Monthly Archives: June 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

GardenIt seems like only a few weeks ago when I was writing about planting seeds, but it was actually March 21.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 months, so I thought I would give you an update and let you know how I went about planting everything.

Even though I was on top of the seed planting, my transplanting outdoors was delayed.  Sure, I can blame it on the long winter and the rain we kept getting in the spring, and I can even blame it on the trip we took to Greece in May that took up my time Tilling(more recipes from that trip later), but, really, I was just late! 🙂  I finally tilled the garden and planted everything about a month ago, and, even though things are a bit behind, they are doing really well!

This year, I did try to be strategic about my tilling the garden.  If you turn the soil and then it rains in the next few days, it’s a bad scene.  All of those weed seeds that were just turned get fed with the water and start to grow.  However, if it’s warm and sunny, the seeds will dry out and die.  This year I seemed to time the tilling right and the weeds haven’t been that bad…so far.

Ready for PlantingOnce I got the tilling done, I was ready to plant.  You may remember I had a lovely diagram that I put together for my garden.  And, even though I had the best of intentions, my garden doesn’t exactly look like that diagram.  Things happen!  The beets didn’t quite make it when I took them outside…I didn’t end up with as many squash plants as I wanted…you get the idea.  So, no worries, I adjusted.  However, even Marigoldsthough you may need to make adjustments, I still stand behind the diagram!

After I planted, one trick I always use is planting marigolds around the perimeter of my vegetable garden.  I’ve found that this really keeps the deer away.  The one year I didn’t, the deer had a feast.  So I keep doing it!  I guess it could be a coincidence, but I’m not taking any chances. 🙂

I’m pretty happy with the progress and looking forward to a good yield.  If you’re growing this summer, how are your vegetables coming along?  Here is how things are coming along in my garden…

As you can see from the top picture, my tomatoes are starting to bloom…slow but steady!

The eggplants are coming along!

EggplantThe arugula is doing great…but pay no attention to those weeds growing in there! 🙂

ArugalaThe zucchini is getting huge!ZucchiniBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds was nice enough to send me some complementary red romaine lettuce seeds that are coming along!Red RomaineSince I didn’t have luck with all of my seeds, I did get some spaghetti squash to fill in, and it’s doing great!Spaghetti Squash

A Delicious Breakfast or Dessert…Bananas Foster Bread Pudding!

20140615_103347I hope everyone had a great Father’s Day on Sunday.  The weather was absolutely perfect here, and it was a great day.  I invited my mom and dad over for brunch, and like I did for Mother’s Day, I tried to incorporate foods that my dad really likes.  Probably close to the top of his favorite list are bananas.  Normally, if we were having dinner together, I would make a banana cream pie, however, it was brunch, so I decided pie would be a little too decadent.  Instead, I experimented with Bananas Foster Bread Pudding.

I’ll admit, this started out as a french toast20140615_091701 recipe, but I really didn’t feel like standing over the stove grilling all of those pieces of french toast.  Instead, I wanted to make it a casserole that I could simply throw in the oven.  So…what started out as a baked french toast quickly became a bread pudding.  I guess we could have just had pie at brunch…oh well!

First and foremost, the bread.  My favorite bread to use for bread pudding, and french toast for that matter, is challah bread.  It’s dense 20140615_092103and eggy and just delicious.  My local Wegman’s carries a great one, which I find to be really good.  For this recipe, I used about 1/2 a 15 oz loaf of challah bread, so about 7 or 8 oz.  Cut the bread into about 1 inch cubes, and set them aside.

Next, make the custard.  Whisk 3 eggs with 1 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup brown sugar until well combined.  Add a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Stir in the bread cubes and 1/4 cup chopped pecans.  Let this mixture sit for about a half hour so the 20140615_092854bread can absorb the custard.  After that time, pour the mixture into a greased 8″x8″ baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes, until nicely browned and set.

Meanwhile, make the topping.  Melt 1/2 cup butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add 1/2 cup brown sugar and stir until well combined, then add 1/2 cup dark rum.  Be careful when you add the rum, as the sauce will boil up as the alcohol cooks out.  Once the sauce is smooth, add 3 ripe bananas, sliced, 20140615_104828and 1/4 cup chopped pecans.  Cook for a few minutes to warm the bananas.

Once the bread pudding is cooked, remove from the oven and spoon the bananas all over the top.  Pour about half of the sauce over the bread pudding also.  You can serve the leftover sauce on the side.

This definitely made a rich brunch entry, but it worked well with the crab quiche and arugula salad with peaches and blueberries.  It was almost like a dessert, well, ok, it totally WAS dessert, and would be perfect after dinner too!20140615_110139

5 Tips to Become a Better Gardener

Great tips from an excellent gardening blog!


