Monthly Archives: April 2014

Garden Update and the One Lovely Blog Award

Flowering PearI was out of town last week and when I returned, it seemed like spring was finally in full swing.  My fruit trees and ornamental trees are covered with beautiful flowers.  Even though most of the daffodils are spent, the tulips are bursting on the scene.  All of my perennials are pushing through and growing.  And now, I already feel behind in the garden! 🙂  Isn’t that always the way though, I can’t wait to get started, then, before I know it, I’m thinking I’m behind and need to start weeding or planting or something.  Scroll down to see some of the latest happenings in my garden.

One Lovely Blog AwardWhile I was away last week, I also received a wonderful message.  StrictlyDelicious nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award!  Needless to say, I was thrilled, and humbled. Even though I haven’t been blogging for very long, I’ve been amazed by the wonderful people out there.  I’m also amazed that so many of you wonderful people actually read AND LIKE what I write!  It’s been a truly humbling experience, and an absolutely great experience.  Thank you so much StrictlyDelicious!  I’m thrilled you like the blog.

Now, on to the award.  It seems I’m supposed to tell you 7 things about me…so…here goes!

  1. I actually started building this blog a year before I had my first post.  I secured the name, set everything up, but just couldn’t write that first post.  Not sure why, but I was incredibly nervous.  Thankfully, with a little encouragement from someone special, I finally took the plunge this January, and I haven’t looked back!
  2. In addition to loving food, gardening, and all those wonderful things I write about, I also LOVE TV.  I do.  I can’t explain it, but I always have.  When I was little I would sneak downstairs at 6:00 in the morning on Saturdays and turn the TV on really low just so I could get as many cartoons in as possible.  I couldn’t get enough…and still turn on the TV probably way more than I should.
  3. I really admire Martha Stewart.  I do think she’s amazing at cooking, gardening, decorating, blah, blah, blah, but that’s not why I admire her.  I find it fascinating that this woman was able to take what so many people hate doing…the chores for so many people of cooking, cleaning, etc….and build a billion dollar empire on it.  It takes incredible business sense and determination, and boy did she do it.  Even with her unfortunate incarceration, she went, she owned it, and she came out on top, selling those ponchos!
  4. I come from a big Italian-American family.  And until I started writing this blog and thinking about the recipes and customs I wanted to share, I didn’t realize how much that would impact what I share.  Of course, lucky for you, that means I write about Italian food or share Italian recipes often.  Let’s face it, Italian food is delicious! 🙂
  5. I have had an odd part time job for as long as I can remember.  In 1946, my grandfather started a beer store.  It’s still in the family, and, today, my brother runs the store.  But, from a very young age, I was always hanging out there.  I was playing in the beer store, spending time with my grandfather or dad there, even waiting for the school bus there, and eventually, working there.  I was probably the only kid in high school who was selling beer on the weekends.
  6. I hate the gym.  I go and put up with it, but I really hate it.  Enough said on that.
  7. When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a chef.  I was incredibly excited until, thankfully, my uncle helped me get a job at a restaurant.  I then realized the hours and weekend work that goes into being a chef and quickly saw it wasn’t for me. As much as I loved the work, I couldn’t imagine always working when everyone else had off.  I am obviously still obsessed with food and cooking, but I know being a chef isn’t for me, but I have an amazing respect for chefs!

And here are my picks for the One Lovely Blog award.

  1. Ice Cream Magazine-I love this blog.  I also love ice cream, so that may be swaying my vote heavily.  But there are amazing recipes and creations, and the pictures are just, so, well…lovely!
  2. Rambling in the Garden-This is another great blog with wonderful pictures.  But, it also includes an amazing garden.  Very inspirational, especially the different plants and arrangements.
  3. Home on 129 Acres-I have a love/hate relationship with this blog.  I love what they are doing, renovating a 129 acres farm, but the hate comes in because I’m totally jealous.  It’s a great journey to follow though.
  4. The Novice Gardener-This one is just so fun!  Not only is it an excellent blog with great writing and terrific pictures, which I love.  But every Friday, she has a party.  Yes, a party.  Fridays are Fiesta Friday, and people come together and share their cool stuff, and it’s just amazing!  I’ve met so many other bloggers through the fiesta…if you haven’t checked it out yet, you need to.

