you can peel them if they need it)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 cups broth (veg or chicken)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 12 black pepper corns
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 dried red pepper (or some chili powder if you don’t have dried peppers on hand)
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 4 slices fresh ginger, about 1/8-inch thick
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
  • orange slices and mint for garnish, if desired


  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a 3-quart non-reactive pot.  Add the onion and saute until the edges are golden (about 10 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, chop the carrots and prepare the spices.  You can put them in a spice bag or I’ve used a paper loose-leaf tea bag or a piece of cheesecloth.  All of the whole spices (so everything else except the carrots, garlic, broth, turmeric and orange juice) go into the bag.  Tie it up so the spices stay separate.
  3. Add the carrots, garlic, broth and turmeric to the onions.  Stir then add the spice bag and bring the pot to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove the spice bag and puree the soup in a food processor or blender.  Be careful when pureeing hot ingredients, they can push off the lid.
  5. Return the pureed soup to the pot, add the orange juice and heat through without boiling.  Serve hot with orange slices and/or mint.

If you’re efficient with chopping and juicing, the whole thing takes less than an hour to prepare.  Also, if you don’t have all the spices called for, don’t sweat too much, there’s plenty of flavor to go around.

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Mmmmmm, Pie

I took a pie making class this evening. Each student went home with an adorable mini-pie (I’m so proud of mine!) and a belly full of a generous slice of (a larger) apple pie. It was lots of fun and I think I’ll be less afraid of pie crusts in the future, now that I know what to look for (pea sized pieces of butter, a particular feel to the dough). Richard of Baking Arts was lots of fun, willing to answer all sorts of questions, and provided lots of info without sounding condescending. Definitely a good time.

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Thai Rice Salad

I love Thai food. I may even go so far as to say that the flavors in Thai cuisine rank among my favorite combinations. Despite this, my Thai repertoire is relatively limited at home. I have finally mastered a red curry, a chili-garlic stir-fry, and I can make an adequate pad-thai. All of these dishes come from the fantastic Simply Thai Cooking by Wandee Young. I just haven’t felt comfortable improvising with these ingredients in the past.

Then a few nights ago I had a craving for a salad that we used to get at Pukk in New York – a vegetarian version of crispy duck salad (don’t ask me about fake meat, I usually hate it, but Pukk does a great job with Seitan, their food is addictive). So, I decided to scour the web and see what I could find. Lots! I ended up synthesizing 4 different recipes and came up with a dressing that I’m really happy with! (It helps that there are such beautiful veggies in the markets right now, and all the herbs that I needed.) So, here it is, my first self-created Thai recipe. This is the veggie version, without a lot of protein. You can top it up with sliced smoked tofu or additional peanuts or cashews, or smoked duck breast (as we did), shredded chicken breast or even sauteed pork if you crave some meat.

Thai Rice Salad 4 servings

  • 1 c brown
  • 2 c water
  • ¼ tsp salt


  • 3/8 cup lime juice (~3)
  • 1 ½ Tbs honey
  • 1 ½ Tbs fish sauce
  • 2 tsp chili paste
  • 2 inch ginger, half julienned, half grated
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 2 small chilies (I don’t know what kind I used, they were hot)


  • ½ red bell pepper, sliced
  • ½ c julienned carrot
  • 1 cucumber, seeded & chopped
  • ½ c chopped tomatoes
  • 2-3 green onions
  • ¼ c basil
  • ½ c mint
  • 1 c cilantro
  • 1 handful arugala, chopped
  • ¼ c peanuts


  1. Cook the rice in water with salt and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, juice the limes, add honey, fish sauce, chili paste, grated ginger, garlic, and sliced lemongrass.  Carefully seed and devein the chilies and add to the other dressing ingredients.  Blend until smooth and add half to the rice, reserving the rest.  Set the rice to chill.
  3. Slice bell pepper thinly, julienne the carrots, seed and chop the cucumber, chop the tomatoes and green onions and mix all veggies in a large bowl.  Measure, rinse and coarsely chop the herbs and add to the veggies.  Repeat with the arugula.  Mix the veggies together with the remaining dressing.
  4. Mix the rice and the vegetables and chill until ready to serve.
  5. Chop the peanuts for garnish and serve when chilled through.
Posted in Food, Main dishes, Vegetarian | 2 Comments