You can’t garden and you always kill your plants?
Well, I think you might need some advice.

I do not consider myself the best gardener in the world, but my opinion is that I have the qualities which could help me to become a better gardener.

There is no way to wake up one day knowing exactly what to do and how to grow your plants. You will learn gardening by doing it.

Try to select those plants which are easy to grow and give them the needed conditions, like soil and enough light.

A good gardener must be a great observer.
The more time you spend in the garden, the more things you will observe. It is recommended to walk through the garden at least once a week, so that you will be able to observe the insects and diseases.

Many people forget that all…

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Clematis…the Most Versatile Vine!

Hot Pink ClematisI have a thing for flowering vines.  I’m not really sure why, but I’ve always loved the idea of an arbor or trellis covered in beautiful blooms.  I’ve grown climbing roses, wisteria, even gourds over a trellis, and they have all been spectacular.  However, for me, the best climber out there is the clematis.

My love affair with clematis started early.  My grandmother had a purple variety that covered her porch supports for years, and it was always a great performer.  So, as I got older, they were a likely pick for me.

Sure, clematis are easy on an arbor or something that has thin supports for the plant to spin its tendrils around, but many years ago, I was curious if they would work on something less plant friendly.  When I was in college, I decided to plant some sort of climber on Purple Clematismy parents’ clothes line supports.  They are wooden 4x4s, in the shape of a cross. They aren’t the most attractive supports, but they do serve their purpose.  I thought it would soften them a bit and also make an impressive display if I could grow a flowering climber up the supports.

I decided I would give the clematis a chance.  I planted one clematis right up against the base of each support (I think they were the Vagabond variety).  The biggest concern I had was, because they are 4x4s, it was too big for the clematis to wrap around.  I knew I would have to help them along until they reached the cross pieces and could support themselves.  That first year, I helped the vine grow by tying the branches around the clothes line support as it grew.  Unfortunately, that first year, it didn’t get large enough to reach the cross beam, but I kept Closer Viewhoping.  Also, unfortunately that first year, the guys who cut the lawn got a little too close with the weed whacker.  Luckily, the roots were still strong and they came back the following spring.

After putting a little fence around the bottom, and for a few years tying the branches and helping them up the posts, they finally got big enough to reach the cross beam.  One secret was I didn’t cut the clematis back in the fall or spring.  The new growth would sprout from the old wood, so it would very quickly reach the height I needed.  And the old growth also acted as a support for new shoot to cling to as they climbed the support.

As you can see, these clematis put on a nice display for my parents every spring.  And it took a while, but they were one of the most rewarding ventures I had when I started gardening on my own.  I think they still look great today!

Close Up

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup…Oh My!

IngredientsAh, pancakes!  They are delicious, and I know some people love them every possible way.  I do like a good old pancake, but for me, the beauty is using them as a vessel to hold amazing flavors.  You know, gingerbread pancakes around Christmastime.  Or, whenever I get to cook breakfast for my niece or nephews, chocolate chip pancakes…with whipped cream and maple syrup, of course.  But, recently, I’ve been experimenting with some more “adult” flavors.  Sophisticated one might say! 🙂 And, although the name may seem complicated, they are easy and delicious…lemon ricotta pancakes topped with blueberry syrup.

BlueberriesWhen I was growing up, when it came to good food, we were spoiled.  Whenever my mom made pancakes, and it usually only happened during the rare “breakfast for dinner” nights, she made them from scratch.  I know there are those boxed dry mixes that people often use, but they are so much better made from scratch, and really, so easy!  It’s just a matter of throwing the ingredients together and stirring to combine, very similar to that box mix!  So, when I wanted to try to incorporate lemon and ricotta cheese into the batter, I had a good starting point.

Eggs and SugarWhisk 4 eggs in a large bowl with 1/4 cup sugar until well combined.  Add 6 tablespoons melted butter.  You’ll want to allow it to cool a bit so you don’t cook the eggs, or, do as I do and just pour it in slowly and whisk the whole time.  Then add 1 1/2 cup milk.  I sometimes use 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup 1/2 and 1/2, if it’s all I have, but feel free to be a little flexible here.  Next add 2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Finally, mix in the zest of 1 lemon and 15 oz ricotta cheese.  I used the whole milk variety, but if you’re concerned about the fat, feel free to use the part skim or skim.

BatterYou want to use the whisk to incorporate everything.  The batter will be pretty thick, which is actually nice for making the pancakes.  Heat a skillet or frying pan to medium heat and give it time to make sure it’s hot.  I add the batter using a 1/4 cup measure.  Since the batter is so thick, you may need to spread it out a bit.  Let them go just a minute or two, until the bottom is golden.  Because of the cheese, these usually don’t get the nice bubbles that plain pancakes get, so just use your spatula to check.  Turn them over and cook for another Pancakesminute or two until nice and golden.

