Savory Zucchini Fritters

>> Sunday, July 5, 2015

Savory Zucchini Fritters

These zucchini fritters are so tasty we ate them all up for dinner the other night. Super-fresh zucchini has flooded the stores - it's a glorious time of year for vegetable lovers.

One year we had a perfect storm of conditions to grow tons of zucchini and cucumbers. Every Friday night we had "Drinks on the Drive" with our neighbors, and we got to begging them to take some more zucchini home. Eventually they didn't even look at the baskets we pulled out, but we still had piles to give away. One night after everyone had gone home, we walked around the 'hood and dropped off veggies on everyone's front steps. No one ever mentioned it, lol!

Marjoram is one of my favorite herbs. It tastes like a blend of mild oregano and sweet lavender. It adds a nice subtle extra flavor to these zucchini patties.


2 medium zucchini, grated
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup chives, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 large egg, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
About 1/3 cup vegetable oil, for frying


Toss the zucchini with the salt and let it sit for about 10 minutes. This will draw the water out of the zucchini, which will make the fritters crisp rather than soggy. Place the zucchini in a towel or cheesecloth and wring out any remaining water. You'll probably be surprised how much water you'll get out of it. We squeezed about a half cup out of ours.

Stir the rest of the ingredients, except the oil, into the zucchini. If you want to fry the fritters in a skillet, heat some of the oil in a pan, then dip several spoonfuls of fritter batter into the pan. Don't crowd them while cooking them on each side until crisp.

If you want to bake the fritters, you will need less oil and you can cook them all at once. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and brush a baking sheet with oil. Spoon the batter onto the pan, then brush the tops of each fritter patty with oil. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the bottom side is browned and crispy, then flip over and brown the other side until done.

These are really tasty topped with a bit of sour cream, but just as good on their own.

Serves 4-6.


Aunt Monica's Chicken Divan

>> Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Aunt Monica is the first person I remember showing real joy when she was cooking. There are plenty of fine everyday cooks in my family, but my flamboyant Aunt Monica was the one humming while she cooked, and giggling and making us taste little pieces of everything before she put it into the recipe.

Chicken Divan is one of those quintessential 70s casseroles that might not be trendy right now but is still really awesome. It's forever tied to Aunt Monica in my mind because she used to make it in Grandma's kitchen if there was a crowd at the holidays.

My parents, the dog, and my sister would drive from the farm in Michigan to the big city of Waukegan in Illinois. When our station wagon ran up  I-94 highway past the big Magikist lips sign, we knew we were almost to Grandma's place.

old neon sign in Chicago, Magikist

Come to think of it, I have no idea what Magikist was trying to sell us when all the red lights flickered on.

It also just occurred to me that I can't imagine my grandma sharing her kitchen with anyone. Aunt Monica was a powerful force of nature, just like my grandma, and surely there were lightning strikes at some point.

Yet every holiday all the cousins would be shooed down to the rumpus room (yes, that's what it was, and I can describe the rumpus), and all the adults would settle in at the kitchen table with cigarettes and big 70s pipes and cocktails and catch up. Back then, my mom smoked only when she was around her mother, who made her nervous. It must have been a smoky kitchen!

Aunt Monica would announce when the casserole was ready and she would bring it out with a flourish and some sort of comment that has always made me imagine this was an exotic and fancy dish for special occasions. As it surely can be.

I'm pretty sure boneless skinless chicken breasts and cream of whatever soup were not in my Aunt's original recipe, but I've posted an easy version and a bit of an upscale version, depending on how you feel about cooking on a particular day.

I think it's also worth noting that this is one of a handful of recipes I've ever tried in which I actually don't mind broccoli, because I really don't like it.

Quick Chicken Divan

2 cups canned chicken, drained, or cubed chicken breast cooked until no longer pink
2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets 
1 can cream of chicken soup and 1/2 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups cooked rice (try Minute Rice if you're in a hurry)
1 tsp dry mustard
1 slice of bread


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9x12 casserole dish.  Stir together all ingredients except bread, and pour into the casserole dish. Chop the bread into fine crumbs and sprinkle on top, then spray the crumbs with oil. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cooked through and bubbly.

Serves 4.

Gourmet Chicken Divan

For the Sauce

3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup sherry
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Casserole

4 chicken thighs, skin removed
2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
2 tbsp butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x12 baking dish.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then stir in the flour. Cook and stir until the flour is browned, then pour in the milk. Whisk the sauce until smooth, then bring to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened. Stir in the sherry, nutmeg, mustard, curry, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes longer. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Stir together broccoli, rice, and cheese, then spread into the casserole dish. Arrange the chicken over the top. Pour the milk sauce over the chicken. 