Mmmm, Chocolate

I am now going to join the slew of other SF bloggers writing about the SF Chocolate Salon.  I don’t have pretty pics, or even anything terribly deep to say, but I want to share my best find of the show: Snake & Butterfly.  They make fair trade, organic, interesting chocolate (bean to truffle, all in house).  The woman at the table when I walked up was happy to chat, answer questions, tell me about their bean sourcing (one step removed from farmers, with plans to save up and go visit some of the farms soon) and was generally enthusiastic about chocolate.  It’s a small business, alive for less than two years, and they’re local to me (Campbell, CA – 50 miles away) and they sell at a couple farmers’ markets (though none in the City yet).

They were tasting a variety of things at their stand, several different single origin bars and their chocolate covered caramel figs.  Their Madagascar chocolate was bright and fruity, their Venezualan rich and earthy, the cherry chipotle was fascinating (a little too smoky for me at that moment, but very interesting).  I didn’t get to try their Thai truffles (coconut, lime, cayenne) but bought some anyway, because I love those flavors.  I enjoyed learning that this truffle was created at the request of the woman who talked to me.  She told the chocolatier (who I think is her father) that he had to make one because she loved Thai food so much.  I couldn’t agree more and can’t wait to try these.

Other stands of note: Socola (not fair trade, but good ingredients and intense, interesting flavors); Nicobella (fair trade, organic, vegan – if that’s important to you, the coconut milk ganache was lovely); Fentiman’s (natural sodas, a lovely refreshing respite amidst the sea of chocolate).

Worst of show goes to the Van Gogh Vodka chocolate martini.  So sweet I threw it out after one sip.  Nothing subtle or interesting about it.  In a hall full of sweets, the beverages should be there to provide refreshment, cut the sugar and prepare you to re-enter the onslaught.

That’s it for my chocolate filled brain.  Sweet dreams!

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French Toast Waffles

Last delicious bites of french toast waffles.

On weekend mornings I often make french toast, pancaked, muffins, scones or waffles. Which I make depends on what mood I’m in, how many eggs I have or if there is buttermilk or cream in the house. Muffins are most frequent, waffles less so because the recipes I use require beat the egg whites until stiff.

A few days ago Luis came home with a story of french toast made in a waffle iron. I had heard of this before, but had never made it myself. On Saturday, I was inspired to try it, with some fun flavors. This lead to tangerine, coconut french toast waffles. Mmmmm. Here’s the relatively easy recipe (if you have all the ingredients on hand). Making the french toast in the waffle iron frees you up to make a nice side fruit salad while it cooks, instead of watching the toast to flip it.

French Toast Wafflesfor 2


  • 4 slices hearty bread
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c cream
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • zest of one tangerine
  • 1/8 – 1/4 c dried shredded coconut
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla


  1. Beat the eggs, add cream and water, spices, zest and coconut and let sit while you slice the bread. Soak the bread in the batter for at least 20 minutes, or until the slices seem thoroughly soaked (overnight if you have very thick slices or exceedingly dense bread).
  2. Heat the waffle iron while the slices soak.
  3. Prepare a fruit salad with the tangerine, a banana and a small apple.
  4. Put two pieces of bread into the waffle iron at a time (if they fit – using an artisanal bread with a half moon shaped slice makes this easy), cook as you would a waffle.

Keep the first two slices warm in the oven while the other two cook, then serve with syrup and fruit salad for a gourmet weekend breakfast.