If you’re making for a crowd, I turn the oven on to 200 degrees and keep a cookie sheet in there.  As I make the pancakes, I throw them in the oven so they all stay warm.  They make probably 15 or so nice size pancakes, and they are filling.

Now, to make these pancakes out of this world, I serve them with a blueberry syrup.  Just put 2 pints blueberries and 1/4 cup maple syrup into a small saucepan with a pinch of Blueberry Syrupsalt.  Heat them over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until the berries have all burst and the sauce has thickened.  I usually do this the day before and let it cool.  You can always quickly re-heat, but it’s too hot right off the stove.

I made these this past weekend for some friends down the shore, and they gobbled them up.  The pancakes are rich and delicious with a slight lemon taste, and the blueberries are scrumptious!

Oh, and ladies, they would also make a great breakfast for Father’s Day! 🙂 Happy Father’s Day to all the dad’s out there!Eating Pancakes

A Comforting Spring Risotto!

IngredientsSeveral years ago, I discovered risottos.  I hadn’t really ever had them or made them before until I had a delicious spinach and crab risotto while down the shore (I’ll share the recipe some day).  I was hooked after the first bite.  It was creamy and warm and comforting, with the rice having a slight bite still.  The flavors meld together beautifully, and it was the perfect vehicle for fresh spinach and sweet crab.  I had heard it was difficult to make, but after having that first dish, I started to research just how difficult.  What I found was it’s really easy, just takes some time because you want to slowly incorporate the liquid into the rice to keep a creamy consistency.  And, even better, after making risotto several times and experimenting with flavors, I have found you can put almost anything in it, and it still turns out great.  This time of year, it’s perfect with spring vegetables!

StockFor my spring risotto, I use asparagus, peas, and lemon zest, however, you can use the basic risotto recipe and add really any flavor you like.  To make a basic risotto, start by heating 8 cups chicken stock until it begins to simmer.  You’re going to use this to add to the risotto, and it will cook much quicker if you’re adding warm stock instead of cold.  Keep the stock warming on the stove while you prepare the rest.

OnionsTake 1 1/2 onions, chopped (about 2 cups), and saute in 3 tablespoons olive oil.  When I made the risotto this time, I had some duck fat left over from a recipe, so I used 3 tablespoons of that, which smelled and tasted amazing, however, olive oil certainly works. And this recipe makes a good bit of risotto, so you want a fairly large saute pan, or, just use a stock pot.  I started with a saute pan this time but realized I was running out of room and switched to the stock pot! 🙂

You want to cook the onions over medium heat until they soften and brown.  This will take several minutes.  Once they are nice and soft, add 3 garlic cloves, minced.  Cook that for just a few minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Then, add 2 cups arborio rice.

ArborioLet me just take a detour for a moment to discuss arborio rice.  If you aren’t familiar, arborio is an Italian rice that has more starch, and, because you’re making risotto, it’s perfect to get that creamy consistency.  As the rice cooks, the liquid absorbs some of the starch and becomes very creamy.  I suggest using arborio if you can.  I have made risotto for some health conscious friends using brown rice, and it really wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t get the true creamy consistency that arborio will.  However, if you prefer brown rice, go for it.

Rice and WineOk, back to the recipe.  Add the rice and stir to be sure every grain of rice gets coated with the oil.  Toast the rice for a few minutes.  Next, add 1 cup white wine.  The rice will quickly absorb the wine, and you’re ready for the slow process of incorporating the stock.  Add the stock, about 1 cup at a time, and stir.  You don’t want to start adding the next cup until the first cup is mostly absorbed.  And, you’ll want to stir often to make sure the risotto doesn’t burn or stick to the pan, but also to make sure the stock is evenly absorbed.

Adding LiquidContinue adding stock and cooking until all of the stock is absorbed.  It will probably take about 45 minutes.  Taste the risotto.  At this point it should be tender and creamy, but not mushy.  Add 1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese.  At this point you have a delicious risotto, however, we’re making spring risotto…

Chop 1 bunch asparagus into 1 inch pieces.  Blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until tender.  I add them back to the pot and fill it with cold tap water to stop the cooking, then drain.  You can do this step up to a day before and just keep the cooked Finishedasparagus in the refrigerator.  Add the cooked asparagus to the risotto along with 8 oz frozen peas (I know, I know, it’s spring risotto, and I’m telling you to use froze peas, but I never really use fresh…frozen are just as good and I add them right from the freezer), and the zest of 1 lemon. Allow everything to warm through, and you have a delicious side dish, or even meal in itself, perfect for these spring evenings!

Lemon and Parm