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the casserole. Drizzle with the melted butter, then pop in the oven. Cook 25 minutes, or the chicken juices run clear when you pierce the pieces with a fork. 

Serves 4-6.

Extra note: if you're only feeding a few people and nobody likes leftovers, split the casserole in two and freeze one half in a small baking pan for another dinner when you're too busy to cook.


Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad

>> Friday, June 19, 2015

Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad

I've heard that Sweet Tomatoes restaurant makes a potato salad like this. That's a little disappointing because I thought Joe and I made up this recipe. Oh well. I'm extremely picky about potato salad (I really like my own recipe), but changing it up with red potatoes and blue cheese is pretty awesome, too.

If you happen to find some specialty blue potatoes at a Farmer's Market, throw them right in there. You can't get enough of the holiday colors around Independence Day, can you?


2 pounds of small red potatoes (use the new potatoes if you can find them, they are smaller than a golf ball)

1/2 cup chopped red onion
½ cup chopped celery
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Coleman’s dry mustard
Salt and pepper to taste


Wash potatoes and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a covered bowl in the microwave and cook until tender (the mircrowave will preserve more of the pretty red color than if you boil them).

Cool in the refrigerator. Stir together the rest of the ingredients, then mix it into the potatoes. I like to serve my potato salad at room temperature, but if you like it col or you're worried about the mayonnaise problem, chill it until you're ready to serve.

Serves 4-6.


Grilled Pineapple with Basil-Tarragon Cream

>> Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grilled Pineapple with Basil-Tarragon Cream

When you grill pineapple slices, their juices sizzle into caramel and they're richer, smokier. Pair it up with this bright and creamy sauce, and you have breakfast, a side dish, dessert, or all three, if you make enough. This also makes a tasty dip for a spread of fresh-cut fruits.

Basil-Tarragon Cream

By the way, I think people should use tarragon more often. I'm on a quest to bring it back into common use. It has a slight flowery licorice flavor, but if you don't like licorice, I'll emphasize that it's a slight hint of licorice or anise. Tarragon is popular in traditional French cooking. We used to grow a tarragon bush at our house, but now that we're apartment-dwellers there just isn't room. The dried leaves are fine, though a bit milder and mellower. Try using in in salad dressings or with poultry and fish, too.


1 cup plain fat free yogurt
1 tsp fresh tarragon, snipped
3 tsp fresh basil leaves, snipped
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp honey
1 large pineapple


About 1 hour before serving, stir together the yogurt, tarragon, basil, lemon zest, and honey. Allow to sit at room temperature until ready to serve.

Cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple, then cut off all the outside skin. Cut out any of the "eyes" of pith in the fruit. Cut out each section of fruit from top to bottom around the core (think of making a hexagonal stop-sign shape). Cut each section into 1-inch thick slices.

Heat the grill to medium-hot. Lay the slices on the grill, or place them on a grill pan and set it on the grill. Cook for 4-6 minutes on each side, or until the surface is turning golden brown and the fruit is heated through. Serve with a scoop of cream sauce on top.

If you have any leftovers, store the fruit and cream separately, so that the sauce doesn't get runny.

Makes 1 cup of sauce and about 30 slices of pineapple.


Triple Berry/Cream Shortcake Bars

>> Friday, June 12, 2015

Light Berry-Cream Shortcake Bars
Even better than strawberry shortcake!
When we took a cooking course in Tuscany, we learned how to make a traditional apricot tart with the super-fresh and aromatic apricots the villa owners grew on their Agriturismo farm. I still have to write and post that delectable recipe, but I've used the basic shortbread crust for a lot of tarts and dessert bars since then.

The beginning of June is prime strawberry season here in Chicago. When I was growing up in the country, my birthday always had fresh strawberries in it - usually ones I'd picked that morning. The smell of a perfectly ripe strawberry brings me back to those dewy mornings walking barefoot out to the strawberry patch...and my mom brewing fresh jam in the afternoon. Lovely.


For the Crust

1 cup butter
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp lemon zest

For the Bars

12 oz. light cream cheese
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup blueberries (or blackberries, or both!)
1 cup raspberries
1/3 cup Triple Sec liqueur


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Stir together the flour and baking powder. Slowly add it to the butter mixture while mixing. 

Grease a 9x11 baking pan and spread the dough on the bottom of the pan. Bake for 18-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes.
Whip the cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar together. Spread over the crust, then top with rows of berries. Drizzle the orange liqueur over the berries. Cut into squares and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 15-18 bars.

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