Cranberry-Orange Ricotta Bread

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I love a good quick bread recipe as much as the next person. This one was shared by a friend from the past, Nancy. We went to school together from elementary to high school. I never saw her after graduation. I never saw most of the my friends after graduation. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to say in touch. We had a black phone anchored to the wall, with a short cord, and the USPS. Nancy and I reconnected on FB. I’ve discovered she is an incredible baker. I adore her baking postings. She is talented, and oh so creative in all aspects of her life. I’d call her a crafter, but that would be an insult to her artistic abilities! This recipe is one that Nancy recently posted.

With the threat of snow and miserable weather, I printed the recipe and ran to the store. Where I forgot to buy the cranberries. So, I improvised and used dried cranberries. I didn’t want to fight the crowds at two stores, so I skipped the trip to Whole Foods for the “good ricotta”. I deeply regret that decision to this day.  I baked the bread with these substitute ingredients. It came out good. I knew it could be great. The next weekend I found frozen cranberries and my Calabro Ricotta. This time, the bread was fantastic. The quality of ingredients makes a difference!

When I decided to bake this, I started pulling out my hand-mixer. I noticed this recipe was mixed and folded by hand! Are you thinking, what I’m thing? I can make this early in the morning without waking anybody. No? I baked this in 4 mini loaf pans. This is my idea of portion control. Ha! It’s nice to freeze these mini loaves, wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in plastic bags. It makes a great gift if you’re visiting a worthy recipient. Don’t forget to label them. I tend to have a couple of different breads in the freezer. You want to know what you’re handing off to your friends!

Ingredients

1 2/3 cups + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour; divided

1 3/4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup ricotta cheese; preferably whole milk

1/4 cup sour cream

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs + 1 egg yolk

2 tsp. grated orange zest

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup canola oil

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped

 

Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1-2 tbsp. orange juice

1 tsp. orange zest

pinch of salt

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large loaf pan, line with parchment paper. I also like to use 4 mini loaf pans, also using parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the ricotta, sour cream, sugar, eggs, egg yolk, orange zest, and vanilla. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the 1 2/3 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix to combine. Set aside.

Chop the cranberries and toss them with remaining flour. I chop them into quarters, unless the berries are big. I don’t defrost the frozen cranberries. Chopping them frozen is actually easy. Toss the remains 2 tbsp. of flour with cranberries. This helps prevent them from sinking in the pan while the bread is baking.

Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the oil into the batter, folding from the bottom and up. You want to fold in air. Make sure you get the bottom of the bowl with the spatula.  Mix until it’s all incorporated. Fold in the flour coated cranberries

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean. I’ve been know to use a skewer. Use what you have! If you are using mini loaf pans, reduce the baking time. I start checking at around 30 minutes. They start to get a little golden brown coloring on the tops.

Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer to a cooling wrap to cool completely.

To make the glaze, whisk together the ingredients until smooth. Add more juice for a thinner glaze, and more sugar to thicken it up. I like to put the glaze on while the bread is still warm. I put a cookies sheet under the cooling rack to catch the glaze. This makes clean-up easier!  Before you wrap this to store in the fridge or freezer, let the glaze cool and harden. You don’t have to glaze it, but WHY NOT?

NOTE: I have found this bread bakes better in mini-loaves. It’s very dense and it takes a little longer to bake in a loaf pan. They both taste great, but the mini-loaf comes out a little better.

InstantPot Chili-Lime Chicken

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I bought myself an InstantPot after Christmas. I held out as long as I could. I started a new job and I needed to cook more efficiently on the weekends. As appealing as a slow cooker can be, I cannot leave the house with something running. Nor can I go to sleep with anything running, like the dryer. Or anything!  So, I took the plunge. Game.Changer.

I read the included brochures with trepidation. I was having pangs of buyers remorse, and was looking for a reason to return it. As my daughter said, “Idiots use it every day. Of course you can too.” Such affirmation!

I started small. Boiling water. I actually had some trouble with this. Then on to hardboiled eggs. Those eggs turned out to be the best I have ever boiled. They peeled perfectly. Easy to peel hard-boiled eggs is something I have struggled with, if we are confessing our troubles. I felt my confidence building. Onward to more complex recipes.

So, Mr. Google directed me to some great recipes. This chili-lime chicken dish is absolutely easy and delicious. Perfect for the next step. You can even cook the chicken frozen! The only trick is to fillet the breasts so they are not more than an inch thick. You can them freeze them and use them when you need them. I did it! You can too. The trick to pressure cooking/InstantPot cooking is making sure there is enough liquid. I recommend sticking to a recipe from a reliable source. Ease you way into this method of cooking.

