5.29.2011

Garden Update - Something is eating my plants!

Petunias

I am leading this post with a photo of my petunias because it is the least disturbing picture of those I'm including.  They love the heat and sunshine and are really taking off.  Now onto the garden where destruction has begun.  As if my seedling problems weren't enough to ruin my gardening skills ego, within a week of planting them outside in the garden, some critter(s) decided that my babies I'd worked so hard to cultivate would make a good lunch.

Ground Cherry

It looks to me that my ground cherry, eggplants, and tomatoes have been munched on by a combination of flea beetles and caterpillars.  Flea beetles attacked my eggplants last year as well.

Tomato

Yesterday I sprayed with an organic insecticide that I used last year on my eggplants.  And let me tell you, I made damn sure to spray the tops and undersides of the leaves on all my plants.  I'm not giving up on my babies!


I use a sprayer with water and the concentrated organic insecticide.

Marigold

As you can see, the marigolds and pepper plants are doing just fine.  The tomato plants have more than doubled in size since planting.

Serrano Pepper

In between taking these photos, I laid down some straw in hopes of combating weeds, retaining moisture, and warming the soil even more.  Let's hope it's not another failure waiting to happen. 

Watermelon

Cucumber

5.25.2011

Caramel Corn Ice Pops


Recently I was at a store, which shall go unnamed, browsing through the plants.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something drop from the greenhouse roof and heard it go SPLAT.  I thought to myself, "That was one big bird crap."  I totally ignored the pterodactyl turd and continued on my merry way.  I rounded the corner and my very thin-soled shoe grazed-slash-smeared something soft on the ground.  I looked down to see a baby bird, which had apparently fallen from a nest only moments before. 

I walked over to two strapping young lads working the forklift.  I proceeded to tell them about the baby bird that had fallen from it's nest, which was now partially smooched right in the walkway in between the pansies and junipers.  They both stared at me like I was speaking in tongues and waving snakes around.

Did I mention these workers were in their mid-twenties wearing hard hats and running the forklift?  Is that image clear in your mind?  Ready?

The one guy sitting in the driver's seat of said forklift mumbled something about not feeling well and proceeded to projectile vomit all over the side of the forklift, narrowly missing his buddy standing next to him. 

I smiled oh-so sweetly and said, "Well, now you have two messes to clean up so I'll leave you to it."

What the hell does that story have to do with Caramel Corn Ice Pops?  Absolutely nothing whatsoever.  I just wanted to share.


These Caramel Corn Ice Pops sound a bit unusual, I confess.  The strangest part is the fact that this recipe calls for.....corn.  Real corn.  I know, I know.  Just do me a favor and try it. 


The pop part tastes strongly of corn, but a sweet candy-like corn flavor.  Paired with the caramel, it's delicious.  It's refreshing and sweet and unlike anything you've ever tried.

Caramel Corn Ice Pops
Makes ten 3-oz. pops -or- six 5-oz. pops

1-1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
3/4 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1 pinch salt
12 - 20 pieces soft caramel (depending on how many you make)
Chipotle chilie powder, optional

Bring the corn, cream, milk, sugar, and salt to a boil in a saucepan.  Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes.


Carefully pour half of mixture into a blender.  Puree until smooth.  Pour into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl.  Repeat with other half of mixture.  Press mixture until all liquid is out; discard solids.  Refrigerate until cold.  Pour into pop molds.  Freeze for 1-1/2 hours.


Meanwhile, working with two caramels at a time, microwave until just softened, 8-10 seconds (9 sec. was perfect for me).  On a piece of wax paper, press caramels together into a rectangle using the palm of your hand. 


Roll caramel rectangle around two-thirds of stick, leaving a bare handle.  I found it easy to pinch the sides together then roll in the palms of my hand like your making a play-doh snake. 


Repeat until you have enough caramel sticks for all your molds.


Place caramel sticks on wax paper and stick in the freezer for 45 minutes.  Insert caramel sticks into molds and freeze until solid, about 8 hours.  Run warm water over the molds to remove pops.  Dust with chile powder, if using.


Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray 

5.17.2011

Parmesan Crusted Potatoes and Zucchini


Sadly, I put my French teenage visitor Justine on the plane back to Paris a few weeks ago.  She and I had a wonderful time talking, shopping, and cooking while she was here.  I was so unhappy to say goodbye to my partner in crime. However we made some great memories (and food! - like this French Onion Soup) that we will always remember.  And we will get to see her again next year!

Photo by Justine

As always, she took some amazing photos of the Parmesan Crusted Potatoes and Zucchini we made for lunch one day.


This time, we did not wait impatiently for the meal to be ready - it's actually very quick to make. Justine and I enjoyed photographing the food together and brainstorming good angles and lighting shots.  She even created her own photography blog called Jbhly Photographie.  She's amazing and I'm so proud of her.

