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Do you have a bountiful garden this year? These crispy Baked Zucchini Fries are tasty when dipped in marinara sauce. Photo by Sue Doeden

Baked Zucchini Fries are a tasty, healthful substitute for French fries

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I've always wanted to host a garden party this time of year when vegetable plots are bountiful and flower beds are in full bloom, showing off their amazing beauty. But the same problem always arises - I have no gardens worthy of putting on display.

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A couple of weeks ago I attended the best garden party of the summer at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. Their third annual Toast & Taste in the Gardens event provided me with my first visit to the more than 1,000 acres of lush landscape and magnificent gardens. Against a canvas of live music and soft conversations, I meandered along the path through the gorgeous gardens, sampling food prepared by chefs from top restaurants in the Twin Cities and outlying areas, sipping wine made with grapes from Minnesota vineyards and beers brewed in Minnesota.

I had time to visit the Arboretum gift shop in the Oswald Visitor Center. That's where I spied "Flavors of the Arboretum: 101 Tastes of the Season." I discovered the cookbook had just been published and was making its first appearance to the public that day.

After perusing the crisp pages of the book, it didn't take me long to realize it was full of recipes that can help the everyday cook impress dinner guests without having to be an expert.

Judy Hohmann, marketing and public relations manager for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and editor of the new cookbook, said the compilation of recipes was spurred by many visitors asking for recipes from the old Tea Room that was located in the original Snyder Building and operated by auxiliary members many years ago.

The user-friendly cookbook divides 101 recipes as well as menus that use those recipes according to the five seasons.

Five seasons?

"I consider the holidays a fifth season," said Hohmann. "People make specific kinds of meals and baked goods as they entertain through the holiday season."

Recipes in the book include signature classics that you might find on the menu in the Arboretum Restaurant, treasures from the old Tea Room, as well as recipes from cooking classes taught in the "Harvest Kitchen" at the Marion Andrus Learning Center on the Aboretum grounds and guest chefs who are invited to share their knowledge and skills as they teach classes.

Lovely food photos and garden shots appear throughout the book, thanks to volunteers from the Arboretum Photographers Society and staff.

A recipe in the book for Baked Zucchini Fries caught my eye. After all, who can't use another idea for preparing the fruit of that vine that produces whoppers if you aren't watchful? Simply cutting fresh zucchini into matchsticks, breading them and baking for 20 minutes or so turns the sticks into crunchy, flavorful stand-ins for the traditional French fry. I enjoyed the crispy baked fries dipped in marinara sauce.

Food, flowers, music and wine at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is the epitome of a lovely garden party. With "Flavors of the Arboretum: 101 Tastes of the Season" it's easy to provide the right food for a garden gala of your own. It's normally not a problem coming up with the music and wine. Now, if I only had a garden.

Baked Zucchini Fries

1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

3 to 5 small or medium zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut zucchini lengthwise into pieces 2 inches long and 1/4 inch thick.

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Place the flour in another bowl. Beat the eggs in a third bowl.

Using a fork or tongs, dip zucchini sticks first in flour, then in beaten eggs, then roll in the bread crumb mixture.

Lay pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, until coating is crisp and brown. Serves 6.

Recipe from "Flavors of the Arboretum: 101 Tastes of the Season." Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. 2011."

Tips from the cook

--Add more flavorful punch to these Fries by adding garlic powder and cayenne pepper to the bread crumb mixture. I also added some minced fresh oregano to the bread crumbs and sprinkled more fresh oregano over the baked fries before serving.

--Freshly grated Parmesan cheese scattered over the baked fries adds nice flavor as well as a little bit of saltiness.

--Panko, light and flaky Japanese-style bread crumbs, are a nice alternative to the more traditional fine bread crumbs.

--"Flavors of the Arboretum: 101 Tastes of the Season" can be purchased in the gift shop at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum or online at their web site, www.arboretum.umn.edu/giftstore.aspx. You may also call the Arboretum to order a book, 952-443-1439.

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