Tonight I made jasmine rice in the InstantPot to serve with the chicken. The recipe was in the book from the manufacturer. It was so simple. The rice was perfectly sticky. Three cups of rice, three cups of water and 4 minutes of cooking time and 10 minutes of natural release. Done! I covered the rice in a glass bowl and started cooking the chicken in a cleaned InstantPot insert. I also served roasted brussels sprouts. It wasn’t the most colorful meal but it tasted great.

You can make this chicken and use it in tacos, salads or anything else you think of, for another night You can prepare this while you’re cleaning the dinner dishes. It’s that simple and quick.

Ingredients

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 medium (or large) sized limes*

1 1/2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1/2 tsp liquid smoke

If the chicken breasts are more than one inch thick, fillet them, You can do this ahead of time and then freeze them. Make sure when you freeze them, you stack them two-by- two, so they will fit in the InstantPot if you plan on using them frozen.

In a small bowl I mix all the dry seasonings. I like to use about 1/2 cup of water, or broth in the pot. Liquid is important. When it heats up, the steam locks the InstantPot and the pressure builds, cooking everything.

Pour in the water/broth and the liquid smoke into the InstantPot. Place chicken in pot. Space them evenly. Them can overlap with no problems. Sprinkle the garlic over the chicken, and then the bowl of spices. Give it a slight stir if you can.

Secure the lid on pot and cook at high pressure for 6 minutes. I always use the MANUAL button. When finished let it rest for 5 minutes while the pressure naturally releases. Then you move the value to release the steam. Shut off the InstantPot and unplug it. I use a kitchen towel to do this. If you’re not sure if the chicken is done, an instant read thermometer should read the internal temperature at least 165 degrees.

Take the chicken out and shred it on a plate or in a bowl. Return the chicken to the pan and toss it around in the juices. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Notes:

If you are using chicken breasts that are about an inch thick, and frozen, you can cook them for 12 minutes. Really! What a time saver!

*I found that limes sometimes don’t make my grocery list. I bought a box of packets of True Lime. I just added the lime powder to the other dry seasonings. It was fantastic!

If you are uncertain about buying one, see if you can borrow a friend’s or cook with a friend. I’ve made braised lamb shanks, short ribs, ribs and several soups in the InstantPot. It helps with weekend cooking and weeknight meal planning.

Happy Eating!

Here’s the original recipe. I often find it helpful to read the comments section for ideas.

Chunky Beef, Cabbage and Tomato Soup

Thanksgiving is coming and so are your house guests. What do you serve them the Thanksgiving Eve? Soup and bread. It’s the perfect dinner especially if it’s made ahead. I have made this soup many times. It’s great the day you make it, but it tastes better the next day. Can soup age like a fine wine? I think so! Make this Sunday and serve it Wednesday. All you have to do is reheat it. Perfect.

The original recipe gives you exact measurements for your vegetables. I never measure the Holy Trinity of cooking. Can you have too much onion? I think not. I dice up the carrots and celery, eyeballing it. The soup will taste great with too many carrots. Is that really a thing? I also prefer to use vegetable stock over beef stock. You could even use chicken stock. I like to slice the cabbage thinly, and then chop it into thirds. The slices are still large, but spoon ready. I also add a 1/2 cup of uncooked rice. Maybe  I add the rice because I spill everything on myself, or I just like a thick soup, I may need an adult bib. The recipe makes quite a bit of soup, so the rice per serving doesn’t add that many carbs. Ok? You can also eliminate the rice. Sigh. I don’t know you anymore. Also, I usually don’t like cooking with lean beef. It works perfectly in this recipe. If you don’t have lean beef, tilt the pan as the fattier beef cooks, scooping out the fat. Pour it off into a heat proof container. Why, yes, you can even use a coffee cup. Here’s another way to increase the healthiness, add leftover cooked veggies, or legumes. I just added some cooked lentils and cannellini beans that needed to be used up. Delicious. I find soup recipes are more guidelines than rules. Make it your own. I strongly suggest you chop up all your veggies before you start cooking. It makes cooking so much easier, if you are prepared. Let’s get cooking!

1 lb. 90% lean ground beef

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced carrot

28 ounces canned diced or crushed tomatoes

5 cups of chopped green cabbage (1 medium head)

4 cups beef stock

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup uncooked rice

The original recipe has directions for stove top and Insta Pot cooking. I use a big Dutch oven on my stove for my soups.

