The Wedding Singer’s Guide to Zucchini

Two summers ago I planted my first garden. It was at my father-in-law’s house in the country, at which I was spending half of every week. The space had been dormant for a few years, so my husband and I decided to revive it. We planted the usual suspects, as we had been instructed by my husband’s dad. It was a great summer for growing that year and yields were high. (I still have jars of canned peppers). Perhaps the most prolific of the garden plants was the zucchini. Before I grew my own veggies, I liked zucchini. Occasionally… in a stir fry or as an accompaniment to grilled salmon, but since that summer the thought of going without homegrown sweet delicious zucchini is horrifying.

The first giant zucchini was really an accident. One day I looked in the garden and saw some lovely little babies sprouting from the plant. I decided to let them get a little bit bigger, and a day or two later… I had raised behemoth squash.

 

First harvest from 2007 garden.

First harvest from 2007 garden.

I couldn’t have been more proud of my accomplishment, although I think the cat had some issues with it!

Zuc bigger than cat!

 

El Zucchini Grande

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then came the advice, and inevitably the criticism. Some people said my giant zucchini wouldn’t taste as sweet as it’s normal sized counterparts. They said the skin would be too tough, they said I had gone too far! I wouldn’t listen.

My grandmother told me to make zucchini bread. Still others said soup was the way to go, but I remembered seeing a recipe for mediterranean stuffed squash (using, of course puny, normal sized zucchini) and I recalled the tale of a similar zucchini that had been pulled from that same garden about ten years earlier. It had been stuffed as well, with a curried rice. I thought, “why does my glorious giant zucchini have to be relegated to side dish status? It is a wondrous and beautiful fruit!” So, I started stuffing. I made the first one with seafood – crabmeat and shrimp, then I made a vegetarian stuffed zucchini with golden raisins, couscous and almonds. Then I moved on to the meat. I made an Italian stuffed zucchini with ground veal, bread crumbs, tomatoes (also from the garden), pine nuts and, of course… cheese! It’s that one I’ll share with you now, because it stands out in my memory as one of my greatest squash stuffing achievements.

Let me start by saying this has not been the greatest garden year here in the Northeast, but I’ve already managed this…

First harvest 2009.IMG_3351
 

… and tonight. One of those bad boys is getting stuffed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Style Zucchini “Boat”

1 giant zucchini (if you’re the type that’s not into giant squash, you can always make the stuffing and stuff it into many small zucchini)

1-1 1/4 lbs. ground veal (can substitute ground beef, turkey, etc.)

4-5 plum tomatoes, peeled & crushed

2 cups baby portobello mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1 medium onion, chopped into approx. 1/4 inch pieces

3 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped

4 Tbsp. fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 pinch thyme leaves

1 pinch oregano

2oz. pine nuts

3-4 cloves garlic, chopped (depends on how garlicky you like it)

1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/3 cup red wine (give or take… or drink)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Approx. 3/4 cup bread crumbs

salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the ends off of the zucchini and slice it lengthwise down the middle. With a large spoon, dig out the seeds from the center of the squash.

 


 

hollowed out zuc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This should create a channel suitable for stuffing. Salt and pepper the zucchini, put into a giant roasting pan and set aside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a large skillet, brown veal lightly on a medium/high heat. Remove veal from pan and preserve juices from browning. Add about 1 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add garlic and onion and saute for 4-5 minutes or until onions are lightly browned. Add chopped IMG_3362mushrooms and continue to saute for 2 minutes. As you saute, add in your herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, parsley) a little at a time, reserving approximately 1 Tbsp of parsley for later. Add in crushed tomatoes, stir to mix. Cook mixture with tomatoes for about three minutes. Add in red wine and raise heat to cook off some of the liquid. Continue stirring for about 2 minutes. Add in 1/2 cup of grated cheese (save the rest for later) and return the veal to the pan and stir together with veggies. Salt and pepper mixture to taste. Add 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs a little at a time while stirring mixture. You want the bread crumbs to absorb much of the liquid, you may need a little more than 1/2 cup, you may need a little less. When the pan juices are mostly absorbed (nothing pooling in the bottom of the pan) remove pan from heat. Add in the pine nuts and stir to mix.


 

Spoon the veal mixture into the zucchini (depending on the size of your zucchini, you may have some extra mixture – but I usually just cram it in there.

IMG_3365

 

 

 

 

Sprinkle remaining bread crumbs, then remaining parmesan, then remaining parsley on top of your stuffed zucchini. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover roasting pan with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered for 15 minutes. IMG_3367

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may want to turn the oven up to broil for the last 3 minutes or so to brown the top. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve by slicing crosswise. Serves 6-8, depending on your zucchini size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


So there it is. Does the skin get thicker as the zucchini gets bigger? Yes. But it allows you to trap all the delicious stuffed goodness in there and it softens up pretty well when you bake the squash. And the flesh? Tender, sweet, meaty and delicious. What started out as a happy accident has become a summer tradition in my house. The only drag is all that baking with no A/C, but like they say, if you can’t stand the heat…

 


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I’ve Still Got Thriller Stuck in my Head.

