Tag Archives: summer

Tomatoes and Cucumbers…the Fruits of the Season!

Wow, where has the time gone? I can’t believe it’s already August. And I can’t believe that it’s been so long since I’ve had a blog post. I guess vacations, cleaning up the overgrown yard of the new house, and every day life got in the way. So sorry, I’ll do better, I promise!

The warm weather and humidity continues in this area, Heat waves and thunderstorms have been a regular occurrence, it seems like since June. The only good thing is that the produce has been delicious and abundant. During this time of the summer, tomatoes and cucumbers are especially delicious, and they make the perfect summer salad.

For me, nothing says summer like cucumber and tomato salad. With the addition of some basil and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette, it’s the perfect side for any meal. Not to mention, it’s great to keep the oven and stove off!

To start, use about equal parts cucumbers and tomatoes. I used 2 cucumbers and 3 large, ripe tomatoes (I know there are 4 in the picture, but I only used 3). Core the tomatoes, and slice into chunks. Add to a large bowl. Peel the cucumbers, and slice into rounds. Add to the same bowl. Finally, add fresh basil. Use 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced, and add to the same bowl.tomatoesslicedchoppedcucumberpeeledready for dressingbasilNext, grab a small bowl to make the vinaigrette. Use equal parts Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar. I used about 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Whisk the two to combine. Add about 3 times the amount of olive oil. I used about 3 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper. ingredientsmustardbalsamicPour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and stir to combine.

My favorite way to enjoy this salad is after it’s sat for about 30 minutes, so the juices of the tomato combine with the vinaigrette. One caveat though, be sure to let the salad marinate on the counter. The salad is best at room temperature, and it really is delicious. Fresh, crunchy, and tangy…just perfect!

Enjoy this last month of summer before it’s gone. And stay cool!

Crumb Cake at the Shore!

We spend a lot of time at the shore during the summer. I’m fortunate enough to have had grandparents that were incredibly insightful and built a shore house 40 years ago, before the property values soared. So, every year we head down as often as possible. Some friends will harass us that they won’t see us until Labor Day, but I think they’re just jealous! 🙂

When we’re down the shore with my niece and nephews, breakfast often includes crumb cake. My brother will head to Mallon’s in Avalon, NJ, before anyone wakes up. It’s this delicious crumbly cake with tons of cinnamon, brown sugar topping. It’s delicious! This weekend, we’re taking my 3 nephews to the shore, so I thought I’d attempt to make a homemade version for the boys!

In a small bowl, whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.floursugarbaking powdersaltmixedIn a medium bowl, whisk 1 large egg, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tablespoons canola oil, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Once it’s mixed thoroughly, add the dry ingredients. Fold to combine.eggsmilkcanola oilvanillawhiskedadding flourbatterGrease and flour a 13×9 inch pan. Spread the batter evenly in the pan, then set aside.grease and flour the panready for the battercake layerIn the small bowl that you used for the flour mixture, add 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup light brown sugar, packed, and 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and whisk to combine. Add 1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled, and stir with a rubber spatula to create large crumbs. Sprinkle the crumbs over the batter. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. more flourbrown sugarcinnamonready for butterbuttermeltedadding buttercrumb toppingready for the ovenWhen the cake is done and cooled, dust the top with powdered sugar. Use a sifter or strainer to sprinkle the sugar all over. Slice and dig in!ready for powdered sugarI found this recipe from 2002 for “New York Crumb Cake.” It came from food.com, and it’s a delicious cake, very similar to Mallon’s. The best part is, there is more topping than cake! Enjoy!

A Summer of Nursery Tours

I’ve been very lucky this summer.  I have had the opportunity to tour several nurseries and garden centers, some of which are not always open to the public.  It was so inspiring to see the huge variety of plants that these gardeners are making available to the public, and the cutting-edge techniques some of these nurseries are employing to ensure they are helping, not hurting, the environment.  It was also very exciting to be able to take some of their amazing plants home with me! 🙂

Peace Tree FarmIn June, I attended a nursery tour class through Longwood Gardens.  Our tour guide, and general expert, for the day was David Culp, a knowledgeable gardener and author of The Layered Garden. David planned a tour of several amazing nurseries that day.  The first stop was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA, with an impressive greenhouse and state of the art production.  They are certified organic, and they have the most amazing begonias I’ve ever seen.  I’m happy to report that I’m now the proud owner of 6 of their begonias, and they are doing great!

