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Zucchini Apocalypse

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If you are a backyard gardener–like my grandmother was, like my father was, and like I was for a brief time–you know what that title means. The Zucchini Apocalypse is as dreaded among gardeners as a Zombie invasion. Toward the end of summer, those little green monsters are so numerous that you can’t keep them picked off the vine before some of them hide under the leaves and grow to a size worthy of the Guiness Book of World Records. They get so big you don’t know whether to cook them or attach a sail and go exploring the ocean. It is zucchini casserole time, for sure.

But don’t worry, I’ve been there. Before the zuchs get out of control, you can start making zucchini bread, zucchini pickles, stuffed zucchini, zucchini pizza, and a thousand and one other variations. Here’s a recipe that my sister-in-law gave me many, many decades ago, for a very vintage zucchini casserole . I’ve updated it in a couple of ways, but I left the most vintage touch of all–mushroom soup.

Zucchini Casserole from side

The Zucchini Casserole Dish

Size of casserole dishes

This recipe makes a VERY BIG casserole dish full. A word on the size of the bowl. After all, your fancy casserole dishes may not have measurements marked on the the side. I went with a 2 quart Pyrex bowl this time, but it definitely was not big enough. 2 1/2 quarts is ideal.  How do you know what size your bowls are?  Pour measured water into them. Time to return to grade school math class.  Four cups equals one quart.  I have a four-cup measuring cup and the Corning Ware bowl takes two and a half quarts to fill it to the brim.  The Pyrex dish, on the other hand, holds just two quarts.

I recommend a deep rather than a shallow dish. My favorite for the zucchini casserole is this big Corning Ware baking dish. The pictures of the finished casserole show it in a two-quart pyrex dish, which isn’t really big enough. Make two and give one away if you don’t have a big enough dish.

WHOOPS!

Well, we’ve all been there haven’t we? Shut the oven door and notice there is something that did not get included in the dish or pan? I forgot to layer the Ricotta. So I slathered it on top. Didn’t hurt a thing.

Zucchini with afterthought ricotta

Good luck getting rid of all those zucchinis, gardeners!

Zucchini casserole serving
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Zucchini Casserole, Vintage, Adapted

This Zucchini casserole has been updated to make it a wee bit healthier, but retains mushroom soup as a nod to the past.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword casserole, vintage, zucchini
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings 12
Author Vera Marie Badertscher

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup brown rice Cook in 2 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 stalks celery Alternatively, one onion chopped, or a blend of celery and onion.
  • 1 Teaspoon garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano I used Penzy's Greek Seasoning Blend.
  • 1 1/2 pound zucchini sliced in 1/2" pieces
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese or fine cottage cheese
  • 1 cup canned mushroom soup not diluted
  • 1 cup grated cheese eg. cheddar/monterey jack mix

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix rice in boiling water, reduce to simmer and cook until done–about 45 minutes
  • While rice is cooking, chop celery (and/or onions)
  • Brown ground beef in skillet with celery/onions
  • While beef is cooking, slice zucchini and put half in bottom of casserole
  • When rice is cooked through, add to beef in skillet along with garlic and oregano (or preferred seasonings).
  • Layer beef/rice mix over zucchini in casserole, next add ricotta and then rest of zucchini. Spread soup as top layer and scatter cheese on top.
  • Bake 35-40 minutes (less if using two smaller dishes) at 350 degrees.

Notes

I did not recommend adding salt and pepper because there  are LOTS of flavors going on here. There is so much salt in the mushroom soup and also some in cheese. But besides that there is a bit of salt in the spice blend I used.   On the other hand, you have plenty of room to bend the flavors in the direction you wish.  I liked using the Penzy Greek Spice Blend –oregano, lemon, marjoram, garlic, and a bit of salt and pepper. But I could imagine turning the casserole in different directions with spices. French with tarragon and thyme; Mexican with chile, etc.

