We were quite a boring family when I grew up in North Platte, Nebraska. There just weren’t very many super exciting things for a Chinese immigrant family to do in the small town and we lived on a dirt road, across from the empty field lot, next to the traffic light in the middle of nowhere. Usually on weekends, we’d stay at home. But once every couple of months, when we were feeling a bit frisky and itchin’ for some variety, we’d all pack in our puke green Chevrolet Impala station wagon (complete with the lovely wood paneled sides) and drive to the nearest Asian market – Denver, Colorado, which was four and half hours away and four and a half hours back. It was good to be near our peeps, stock up on Asian ingredients and pick up a Chinese newspaper, our only link to what was happening back home. Oh, those were wild times.
My parents kept themselves occupied at home by building and tending to a ginormous backyard garden where we grew a bunch of Chinese vegetables and also all the normal Midwest garden stuff like corn, raspberries, watermelon and zucchini.
I hated the garden. No, hate is not a strong enough word. I’d rather spend my day picking rabid gnats off a monkey’s back than to tend to the half-acre of time sucking, weed wrestling, no-good garden. Oh, I’m sure my family enjoyed the fresh fruits and vegetables that we grew…but I don’t really remember that. All I remember were the weeds and zucchini. I don’t know what kind of ancient Chinese squid brain fertilizer my dad used, but damn, that stuff was potent, particularly favoring the zucchini.
My job was to go out into the garden every day, pull them stupid ‘ol weeds and then haul back the day’s squash harvest. We’d pile them up on our picnic table in the patio, stuff them in the refrigerator, canned them for the pantry (gross) and offer basketfuls to our neighbors. Pretty soon I was running out of room and ended up chucking them down the basement stairs just to temporarily have a place to store them. But then I’d forget and rotting zucchini smelled quite awful.
Mom made batches and batches of zucchini bread and would send me to school with loaves of zucchini bread to bribe my school teacher with. Very quickly, it became clear that the bribe was beginning to have adverse effects, especially after third loaf of zucchini bread in seven days, so I started chucking the zucchini bread into random, unlocked parked cars on my way to school. But then, I think people were tired of sitting down into their car seats and “squish” finding freshly squashed squash bread. They started locking their doors.
Well, I’ll tell you what. After all those years of making zucchini bread, I swear, my mom has perfected the recipe. So, when I challenged Chef Greg Howe of the Ritz Carlton to a Iron Chef-like competition and found out that the not-so-secret secret ingredient was zucchini, I called my mom for her recipe. And then I tweaked it ever so slightly to include two of my latest obsessions – coffee and cardamom.
By the way, Chef Greg kicked my butt in the competition. If you are ever in Sarasota, treat yourself to an exquisite dinner at the Ritz Carlton. Chef Greg is a master of packing bursts of fresh flavors in the most delicate, light textures. His unique Popcorn Bisque is a must-try. Just don’t order their zucchini bread dessert…I think mom’s was better! 😉
So, here’s my version of Cardamom Coffee Zucchini Bread.
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon finely ground coffee beans
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini
One 8.5oz can crushed pineapple
Preheat your oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, ground cardamom and espresso.
In your mixer, beat the eggs with the canola oil, sugar and the brown sugar. Add the zucchini and crushed pineapple. Turn the mixer to low and add in the flour mixture, half at a time, letting it mix in between. Do not over mix.
Spray 2 loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray. Divide the batter in half and fill. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.