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.

02 July 2008


I spent my sophomore year of college in England, and at the end of October, two friends and I took a quick trip to Edinburgh, my only exposure to Scotland. In all honesty, I don't remember a great deal from that trip: just the drunk guy belting out "Strawberry Fields Forever" in Victoria Station before we boarded an overnight coach to Edinburgh, the fact that Edinburgh Castle (complete with dog cemetery) struck me as more romantic than Windsor Castle (the only other British castle I'd seen at that point), the bag-piper outside St. Giles' Cathedral, and the delicious sautéed mushrooms and pizza we had for lunch one day at some little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I'd never be able to find again. And of course, the mouth-watering shortbread.

Edinburgh as seen from the castle

Edinburgh Castle

The Dog Cemetery at Edinburgh Castle

When I returned home at the end of my year abroad, I wanted to recreate that Scottish shortbread. Unhappy with any of the recipes in my mother's cookbooks, I developed my own. This is one of the easiest cookie recipes in the world--just three ingredients and no electric mixer (using a mixer will make the cookies slightly tough, I’ve discovered). Because there are only three ingredients, it is important to use real butter; no substitution will taste authentic. It’s also important to include all three ingredients. My little brother will never let me live down the time I absentmindedly left the sugar out of my own very basic recipe!


1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ cup butter

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together flour and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling. Form mixture into a ball and knead until smooth.
2. Press mixture into an 8-inch springform pan. Press the tines of a fork around the outside of the dough to create a decorative edge. Use a butter knife (so you don’t scratch the pan) to cut dough into 16 wedges, but leave them in the pan.
3. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until set. Cut into wedges again while warm. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

Makes 16 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 93 calories, 6 g total fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 10 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 3 g sugars, 1 g protein.

To make the shortbread into shapes other than wedges, form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough ¼ inch thick. Using a knife (for shortbread strips) or a cookie cutter (for rounds or other shapes), cut dough into desired shapes. Place one inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Reduce baking time to 15-20 minutes, or until bottoms just start to brown. Let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

For the favors for my wedding, with the help of many family members and friends, I used this recipe to make a couple hundred shortbread hearts. We dipped one corner in melted chocolate and packaged them in small plastic bags tied shut with ribbons. They turned out quite well.