26 August 2008


When I was about five years old, I watched my dad build a sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, pickles, and mayonnaise, and I decided that it was time for me to start eating pickles as well. So I uncharacteristically asked my dad to add a couple pickles to my sandwich. I quickly realized why I never put pickles on my sandwiches: I didn’t like them. I still don’t, and I’ve since learned that it’s because I dislike both vinegar and dill.

My husband, on the other hand, adores pickles, especially Claussen Dill Sandwich Slices. He regularly eats pickle sandwiches: just bread, mayonnaise, and pickles. It never occurred to me to make pickles. I don’t have a garden, and I don’t do canning. Recently, though, my uncle was telling me about his pickle-making adventures last summer, which included making refrigerator pickles. I immediately realized that refrigerator pickles would be like my husband’s favorite Claussens, so I had to try making them just for him. They turned out great. My husband says they’re better than Claussen pickles, and they make him very happy, so I keep making them even though I’ll never eat them.


1½ pounds pickling cucumbers
3 tablespoons coarse salt, divided
1¼ cups white vinegar
¾ cup water
1 package fresh baby dill (⅔ ounce or so)
6 cloves garlic, minced

1. Wash cucumbers well. Cut off ends. Cut lengthwise into halves, quarters, or ¼-inch-thick sandwich slices, or slice crossways into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Put cucumbers in a colander and sprinkle them with 1½ tablespoons salt. Toss well. Let sit in sink or a bowl for about 2 hours. Rinse cucumbers well; set aside.
2. In a small pot, combine vinegar and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in remaining 1½ tablespoons salt. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
3. In a 1-quart glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, put dill and garlic. Add cucumbers. Pour vinegar mixture over top. Add more water, if necessary, to fill jar. Cover with lid. Allow to pickle in refrigerator for at least 3 days before eating. Pickles will keep for about 3 weeks.

Makes 16 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 6 calories, 0 g total fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 400 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 0 g protein.

20 August 2008


Although her family was from Michigan, my paternal grandmother, Anna Mae, spent much of her childhood in Mississippi with her mother while her father worked for Henry Ford in Detroit. When she was in her late teens, the family decided to return to Michigan. Along the way, they stopped to see some old friends in Tennessee--my grandfather's family. According to family lore, my grandfather, Forest, was immediately smitten with my grandmother. But there was a problem: she went with her family to Michigan, and he remained enrolled in college in Tennessee, even though his parents also moved to the same town in Michigan where Anna Mae now lived. Well, in the middle of the semester Forest couldn't stand it anymore, and he decided to drop out of school and ride his bicycle to Michigan to see Anna Mae. Of course, this was around 1940, so friendly people gave him lifts along the way until he reached eastern Indiana, where he stopped to see some of his mother's relatives. When they heard about his quest, they also offered to drive him part of the way. He got in their vehicle, and after a couple hours, he thanked him and told him they'd taken him far enough. But they kept insisting on driving him a little farther, until eventually they drove him all the way to the small town in the middle of Michigan where Anna Mae and his parents lived. Of course, his parents were furious that he had dropped out of college, but Forest and Anna Mae eloped, and they were happily married for 67 years, until my grandfather’s death last month at the age of 87.

Since Anna Mae spent so many years in Mississippi, she made a wonderful Southern pecan pie, and she passed that recipe on to my mother when my parents got married. However, although I enjoyed that pecan pie, I always found it a little too sweet. So now I make this Chocolate-Pecan Pie that is currently my favorite pie recipe. It's super easy and amazingly delicious. Even people who don't like pecan pie find themselves loving this pie. In fact, I'll never make traditional pecan pie again . . . that's how much better this is. Since today is National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day, whip up one today and try it for yourself.


½ cup butter, melted
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup dark corn syrup
2 eggs
1½ cups pecan halves
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Stir together butter, sugar, flour, corn syrup, and eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into crust.
2. Cover crust with foil. Bake until just set in center and crust is golden, about 40 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 12 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 396 calories, 26 g total fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 32 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 20 g sugars, 3 g protein.

14 August 2008


Oil is interesting stuff, when you think about it--such interesting, useful, and varied stuff. Each kind of oil has its own set of fascinating uses. An automobile engine needs oil to run smoothly--or at all, really, if you want it to run very long. Mineral oil can be a moisturizer (it's a main ingredient in lots of lotions) or a laxative (according to the bottle--I've never used it for that purpose), and it works great for removing labels from jars and bottles. And then there is the multitude of different vegetable (and fruit and nut) oils that are used for cooking: canola, corn, grapeseed, hazelnut, olive, peanut, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower, walnut, and more. Of course, all these cooking oils have different uses. Neutral oils, like canola and safflower, are pretty much just good for cooking food. More flavorful oils, like sesame and walnut, are mostly used in small quantities to add a certain taste to foods. Furthermore, one can find creative uses for any kind of oil, as my husband's two older brothers discovered as young boys. There's an amusing story in the family lore about Roger and Larry covering the kitchen floor with vegetable oil and then using it as a "skating" rink. Naturally, this caused their babysitter great consternation.