Heat your pan until water beads up, rolls and evaporates. Pour a tsp. of olive oil into hot pan. Add the ground beef and salt. Cook until the beef is browned, breaking the meat up into small pieces. Drain any fat.

Add the onion, celery, and carrots into the pot with the beef. Sauté the mixture until the vegetables soften. It should take about 5 minutes, give or take.

Add the canned tomatoes, cabbage, beef stock and bay leaves. Put the lid on and simmer for 20 minutes. As the cabbage cooks it will release some liquid. You can always add more broth or water if you want it thinner, but you can’t take away. At this point I add the uncooked rice, additional cooked items, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Stir occasionally checking on the liquid.

Voila! You have dinner. I like to buy frozen rolls to serve alongside this soup. In 10 minutes you have hot rolls waiting for good butter. Enjoy your dinner. Thanksgiving will come and go. Enjoy all of the moments!

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Flour’s Famous Banana Bread

 

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Let’s talk about banana bread. It has been years since I thought about banana bread. One day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I don’t remember what sparked my interest in banana bread. I looked through old cookbooks, perused the web. My daughter suggested I try Chrissy Teigen’s banana bread. It was delicious. Baked in a bundt pan. Crispy top. Deliciously moist from the package of pudding. Wonderful. I will share that recipe another time.

I wanted something closer to traditional banana bread, but not heavy like a brick. Cue Joanne Chang. She’s brilliant. She’s successful. She makes banana bread!  Someday I will use that Flour gift card. I checked out her first cookbook from the library a gazillion times, without ever baking anything. I’m like that. More of a cookbook hoarder. This time was going to be different. I ordered it from a consortium library. Bought a bunch of bananas and waited for them to over ripen. I’m not a patient person.

The next step: actually read recipe. I looked over the ingredients. Simple, every day ingredients. Sour cream was a little different, but I know this helps with the crumb. Cinnamon? I’m in. Walnuts? Not so much. I don’t like nuts in baked goods. Walnuts taste bitter to me.  I’m all set with ingredients.

I started to read the directions. What could make this bread different from the others?The ingredients were very similar. Not far into the recipe, the secret was revealed. It’s the process. You beat the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes. FIVE! The mixture is light and fluffy and has great volume. Genius. You fold in the dry ingredients. Brilliant. It’s so simple, but successful in producing a light, moist, delicious loaf of bread.  Let’s get baking!

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup canola oil

3 very ripe bananas mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 tablespoons sour cream or creme fraiche

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped (optional)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Butter a 9 X 5 inch loaf pan. I like to cut a strip of parchment paper, so it releases easily and in one piece. Turn over the pan, and cut the parchment to fit the bottom, before you grease the pan. Duh. Let the parchment over hang a little. If you have metal clips, you can clip them to the parchment and the pan, to avoid the parchment from turning into the baking bread. Or not. I’m not patient. The parchment paper helps me lift it out of the pan in one piece after cooling for about 30 minutes.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. You can tap it through a mesh strainer instead.  I’ve made it without sifting and it was still scrumptious. Don’t fret.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes. If you use a hand mixer, beat it a little longer. I like the stand mixer, since I’m alway multitasking. The mixture should be light and fluffy.

On low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Another process that makes a difference. Don’t dump in the oil. It should take about one minute to pour the oil into the batter. Using this process, it incorporates into the eggs and doesn’t deflate the air you just beat into the batter. Add the bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Continue to mix on low speed just until it’s combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture just until combined. You don’t want any streaks of flour in the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 1 – 1 1/4 hours. You want the loaf to be golden brown on top. If the center springs back, it’s done. I sometimes use a toothpick. Old school, riiiiightttt? This bread fills up the pan, because of all the air in the batter. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. The pop it out of the pan to cool completely on the rack. The bread in the above picture could have used a couple of more minutes. It was still yummy and cooked through. It’s almost gone.

The banana bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature. I prefer my quick breads to chill in the fridge. I think it enhances the flavor. It can be frozen for up to 2 weeks. Now that’s funny. No baked goods last two weeks in this house. Unless I hide them in the vegetable drawer.

Enjoy!

Note: If you have over ripe bananas, but don’t have time to make banana bread, freeze the bananas. I mush them in a zip lock plastic bag and label it. One banana, two banana, three banana, four…….When you have time to bake, the bananas just need to be defrosted. Perfect.