If any of the wonderful 4 above would like to nominate other, here’s how.

  •  Add the “One Lovely Blog Award” image to your post
  • Share seven things about you.
  • Pass the award on to seven nominees.
  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Inform the nominees by posting on their blogs.

And again, thank you to StrictlyDelicious, and thank you to all of you who continue to read, comment, and interact.  It has been an excellent adventure so far, and I look forward to more sharing, meeting, and fun!  Thanks!

Clematis ReachingIt’s a good thing I painted that trellis, the clematis is reaching for it.

WisteriaWisteria about to open.

TulipsTulips looking great.

HostaHostas poking through.

Apple TreeThe apple tree is covered in blooms.

Grape HyacinthGrape hyacinths showing their stuff.

A Great Spring-Summer Dessert…Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

It’s so nice to have the warm weather back.  The sun stays out longer, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and I love it.  After such a long winter, it’s so refreshing to finally be in the heart of spring, with summer right around the corner.

StrawberriesWith the warm weather, I get excited about summer clothes and outdoor activities, but I also get excited about summer food.  Just like swapping sweaters for t-shirts, I think most people also change their eating habits in the summer, even if they don’t realize it.  Instead of the heavy stews, we start eating dinner salads and lighter meals.  We start to replace the starchy vegetables for fresh summer produce.  And, we no longer crave the rich desserts like bread pudding, but start to focus on lighter desserts with fruit, like panna cotta with balsamic strawberries.

Cream and SugarI’m not sure if you’re familiar with panna cotta, but it’s a delicious, creamy dessert that’s surprisingly simple to make.  Panna cotta literally means cooked cream in Italian, and the cream is really the star of the dessert.  It’s delicious sweetened cream that takes on a creamy, semisolid texture.  And ok, ok, I’ll admit it, it does have cream, so I guess it’s not as light as I said.  But it’s cool and has a light, creamy texture that’s perfect for summer.

Cooked CreamTo start, you’ll need 1 quart heavy cream.  Pour about a cup of it in a bowl and sprinkle in 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin.  It ends up being a total of .5 oz of gelatin.  Let that begin to dissolve while you heat the rest of the cream in a saucepan over medium heat with 1 cup sugar.  You want to heat this mixture until the cream warms and the sugar dissolves.  It should only take a few minutes, but make sure you stir so the cream doesn’t burn.  Once the sugar is dissolved, add the gelatin mixture.  Continue to stir until the gelatin dissolves in the cream.

Ready for UnmoldingOnce the gelatin has dissolved, you can remove the cream mixture from the heat.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla, and that’s it.  Your panna cotta is done.  You just need to pour the mixture into molds and allow it to chill.  You can pour the whole thing into a big bowl, so that you just scoop out the solidified mixture once it’s cooled, or you can pour the mixture into single serve molds that you can then unmold for a great presentation.  I just used small 1 7/8 cup rectangular Pyrex containers, but you can really use anything you like.  Once you pour the mixture into whatever container/containers you’re using, put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to cool and solidify.  I made mine the night before.  And don’t cover them when they are hot, or you’ll end up with water in your panna cotta.

Balsamic GlazeWhile that is chilling, you can make the strawberries.  Simmer 1 cup balsamic vinegar for 10-15 minutes until reduced and thickened.  Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons honey.  Allow the mixture to cool, then add 1 lb sliced strawberries.  That’s pretty much it.  Let the strawberries stay at room temperature for a while so the flavors meld.

