Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

Original Recipe HERE

This was *J*'s first birthday cake.  Since he wasn't old enough to express a preference, I chose for him.  None of that "my children don't have a taste of sugar until they go to Kindergarten" baloney around here.  I don't know if he liked it, but I certainly did.  I didn't use the ganache suggested in the orignal recipe; I made a frosting that I could tint blue.

P.S. BTW FWIW FYI The above link has some tips worth reading to make the cake be as successful as possible.

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1-1/3 cups canola oil
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups freshly brewed, extra-strong hot coffee
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
(2) Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl.
(3) Using an electric mixer set on low, add oil, buttermilk, and eggs each separately into flour mixture.
(4) Add hot coffee in a thin stream, pouring down the side of the bowl.
(5) Add vanilla; mix until batter is smooth.
(6) Divide batter evenly into pans.  Bake until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool in pans for at least 20 minutes.
(7) When ready to frost, remove cakes from pans. Place one layer of cake on serving plate. Trim top with a serrated knife to make it even if necessary.  Frost.  Trim top off other layer and place untrimmed side on top of frosted layer, pressing gently. Frost top and sides.

Kid Participation:
* Sift dry ingredients
* Add wet ingredients while keeping little fingers far from rotating beaters

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Original Recipe HERE

I had made a chocolate zucchini cake for Husband's birthday the year before, and it was fabulous.  For some reason I didn't save the link.  Plenty of googling didn't result in anything familiar, so after admitting defeat I settled on this one.  It wasn't quite as good as the first CZC, but it's worth saving and making again.  I would have preferred it a little moister, so instead of completely squeezing out the zucchini juice, I'll leave some in.

I frosted this with a pumpkin-flavored cream cheese frosting (here), which was also worthy of repeating.  Husband liked it (I think?) because he's doesn't have a major sweet tooth, so my usual go-to buttercream frosting isn't his thing.  The pairing of this cake and that frosting made for a tasty dessert that wasn't too dessert-y.

1/2 cup fat-free milk [or buttermilk]
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar [only if using regular milk]
2-1/2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
1-3/4 cups sugar
1 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini, slightly drained
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 13x9x2" glass dish or cake pan.
(2) If not using buttermilk, stir together the milk and the vinegar.  Let sit 10 minutes.
(3) Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt into a medium bowl.  Stir in chocolate chips, ensuring they are coated with flour mixture.
(4) In a large mixing bowl, using an eletric mixer, beat egg whites and sugar on low speed until well combined.
(5) Beat in yogurt, vanilla, and milk until just thoroughly blended.
(6) Gradually add sifted flour mixture to wet ingredients, stirring until blended.
(7) Using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix in zucchini until combined.
(8) Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out dry.
(9) Remove pan to a rack. Allow it to cool at least 30 minutes before cutting into individual pieces.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Kid Participation:
* Sift dry ingredients
* Stir in zucchini


(Somewhat) Healthy Zucchini Muffins

Original Recipe HERE

I made these into muffins to help with portion control.  Which didn't actually help at all, since the recipe made 12 muffins and I think I ate eight of them.  They had a light, just-sweet-enough taste that kept me coming back for more.  Great for breakfast with a (generous) spread of butter.  I wonder if they'd be good with some peanut butter...or nutella!  Ooh.  Darn, curiosity has gotten the better of me and I must make these again ASAP.

Usually baking with zucchini calls for squeezing most of the liquid out, but the original recipe didn't specify.  I shredded it on the finer side of my grater and then used a paper towel to absorb most of the liquid that naturally pooled beneath it.  It was still very mushy when I added it to the batter, but the consistency of the muffins was perfect.  So I guess that's the way to go with this particular recipe.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup milk
1 Tablespoon lime (or lemon) juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup peeled, grated zucchini, slightly drained

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a regular-size muffin tin.
(2) Sift together dry ingredients using a sifter or a fine mesh strainer.
(3) Combine egg, milk, oil, apple sauce, lime juice, vanilla; mix well. Stir into dry ingredients until just moistened.
(4) Fold in zucchini.
(5) Fill muffin tins two-thirds full.  Bake 20-25 minutes [mine were done at 22] or until a knife inserted in the center of one muffin comes out clean.
(6) Let sit several minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Muffins are best when stored uncovered or loosely covered.

Kid Participation:
* Whisk and/or sift dry ingredients
* Whisk wet ingredients
* Stir zucchini into batter


Sauteed Shredded Brussels Sprouts & Bacon

Original Recipe HERE

Still working on finding a Brussels sprouts recipe that everyone in the family likes.  This one wasn't it, but I think with a little tweaking it could be.  Pretty sure it was the addition of the balsamic vinegar that turned the kids off, but the sprouts themselves didn't seem to offend them.

