There is so much discussion these days about buying and eating organic foods.

There is so much discussion these days about buying and eating organic foods. The latest research claims that these are the foods you should consider buying that should be organic because of the residual pesticides. The fruits and vegetables are: apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches, nectarines, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, and potatoes. If you are purchasing conventional versions of these fruits and vegetables make sure to scrub the surfaces well before eating.

It is a bountiful season with eggplants, squash and tomatoes. Eggplant can be a flavorful meat substitute and works similar to zucchini in recipes. Leave the purple skin on for most recipes.

Zucchini and yellow squash plants have a very tasty and edible blossom that can be used in many recipes. They can be stuffed and lightly fried. To eat zucchini and squash blossoms remove the stems of the blossoms, and toss cut up flowers with pasta, or chop to put in an omelet. They can also be dipped in a batter and gently fried.

Tzatziki dressing is very popular these days and can be used in various combinations. To make zucchini tzatziki, grate a zucchini and mix with Greek yogurt, grated garlic, and lemon juice. This makes a great vegetable dip and is also good with tortilla chips, crackers, or toast.

To keep zucchini fresh, store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator to prevent them from losing water and becoming rubbery. For best cooking results with zucchini, and also eggplant, toss sliced or grated zucchini with salt to draw out the water, then squeeze dry or blot with paper towels, otherwise the zucchini release too much moisture while they cook.

Remember to store tomatoes stem side down to prolong their shelf life and prevent bruising. Tomatoes tend to lose their flavor when refrigerated; storing them on the counter top is a good place for them.

Quick and easy tomato salad is to toss together sliced ripe tomatoes (mix various ones), add EVOO olive oil, sprinkle with Kosher salt, toss with fresh basil and flat parsley, let it sit for 10-20 minutes for flavors to blend together, serve.

Scientists have developed a new purplish-red varietal tomato that is high in antioxidants; try one.



Pitcher of Whiskey Sours

A simple and quick adult beverage for hot summer days.

Serves 8-12 depending on glass size, about 1/3 cup each.

Make ice cubes in advance with whole cherries inside them to add to each glass, makes a very pretty presentation.

1 packet of lemonade flavor drink mix for 2 quarts of lemonade (I use Crystal Light.)

1 cup cold water

1 - 2 cups rye whiskey or bourbon

cup fresh lemon juice

cup fresh orange juice

8-12 maraschino cherries

8-12 orange slices

Ice cubes

In a pitcher add water to drink mix, stir until dissolved. Stir in whiskey or bourbon, lemon juice, and orange juice. Stir well to mix thoroughly. Serve over ice cubes and garnish with cherries and orange slices.

**** For a virgin whiskey sour substitute the liquor with apple juice.


Zucchini and Corn Salad

4 small zucchini, about 1 pounds, coarsely chopped, pressed dry (see note above)

8-10 zucchini blossoms, torn into large pieces (Optional)

2 cans yellow kernel corn, drained

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise

cup fresh sweet basil, coarsely chopped

cup fresh flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup olive oil

cup white or champagne vinegar

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, about 1-cup

In a large bowl toss together to mix well corn, zucchini, tomatoes, zucchini blossoms (Optional), basil, parsley, oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-4 hours before serving. When ready to serve sprinkle with feta cheese.

Quick and Easy Baked Zucchini Slices

2 medium zucchini, unpeeled, cut into inch coin slices

cup ranch dressing

2 tablespoons onion powder

cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Lay zucchini slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Brush both sides with ranch dressing, then sprinkle with onion powder and Parmesan cheese. Bake in oven until tops are lightly browned about 8-10 minutes. Serve hot.


Eggplant and Sweet Basil

A very nice appetizer dish.

1 large eggplant, about 1-pound, cut into inch slices

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

- 1 teaspoon oregano leaves, crushed

cup water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

Salt and fresh ground back pepper, to taste

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, oregano, and cook, stirring often until garlic is softened but not browned, about 2-3 minutes.

Add eggplant to skillet and cook, tossing occasionally, until just starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add cup water, season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook tossing occasionally, until eggplant is very soft, 8-12 minutes. Let cool slightly, mix in lemon juice, to desired taste.

Spoon eggplant mixture on toast or Italian bread and top with basil leaves and Parmesan cheese. This recipe may be chilled before serving.