Oil can also make a great pie crust, but before you pastry purists out there turn up your noses at such blasphemy, let me assure you that it is an amazingly flaky crust that turns out perfectly every time and brings me tons of compliments. It is delightfully quick and easy, and it’s vegan, too. In fact, it's the only pie crust recipe I use. I inherited the recipe from my mom (it's the only crust recipe she uses too), but I always found that the recipe didn't make enough to fit into my slightly extra-large pie plates. I always had to roll the dough so thin that it tore easily, causing me much frustration (so much, in fact, that usually my husband would step in and take over to reduce my stress level). So I finally rewrote the recipe to make a larger amount, and now it is perfect (thus the name).


2½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil*
½ cup cold water

1. In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Pour oil and water into a measuring cup; add all at once to flour and salt. Stir lightly with a fork until combined.
2. Form into 2 balls; flatten dough slightly. Roll out each ball between parchment paper. (Tip: If the surface under the parchment paper is dampened first by wiping it with a wet cloth or sponge, the parchment won’t slide around while you roll.) Fit into a 9-inch or 10-inch pie plate. Trim edge to 1 inch. Fold edge under and crimp as desired. Use second half of dough for top or a second single-crust pie.

Makes 2 single-crust pies or 1 double-crust pie.

*I generally use the neutral-tasting canola oil, especially for sweet pies, but for savory pies and quiches, olive oil (or part olive and part canola oil) is excellent.

08 August 2008


Today is National Zucchini Day. I didn’t eat zucchini growing up, which is a shame, since it’s a good source of vitamins and trace minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin K, the B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. It’s not that I didn’t like zucchini; it just wasn’t served in my home. I suspect that my parents had eaten far too much surplus zucchini from their families’ gardens every summer and were tired of it by the time I was born. As an adult, I’ve been making up for lost time, eating zucchini in as many forms as possible: steamed, sautéed, as pancakes, in bread and muffins, even in cake, and, in this week’s recipe, in soup.

Although I generally think of soup as a winter food, this recipe tastes like summer, full of zucchini, corn, tomatoes, and basil. However, as long as you can find decent fresh zucchini and basil in the grocery store, you can prepare this soup year round. In fact, it would be a perfect summery pick-me-up in the middle of a dreary winter.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into ½-inch slices
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1 15.25-ounce can corn kernels, drained, or 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
4 cups vegetable broth
½ cup finely chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley, or 1½ tablespoons dried parsley

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add shallot, and cook for 2 minutes.
2. Stir in garlic, zucchini, salt, and pepper. Raise heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
3. Stir in tomatoes, corn, broth, basil, and parsley. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer for 3-5 minutes. Serve immediately with crackers or bread.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 177 calories, 8 g total fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1180 mg sodium, 24 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 8 g sugars, 4 g protein.

29 July 2008


When I was growing up, my mother regularly made potato salad during the summer. I had a love-hate relationship with the quintessential American dish during those years. I loved the potatoes and hard-boiled eggs smothered in creamy mayonnaise, but I hated the crunchy onions and vinegary pickles. A few years ago I finally decided to start making potato salad myself, challenging myself to create a flavorful dish that omitted the things I disliked. My version is comfort food for hot weather: It has a soft, creamy texture and no dominating flavors. Of course, like all comfort foods, it is high in fat, so don’t eat it too often.

Potato salad has become a classic American dish for picnics. National Picnic Month is almost over, so whip up a bowl of potato salad, find a beautiful spot in nature, and enjoy an outdoor meal. Just be sure, with the eggs and mayonnaise in this salad, that you keep it cold. If you can’t keep it cold on your picnic, eat it at home and picnic with Rotini and Black Bean Salad instead.

For my potato salad I use red or Yukon gold potatoes because they are less likely to fall apart when boiled than russet potatoes. I discovered that I don’t mind onions in potato salad as long are they are mild green onions. Since I don’t like vinegar but I still want to add a bit more flavor to my potato salad, I add dry mustard to the mayonnaise. My husband loves pickles, so he sometimes chops some up and adds them to his serving of potato salad. If you like pickles, by all means add them to your potato salad (about ⅓ cup chopped pickle would be good for this recipe).


1½ pounds red or Yukon gold potatoes
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1. Wash potatoes well, peel them if desired, and chop them into ½-inch pieces. Place them in a medium saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered until tender but not at all mushy, 5-10 minutes (check them frequently after 5 minutes). Drain, rinse in cold water, and then drain again.
2. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Toss gently with onions and eggs. In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Gently fold mayonnaise mixture into potato mixture. Cover and chill for at least 6 hours.

Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 148 calories, 17 g total fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 324 mg sodium, 16 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 5 g protein.