Photo by Justine

The Parmesan Crusted Potatoes and Zucchini Ju and I made was incredibly delicious.  The process was simple and easy. The potatoes and zucchini are crispy on the outside and the interior is creamy.

Photo by Justine

The cheese doesn't overwhelm the vegetable's flavors. The herbs and garlic fill the kitchen with enticing warm smells.  As always, please use fresh ingredients - the thyme and rosemary must be fresh and please don't use the "Parmesan" in the green jars. Get the real stuff - you don't need much.



Parmesan Crusted Potatoes and Zucchini
Serves 4 for a side -or- 2 for a meal

4 small new potatoes, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter
2 T. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 t. chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Over high heat, bring a medium pot of water to a boil.  Add the potatoes and cook until tender 10-15 minutes.  Drain the potatoes and let cool.  Cut potatoes in half.

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, add the butter, garlic, thyme, and rosemary.  Heat until the butter melts.

Meanwhile, sprinkle salt and pepper over the cut sides of the zucchini and potatoes.

Carefully place vegetables cut side down in the pan with the melted butter. Cook until golden brown, 12-15 minutes.

Pre-heat the broiler.  Line a sheet pan with foil.  Place the vegetables cut side up on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with Parmesan.  Broil until cheese is melted and golden, about 4 minutes.

Adapted from Giada de Laruentiis's Giada's Kitchen

Photo by Justine

5.11.2011

Garden & Seedlings - Update

Hydrangea

It's been pretty much forever since I've posted about my garden and seedlings. Truthfully, it's because I'm embarrassed.  I've had success growing from seed every single year since I first started a million years ago.  Yet this year, the year I start a food and gardening  blog, I suck.

Gerber Daisy

Don't be misled by the pretty flowers in these photos.  I purchased the plants at a nursery and stuck them in the ground or in pots.  I've just been successful in keeping them alive.

Hydrangea

Back to how much I suck...  I had my seedlings in a south-facing window with much success.  Then I borrowed a light set and put them in the basement so we could have our dining room table back.  A week later in the cold basement, and my seedlings were looking sad as you can see here.  I ran out and purchased some seedling heating mats and put my poor babies on top, hoping to warm the soil enough for them to quit being mad at me.

Little white flowers called something that starts with an A

Well, they stayed alive.  But they decided not to grow very much more and turn funny colors (purple leaves and stems, yellowing leaves).  And then my adorable little French visitor Justine came and we were so busy having fun I forgot to water for a day or two too long.  I lost some there.  So my seedlings don't look great.  Some look healthy and happy, just not big and strong.  Alas, I planted the little buggers anyway, hoping that getting their asses into the warm soil outside would jump-start their actual growing process.  Here's our garden that my husband lovingly and cussingly designed and built (with a little help from friends).


It is three tiers of varying sizes, due to the sloping of the ground.  Note the compost bin amongst the trees (yeah, we're green like that), which by the way are laden with ticks.  I pulled the 6th one this season from my youngest daughter's head this morning.  Why do they like her so much?  I think it's because she smells like a dog when she sweats.  But she's damn cute.

Hydrangea

On to the planting of the vegetable and fruit garden.  Here is a photo of a pathetic looking tomato seedling.

Tomato

And here are a few more examples of my incompetence...

Cucumber

Ground Cherry

Serrano Pepper

Watermelon

Tiger Eye Marigold

Remember those Petunias I have commented on in the past?  They are actually looking a-ok.  I've never gotten them very big before transplanting but once they get in some new soil, they take off.  I promise, I'll post photos of their transformation, good or bad.

Easy Wave Petunias

Here's another success I actually had nothing to do with but I'll take the credit for because I'm feeling low about my gardening skills.  My chives survived from last year.  They are big and full and really delicious.

Chives

One last thing and I'll let y'all get on with your day.  We have some wild berry bushes in our tree line and I'm not sure what they are.  I could use some help here.  The berries are dark black and look like big raspberries.  I'll post pics of them once they fruit.  Could be a blackberry (duh!) or is it a mulberry?  All I know is they are delicious.  Do you know what these bushes are??

What am I?

Soon to be berry-filled bushes

5.09.2011

Salted Nut Bars


Craving something sweet and salty?  How about sweet, salty, creamy, gooey, and peanut buttery?  Salted Nut Bars are super easy to make and taste a bit like a Pay Day candy bar.  Or perhaps a Fluffer Nutter.  Either way, it's delicious.



Salted Nut Bars
Makes 28 bars

1 lb. Nutter Butter cookies
1 stick butter, melted
2 c. peanut butter chips
2/3 c. light corn syrup
4 T. butter
1 t. vanilla
2 c. mini marshmallows
2 c. dry roasted peanuts
2 c. Rice Krispies

Pre-heat oven to 350*.  Spray coat a 9 x 13 dish.