After several hours or overnight, when the panna cotta has solidified, you can unmold (or scoop and serve if you’re not unmolding).  UnmoldedSimply run a knife around the edges to loosen, then set in warm water for a few seconds.  That should melt the edges just a bit and loosen the panna cotta.  Just put a plate on top of the mold and flip it.  You may have to tap a bit to get it out.  To serve, scoop some of the strawberries with the balsamic reduction around the plate, and that’s it.  Enjoy!

Oh, and this recipe is great, but really, the panna cotta is great with anything.  It’s delicious with some chocolate sauce, or just some fresh fruit or berries, or just plain, on it’s own.  It’s cool, creamy, and delicious.

My Easter Dinner-Herb Rubbed Lamb Chops with Mint Pesto

Since yesterday was Easter, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about what I made for dinner.  I know for many people, the traditional dinner for Easter is ham, but in my family, it was always lamb.  Don’t get me wrong, I love ham.  And we always had it on Easter, but it was for breakfast.  My grandmother would bring one every year to Easter breakfast (and Christmas for that matter), but dinner was always lamb.  Even though there were only two of us this year for dinner, I figured I would make lamb chops once again.

RubMy favorite way to cook lamb chops is to roast them in the oven.  I often times cook them with herbs and olives, but this year I decided to try something a little different.  I gave the chops an herb rub the night before and kept them in the refrigerator overnight.  I then roasted them and topped them with a fresh mint pesto, perfect for a spring recipe.  For this recipe, I used shoulder chops.  You could certainly substitute the smaller chops, or even a leg of lamb, although the cooking time will be different.  The shoulder chops were nice and big, and full of flavor.

Chopped and ReadyTo start, take 4 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and add them to a food processor or chopper.  I prefer cooking with dried oregano.  I find the fresh just doesn’t have the same flavor, although it is one of the very few herbs that I prefer dried.  Spin those ingredients together until finely chopped.  I then add the juice of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Give it one Lamb Marinatingmore spin, and you’ll have a nice rub.  Smear evenly over 3 lamb chops, about 8-10 oz each.  I just put the chops with the rub in a plastic bag and threw it all in the refrigerator overnight.  You don’t need to do this the night before, but the flavor does penetrate well when you have it marinating for a while.

When you’re ready to cook the lamb chops, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Add the Lamb Chops Cookedchops to a pan with 1/2 cup white wine.  I used a 9 x 9 square glass Pyrex dish, but you can use whatever works for your chops.  And you may be wondering about the white wine with lamb, but it’s what I had on hand.  If you prefer red, by all means, use it. The chops will roast for about 20-30 minutes, although check them after about 15 minutes.  You want them to be pink inside.  Once you take them out of the oven, let them rest a few minutes.

Mint PestoMeanwhile, make the pesto.  Add to the food processor or chopper about 1 cup loosely packed mint leaves (I bought a 3/4 oz package and it was perfect) and 1/4 cup walnuts.  Blend these until finely chopped.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  That’s really it.  You can certainly adjust the quantities if you prefer, but you want a fresh, bright taste to go along with the lamb.

I hope everyone had fantastic food this weekend.  The perfect weather we had also got me excited for more spring and summer foods. Can’t wait!

Better Late Than Never…Getting the Table Ready for Easter!

I don’t know about you, but I feel like April is flying by.  I couldn’t wait for the warmer weather and sunshine, and now that it’s here, I feel like I’ve missed the passing of 2 weeks in the blink of an eye.  It’s already Easter on Sunday.

FabricLast summer, I got the idea of making a runner for my dinning room table out of patches of seersucker fabric.  I thought it would work well for the summer, and brighten up the dining room a bit.  I went to my local fabric store, and, sure enough, they had NO SEERSUCKER!  Unfortunately, at this point, I had it in my mind and there was no changing courses.  Eventually, they finally found a few colors, but I was really looking for reds, blues, greens, and yellows to highlight the colors of summer.  Sure enough, I finallyCutting found the colors, in November!  The good news was, I had plenty of time to sew a runner, right?  Wrong!  Even though I purchased the fabric then, I haven’t done anything for it until last week, when I thought it would make a good addition for Easter and spring.

