28 July 2009

Call any vegetable

Early Sunday, while the spouse and I were giving the kids a rundown on seminal Southern California punk bands (anything to pull out those Angry Samoan albums and tell the story of how I got them...), the phone rang.

R. wanted to go for a walk.

So I said ok, knowing that it was already too late in the morning to walk, humid and pushing 80F. But I met her down at her house and dragged her through a four-mile hike through the hills (when she started to complain, I suggested that we could go six), after which I had to admire the shorn pugs. Then, she handed me two huge summer squashes. Huge. Probably 4 lb. each.

I like squash, winter or summer. It's a lovely, versatile vegetable, and good for you! Not that anyone ever wants to hear that.

The kids don't like squash, though the spouse is ok with winter squash, and he'll eat summer squash when I grill it and put it in pasta salad. I also like it sauteed, but there are few things I loathe more than zucchini and stewed tomatoes. It's something my mother used to make, and there is a special place in hell for that dish, right next to oxtail stew.


I looked at these two enormous squash and wondered what to do with them.

Last winter, when I had butternut squash proliferating all over, I found a nice spice cake that incorporated cooked squash. It tasted great, and the kids never had a clue they were getting a random dose of vitamin A and fiber. The great thing about putting squash in sweets is that the squash has no taste; it's completely overruled by the other ingredients. Think of carrot cake or zucchini bread; both are variations on a spice cake, and that is all you taste. The vegetables add texture, maybe a little color and some moisture to the finished product. So, I did a search for summer squash and cake. Et voila:

Golden Lemon-Squash Pound Cake!

This recipe flat out rocks. I made it today and served it after dinner, and it was gorgeous. Because the squash that R. gave me had been on the vine a bit too long, I trimmed the outer skin, so the only yellow in the cake was from the lemon peel. The cake itself was beautifully tender (with a 1/2 lb. of butter and the addition of sour cream, it ought to be) and had a light and lovely flavor. You couldn't even see squash in it (in fact, the spouse thought I was joking when I told him it was in there). I actually made this recipe exactly as it appears, but I would change the lemon icing next time. It's too runny, so I suggest starting with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and adding additional liquid from there to achieve the right consistency for drizzling.

I will not even pretend that there is anything healthy about this cake, though, even with a cup and a half of shredded vegetable in it. Still, it makes a nice indulgence when you have too much squash.

So, I still had 2/3 of a squash left. I frequently make quick bread or muffins as a way to use up stuff (bananas, zucchinis, carrots), and the family really likes zucchini bread. It's nice that zucchini is a summer squash, so I figured that I'd be able to use the squash in the place of the zucchini. I don't generally put chocolate chips in zucchini bread, but recently was given a recipe that called for chocolate chips, and substituted applesauce for oil and crushed pineapple for sugar. The kids LOVED it, but I thought it was sticky and ghastly, though I liked the applesauce for oil substitution. Far too many of the zucchini breads and carrot cakes I've had are really greasy from the vast amount of oil that's called for and I can't stand greasy stuff. So I searched again, and I used up another 2 cups in Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread courtesy of Food Network and Paula Deen. Now this recipe, I substituted madly, so I've given you the link to the original recipe above, and below, is my adaptation. The first read through of the recipe, I'd decided to use applesauce to replace some of the oil, and I was happy when I read some of the comments on the recipe that others had tried it with good results.

3 c. unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (generous)
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (generous)
1 tsp. baking soda
3 large eggs
1-1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbl. orange juice
2 c. grated summer squash or zucchini
1 c. pecan halves
1 c. milk chocolate chips (which I'd have left out if I hadn't had an open half package from the last batch of zucchini bread)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two standard loaf pans.

Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, spices and baking soda.

In large bowl, beat eggs until light. Add sugar and beat until well blended. Stir in oil, applesauce, vanilla, orange juice, squash. Stir in dry ingredients. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into loaf pans.

Bake 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn bread out onto wire rack to cool.

I'd have used orange zest as called for in the original, but oranges are out of season so I didn't have any on hand. The texture of the bread was fabulous: moist but not greasy. It's still pretty sweet, so I'd be inclined to cut the sugar further, and I'd consider using white whole wheat for half the regular flour to bump up the fiber content. I like chocolate as well as the next person, but it really doesn't add anything here, so in future, I'll probably add a few more pecans and leave the chips out. Also, a restaurant I used to go to that had a really flavorful (though too greasy) zucchini bread sprinkled sesame seeds over the top before baking, and I'd probably try that as well.

At any rate, you no longer have an excuse not to eat your vegetables for dessert.

Go listen to some music: "Call Any Vegetable" from the album Just Another Band from L.A. by Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention. Mothers of invention, huh? I'd fit right in...

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