Next time I'll use a little butter along with the bacon grease to cook the onion and sprouts for the sake of flavor.  A little garlic salt never hurt anyone, either.  Also, I used the grating blade with my food processor and it demolished the first round of sprouts into pieces much too small to cook.  I had to slice the rest of them by hand.  Next time I'll use the slicing blade.

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
6 strips bacon, sliced small
1/2 onion, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese, to taste

(1) Trim sprouts; discard any damaged outside leaves.  Wash.
(2) Using a food processor with its slicing blade, shred the sprouts.  Alternately, cut into thin slices by hand.
(3) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add bacon.  Cook, stirring often, until lightly browned.
(4) Drain bacon grease, leaving behind about 1 tablespoon.  Add onions; sautee until tender.
(5) Add sprouts.  Cook, stirring, until tender (about 5 minutes).
(6) Pour in vinegar; increase the heat to high. Season with salt and pepper.  Stir until the vinegar has evaporated.
(7) Serve; top with cheese.

Kid Participation: None.


Original Recipe HERE

Upon googling, I learned that this recipe isn't the brainchild of San Giorgio (which had included the recipe on the back of the mini shells box and inspired me mid-grocery run to get the rest of the necessary ingredients).  That doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for this well-known, common-in-several-culinary-regions dish, though.  And anyway, if I go the lazy route and use alfredo instead of bechamel or a white sauce, and I substitute chopped veggies for the meat, can it really even be called pastitsio anymore?

Because I am cutting back on our meat consumption (shh, don't tell Husband...waiting for him to complain before I explain it), next time I will use more vegetables to add bulk and texture to the tomato sauce layer.  This recipe made "nine 1-cup servings" so I thought it would save me from having to make dinner the next night.  However, the meal made as directed below led *J* to request four servings and *N* three. I don't know the last time that happened. And *N* asked me when I was going to make it again. Husband took leftovers for lunch the next day. All in all, high praise for the pastitsio.

1 pound ground beef [I used chicken]
1 cup chopped onion
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 box (16 oz) pasta [anything non-noodle should work]
1 jar (16 oz) alfredo sauce
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

(1) Heat oven to 400°F.  Begin heating water to boil pasta.
(2) In large skillet over medium heat, cook meat and onion until meat is thoroughly cooked and onion is tender.
(3) Stir in tomato sauce, tomato paste, salt and cinnamon; heat to boiling.
(4) Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10 minutes.
(5) Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente (mine took 9 minutes); drain.
(6) Toss hot pasta with Alfredo sauce.
(7) In 13x9x2" baking dish, spoon half the pasta mixture.  Spread meat mixture evenly over pasta. Spoon remaining pasta evenly over meat mixture.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
(8) Cover with foil; bake 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Kid Participation:


15 Bean Enchiladas

Original Recipe HERE

Don't let the thought of buying or preparing 15 separate varieties of beans scare you.  These 15 come all together in one handy-dandy bag.  This is an easy-to-prepare meal that's also easy-to-assemble.  Better than that, everyone in my family really, really liked it.  Even *J*, who is going through a picky, I-don't-need-to-eat-dinner phase, asked for seconds.

I used the recommended "15 Bean Soup, Cajun Style" from Hurst (which was conveniently recommended because the company sponsored the creation of the original recipe; I assume any other bean mixture would work as well).  I didn't soak the beans ahead of time, so I had to give them 90 minutes to boil that afternoon - which was fine because they were low maintenace.  I did use the provided seasoning packet and am glad I did.  I made the entire bag, which left me with plenty of leftover beans.  Not sure what to do with them; will probably toss them with some feta and salad dressing or something equally uninspired and lazy.

The only change I made was to use eight 10" tortillas which required using two casserole dishes to fit everything.  Next time I'll skip the packet of taco seasoning and just give some generous shakes of cumin, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, etc.  I might throw in some cream cheese to change the consistency and mellow out the spiciness a bit (though no one complained about the flavor).