Now, I have to admit, I am not a good seamster (again, I had no idea what the male version of seamstress was, but I looked it up…and this seems to be it).  I can barely sew a straight line, but, with the help of a sewing machine, I can usually get by.  I originally envisioned an elaborate patchwork of colors, but I quickly realized that was going to be well beyond my incredibly basic skills.  Instead, I settled for a Sewingsimple runner of 1 foot squares, alternating colors and directions of the lines.

To start, I cut 2 14 inch squares of fabric in green, red, blue, and yellow.  Actually, my nephews cut…I brought in some help for this one.  Then, I simply placed the fabric back to back and sewed a straight line across.  I alternated the directions of the stripes,Bad Side and I sewed the green to red, red to blue, blue to yellow, yellow to green, green to red, red to blue, and blue to yellow.  This made one long strip.  One thing to note, you want all of the “bad” sides on one side, so you have one clean side with no visible seams.

Next, I had to sew together some strips of white for the backing.  If you have a long enough piece of fabric, just cut it to size, about 98 inches by 14 inches if you sew everything with a 1 inch Ready to Sewborder.  I, of course, did not sew everything with a perfect 1 inch border, so I just patched the white together until I had a piece as long as the seersucker piece.

Once you have your similarly sized strips ready, you want to line them up with the good sides facing each other.  Basically, you want the seams for the seersucker piece and the seams (if you have any) for the white backing to face out, so you have the smooth, pretty pieces facing in.  The reason for this is you’re going to turn the whole thing inside out once it’s done, putting the clean sOpeningides on the outside.

Once it’s lined up, and I did pin it to make sure it stayed together, you want to sew a 1 inch border all around, but leave a few inches open at the bottom.  To do this, start sewing maybe midway on the skinny end, then go all the way around the whole thing, leaving a 1 inch border, and stop when you get maybe 3 inches from where you started.  Now, cut out any excess fabric that is along the sides that you don’t need.  This isn’t imperativeTurn Inside Out, but it helps to make a clean finished product.  Then, reach in through that little 3 inch opening you left, grab the other end, and pull it through.  This will take some adjusting to get it looking nice, especially with the corners, but it’s pretty easy to do.

Now that the good sides are facing out, you can smooth it out and iron it so that the edges are nicely creased.  That’s it.  I know it Ironingmay sound complicated, but it’s really pretty easy, and I love how summery the seersucker fabric looks, especially with the colors.  I added to the table some white egg holders and a white bowl and filled both with plastic eggs.  I think it turned out pretty good.

Oh, and just to prove that I’m really not good with the sewing, you’re supposed to now hand sew the opening you pulled the fabric Openingthrough.  Instead, I just fold it under and hit it really good with the iron.  As you can see, there’s still an opening, but the great thing is, no one will ever know…well…at least no one besides you! 🙂

I hope everyone has a wonderful Easter, or is having a wonderful Passover!  And I hope you’re having great spring weather, where ever you are, too!  Enjoy!

More Prep for the Yard and Garden…Painting Wrought Iron

One of the best things about having a porch, or arbor, or pergola, is to have beautiful things climb up the supports.  I just love climbers that cover a support with beautiful blooms.  It doesn’t matter to me if it’s wisteria, or clematis, or even gourds (I saw this years ago in a Martha Stewart Living magazine and had to do it, and it worked…they were awesome), I love the climbers.  And both my front and back porch have great wrought iron More Rustsupports in a traditional scroll pattern that are perfect to have these vines climb.  The only problem is, the flowers can put some extra wear and tear on the finish.  I’ll admit it, in all these years, I’ve never touched up the wrought iron with paint, but I couldn’t put it off any longer.

Because my supports have vines growing up them most of the spring, summer, and early fall, I had to get a jump-start on the painting.  I also had to wait until the weather was warm enough.  Lucky for me, this past weekend was perfect.  The weather was in the 60s, and, while the vines are growing, they haven’t hit the supports just yet.