 

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup (Panera Copycat)

It’s well documented that I love soup. It’s always soup season in my house. When I saw this posted by Heather Webber I hit “print” immediately. Let’s not pretend this soup is healthy. I compensate by adding more carrots and chicken. That’s all I got. I suggest you make it one day and serve it the next. This soup tastes good the day you make it, but it is soooooo much better the second. It becomes thick, yet smooth. It’s great for lunches, too. Transports well. It won’t slosh all over the place. Thin soups are difficult to eat without spilling. I need an adult bib. Or a Tide stain stick remover.

The original recipe calls for coconut oil. I prefer a good olive oil. It also lists a red onion as an ingredient. I never remember to buy one. A regular old yellow onion works great. I always add more onion to soups than called for.  I love to sauté onions. My theory is the more, the merrier. For this recipe I dice up my carrots on the small side. I like them to fit right into spoon. I use large chunks of chicken. It just seems right to have the chicken hanging off the spoon. I rarely have enough leftover chicken for this soup and resort to buying a roaster chicken. Anything to speed up the cooking process, right? Do yourself a favor and buy a cooked roaster chicken. They make great sandwiches for lunch, or in addition to the soup.

Let’s make soup. You will love this some dark, snowy night when you don’t feel like cooking. Warm soup, warm heart…..or something like that. For the vegetable counters out there, serve with a salad. Alright?

1 tsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion

1 cup diced (small) carrots

1 tsp. dried marjoram

2 tablespoon flour

1 package Near East Long Grain & Wild Rice with Flavor Packet

4 cups low sodium chicken broth

3 cups water

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 milk

1 generous cup of cooked and shredded chicken

salt to taste

1/4 tsp. black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Ad the onions and carrots and cook until softened. There should be a candle with this scent. Eau de l’oignon. Oui?

Add dried marjoram, flour, and seasoning packet from the rice. Stir to combine. The flour will help thicken the soup. At this point you will ask yourself, “I’m going to eat this?” Not just yet.

Add rice, chicken broth, and water. Bring to a boil. Cover, and lower to a simmer. Let this potion cook for 15 minutes.

I pour the milk and cream into a glass Pyrex measuring cup and microwave it to take off the chill. The original recipe calls to heat in a pan. I’d rather just place that measuring cup in the dishwasher than wash a pan. Just me? I’ve even done it without warming the dairy liquids. No one died.

Stir in the shredded chicken. Cook about 30 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Stir occasionally. Simmer on a low heat. You want to avoid this bubbling over onto your stove. Advice from my “friend”.

Season with salt and pepper. I think the seasoning packet has enough salt in it eventhough it makes a lot of soup! I like to  have a hunk of french bread or baguette to dip in my soup. Sit back and enjoy. Make a cup of tea and grab a book, Your night is winding down!

Enjoy!

If you’re interested in finding a new author, please check out Heather’s books

 

 

I say potato, you say potahto. It’s a mashed up world….

If you stop, you can almost feel the shift in the wind. We are heading into “Hearty Meal Season”. Today’s handy dandy tip is for mashed potatoes. You don’t have to tell others that you love them. Keep pretending no carbs enter your mouth. It will be our secret. In New England, it’s gets gosh darn cold. You need something to stick to your bones, so you don’t blow away with a strong Northeast wind. Let’s make some mashed potatoes. Apply directly to hips.

2 ½ pounds of Idaho potatoes (fine, 5 pounds)

butter (the real stuff, puh-leez)

salt

pepper

Making mashed potatoes is very personal: cream cheese vs. butter, lumpy vs. smooth, roasted garlic mashed vs. plain……There are so many options. This is a basic recipe. Unless you are feeding a small army, about 2 or so pounds are plenty. If not, too bad.

Peel your ‘taters. I like to use an Oxo potato peeler for my gnarly hands. Use whatever works for you. I peel towards me. So wrong, but so right. After you peel your ‘taters, rinse them in cold water. I cut mine into small, uniform pieces. You want them to cook evenly. When you cut them smaller, they cook faster. This may or may not be true, but I NEED to believe it.

Place cut potatoes in a large covered pan. Fill the pan with water so it covers the potatoes, and then some.  Sprinkle on some magic salt. About ½ tsp. will do. Bring the covered potatoes to a low boil and cook for 20 minutes. You want to cook them to at least “fork tender”. That means a knife or fork can break up a piece, with no effort.  I like to over cook them a little. They are easier to mash! You don’t want to under cook them.  Inedible.

