Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Evolution of the Dark Chocolate Zucchini Brownie

I've been in search of a good dark chocolate brownie recipe and at the same time, I've been searching for more ways to use up all the summer squash that comes this time of year. So, when I found a well reviewed zucchini brownie recipe, I thought I'd had it made. But I didn't care for the original recipe so I experimented a bit. My favorite version is at the bottom of this post.

The recipe I started out with can be found here.
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla until well blended. Combine the flour, 1/2 cup cocoa, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Fold in the zucchini and walnuts. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until brownies spring back when gently touched. To make the frosting, melt together the 6 tablespoons of cocoa and margarine; set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, blend together the confectioners' sugar, milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the cocoa mixture. Spread over cooled brownies before cutting into squares.

I made this recipe the first time without any changes except skipping the icing. Also, I used the Special Dark cocoa powder. I found the brownies to be very good but quite cakey so I set about modifying the recipe for a more fudgey brownie. I researched what makes brownies more cakey versus more fudgey and found that reducing egg, flour and baking soda should do it. So, I went about it the scientific way and changed one thing at a time. First I reduced the baking soda to 1/2 teaspoon. This definitely made the brownies less cakey, but they were still pretty cakey IMO. Next, I reduced the flour to 1 1/2 cups. They helped a LOT towards making the brownies more fudgey. Still not as fudgey as some I've had in the past. Next, I reduced the baking soda to just a scant 1/4 teaspoon. Next, I added more cocoa powder, bringing the amount up to 3/4 cup. Now these brownies are pretty fudgey! So, the ingredients for my current recipe is:
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Finally, I jazzed them up a bit by adding a cream cheese swirl. Wow! These are currently my favorite brownies! For the cream cheese swirl:
Cream Cheese Layer:
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
Beat all the ingredients for the brownies together, minus the ingredients for the cream cheese swirl. After putting the brownie batter in the pan, beat the ingredients for the cream cheese swirl together until smooth and spoon the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie mixture. Draw a knife through it repeatedly to swirl it. Then bake as usual.

Ice Plant is Blooming and the Bees are Out

Today is a lovely day. The sun is shining and the temperature is in the upper sixties. Just two weeks ago the temperature was minus 10, so I was surprised to see anything growing, never mind blooming. But there are at least three varieties of ice plant blooming and the bees have found them.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Extracting Honey

Honey Extraction
This past Sunday, August 10, 2014, we took our frames of honey from our backyard beehives to be extracted down at Dakota Bees in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. We'd removed the frames from the supers the day before and stored them in the back of car so the bees couldn't get to them and take the honey back to their hives.
Taking the supers and honey frames off the hives was pretty exciting in itself as the bees don't really like their hard earned winter food supply being taken from them. We smoked the bees a little to calm them down and used Bee Quick to chase them down out of the supers and into the lower deep boxes. It worked sort of well, but would've worked better if the weather had been warmer and sunnier. As it was, we got 3 supers and 25 frames full of honey off of the hives. Most of this came off the two older hives. We didn't get much of anything off the 3 hives that are new this year, but we didn't expect to.
Frame Before Uncapping
Frame After Uncapping
We headed over to Dakota Bees in the morning with our frames. Greg showed us how to use a heat gun to uncap the honey cells on the frames. This worked very well for most of the frames, the heat quickly popping the tops of the caps off of the honey. The heat gun doesn't heat up the honey, but heats the air gap under the cell cap, popping it off. For the few cells it didn't work on, we used a honey pick to open up the cells.
12 Frame Extractor
Extractor and Honey Bucket
Next, we loaded up the large extractor with the frames and spun the honey out of the cells. The extractor is basically a large centrifuge, pulling the honey out of the cells with centrifugal force and then letting it drip down the walls of the extractor and out the spigot at the bottom, where it then goes into our honey bucket.
Bucket of Honey!
Chris took a video of this process. After we got all our honey extracted, we headed home to put the honey into jars for permanent storage. We washed a bunch of brand new pint jars and some half pints (they mail easier than full pints) and filled them up from the brand new 5 gallon pail with a honey gate on it. Filling the jars by ladelling it out would have been much messier. Now we have enough honey to last us a very long time.
Bucket with Honey Gate
Honey!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bringing in the Pollen