RustAs you can see, the supports were looking pretty bad.  There were many places where the paint had completely come off, and there were some spots that had a good bit of rust.  I really shouldn’t have put off this project as long as I had, but I digress.  The first thing I did was got my supplies together.  I needed a good, durable paint, and, after consulting with my friends at Home Depot, decided on 1 quart of Rust-Oleum Stops Rust in flat black.  This is Rust-Oleuman oil-based paint, but I needed it to be oil-based for durability and because of the rust.  It’s pretty easy to deal with, but you need to use a paint thinner to clean the brushes, and yourself if you’re like me.  I just used some gasoline…I put some in a metal can for the brushes and rubbed some on my hands to get the paint off.  Maybe not the best idea, but it worked.  As for the color, the reason I went for flat is glossy paint shows more imperfections…and I figured I might end up with some Brushingimperfections!

To begin, I took a wire brush and metal Brillo pad (without soap) and knocked as much of the old paint off as I could.  The wire brush gets most of it off, and I used the pad for sections that I couldn’t quite reach.  You don’t need to take all of the old paint off, just everything that’s loose or flaking.  Once that was done, I wiped everything down with a damp towel and got started.

The paint was pretty easy to get on, and it covered really nicely.  I did use two types of brushes, one that was about an inch wide, and another that was much smaller for those Clematistight spots.  It also dried really well.  I didn’t do a full two coats, but I did spot check and touch up where needed.

I’m pretty happy with the finished result, and how well the vines are growing.  As you can see, the clematis is already stretching out to reach the trellis.  I just kept pushing it away until I was done the painting.  Now I can be nice and redirect it.

I’m pretty happy about how well the other flowers and trees are growing too.  Here are some pictures of what’s going on in the yard, outside of the climbers, so far this spring.

Daffodils are blooming like crazy.

Daffodils are blooming like crazy.

The magnolia tree is bursting with color.

The magnolia tree is bursting with color.

The apple trees have a lot of buds on them.

The apple trees have a lot of buds on them.

And the tree peonies are going to be great when they open up.

And the tree peonies are going to be great when they open up.

More Spring Produce with Braised Artichokes

As I told you earlier in the week, I love the produce that starts appearing in the spring.  While I went on and on about sugar snap peas, another one of my favorites is artichokes.  Maybe you’ve never had them outside of the jarred hearts, which, don’t get me wrong, are delicious!  I know the whole artichoke can seem intimidating…those sharp edges, tough leaves, and you probably wonder “what do I even eat?”  But if you take a little bit of time, and prepare them right, they can be delicious.

cut off topsBraising is simple, basically searing something off on the stove, then finishing it simmering in some sort of liquid.  Usually it’s reserved for meats, and they can be delicious.  The searing gives you great color and flavor, and the slow simmering in the liquid results in tender, juicy meat.  Definitely a keeper.  But this time, I’m take a similar approach, but with the artichokes.  They cook in a garlic, lemon, white wine sauce that really brightens the flavor and makes a great vegetable.

ChokeFor this recipe, start with 6 artichokes.  Because they discolor, you’ll want a bowl with acidic water.  This will also be used as braising liquid.  Take 3 lemons, and first, zest 2 of them.  You’ll use the zest later.  Then cut all 3 in half, and squeeze the juice into a big bowl.  Add some cool water.  You don’t need a ton of water, just enough to cover the artichokes.

The next step is cleaning.  Because the cleanedleaves are very tough, you need to clean them so you only end up with the more delicate interior leaves.  If you’ve ever eaten stuffed artichokes, you know you can’t eat the outer leaves.  The principle still stands for these.