Drain potatoes, reserving about ½ cup of potato water. Use something heat resistant. Boiling water can make things explode. So my friend told me. This water goes back into your potatoes. Always add warm into warm. You can use a colander to drain, but why dirty something else? I just use the lid. A little tilt over the sink and there you go. Now for the step that separates one from an amateur potato cooker person.  Put the covered pan back on the stove. Make sure the burner is off. Let it set for a minute. Check to make sure any residual water is gone. Your potatoes should look dry. Add a couple of table spoons of butter, and a ½ tsp. of salt.  Put cover back on pan and let it sit, still off heat, for a minute. The butter needs to melt. Use a potato masher or a hand mixer. If you’re using a hand mixer, be careful to not over mix. The gluten goes crazy and makes the potatoes heavy. Pour a little of the hot potato water at a time, back into the potatoes. Mash, mash, mash. Add more water, a little at a time, if you want. It’s personal, right? Mash until you get the consistency you want. Salt and pepper to taste. More yummy butter if you want…..

Add a steak to the side, with some green beans, ya got dinnah! Someday I may share my gravy recipe!

 

 

Chicken and Zucchini Noodle Caprese

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This dish is made with sautéed bite-sized chicken thighs and grape tomatoes cooked with spiralized zucchini, fresh mozzarella and basil. Do I have your attention yet? It’s obviously low-carb as well. This comes together in a little over 30 minutes and is delicious.

You are familiar with most of the ingredients, right? The spiralized zucchini is somewhat new, at least to me. Why, yes, you can buy a machine to spiral cut the zucchini. But honestly, do you need something else to fit into the back of a cabinet? I’m looking at you breadmaker and panini grill. Most grocery stores have many diferent spiralized veggies. They cost way too much, but they are convenient and fun! I especially love the riced veggies, like sweet potatoes. But that’s a conversation for another day. Those bad boys play in the freezer until you need them. The spiralized veggies have a much shorter shelf life so buy them when you will be using them.

Let’s make dinner!

16 ounce package of spiral cut zucchini

1/2-1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast or thighs, cut in 1/2 inch cubes

kosher salt

pepper

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

olive oil

3 garlic cloves chopped

1 onion, cut in thin slices

3/4 lb grape tomatoes, cut in half

pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

1 package of spiralized zucchini

2 oz. fresh mini mozzarella balls, cut in half

You can play around with the portion of ingredients. If you don’t like garlic, you can omit it. Same goes for the mozzarella. I strongly suggest you use all the ingredients. If you don’t have crushed red pepper flakes, don’t sweat it. I like a little more chicken. I don’t like to use part of a package and put the rest in the freezer. It will never be used. It just gets pushed to the back until a power outage and then it gets tossed.

Before you start heating pans and getting out serving dishes, cut up the chicken. It takes longer than you think. Put it in a bowl and set it aside. Same for your onions and garlic. You can wait on the mozzarella if you don’t want to dirty another bowl. That is added at the very end.

Season the chicken with 1/2 tsp salt, pepper and oregano. I confess to using Lawry’s seasoned salt more often than regular salt and pepper.

The recipe calls for a non-stick pan. I don’t like them. I have a couple of heavy bottomed pans that I prefer. Any pan can be used, just watch the heat. Heat the pan before you add the oil. Toss a sprinkle or two of water in the hot pan. If the water rolls, and evaporates, it’s ready for the oil. I don’t measure my olive oil but you need enough to lightly coat the pan. Let the olive oil heat up before you add the chicken. It takes a couple of seconds. Add the chicken and cook. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to brown. If you keep stirring, the chicken won’t have the wonderful brown color. Just watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. You can lower or raise the heat as needed. You can cook in batches if you are using more chicken. I often double the recipe for my family. Stir it to cook on all sides. When it’s no longer pink inside, put cooked chicken in a clean bowl.

I love cooked onions. The original recipe called for only garlic. I think the onion adds another dimension. Add more oil to your pan and add the onions. I cut my peeled onion in half from root to top, and then cut thin slices If the bottom of the pan has browned from the chicken, just cook the onions on a lower heat, adding a little more olive oil. This brown will add to “sauce” the liquid from the zucchini and tomatoes. When the onions are soft, add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. You want them to release some liquid so the garlic doesn’t burn. If there isn’t much liquid being released you can add the zucchini right away. If you think you need more oil, add a little. Add the package of zucchini and raise the heat. Break the zucchini up with a spoon or fork. Stir it occasionally so it all cooks evenly. The zucchini does cook down. This should take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Add the crushed pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When the zucchini is cooked, add the chicken back in to the skillet and finish cooking. Add the basil. Let those flavors meld together. Add the mozzarella when you’re ready to serve. To add some carbs just call the spiral cut zucchini, zucchini noodles. You’re welcome.

Enjoy!

Here is the original recipe.