On Saturday some friends of mine threw a party for which I did the unthinkable… I DJ’d, well, MP3J’d. I have to admit, it was really fun. My husband and I brought two laptops, the sound system for our band and some crazy disco lights we were given by a past client to a friend’s barn, which was transformed into a rustic, but posh, dance hall. I got an opportunity to dance, which I never get to do, but I still sang every song (as loud as I could) along with the tracks. It was an amazing moment for everyone to cut loose and forget about things for a night.

Coming just two days after the sudden death of a man who could best be described as a legend in his own time, this party gave me a chance to pay tribute to Michael Jackson, whose music has been influential throughout my life. I haven’t gotten enough of an opportunity to play MJ’s hits live in the past few years. Although, I think that will be changing. Three of my upcoming event clients have asked for tribute sets to the King of Pop at their parties. I’m sad that it took his death for people to rediscover his contribution to the soundtrack of all of our lives, but at the same time thrilled to honor Michael Jackson’s music in any way I can. In the next few weeks and months the events surrounding Michael Jackson’s death will be scrutinized and publicized. Society will, no doubt, be as fascinated by MJ in death as we were in life.

That being said, I’m not going to talk about MJ as a tragic figure. I’m not going to talk about plastic surgery or odd behavior or accusations. I’m not going to postulate on the cause of his death. I’m just going to post my Michael Jackson tribute playlist and let the discussion about his life be one about his music.

I trimmed my list down to one solid hour of the songs that meant the most to me and, of course, kept the dance floor packed – for decades.

  1. ThrillerThriller, 1982
  2. I Want You BackDiana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, 1969
  3. Don’t Stop ’til You Get EnoughOff the Wall, 1979
  4. Billie JeanThriller, 1982
  5. Black or WhiteDangerous, 1991
  6. ABCABC (The Jackson 5), 1970
  7. Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)Destiny (The Jacksons), 1979
  8. Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’Thriller, 1982
  9. Beat ItThriller, 1982
  10. The Way You Make Me FeelBad, 1987
  11. The Love You SaveABC (The Jackson 5), 1970
  12. Rock With YouOff the Wall, 1979
  13. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)Thriller, 1982
  14. Off the WallOff the Wall, 1979
  15. Who’s Lovin’ YouDiana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, 1969

We interspersed this playlist throughout the night in three song sets.

I can think of some tracks to add, what about you?

How to Effectively Hire a Vendor… Or Not.

This week’s entry is not about how to choose the right vendor, let’s assume you’ve already done that. Now, it’s time to book them… officially, not just in your mind.


There is so much to do when it comes to choosing all of the vendors for your event, that by the time you’ve actually decided on one it can seem like your job is done. For the vendor however, this is not the case. There are contracts to sign and deposits to pay before the deal is official. So, even if you are 100% sure in your mind that you want Franco Falencia’s Floral Design to create the decor for your event, Franco really has nothing to go on until it’s official. (Don’t bother googling Franco, he’s not real. If he was though, I’m sure his work would be fabulous).

First things first. Don’t ask for a contract if you don’t intend to sign it. If you want to see what is in the contract before you make your final decision, ask for a sample. Most vendors will have one when you meet with them, or if you are booking remotely they can email or fax one. This will be a blank or one with sample information filled in. If you ask for a contract specifically for your event, the vendor assumes you intend to book with them and will be sending in a signed copy with a deposit. Which lead me to my next point…

Turn your contract around quickly. Especially if you have been extended any sort of discount off of the book rate for the services you will be receiving. It’s a courtesy and it makes for a great working relationship with your people. From the vendor’s standpoint nothing is worse than having a contract out in the world just stagnant. It is at this point that we start to wonder if you have changed your mind, found someone else, joined the circus or moved to South America. Trust me all sorts of scenarios run through our minds. Remember, this is how we make a living, your deposit is someone’s paycheck. If something comes up that causes a delay on your end, be honest with your vendor. Chances are they will be willing to work with you, as long as they know what’s up. If they aren’t, well maybe they weren’t the right people for you in the first place.

An open dialogue with your vendors is the best way to avoid any snag ups or confusion or worse yet losing them to someone who’s more on top of things than you are. Read all contracts carefully and ask questions. If there is something in it you don’t like, ask if it can be changed. At this point you are not obligated to anyone. If there is some information the vendor needs that you don’t have, i.e. what you want the band to wear at you event, ask if that can be determined at a later date. Write in any extra information or considerations. I personally hate blank spaces in contracts. They leave room for questions, issues and last minute problems.