Quick Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

Makes 2 quarts. Using multi colored tomatoes makes a very pretty presentation. Two tablespoons pickling spices may be substituted for mustard seed, peppercorns, cloves, and fennel seeds.

These tomatoes give a nice zip to salads and/or cheese boards.

24 ounces whole cherry or grape tomatoes

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

2 teaspoons whole peppercorns

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

8 whole cloves

12 whole garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

3 cups white vinegar

1 cups water

teaspoon Kosher salt

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

8 sprigs fresh oregano

In a saucepan place peppercorns, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and cloves over medium high heat. Toast spices, stirring occasionally until fragrant about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, vinegar, sugar, 1 cups water, and Kosher salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook until sugar is dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat to cool.

With a skewer or ice pick, poke a hole through the stem end of each tomato. Place tomatoes in a bowl and toss in fresh oregano. Pour pickling mixture over tomatoes, covering them completely. Spoon into airtight containers, 2-quart jars or 4- pint jars. Refrigerate for 2-3 days before serving.


Tomato Jam

Makes 2 cups. This recipe can be made with green tomatoes, just add a little more sugar, if desired.

2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, cored and chopped

cup granulated sugar

cup apple cider or apple juice

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (Optional)

teaspoon cardamom

Pinch of Kosher salt

Pinch of ground cinnamon

In a large saucepan stir together tomatoes, sugar, cider, ginger, cardamom, salt, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until mixture has reduced to a thick, jam-like consistency, about 40 minutes to an hour. Refrigerate in tightly sealed containers up to 2 weeks.


Zucchini Bread with Raisins and Nuts

2 cups shredded, unpeeled medium zucchini, about pound

1 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup good mayonnaise

cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

2/3 cup raisins or dried apricots, chopped

cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread shredded zucchini onto a clean kitchen towel; roll up towel and wring over sink to remove as much liquid as possible. Set aside.

In a bowl whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda until blended.

In another bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sugar until blended. Add egg and mix well. Gradually add flour mixture, in three separate parts, mixing well after each addition. Fold in zucchini, raisins, and nuts.

Pour batter into an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan that is greased and the bottom lined with parchment paper, and greased.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes then remove from pan to a wire rack; cool completely.


Eggplant Parmesan Rollatini

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large firm eggplants (about 3 pounds), sliced l1/2 inch lengthwise (making 16 slices)

salt and black pepper, to taste

1 cups marinara tomato sauce, a 15-ounce jar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 8 ounces)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Divide the oil between 2 rimmed baking sheets. Dividing evenly, arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the baking sheets and turn eggplant to coat in the oil; season with a little salt and pepper.

Bake the eggplant, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until soft and beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes; let cool. Lower heat to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch or some other 3-quart baking dish, spread cup of the marinara sauce.

In a large bowl, stir together eggs, ricotta, oregano, basil, parsley, 1- cup mozzarella, cheese, salt and pepper, to taste.

Place about 3 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture on one end of a slice of eggplant slice, roll it up, and transfer it to the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices and ricotta cheese mixture.

Top the eggplant rolls with the remaining cup of marinara sauce and the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.


Pecan Butter Cookies

1 cups pecans, toasted

cup brown sugar, packed

teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

teaspoon almond extract

1 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup, or 2 sticks, of cold butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast pecans on a rimmed baking sheet, stirring occasionally until a golden brown about 6-8 minutes. Set side and let cool.

Parchment paper line baking sheets, set aside.

In a blender or food processor combine 1-cup pecans, brown sugar, vanilla, almond extract, and salt. Blend until finely ground, then pulse in flour just to combine. Add butter pieces and blend until dough just comes together.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheets, spacing 2-inches apart. Flatten cookies to about -inch thick. Coarsely chop remaining cup pecans and gently press into cookies.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-18 minutes until a golden brown. Place baking sheets on wire racks and let cookies cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.


Hope Cusick has won awards at the North Carolina Strawberry Festival in 2012; The North Carolina Blueberry Festival, winning first place for her Blueberry Cheese Danish Pastry in 2012, and placing on her blueberry spinach salad and dressing; and has won various other contest awards for her blueberry cheesecake, breads, cookies, brownies and jams. She resides in Hampstead.