Basic Broccoli


I learned a few years ago that broccoli is one of the winter garden vegetables that does not mind cold temperatures, snow, or ice in our area of South Texas.  When everything in the garden seems to be brown, gray, and soggy, it is fun to go out and cut as much as we need for a side dish or stir fry.  And the taste is so bright and fresh that only a sprinkle of salt and squeeze of fresh lemon is enough.  But there are so many ways to use broccoli and many ways to season or top it, that it really can be a go to choice to make a meal special.


The biggest thing to remember is to never overcook broccoli. It is very tasty raw, added to green salad, mixed with cauliflower and dressed with lemon vinaigrette, or served with other crunchy veggies along with hummus or dip. When you do cook it, it can be roasted, steamed, grilled, or sauteed – just aim at undercooking!

My favorite way to cook broccoli on the stove top is to add 1/2 to 1 inch of water to a skillet, sprinkle with salt and lay the broccoli stalks flat in the skillet.  Bring water to a boil and let simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, then cover and steam to desired tenderness. This lets the broccoli turn bright green before steaming, and it will keep its color.

You can also steam broccoli by filling a pot with a few inches of water and inserting a steamer basket . Be sure the water does not touch the bottom of the steamer basket. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli florets and stems and cover. Steam for 4-5 minutes, until tender.

Broccoli can also be sautéed. Make sure the broccoli is as dry as possible. Add only enough oil to coat a skillet, and set over medium-high heat. Add broccoli florets and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat with oil. Add the sliced stems 1 minute later. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is bright green and tender.

Roasting broccoli is another great way to use the vegetable, and is very easy.  Heat the oven to 425°F. Toss broccoli florets and stems with a few teaspoons of oil and a half teaspoon of salt. Spread the broccoli on a foil-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the broccoli is crunchy with caramelized brown spots. Serve immediately.

Any of these methods of preparing broccoli can be used to make a side dish, cold or warm salads,add to a frittata, Quiche, or pizza. And as if that weren’t enough options, you can always dress things up a little by adding cheese or cream sauces.

Zesty Zucchini


We are eating more vegetables than ever since I started trying so many vegetables to roast, and  different ways to make them special.  Don’t get me wrong, a simple brush with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper gets delicious results.  But the addition of lemon zest, shredded basil, and a few cherry tomatoes definitely makes zucchini that is a favorite to add to any easy summer supper.

Zesty Zucchini

3-4 medium zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves

zest of one lemon

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

olive oil for coating

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.  Place zucchini and tomatoes in ZipLoc bag with enough olive oil to coat.  Lay zucchini halves on  baking sheet, cut side up with cherry tomatoes on top and around them. Sprinkle with lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Top with lemon zest and basil.  Sprinkle with olive oil and place in oven to roast for about 25 minutes, or until squash is fork tender.

There are many variations and combinations that work to make this one of the most versatile side dish for your summer meals.  Try mixing yellow squash or any other summer squash with chopped thyme and sliced lemon.  Fresh mint and a squeeze of orange juice is a bright, fresh taste for a change.  You can also use your outdoor grill for roasting if you prefer.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce with Coffee

Grilled chicken and steak are a great way to avoid heating up my kitchen this summer.  Quick sauces and glazes brushed on near the end of cooking can add flavor and variety without adding a lot of work.  I keep purchased barbecue sauce in my pantry, but occasionally I love going back to a homemade barbecue sauce I have been concocting for over forty years!  Coffee is the basic ingredient – surprise!  It not only adds a rich depth of flavor, but has a tenderizing  effect as well.  I even use leftover coffee in making pot roast, but that is another story and another post!  Stir this sauce together and simmer briefly, and sop it on after chicken breasts or beef is almost finished cooking.  It keeps well in the refrigerator, and is good to add to leftover pulled pork or chicken for sandwiches. If your family likes some heat in their barbecue, add a couple of sliced jalapenos or a dash of Tabasco!

1 cup  ketchup
1 cup brewed coffee
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

Combine ketchup, coffee, brown sugar, onion, garlic, and chili powder in a saucepan; bring to a boil, simmer 10 minutes until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in pepper, balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce.