Before you go, I’d like you to know about a couple of tricks for improving your vegetable cooking skills. One: If you are on Facebook, join the Fearless Fresh Kitchen Ninjas group. It is an amazing, sharing site for home cooks. A few trained cooks and professionals are there, too, so you will get great answers to any questions. Two: Stephanie Stiavetti, who started that Facebook group,also has a series of video lessons and other aids to improving your skills in the kitchen. Her latest series on cooking vegetables is FREE. Go here.

On the other hand, if you’d like to turn back the clock, I wrote some time ago about what Godey’s Lady’s magazine had to say about cooking vegetables back during the Civil War.

What’s Great About English Muffin Bread? The Holes

English Muffin Bread

The English Muffin History

First, let us get this out of the way. The English Muffin is NOT English. Samuel Bath Thomas gets credit for first making and promoting them as early as 1894, and the most famous English Muffin still bear his name. The American company, Bimbo Bakeries, now owns the brand, Thomas’.

When I saw a recipe for English Muffin bread on line, I was intrigued. When I saw how easy the creation of this bread would be, I got out the flour bin. I have made this great toasting bread several times now, and decided that even although it isn’t related to my English ancestors, I wanted to share the recipe with you.

Crumpets or Muffins?

By the way, in England, the “English” Muffins are simply known as Muffins, but in Ireland they are marketed at “American Muffins.” In England, you’re more likely to find crumpets on the menu than Muffins (English or otherwise), and in fact the baker who started the whole thing originally called them “toaster crumpets.”

One major difference between the two–crumpets contain baking soda which causes holes on top as well as inside. That makes the English Muffin Bread recipe more crumpet than muffin because it DOES have baking powder. This closeup shows that the English Crumpet(?) Bread has holes in the top.

English Muffin Bread closeup

I have always liked English Muffins, because of their main distinguishing characteristic–although they are smooth on the outside, holes cover the interior surface. Those holes provide little pockets to hold melted butter or drops of marmalade, jam or jelly. Mmmm, crunchy and soft and dripping with butter. Just think of strawberry butter dripping into all those holes! This bread mimics that characteristic of the muffin, like its cousins the English (or American) Muffin and the crumpet, I like it best toasted.

The English Muffin Recipe

English Muffin bread with raspberry jam

My bread recipe comes from my favorite baking site, King Arthur Flour. Just a couple of comments.

Flexible pan size. I have made this in a 9″ bread pan instead of an 8 12″, and that works, too.

Thermometer. However, you will definitely be better off with a thermometer. Not only to measure the temperature of the liquids that you heat before mixing in, but also to test the bread’s degree of doneness. Don’t trust the looks of the outside crust, because when the outside tans, the inside may still be gooey.

The yeast. Note that the recipe calls for instant yeast which you mix in with the dry ingredients rather than regular/rapid rise yeast that goes into the liquid. Also, the recipe calls for one tablespoon of yeast. Unfortunately, that is ever so slightly more than one packet of yeast, if you buy your yeast in those strips of three small packets.

The cornmeal. While I have always used cornmeal when I made the bread, I did see some English Muffin recipes that call for semolina (Cream of Wheat will do the trick). Your choice.

So, on to the recipe. It really is simple. Only one rising that takes about an hour and a half. No kneading. (And if you have a bread machine, King Arthur Flour can give you a recipe for that, too.)

Once you’ve tried English Muffin bread, maybe you’d like to move on to English muffins. A search at King Arthur Flour will give you a recipe for them, also.

Just a Trifle, Nobody’s Fool

Trifle in Hattie Morgan’s cut glass bowl

It all started when I made a cake that didn’t quite turn out right. In trying to get the cake to cook through to the middle, the entire cake got a bit too dry. We ate most of the cake, but I didn’t want to throw the rest out. Then I remembered that I’d been meaning to try making a trifle.

What is a Trifle?

Trifle recipes today generally call for ladyfingers, but the general construction can be quite flexible. Basically, you will have some kind of cake, moistened with some kind of liquid, spread with some kind of preserves or jelly, layered with custard (and more recently, fruit and maybe nuts) and topped with a layer of whipped cream.

