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July 28th, 2011

Make this for your kids: Cheesy Zucchini Fingers

By Marygrace Taylor

It’s a pretty good bet that when a food is battered and fried, called “fingers,” and served with a dipping sauce, kids will gobble it up. In fact, if there was a Parenting 101 Guidebook (anyone planning on writing such a thing anytime soon?), this tip would probably top the list of Things All Parents Know For Sure.

On it’s own, zucchini doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. It’s sort of bland and can get soggy and waterlogged if you cook it the wrong way. But practically every garden and farmer’s market in the country is overflowing with the veggie right now, pressuring cooks everywhere to come up with interesting ways to eat it.

july-zucchini

My favorite way? Cheesy Zucchini Fingers, because you can get them on the table in less than a half hour and they win kids over every time. And they’re delicious, of course. Fresh herbs and a crunchy, salty outer coating make these just as tasty as those mozzarella sticks every kid (and grown up) loves, but way healthier. If you’ve got yellow squash on hand instead, feel free to substitute.

Cheesy Zucchini Fingers
Active time: 25 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes

2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 tablespoon fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 1/2 teaspoons each fresh thyme and oregano (or 3/4 teaspoon dried each)
1/2 teaspoon fresh sage (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
3 tablespoons safflower oil, divided

Tomato or marinara sauce, for dipping

1. Slice each zucchini in half, width-wise, then slice each half length-wise. Slice each of these halves into 8 to 10 1/2-inch thick matchsticks, for a total of 16 to 20 matchsticks per zucchini.

2. Set out three medium bowls. Place the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in the first bowl, and the beaten egg in the second bowl. In the third bowl, place the breadcrumbs, cheese, remaining salt, and herbs and mix to combine.

3. Dredge each zucchini matchstick into the flour, egg, then breadcrumb mixture and place on a large plate or baking sheet.

4. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the safflower oil over medium-high heat. Add a third of the zucchini fingers and cook 3-4 minutes. Flip the zucchini fingers and cook 1-2 minutes more, or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and repeat with remaining zucchini fingers.

5. Serve hot, with tomato or marinara sauce for dipping.

Serves 4
Per serving: calories 299, fat 15 g, protein 11 g, carbohydrates 30 g, dietary fiber 4 g

Marygrace Taylor is the staff writer and recipe developer for KIWI Magazine. She lives and cooks in Austin, Texas, with her husband and dog, Charlie.

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July 11th, 2011

Reconnecting with Nature

I am Rebecca, one of the new interns at Organic Gardening. This summer I am working with a lot of online content and helping develop the web presence. I am also trying to reconnect with nature, in particular gardening, during my summer here.

I grew up with a family who loved gardening. My mother had several

After a couple of years without gardening, I went back to the garden. I was even able to harvest (and eat!) some cherry tomatoes.

After a couple of years without gardening, I went back to the garden. I was even able to harvest (and eat!) some cherry tomatoes.

flowerbeds, and I spent weekends helping her plant seeds and bulbs. (Somehow I always got the work that involved pretty flowers, while she would trim and weed—I saw weeding as punishment.) My grandmother had a vegetable garden, and most uniquely my grandfather grew bonsai trees.

When I went off to college, I moved into an apartment without a yard, my grandparents couldn’t garden anymore, and my mom lost her interest. The closest to gardening I experienced during my first 3 years of college was remembering to water my cactus once a month (my roommates and I all got cacti 2 years ago, and my cactus is the only survivor, perhaps a sign of a green thumb?).

As an Organic Gardening intern for the summer, all of a sudden I am having to think back to those weekends (some of which, I will be honest, were forced) on my knees in the garden, covered in dirt.

So I am going to get back into the garden and foster a new love for gardening this summer. In order to do this, I will be visiting the Organic Gardening Test Garden once a week and spending time in the dirt. So follow along as I connect with nature again.

radishes

Some of the radishes that we harvested at the garden.

I went to the test garden, which is hosted by the Rodale Institute, for the first time on Wednesday. The Rodale Institute is gorgeous—and large enough that it took me a while to find the correct plot of land. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Institute features much more than the Organic Gardening Test Garden, including a production garden where the food served in Rodale’s employee café is grown.