Communication is equally important if you have decided not to hire a specific vendor for one reason or another. The phone calls and emails you keep getting are coming in because you haven’t answered them. A good vendor works their office diligently. Until they’ve heard a no, you are still a possible yes. (Of course anyone who keeps calling or emailing after you have clearly told them that you went with someone else, you have my full permission to pummel… verbally). Simply answer one phone call or email with a polite “thank you for your time, but we’ve decided to go with someone else.” There’s nothing personal here, it’s not like avoiding phone calls from your ex, or your crazy Aunt Harriet, and we won’t be offended if you’ve decided to go with someone else. It’s a competitive field. There’s just as much rejection as acceptance. Some vendors may ask what influenced your decision so that they can improve their service in the future. It’s OK to be honest and you should be.

If you are still undecided, give vendors an idea of when your decision might be made, or tell them when to follow up with you. Always make sure your have your first choice vendor contracted before you blow off your second or third choices, you may end up needing them after all. If you take a long time to make decisions, your first choice may no longer be available by the time you get to booking them.

The key to all of it is communication and professionalism. The people you are dealing with are pros, treat them as such. They are there to help you through this process. Ask questions and be up front. You’ll take a lot of stress out of the whole thing for both you and your vendors. If you find someone difficult to communicate with or unwilling to make any compromises, you may need to go back to the choosing stage and skip booking them altogether.







Surviving PNS: Pre-Nuptial Syndrome

Pre-Nuptial Syndrome, or PNS affects millions of brides each year, specifically targeting the busy bride with a unique vision of the perfect wedding.


You may be suffering from PNS if you have one or more of the following:
  • A phone full of vendor emails and no contracted vendors as of yet.
  • More meetings after work than during.
  • A stack of bridal magazines taller than your refrigerator.
  • Kleinfeld’s on speed dial.
  • Six bridesmaids whose unique vision of the perfect wedding is directly at odds with yours.
  • Champagne taste and a Bud Light budget.
  • A fiance that doesn’t understand why you want to lose seven pounds before your first fitting.
  • A mother whose unique vision of the perfect wedding is directly at odds with yours.
  • Three dozen invitations samples that all look the same, or …
  • An overwhelming desire to skip it and move on to the honeymoon!
Planning a wedding can be one of the most stressful things a person can go through in life. I think it’s right up there with moving, but it doesn’t have to be. It should be one of the most exciting, joyful and memorable times of your life. It should be fun. You should enjoy trying on beautiful gowns, checking out bands and tasting wine (a personal favorite of mine). This is a time to focus on you, your fiance, your relationship and what makes it special. PNS can be held at bay if you just remember why you have begun the wedding planning process in the first place. The man you love has asked you to spend the rest of your life with him and you want to celebrate that with all of your friends, family and loved ones (and whoever else is on your parents’ guest list).

If simply remembering that doesn’t help, here are some steps you can take to avoid falling victim to Pre-Nuptial Syndrome.

  • Prioritize: Make a list of everything you need to do between now and the big day (leave room at the bottom of the page, this list will likely grow). Number these items in order of importance to you. For some “dress” will be first. for others it will be “flowers” it doesn’t matter, as long as you are comfortable with it. Although, the first thing on everyone’s list should probably be “venue”. Without that, there is no wedding.
  • Delegate: Find a couple of allies and lean on them. Make sure they are up for the challenge first, and that their unique vision of the perfect wedding is not directly at odds with yours. If you have to, pay them (a wedding planner is money well spent, if you have it). Maybe your mom has a knack with flowers, put her on it. Is your fiance musically inclined? Let him research the band. Does your maid of honor have impeccable fashion sense? Let her get to work picking out potential bridesmaid’s dresses (this also keeps the heat off of you in the event of a bridesmaid mutiny at the dress store). In the end, these choices belong to you (and your fiance), but if the myriad choices can be narrowed down by trusted associates, why not? You do it at work, do it in life.
  • Relax: There are a lot of things that seem like a huge deal while you are planning your wedding that turn out to hardly matter in the end. As someone who has seen hundreds of weddings and receptions as well as lived through her own, take it from me, there has never been a more appropriate time for the old cliche – don’t sweat the small stuff. Make sure you take plenty of time for you during this process, and don’t forget about your husband to be. It helps to remember that you are in it together.
  • Trust: Hire vendors that you are certain will do a great job. These are people who listen more than they talk. People who are professional and have the experience to roll with any last minute changes, unexpected guests, missing flower girls – whatever might come up. They should also be people you feel comfortable communicating with. Remember, these are the people that will make your unique vision of the perfect wedding a reality. Get recommendations if possible, ask for referrals from anyone you are thinking of working with. It may be easier to ask certain questions of someone who has already been there, plus you know you are getting more truth than sales pitch.

PNS isn’t 100% avoidable, but it can be treated with calm, organization and preparation. If that doesn’t work, there’s always a martini and a trip to the spa.