The trifle will show off its colorful layers best in a glass dish with plain sides. Thus, you can buy a dish specifically for trifle, like this one by Libby’s glass, advertised at Amazon.

A Bit of History of Trifle

1585 The Gud Huswife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson, who apparently mansplained to huswifes how to cook.

1774 Hannah Glasse added jelly to the Trifle in her book, The Art of Cookery. (see her recipe below.)

Scots have their Tipsy Laird (tipsy Lord), with whiskey to moisten the cake. That name morphed to a more democratic Tipsy Parson or Tipsy Squire in Colonial America.

A neighbor who dropped by to sample my trifle said that in her mother’s case, the cake would macerate for several days and everyone in the household might add a few drops of booze to the cake. She called it Tipsy Cake. Appropriately, her family lived in the South, and the dessert is commonly called Tipsy Cake in the South.

So what’s this about Fools? Although the term is used interchangeably, the fool does not have pudding and cake–just a tangy fruit, cooked and cooled, mixed with whipped cream. But Fools originated about the same time as trifles and both feature whipped cream.

I want to share an earlier recipe for Trifle, but in case you are impatient to start cooking, I’ll jump to the modern recipe first.

Trifle with strawberries
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Strawberry Trifle

The traditional English trifle made with a different fruit juice, strawberries and almonds and a  pudding mix.
Course Dessert
Cuisine British
Keyword fruit, pudding, trifle, whipped cream
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 10

Ingredients

  • pieces dry or stale cake equivalent of 9″ layer cake
  • 1/4 cup fruit juice or sherry
  • 1/4 cup rasberry preserves or flavor of your choice
  • 1 pkg pudding mix
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4-1/2 cup almonds, sliced

Instructions

  • Make pudding mix according to instructions.  If cooked, let cool in refrigerator with plastic wrap spread across top to prevent 
  • Cut cake in one inch cubes. Lay the cake cubes out on a cookie sheet and brush with the liquid.
  • Spoon dabs of preserves on cake and spread with back of spoon.
  • When pudding is cool, start layering in deep glass bowl–cake, then pudding, scatter some almonds, then fruit–2 or three layers according to size of bowl.
  • Whip cream with sugar and vanilla.  Spread on top or drop swirls in decorative pattern.  Top with whole strawberries, almonds, or other fruit or garnish.
  • Put whole bowl into refrigerator for an hour or until ready to serve.

Notes

Times given assume you have the cake on hand and use a  boxed pudding mix. Allow more time, if you are baking a cake to use, or are making custard from scratch.
Some recipes for decorations include flowers.  Fruits other than or in addition to strawberries might include sliced bananas, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.
Brandy or sherry are traditional, but I used cranberry-mango juice for a very good taste.

18th Century Version–Hannah Glasse

To Make a Trifle

Cover the bottom of your dish or bowl with Naples biscuits broke in pieces, mackeroons brlke in halves, and ratafia cakes. Just wet them all through with sack, then make a good boiled custard, not too thick and when cold pour it over it, then put a syllabub over that. You may garnish it with ratafia cakes, currant jelly, and flowers and strew different coloured nonpareils over it. Note, these are bought at confectioners.

Glossary

Naples biscuits:  no longer used–a cookie made with egg whites and flavored with rose water.

mackaroonsMrs. Glasse provides a recipe for a cookie made with almonds pounded fine (like almond flour) , sugar and eggs whites 

ratafia: Almond liqueur, and the flavoring in ratafia cakes or biscuits.

syllabub: A drink or dessert of whipped cream with wine or other acidic drink. Mrs. Glasse has several recipes, including one for “solid syllabub, which I imagine is the type you would use for the trifle.

sack: no longer used term for a fortified wine, although sherry is close.

I hope you’ll have fun trying your own version of trifle, and will come back and share your results in our comment section.