After a quick tour, we started gardening. And naturally my first task was one that I used to dread the most—weeding. But now it seemed more like a relaxation technique then punishment. I was excited to be outside, to see progress being made as I dug up weeds, to enjoy the warmth and to not have anyone nagging and telling me to put gloves on while I worked in the garden.

Once we had cleared out two beds of weeds, it was time to harvest. There were

The plant with the most vegetables to harvest was the pea plant.

The plant with the most vegetables to harvest was the pea plant.

sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, radishes, and kale ready for picking. The first three were easy, but kale was another story. I had never even tasted kale before, let alone know what it looks like when it is ready to harvest. After a quick lesson from test garden manager Doug Hall, I was able to harvest that, too, and I got to take some home with me.

That night, I even sautéed the kale and the peas for dinner. The tomatoes didn’t even make it out of the garden, though—Doug and I were popping them into our mouths as we picked them. For perhaps the first time in my life, two of my meals were exclusively made with food I harvested myself. That was one of the greatest accomplishments: harvesting and cooking the food I would eat that day. For some people, this is a normal experience, but for me it was a first. —Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is a rising senior at Elon University located in Elon, North Carolina and is the current online editorial intern for Organic Gardening. She is from Raleigh, North Carolina and has interned for past publications including Raleigh Downtowner Magazine. She also interned at SR Media while she studied abroad in London, England last fall.

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July 6th, 2011

Worms! And Their Castings! That’s Right; It’s Worm Poop!

mark-highlandWorms are typically kept in a box or bin and can be fed fruit and vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, cornmeal, shredded leaves, newspaper, and more. Experiment—see what they will or will not eat. Worms can survive on a diet of vegetable trimmings and newspaper but will flourish on a more diverse diet.

Night crawlers and field worms are a familiar sight in my garden; however, the species best adapted to life in a worm bin is Eisenia foetida, a.k.a. the redworm, red wiggler, or tiger worm. This worm consumes large amounts of organic materials and will be quite happy turning your “garbage” into black gold! Worm castings are created as worms eat food and deposit their castings behind them. Worms process food in their stomach with assistance from small amounts of bacteria and soil particles. Both bacteria and soil particles help break down the food by changing the physical and chemical structure before it is “deposited” in the soil as castings.

Worm castings, or worm droppings, provide three main benefits to our plants:

1. They are a great source of readily available nutrients.

2. They improve water-holding capacity, the ability of soil to accept and retain moisture for growing plants.

3. They help create good soil structure. This is due to the sticky coating surrounding each casting, which is comprised of compounds known as polysaccharides. These polysaccharides bind with soil particles to produce soil aggregates. Aggregates prevent soil from becoming waterlogged, eroded, or compacted, and they keep soil loose whether it is wet or dry.

Another reason for keeping worms is faster processing time compared to traditional composting. One pound of worms is actually 1,000 worms! Each worm can eat half its weight every day. For example, 6 pounds of worms will eat 3 pounds of food each day.

Just like composting, vermicomposting helps keep organic materials out of our landfills. Individuals doing their part to reduce the waste stream going to landfills contribute to local and regional environmental stewardship. Saving landfill space for true garbage reduces the number of new landfills needed and saves local tax dollars that would otherwise go towards landfill construction.

Did I give enough reasons to start your own worm bin? I hope so. I use mine to process veggie scraps in the wintertime when the slog to the compost pile is blocked by snow and ice. They eat less in winter, more in summer, due to their preferential temperatures. Want to learn more? Check out Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System, by Mary Appelhof. For even more info, visit Cornell University’s vermicomposting research page.

For more organic gardening tips from Organic Mechanics, find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (@organicmechanix), or visit our blog at http://organicmechanicsoil.blogspot.com/.


It was on a beautiful piece of Illinois farmland that Mark pushed his first shovel into garden soil. After he “grew up”, Mark focused his M.S. degree studies in the Longwood Graduate Program on compost and potting soil. After the Longwood Graduate Program, Mark started The Organic Mechanic Soil Company, LLC. As a frequent guest on NBC’s The 10! Show, he showcases the joy of gardening. Mark is also an approved consultant for the Institute for Local Self Reliance, working to educate farms and businesses on food-waste composting.

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