* For sauce:
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 Tablespoon taco seasoning
* For enchiladas:
3 to 4 cups cooked beans [15 Bean Soup, Cajun Style by Hurst]
1 can (15 oz) petite diced tomatoes, well drained
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tablespoons taco seasoning
8 10" or 12 8" tortillas
1 to 2 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese

(1) Cook the beans.  Drain.
(2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 9×13" glass baking pan.
(3) Prepare sauce by whisking taco seasoning into tomato sauce.
(4) In a medium bowl, combine cooked beans, diced tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and taco seasoning.
(5) Spoon bean mixture into tortillas. Roll; lay seam side down in prepared baking dish. Repeat for all tortillas.
(6) Pour tomato sauce on top of enchiladas, being sure to cover edges of tortillas. Sprinkle Mexican blend cheese over the top.
(7) Cover with foil.  Bake 20 minutes.  Remove foil; bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and cheese has melted.  Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Kid Participation:
* Whisk sauce and seasoning
* Stir bean mixture together
* Scoop bean mixture into tortillas
* Spread sauce on enchiladas
* Sprinkle cheese on enchiladas


Moroccan Inspired Couscous

Original Recipe HERE

My kids liked the raisins and craisins in this dish, which I expected.  They are unpredictable about cauliflower, but since I chopped it up into pretty small pieces, they ate most of it because it was too much work to pick it out.  I offered grated parmesan, goat cheese, and feta to any who wanted them.  I'm the only one who picked the goat, which I thought suited it well.

1 1/3 cup Israeli couscous
1/2 red onion, chopped
Dash of ground cinnamon
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
Small handful of pine nuts, toasted
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped [optional; I used a few shakes of dried]
Small handful of golden raisins
Small handful of dried cranberries
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped
Salt to taste

(1) In a medium pot over medium heat, add olive oil, couscous, and onions.  Toss to coat.
(2) Add salt and cinnamon.
(3) Meanwhile, in a separate small pot, bring vegetable broth to a boil.
(4) When the couscous is just starting to toast, slowly add in the broth. Stir.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cover.  Let sit 10-12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
(5) While waiting, steam cauliflower until fork-tender.
(6) When couscous is done, remove from heat.  Stir in golden raisins, dried cranberries, pine nuts and parsley. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.
(7) Add in the cauliflower and gently toss.  Serve warm.

Kid Participation: None.

Italian Sausage with Red Grapes

Original Recipe HERE

I was doubtful about how this would turn out, but it had a refreshingly different-yet-appealing taste.  The spiciness of the sausage was nicely balanced out with the "tang" of the cooked grapes and the obvious balsamic flavor.  It couldn't be much easier, too.  I served it over rice.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage [I used chicken sausage]
1 to 2 pounds seedless red grapes, stemmed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper

(1) Cut sausages in half lengthwise, then into slices.
(2) Heat oil in skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Cook sausages until well browned.
(3) Add grapes.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until sausages are cooked through and grapes are softened (about 10 to 12 minutes).
(4) Stir in vinegar.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Kid Participation: None.


Zucchini Crouton Casserole

Original Recipe HERE

This was called Baked Zucchini Parmesan by its creator, but I think of breadcrumb-dredged-and-fried-in-oil goodness when I hear "parmesan."  So I'm changing its name.

This was super easy to make, especially since all the prep can be done ahead of time.  Just assemble the dish when it's time to bake, and voila.  I added an extra zucchini layer to make it more vegetable-y to balance out the copious amount of croutons. I wasn't sure how mushy the zucchini would get, but it was cooked through while retaining some crispness.  Next time, I will coarsely chop (smash?) the croutons a bit for more even coverage.  *N* ate two helpings and told me that now she likes zucchini (a declaration that is only good until the next time the vegetable is served to her, then all bets are off).  *J* ate all the croutons and cheese, as expected, and refused the zucchini.  When I shot down his request for more croutons, telling him he had to eat the zucchini first, he picked at his dish until every grain of rice was gone.  But he was stubborn about the green stuff.

2 cups cooked rice [I used brown instant rice]
1 egg
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 large or 3 medium zucchini
2 cups spaghetti sauce
2 to 3 cups croutons
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese [or your favorite blend]

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
(2) In a bowl, combine egg and spices. Mix thoroughly.  Add rice; mix again.
(3) Add olive oil to the bottom of a 9x13" pan; spread evenly.
(4) Spread rice mixture in bottom of pan.
(5) Peel zucchini.  Slice lengthwise in 1/4″ thick slices. Place a single layer of zucchini slices on the r6ce.
(6) Pour one cup of spaghetti sauce over zucchini; spread evenly.
(7) Sprinkle one cup of cheese over the spaghetti sauce.
(8) Repeat zucchini / sauce / cheese steps.
(9) Layer croutons over cheese.
(10) Sprinkle remaining cheese over croutons.
(11) Cover with foil; bake 25 minutes. Remove foil; bake an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Kid Participation:
* Mix rice, spices, & egg
* Spread rice mixture
* Layer zucchini
* Sprinkle cheese
* Sprinkle croutons
* Smash croutons, if they are having a temper tantrum and need a constructive outlet for their emotions