Peace Tree Farm Production

BegoniasWe then went to Paxson Hill Farm in New Hope, PA.  They have a beautiful nursery, filled with amazing plants, but also a garden maze, peacocks, and even turkeys.  I was happy to be able to take home some of their varieties of coneflower and a few other perennials that are doing great in the garden.  Paxson Hill Farm MazePaxson Hill Farm TurkeyPaxwon Hill Farm PeacockOne of the last stops we had that day was at RareFind Nursery in Jackson, NJ.  They had wonderful trees and shrubs, and a great variety.  I’m happy to report that I am now a witch-hazel owner after spending some time at their nursery!Witch HazelNorth Branch Nursery HydrangeasAlso this summer, I was visiting in Ohio and was lucky enough to meet the owners of North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, OH.  North Branch Nursery is a truly impressive operation with over 300 acres and 300 varieties of trees and 300 varieties of shrubs.  They grow over 20,000 perennials each year and have 75,000 plants in container production.  It is an absolutely beautiful property.  The property is huge, and we were happy to take a tour.  You can meander through the fields, seeing all of the trees and shrubs they have growing.  And the greenhouses with perennials is a site with such a great variety!  They grow just about everything!North Branch Nursery RosesNorth Branch Nursery ClematisNorth Branch Nursery TreesWhile we were there, I got a Little Lime hydrangea that I was very excited about.  I haven’t seen these before, but it’s a dwarf variety and has the most amazing lime green blooms.  The plant was beautiful and very hardy.  It is doing great in the yard.  North Branch Nursery Little LimeLittle LimeI was also thrilled to receive their 2014 catalog this week in the mail.  You can really see the breath of offerings they have in the catalog.  I can’t wait to dive in and see what other inspiration I get for next year!North Branch Nursery Catalog

So often, we get used to convenience, and if you’re looking for plants, that could mean looking no further than your local Home Depot.  But there really is so much out there.  If you haven’t explored some of those hidden nurseries in your area, even if they are a drive away, give them a try.  Catalogs are also a great way to get variety, but there is nothing like wandering through a nursery to get your creative juices pumping!  I know it was a great experience this summer for me, and I plan to keep it up in the future!

Using Up the Harvest…Sauteed Zucchini and Summer Squash

Zucchini and Summer SquashIt seems like you wait forever to get the first harvest from the garden, but then when you do, it just keeps coming and coming.  That’s what seems to be happening right now with my zucchini and summer squash, but I’m not complaining…YET! I’ve been harvesting these two for a few weeks, and they have been delicious.  And while I’m sure later in the summer, when I’m sick of them, I’ll be pulling out my trusty zucchini bread recipe, right now I’m enjoying them one of my favorite ways…a simple saute with onions in butter and olive oil.

ChoppedWhen harvesting zucchini and squash, I like to catch them before they get too big.  Now, that’s not to say that I haven’t had gigantic ones in the past…and I know some of my coworkers can attest to that as I always brought in the extras to them.  But, when I’m on top of things, I like to harvest when they are no more than 10 inches.  I find that they aren’t as watery, and their flavor is more intense.  However, if you weren’t paying attention, or, as I’ve done almost every year, there is one that hides under some leaves and you find it when it’s two feet long, just cut it in half and scoop out the seeds before chopping.  When they are that big, you want to avoid the seeds.

OnionsFor this recipe, I used 2 zucchini and 1 summer squash, all about 10 inches long.  Simply cut off the stems, and chop them.  I like to quarter then and slice them into about 1/4-1/2 inch slices.  You’ll also want to chop 1 small red onion and mince (or use the garlic press) 3 cloves of garlic.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Once the butter is melted and the oil is hot, add the onion.  Cook for a few minutes until they start to get some Finishedcolor, then add the garlic.  I don’t like to add the garlic too early, because it can burn easily.  And when garlic burns, it has a horrible taste.  After just about 1 minute, add the sliced zucchini and squash.  Stir everything around, and let them cook down.  You’ll want to stir periodically, but it will take about 10 minutes for them to soften and get a little bit of color.  Add some salt (I used about 1/2 teaspoon salt) and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon pepper as well), and stir to combine.

This is a great side dish in the summer when the vegetables are fresh, and It really is a simple recipe.  However, it really brings out the flavor of the vegetables.  Enjoy!

Easy Appetizer…Figs with Gorgonzola and Prosciutto

FigsI’m not sure about you, but the warm weather always makes me think of entertaining.  There’s something about sitting on the porch or deck, pulling out the grill, sharing food and drinks, that is just perfect for the warm weather.  But the last thing I want to do when I have guests over is spend hours in the kitchen while they are all enjoying each others company outside.  That’s why this bite size appetizer is perfect, it’s quick and easy to throw together, and bonus, it doesn’t involve the oven or stove!

Gorgonzola DolceThis may be one of the easiest recipes I ever write about.  It’s just so simple, but the flavors work so well together.  You may remember me ranting about my love of figs a few months ago…I do love them.  Here, the fresh figs are soft, sweet, juicy, and delicious.  They pair really well with the creamy, sweet/sharp blue cheese, Gorgonzola, and the salty ham, prosciutto.

So, as for the recipe, get ready…here goes.

Fig and GorgonzolaTake 8 oz fresh figs and slice off the woody stems.  Then, just cut each one of them in half.  Next, select the cheese.  I used Gorgonzola Dolce, which is a sweeter and milder blue cheese, but really any blue will do.  Take 4 oz Gorgonzola Dolce and slice it into small pieces.  Set the cheese on top of the figs, on the sliced side.  Then, wrap the figs and cheese with the prosciutto.  You’ll need about 3 oz sliced prosciutto.

So there you have it.  As promised, simple recipe for those warmer evenings.  Also, if you can’t find the Gorgonzola Dolce and use a different blue that might not be as sweet, or you just like things sweeter, you can always drizzle some honey over the cheese before you wrap the prosciutto around.  And if you don’t like blue cheese, feel free substitute whatever flavor combination you prefer. Enjoy!Finished Figs