Figs Any Way You Like Them

This will be remembered as the summer we fell in love with figs!  My post last week illustrates how much we loved making a grilled pizza with them, but it seemed a shame to overlook some of the other ways I used them.  Having them sliced with some Greek  yogurt and honey as a simple back porch breakfast doesn’t need a recipe, but oh my, we certainly considered it a keeper!

I have made two batches of Fig Chutney!  This is wonderful on a grilled burger, or spread on a block of good cream cheese for serving with whole grain crackers or toast as a snack or appetizer.

A week of rain with its resulting drop in temperature has been so very welcome. However, it means that our fig tree has delayed ripening the few remaining figs. I enjoyed picking over a quart twice a day, and am glad I dried some figs at the peak of harvest. This is probably easier if you have a food dehydrator, but it worked pretty well in my convection oven. Aren’t the figs pretty, all lined up? The best part is they retain their moisture and wonderful flavor.

Making Dried Figs

A pound of fresh figs, or more as you like.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Wash figs gently in cool water. Drain, and roll in clean tea towel to blot dry. Trim any stems, and cut each fig in half lengthwise. Using a baking sheet with a rim, place figs cut side down in a single layer, but touching, so there is not space around them. Place pan in oven for one hour.

After one hour, turn the figs over. There will be some juice in the pan which you can rub the cut side in as you turn them, so they are coated in their juice. Put back into the oven and bake another hour. I like to set my oven timer so I don’t forget. Repeat this step as often as needed until the figs are wrinkly and sticky. Usually, one more hour (3 total) is about right. at this point, reduce to heat to 200 and keep checking until the liquid is used up and the figs become more solid. In about 30 minutes the figs will have the texture you expect in dried figs. Turn the oven off, and let them cool with the oven door shut.

Remove the cooled figs and store in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator.

Ways to use them? Stuff with roasted walnuts or almonds and serve with wine and cheese, or use them in any recipe calling for dried figs.

Grilled Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, and Gorgonzola

I have loved to make homemade pizzas for a long time.  One of my favorite pictures is one taken in our kitchen on McCree Road in Dallas back in the mid seventies when our boys were little – all under 7 years old.  The photo is of the 3 of them standing on a bench to the picnic table at the kitchen counter, making pizza.  So we have made lots of pizzas with so many different ingredients.  But we now have a new favorite, and a new way of baking.  I discovered how delicious and fast it is to grill the pizza!  Our fig tree’s bountiful harvest has had me looking for different ways to use them, so it was only natural some of the figs would wind up on pizza. Since I made pesto to use as a base spread, fresh basil from our garden starred in this dish as well.

Grilled Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, and gorgonzola

1 ball of whole wheat pizza dough – I use Il Fornaio dough.

Pesto – make your own, or use a purchased product.

12 fresh figs, washed, stemmed, and halved

3 ounces chopped prosciutto

4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese

2 Tablespoons olive oil for brushing on crust

The pizza dough should be thawed overnight in the refrigerator, then set out at room temperature for about 45 minutes while you assemble the ingredients.  Heat the grill, and place containers of figs, cheese, prosciutto, and olive oil on a tray along with tongs,spatula, and a brush for the olive oil.

I like to spread a cloth on the counter and sprinkle with flour before placing the ball of dough on it to roll or press out into an oval .  Lightly flour a baking sheet to transport the pizza crust out to the grill, but you do not cook on the sheet.  Brush the top lightly with olive oil, then pick it up carefull by one long edge and drape it right onto the grill. Don’t worry about making a perfect circle – the rustic shape is part of its charm!  Close the grill, and check frequently, it will cook fast – about a minute and  a half on that side. It will dry out and bubble a bit on top, but you can lift it slightly to check the bottom. Before you turn it, brush the top side lightly with olive oil. Then, using tongs and a spatula, quickly flip it over.  Quickly spread a very thin layer of pesto over the top, adding Gorgonzola, and sprnikling figs and prosciutto.  Again close the grill and cook until the cheese is bubbly.  Remove to the baking sheet and cut into desired number of pieces.

Using this technique, you can make flatbreads with herbs and olives  with the same pizza dough.