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Meeting My New City

As I did in New York, I’ve made finding farmers’ markets a way to learn the transit systems and lay of the city.  On Wednesday, this gave me the chance to spend some time outside in the gorgeous (springtime!?!) sunshine, learning some of the streets of SF and (eventually) finding a fantastic farmers’ market (the Heart of the City Market, open Wed & Sun 7-5).  The produce there blew my New York accustomed seasonal mindset.  Green beans?  Sugar snap peas?  Strawberries!?!  (The tree blooming on my corner could have hinted that it’s spring.)

I set out in search of the market by hopping on the Muni train just a block from my front door and hopping off 20 minutes later.  Then, I walked around for a good half hour, maybe more, trying to find the market.  My extended quest occurred because the HOC market website shows a google map with a search for “UN Plaza, Civic Center” which provides a location about 6 blocks away from both the UN Plaza and the market.  Through the magic of the web, I was able to find the actual location (and to be fair the market’s website does say that it is by the BART and Muni Civic Center stops, which it is)!

Heading back to public transit and a shot at the alternate location, I found the market, full of folks form all walks of life.  A thriving market in a city needs to appeal to people from many backgrounds and different income levels.  This one does.  Old chinese ladies, young enviro-types, middle-aged black professional women and many others perused the stands along with me.  We browsed piles and piles of veggies, some organic, some not, some neatly stacked, others haphazardly piled for the throngs of customers crowding around.

At first, I mostly saw broccoli rabe, cabbage, citrus and sweet potatoes, all things that make sense for late winter in a moderate climate.  Then came the more surprising bits, fresh herbs, green beans, snap peas, tomatoes and strawberries!  Apparently, there is a reason CA is described as a garden paradise – it’s amazing what will grow here in February.  Of course, this all takes a lot of work by the farmers who grow this produce, and some of it is very intensely farmed.  Hoop and green houses and high tunnels, and lots labour, are required to grow strawberries and snap peas and bell peppers at this time of year.  Several stands were certified organic or described themselves as pesticide free, which requires even more thought and work.  I’m glad the farmers do it – their produce is what makes my kitchen a joy to be in.

Now, on to that kitchen!

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Indian taste adventures

chana masala

I loving cooking Indian food during the winter.  The potatoes and onions and cabbages that winter over so well need some exciting spices else they get a bit repetative by the end of March.  On this menu: chana masala (a variation of a recipe I frequently make), cabbage with turmeric and ginger, potato cakes and coconut rice. It was lots of fun. Which proves that I’m getting more comfortable with Indian techniques. Yay!

Aside from comfort with large quantities of spices, the techniques involved in Indian cooking have always been the hardest for me to master – heating the spices in oil for just the right amount of time, not burning myself with splattering oil, cooking the basmati rice down to the right amount of water before covering it. All of these simply take practice. Don’t be afraid, if nothing else, the smell of spices in your kitchen will make it worth while.

The chana is a variation on one I’ve been making for a while, though actually more simple!

Chana Masala – 4 – 6 servings


  • 1 small-med onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 ½ inches fresh ginger
  • 1-2 serrano/thai chiles
  • 1 tbs. oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. coriander, ground
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. amchur (scant tsp.) (or 2 Tbs lime juice)
  • 1 tsp. garam masaala
  • 3 tbs. cilantro (divided)
  • 1 med potato (yukon gold)
  • 1 can garbanzo beans/chick peas (or 1/12 c. cooked beans)
  • 16 oz. can diced tomato (or 2 med-small)
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 tsp. tamarind concentrate
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin, roasted and ground


  1. Dice onion, garlic, ginger and chiles (in food processor until small), reserve.  Chop potatoes (and tomatoes if not using canned) into 1/2 inch cubes, reserve.  Mix salt (if using salted tomatoes, use only 1/2 tsp. salt), garam masala, coriander and amchar, reserve.  Toast cumin, grind and set aside.  Juice lime if not using amchar.
  2. Heat oil over med-high heat in a high sided sauce pan.  Add onion mixture and stirfry until golden brown.  Add salt/spices, fry for 30 seconds, then add chick peas, potatoes, tomatoes, 1 tbs. cilantro and tamarind desolved in water.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to med-low, and let boil for 10-12 min, covered, stirring occasionally.
  4. When potatoes are tender to a fork, remove lid and simmer for 8-10 minutes until sauce thickens slightly.
  5. Add ground cumin and 2 tbs. lime juice if using instead of amchar.

