27 June 2008


For the most part, I grew up without a garden. Although my mother was an excellent cook and my parents loved vegetables, we lived in the woods for most of my childhood, making a garden nearly impossible between the hungry wildlife and the lack of direct sunlight. One year my tomato-loving father was determined to grow a couple tomato plants. He planted them right next to the sunny side of the house, assuming the plants' proximity to the house would deter foraging animals, and he looked forward to eating fresh homegrown tomato sandwiches. One late summer afternoon my mother looked out the window and discovered a groundhog happily chomping away on the ripest tomato. She hurried outside to scare away the critter, but it defied her best attempts to frighten it by yelling and threatening it with a handsaw. Instead, it merely cowered under the tomato plant and kept munching. She gave up and returned to the house, and my father stopped trying to grow produce in the woods.

Not only did I grow up without learning how to garden, but I also seem to have inherited my mother’s lack of a green thumb. Like her, I have not had much luck keeping houseplants alive. For example, as a fan of fresh basil, I bought a basil plant last year and transplanted it into a nice pot. During the summer, it sat on my deck. When fall came, I moved it inside near a sunny window. All went well, and I had as much fresh basil as I wanted until Christmastime arrived and I visited family for four weeks, completely abandoning my plant, which was only a dead twig when I returned home.

This summer I’m giving plants a second try, and this time I’ve branched out to include tomatoes. I don’t have garden space since I live in an apartment, so I’m growing a basil plant and two tomato plants (Big Beef and Marglobe varieties) in containers on my deck. So far they seem to be doing well. I’m looking forward to lots of fresh basil and tomatoes later in the summer.

In the meantime thinking of tomatoes and basil made me crave eggplant parmesan, so I made some. The process of dipping the eggplant slices into flour, then the egg-and-milk mixture, then the bread crumb mixture may seem tedious, but it’s the best method I’ve found of getting the heavy crust that I like on the eggplant. Once you have the assembly line set up, it’s not so bad. I like to serve eggplant parmesan with spaghetti or angel hair with tomato-basil sauce, garlic bread, and a classic green salad.


½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 eggs
1-2 tablespoons skim milk
¾ cup Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
Olive oil for frying (about cup)
Nonstick cooking spray
1½ cups tomato-basil pasta sauce
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

1. In a shallow bowl, stir together flour and salt. In another shallow bowl beat together 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk, reserving the additional egg and milk in case you need more egg wash. In a third shallow bowl, stir together bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Dip eggplant slices into flour mixture to coat. Dip the slices into egg mixture, then coat both sides with crumb mixture.
2. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add eggplant slices; cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Add more oil as necessary during cooking.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Spread ¼ cup pasta tomato-basil pasta sauce in the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of eggplant followed by more sauce. Repeat until eggplant is used up, ending with the last of the sauce. Top with cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until bubbling. Top with basil. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 351 calories, 23 g total fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 910 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 9 g sugars, 11 g protein.

After frying eggplant, place a few slices of eggplant between two pieces of artisan bread spread with mayonnaise and layered with sliced mozzarella cheese, fresh baby spinach, sliced tomato, and a leaf or two of fresh basil.

18 June 2008


One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is my scale. I waited far too long to purchase one. A basic non-electric model, it weighs up to 6.5 pounds and is more than adequate for my purposes. I use it regularly for weighing smaller quantities of produce bought in bulk for use in recipes, and it’s great for dividing a batch of bread dough into equal proportions to make even loaves.

The scale also works well for weighing the 8 ounces of tri-color rotini—which generally is sold in a 12-ounce box—needed for the following recipe. This is my husband’s favorite pasta salad, and it’s easy, healthful, and filling—thanks to the combination of pasta and beans. It’s perfect for summer meals, especially picnics.


8 ounces tri-color rotini
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 8¾-ounce can corn, drained
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ pint grape tomatoes, halved

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, or 2 teaspoons dried cilantro
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

1. Cook rotini according to package directions until al dente. While rotini cooks, combine all dressing ingredients and mix well. Set aside. Drain rotini and rinse briefly under cold water. Drain completely.
2. Place rotini in a large bowl. Add beans, corn, and green onions. Toss gently. Pour dressing over rotini mixture and toss again, gently but thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
3. Just before serving, peel and chop avocado and toss with lemon juice. Add avocado and grape tomatoes to salad. Toss and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 505 calories, 15 g total fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 530 mg sodium, 50 g total carbohydrates, 8 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 11 g protein.

12 June 2008


When I was about 12 years old, George Bush Sr. manifested his dislike of broccoli by banning the vegetable from the White House menu. Reportedly, he said, "I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!" This caused an outcry from broccoli growers, who feared that the president would set a nationwide trend, although, really, when you think about it, I doubt George Bush started a single fad in his life. I remember being shocked that the president didn't like broccoli: not only was it my favorite vegetable, but it was also the favorite vegetable of my siblings. It was part of our supper menu twice a week, even surviving attempts my mother to get us to like other vegetables, such as winter squash and lima beans (I'm still not fond of either one). Fast forward 15 years or so. With his children all basically grown up, my father finally confessed that he didn't really like broccoli; he'd only eaten it for the past 25 years to keep his kids eating at least one vegetable. It worked--my siblings and I still like broccoli.

I especially love broccoli mixed with pasta and a creamy sauce, and the following recipe fits the bill perfectly. Even better, it's super easy. You can serve it as a one-dish meal when you're feeling lazy, or add salad and bread to flesh out the menu.


1 pound pasta
16 ounces frozen baby broccoli florets*
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
⅔ cup half and half
2 teaspoons Morton's Nature's Seasons seasoning blend
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Cook pasta and broccoli according to package directions.
2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour. Gradually add half and half and bring to simmering but do not boil. Stir in seasoning. Add cheese and stir until melted.
3. Toss together cooked pasta, cooked broccoli, and sauce. Place in a large serving dish and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 440 calories, 13 g total fat, 38 mg cholesterol, 616 mg sodium, 62 g total carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 13 g protein.

*You can substitute 5 cups of fresh broccoli florets and steam them until tender in step 1.