Today was a lovely warm sunny day. It was a great day for working in the yard, not only for me, but also for the industrious creatures out in the back of the yard. The bees were out collecting pollen to feed their young. I hope this means the queen is laying well and they're gearing up for all the apple blossoms that will be out in a few weeks. One week ago I saw white pollen coming in from the maple tree, but now the pollen is dark yellow to orange and looks very much like the pollen in all the crocus blossoms in the yard.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Kindle Kind of Day


Today is one of those days where it's best to just stay inside and read. It's cold, it's dull and the snow just keeps coming down and down. It's time to dig out the kindle and read one of the books I downloaded a while back.
A year ago I got a Kindle Touch for Christmas. It's great - there are lots of free or really cheap books on Amazon and I can check out ebooks from the library in a matter of minutes without leaving home. While I still think the printed page is easier to read, the Kindle is definitely easier on the eyes than my spouse's tablet.


I did miss the feel of a book in my hands and I wanted to protect my kindle, so I designed and made a leather cover for it. It wasn't hard, but it was time consuming. If you're interested in making a similar cover for your e-reader or tablet, here's how I made mine:

First I drew around my kindle on two pieces of stiff cardboard and cut them out. I then laid the cardboard pieces on top of some nice black leather and cut out two pieces of leather, adding a 1/4 inches around each piece. These pieces are the inner cover.
Then I stacked the kindle, the cardboard and the inner cover pieces to see how how thick  they would be. This thickness is the width of the spine of the kindle cover. I laid the inner cover pieces of leather out on the rest of my leather, with the gap for the spine between them. Then I drew around them and cut that out for my outer cover.
I used a three prong leather punch to punch sewing holes all around the outside edges of the outer cover and the inner cover pieces.
Next, I cut out three leather tabs and one piece of black elastic to hold the kindle in the cover. Holes were punched in the ends of the tabs so they could be sewn onto the inner cover.  I also cut out a tab to close the cover. I punched holes into it and into the back of the outer cover. I then sewed a button on the front of the outer cover. I hand sewed a button hole on the end of the tab.
I used a sewing awl and strong black leather thread to sew the entire thing together - sewing the tabs and elastic on the same time as the inner cover to the outer cover. The cardboard was then slipped in between the covers. This gives the kindle cover the same rigidity as the cover of a book.
All in all, I'm pleased with the result. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Bees are Out and About!


Today was a glorious warm sunny day - one of the best we've had so far this year. The sun was out, the temperature was warm and the wind was fairly calm. The sun shown on the fronts of the bee hives, warming them up and letting light into the tiny little front doors. The bees, who have been clustered inside keeping warm most of the time this winter, came out for some flying time and to relieve themselves. There are now lots of little brown spots all over the area near the hives. There was also the chore of carrying out the dead. Bess don't live very long and some die in the hive during the winter and these corpses need to be carried out of the hive and dumped. Normally the dead bee is carried off a distance from the hive, but when it's quite chilly out, the body will get dumped just off the hive landing.
The bees were also flying about looking for anything tasty, so I put out some broken up honey comb I had stored. After finding the sticky sweet wax, some bees went back to the hive to report their find by doing the happy waggle bee dance on the front of the hive. The excited bee would dance around in a figure eight while waggling its butt. Through out the day, the bees worked hard to clean the honey off the wax. Once they've gotten all the honey out of this wax that they can, I'll use it for making beeswax candles.


Today I also saw my very first flower of the year - iris reticulata.


I'm surprised a bee wasn't on it. It's the only flower I saw anywhere today. Yet some bees found enough pollen from somewhere to fill their little pollen baskets and bring it back to the hive. Look at the bulges on the hind leg of one of the bees entering the hive in this picture.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Big Birdie


As I type this, there's a large bird sitting way up high in my neighbor's cottonwood. Every evening it goes there to rest. I can't quite get enough detail to tell for certain, but I think it's a Red Tailed hawk.