Note: Amchur is ground dried green mango, usually sold at specialty Indian stores.

The cabbage dish came almost directly from Léon Brocard at Astray Recipes (ignore the ads at the top).

Cabbage with Turmeric and Ginger – 4 servings


  • 1 Tbs. Butter
  • 1 Tbs. Vegetable oil
  • 1 med Onion; sliced
  • 1 inch fresh root ginger
  • ½ small head green cabbage (~4 c. chopped)
  • ¾ tsp. Ground turmeric
  • ½-¾ tsp. Salt
  • ½ tsp Paprika
  • 1 ½ Tbs. Lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Garam masala


  1. Chop cabbage and reserve; slice onion thinly, reserve; julien ginger, reserve.  Mix turmeric, paprika and salt and reserve w/ cabbage.
  2. Heat a large wok or large frying pan over high heat until hot, add the butter, oil and then onion and stir fry for 1 minute, stirring all the time. Add the ginger and continue cooking for a further 1 minute.
  3. Add the cabbage with the turmeric, salt and paprika and stir fry for 3 minutes, stirring all the time.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice and the garam masala and serve immediately with yogurt if wished.

Many of the ingredients are not regional or seasonal, but in the winter, I tend to stray for the sake of flavor and to end the monotony.

Posted in Food, Main dishes, Recipes, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Winter Salad

Spring has nearly sprung, so I’m getting in my last few winter posts that have been waiting to be shared.  This one’s from December.

When fall rolls around bringing with it the fresh crop of apples, one of my favorite salad dinners is apple and cheddar on greens with maple vinaigrette.  As fall chills to winter, this remains a favorite, but with a new addition – pomegranite seeds!  There is something particularly wintery about the lovely red globes showing up in grocery stores and on the fruit carts around New York.  I think it may stem back to my step mother who used to fill a beautiful blue glass bowl with the winter fruit during the holidays.  She never ate them, but I always loved them as a child, more for the challenge and surprise of pulling out the layers and layers of seeds than for the sweet-sour burst that I now love.

So, my fall salad slightly transformed becomes a lovely winter dinner.  Simple, quick to prepare, beautiful to look upon, and oh so tasty in the mouth.

Full disclosure – I am drifting from my usual local focus with the pomegranites, but I can’t resist their allure.  As the season winds down and we are reduced to squash, sweet potatoes and greenhouse greens, it is easier to allow items grown in warmer climes into my kitchen.  Still, many of the ingredients to this salad are locally available for me, the greenhouse arugala, the cheddar cheese, the apples, the maple in my vinaigrette.  Local purists will have to forgive me for olive oil, mustard and pomegranite.

A winter’s salad

Ingredients – salad

  • plate-full of arugala (or lettuce or your favorite greens, I like spicy greens with the apple and cheese)
  • 1 apple
  • 1 serving cheddar cheese cut into small cubes
  • 1 handful pomegranite seeds (this is less than 1/4 of a full fruit, thankfully they store well)

Ingredients – dressing

  • dollop of your favorite mustard, try different ones to see which character you like best
  • small spill of maple syrup
  • larger spill of rice or cider vinaigar
  • 2 times as much oil as vinaigar
  • a pinch of salt (depending on taste and the amount of salt in your mustard)
  • several good grinds of pepper

The whole thing comes together quickly and makes for an excellent dinner, with a slice of crusty bread, so long as you aren’t chilled to the bone.  If so, make soup instead.

Posted in Food, Main dishes, Recipes, Vegetarian | 1 Comment