Start by cutting about an inch ofin lemon waterf the entire top of the artichoke.  Just cut straight down.  Now start pulling off the leaves.  You really want to take off a lot.  You need to get to the delicate, yellow, almost white inner leaves.  It will seem like you’ve taken too much, but you’re fine.  And don’t worry, if you find that you haven’t taken enough off when you start eating, just cut off any tough leaves and don’t eat those.  Once the outer leaves are removed, take a peeler and peel along the stem to remove the tough skin.  Cut the artichoke in half, and, trust me, you’re almost done, remove the choke.  This is where the artichoke gets its name.  In the middle of the inside is a fuzzy choke.  You need to grab a spoon and just scoop it out.  It comes out very easily.  Once that’s done, just drop your 2 halves in the water.  Continue cleaning until they are all in the water.

cookingOnce the artichokes are clean, mince 3 cloves garlic.  Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan large enough to hold all of the artichoke halves.  Add the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes.  Feel free to add more or less red pepper flakes depending on if you like a little heat.  Saute for a minute until the garlic gets some color.  Add the artichoke halves, cut side down, to the pan.  Cook for a minute or two, then add 1 cup white wineit's doneLet the alcohol cook off, then add 1-2 cups lemon water (this is the water the artichokes were soaking in).  You want the water to come about half way up the artichoke halves.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Cook, covered, for about 15 minutes, until the artichokes are soft when pierced with a knife.  Remove the lid, raise the heat to high, and boil for about 5 minutes to tighten up the sauce a bit.

parmigianoTo serve the artichokes, I plate them and spoon over some of the sauce.  Sprinkle the reserved lemon zest and about 1 tablespoon chopped chives.  I also like to add some shaved Parmigiano cheese.  It works really well with the artichokes and lemon.

These artichokes make a really nice side dish, and it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy them.  They would make a pretty good addition to an Easter dinner too.  Hmm…I might have to adjust my menu for next week!

Taking Advantage of Spring Produce with Green Goddess Dip

One of the best things about spring’s arrival for me is I start to see some of my favorite, delicious, fresh produce at the farmers market and grocery store.  It gets me excited to think of new ways to prepare and serve these delicious morsels, especially since it always seems too brief that some of these make their appearance.  I love the asparagus and artichokes, tender baby lettuces and rhubarb, but my favorites are the sugar snap peas.

Sugar Snap PeasI’ve always been a fan of peas.  I can remember when I was little, helping my grandmother shell peas she picked from her garden.  Those raw peas, fresh from the garden, were delicious.  I am not sure if more of the peas ended up in her bowl or in my mouth.  From then on, there was a special place in my heart for raw peas.  While I don’t get many occasions these days to eat raw peas, my favorite way to eat sugar snap peas is still raw.  They maintain their crispness and sweet flavor, and they are perfect with a dip.  One of my favorites to serve with sugar snap peas, or really any vegetables for a crudites platter, is green goddess dip.

IngredientsGreen goddess dip or dressing is a simple recipe to make with fresh herbs, and it’s quick to whip up.  The recipe I use is from an old version of the Joy of Cooking cookbook.  Start by chopping chives and parsley so that you have 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives (minced scallions can be used instead if you can’t find the chives) and 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley.  Add them to a bowl with 1 cup mayonnaise and 1/2 cup sour cream.  Add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, and 3 anchovy fillets, minced.  I know the anchovies may Ready to Mixscare some people, but they really just add a salty note to the dip.  It doesn’t taste fishy at all, however, if you’re concerned about the anchovies, don’t add them.  The dip will still be good.  Mix everything together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

That’s really it.  Once everything is mixed, your dip or dressing is ready to use, although I think the flavors come together after it sits in the refrigerator for a few hours.  As I mentioned, I use it as a dip for sugar snap peas.  I just washed 1 1/2 lbs sugar Ready to Eatsnap peas and snipped off any hard stems.  If you prefer them cooked, you can certainly blanch them in boiling water for just a minute, then drain and add them to a bowl with cold water and ice.  This will stop the cooking process but still keep them pretty crisp.

Feel free to substitute any other vegetables you prefer for the sugar snap peas.  But they do make a nice vegetable platter, especially in the spring when everything seems so fresh and new again.