Crumble cookies in work bowl of food processor.  Pulse until fine crumbs form.  Add melted butter and pulse until evenly moistened and clumps together.  Press crumbs into dish.  Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Melt chips, syrup, butter, and vanilla over medium-low heat, stirring until smooth, about 5 minutes.  Spread 1/2 c. of the mixture over the crumb base.

Sprinkle the marshmallows over the peanut butter mixture and return to the oven and bake until the marshmallows puff up, about 2 minutes.  Don't brown the marshmallows or they'll end up hard and crunchy.

Mix the peanuts and Rice Krispies with remaining peanut butter mixture.  Drop spoonfuls over the marshmallows, then spread with a spatula.

Cool bars before cutting and serving.


Adapted from Cuisine at Home

5.04.2011

Mint Julep


They say the Kentucky Derby is the "most exciting 2 minutes in sports."  I've news for you, friends.  The Mint Julep is the most exciting reward for 2 minutes worth of work.

I had my first Mint Julep 6 years ago at Churchill Downs.  The cool, refreshing drink had instantly become my new favorite adult beverage.  The smokey, vanilla, oak-y flavor of the bourbon mixed with the fresh, crisp mint was mind-blowing.  And you don't have to like bourbon to enjoy this drink.  There are several methods for mixing this cocktail out there, some of which are good, some of which are garbage.  I have been making Mint Juleps for years now and this is the most authentic and delicious I have come up with.

In honor of the Kentucky Derby coming up (this year) on May 7, I start mixing up Mint Juleps as soon as the fresh mint hits the markets.  Mint Julep is the drink associated with the Kentucky Oaks (racing of 3-year old fillies) and the Kentucky Derby (racing of 3-year old Thoroughbred horses) that takes place each May.  In fact, over 120,000 Mint Juleps are sold on those two days alone at Churchill Downs.


Because there are so few ingredients in the Mint Julep, please use high-quality stuff. You absolutely must use fresh mint leaves, preferably Kentucky Colonel Mint.  And under no circumstances can you use cheap bourbon.  Some examples of great bourbon are: Woodford Reserve, Early Times, Old Forrester, Evan Williams, Maker's Mark, and Knob Creek.  I could go on and on but I'll save my bourbon rant for another post.



Mint Julep
Makes 2 cocktails

1/4 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
12 fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
6 oz. bourbon
ice

Mix water and sugar in a small saucepan set over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved.  Set simple syrup aside to cool.

Place 6 mint leaves in each highball glass.  Using a muddler, bruise and mash the mint leaves very well.  If you don't have a muddler, you can sprinkle a small amount of granulated sugar on the mint leaves and use the handle of a wooden spoon to mash the leaves.

Pour 1-3 tablespoons of the simple syrup into each glass.  I prefer 2 tablespoons myself.  Pour 3 ounces bourbon into each glass and stir to combine.  Fill glass with ice and garnish with mint leaves.




Mint Juleps on FoodistaMint Juleps

5.03.2011

Country Pumpkin Bread


I know it's not autumn, although Mother Nature has us fooled here in the upper south.  It's chilly and raining (per usual it seems).  I've got a fire roaring in the fireplace and three loaves of Country Pumpkin Bread filling my kitchen with warm scents.  It feels like fall today, but you certainly don't need a cold, wet day to justify making this delicious quick bread.


Country Pumpkin Bread is a moist, tender loaf.  The pumpkin flavor is not masked by too many spices.  It is dairy-free as well.  It's so easy - just two bowls and a whisk is all you need to whip up this delicious bread.  This recipe makes 3 mini-loaves and they freeze beautifully if you want to stash a loaf or two for another day.


Oh, and did I mention that it makes a great gift, too?  Just perfect for Mother's Day!  I give Country Pumpkin Bread loaves wrapped in parchment paper and tied with a pretty ribbon with some cinnamon sticks stuck in for Christmas gifts.


While I'm on the subject of Mother's Day, I'd like to give a huge cyber-hug to SA, one of the most incredible, generous, intelligent, thoughtful, caring women I know.  You are my second mom and I love you dearly.  Happy Mother's Day!


Country Pumpkin Bread

1 - 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. water
3 c. sugar
3-1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1-1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. cloves
1/4 t. ginger

Pre-heat oven to 350*.  Grease and flour three 8 x 3-7/8-inch pans.  Or you may use three 7 x 3-inch pans; adjust your baking time as necessary.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, oil, water, and sugar until well blended.


In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Stir dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended.


Pour into prepared pans.  Bake 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out with a few crumbs attached.


Adapted from Laurie Bennett's recipe on allrecipes.