23 July 2008


July is both National Hot Dog Month and National Baked Bean Month, presumably because both are consumed in large quantities on the fourth. These designations for July may make the month seem unfriendly to vegetarians, but this does not have to be the case.

To begin, there are many vegetarian, even vegan, versions of hot dogs, generally made from soy. My personal favorite, pictured below, is Loma Linda Big Franks. They have the best flavor and texture, in my opinion, and they are vegan, but they are difficult to find in stores. They aren’t sold anywhere in my town, although while researching for this post, I discovered that they are available, at competitive prices, at amazon.com and sagegrocery.com.

However, since I couldn’t find Big Franks in my local stores, I decided to test three of the vegetarian dogs that were sold locally. Out of these I found two to be decent options, although neither replaces Big Franks as my favorite. The Yves Meatless Hot Dog, my least favorite, lacked flavor, other than a rather strong smoke flavor, but it had a decent, though slightly dry, texture, and it is vegan. The LightLife Smart Dogs possess probably the best balance of healthfulness and taste. They are vegan and made with non-gmo soy. They have good flavor that my husband (who is a flexitarian) thought tasted similar to beef hot dogs, and the texture is almost as good as my beloved Big Franks, though I found them to be just slightly rubbery (but I’m very picky about food textures). Finally, I tested Morningstar Farms America’s Original Veggie Dogs, the only non-vegan version, which also epitomizes the problems with many traditional meat substitutes: I found the flavor and texture to be almost as good as Big Franks, but, unfortunately, the Morningstar Farms dogs are typical processed junk, including corn syrup and other less-than-healthy ingredients.

As for baked beans, vegetarian versions can be just as tasty, and more healthful, than traditional versions with pork or bacon. And a homemade from-scratch version is tastier than the Bush’s Best Vegetarian Baked Beans from a can. Serve them with a vegetarian hot dog, and enjoy July!


1 pound dry navy beans or great northern beans
1 14-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
½ cup brown sugar
1 shallot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

1. Rinse beans. In a large pot, combine beans and 8 cups water. Cover and let soak overnight.
2. Drain and rinse beans. Return beans to pot. Add 8 cups fresh water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30-60 minutes or just until tender, stirring occasionally. Drain beans, reserving liquid.
3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine beans, 1½ cups reserved bean liquid, and remaining ingredients. Transfer to a 2½-quart casserole dish and cover dish with aluminum foil.
4. Bake for 2½ hours, stirring occasionally. If necessary, add additional reserved bean liquid.

Makes 12 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 230 calories, 3 g total fat, 0 g cholesterol, 265 mg sodium, 70 g carbohydrates, 15 g fiber, 10 g sugars, 9 g protein.

16 July 2008


July is national ice cream month. As a devoted ice cream fan, I’m glad President Reagan recognized that ice cream is important enough to deserve a month-long celebration. It was probably around the time Reagan designated July national ice cream month that homemade ice cream started to become a tradition between my family and another family we were friends with. We got together regularly to make ice cream, get huge servings, and then devour the cold, creamy deliciousness with childish glee. Even though the other family moved across the country when I was 13, homemade ice cream was such an ingrained tradition for us that we continued to make it whenever we were together, even hauling an ice cream maker along on a week-long beach holiday.

This is the recipe we always used. It makes homemade ice cream, not frozen custard; thus, it contains no eggs. This omission makes it super quick and easy to make, since you don’t have to cook the mixture.


1 pint half and half
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl. Transfer to an ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer directions. Serve immediately for soft-serve-style ice cream, or for firmer ice cream, transfer to an airtight container and place in freezer until firm, about 2 hours.

Makes 12 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 235 calories, 14 g total fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 81 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 21 g sugars, 4 g protein.

10 July 2008


My basil plant that was a bit spindly a couple weeks ago has become so full and lush that it is nearly a basil bush, so I decided I had better start using more of the leaves. My favorite way to use fresh basil is in pasta sauce.

I grew up eating spaghetti about once a week with Prego sauce, and I still enjoy Prego Organic Tomato and Basil Italian Sauce, but making my own sauce is definitely superior. Since I use canned tomatoes, it doesn’t take much longer to make my own than to heat up a jar of Prego. This sauce is very flavorful, thanks to the blending of four herbs. My favorite herb, basil, is the dominant note, but the other herbs give the sauce balance and additional flavor. I like to complete a pasta meal with garlic bread and a green salad or a steamed vegetable (broccoli is my favorite).


2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, or ½ teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
¼ cup minced fresh parsley, or 1 tablespoon dried parsley, crushed
½ cup minced fresh basil*

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add garlic, and cook until garlic is golden.
2. Add tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper, rosemary, oregano, parsley, and basil. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens a bit and comes together, 15-20 minutes. Serve with 12 ounces of any pasta, cooked, and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 81 calories, 5 g total fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 355 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 2 g protein.

*I don't recommend substituting dried basil.