Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Garden Tuesday - A Progression

In the spring, the candytuft takes center stage.

As the candytuft starts fading, the catmint and roses begin.

Front Bed
In the bottom right corner is the candytuft with the brown dried seed heads. The catmint is still blooming, but is starting to fizzle out. The daylillies and purple cornflowers hold court for the hot days of June and July.

I thought you might like to see my front bed as a progression. I'll take a few more pics in the following weeks, and then do a wrap-up in the fall.

I'd like to say that I planned this lovely progression of flowers, choosing them for their blooming time. That I poured over gardening catalogues and drew charts and graphs. But I didn't and that would be lying, and I never lie.

Case in point: when hubby was lamenting over the fact that he had to drop off the car to get new tires and then he would have to ride the bus into town with the weird people. And I said, "Don't worry, they won't bother you, you look waaaay too geeky."

"Do, I look too geeky?"

"No darling, of course you don't."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Why I love my CSA



Don't you love the little buggy nibble? It's organic, so we have to share with the little beasties.

I know, I know, this is a lazy post. But I have been out shopping, doing my part to stimulate the economy. Two pairs of cute sandals, a pair of shorts, and a new sewing desk, and I'm done. Exhausted.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

It's been awhile since I've done a book review. I bet you thought I'd forgotten. AH! No such luck, people. I insist on pretending that I can write book reviews. And I'd be much obliged if you'd just play along with me, okay?

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennoxby Maggie O'Farrell was wonderful. It was excellent. I'm not sure how even to describe it.

Iris learns that her great-aunt Esme is being released from a mental institution. The only problem, Iris didn't even know that she had a great-aunt, that her grandmother had a sister. The story of Iris and Esme is told through bits and pieces. It's not so much told, it's more like it unfolds. A bit gothic, a bit mystery, a bit of a love story. I really can't describe it. It's just very good.

5 out of 5 stars!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weekend Cat Blogging #212

It's hot here, people. Really, really hot.

And when you are a 16 pound cat, and 8 pounds of that is hair, hot is not good.

Smudge apologizes for the x-rated pictures, but he can't be bothered with modesty in this heat.

This will be my entry for this week's Weekend Cat Blogging hosted by Miz Mog and Kitties at Mind of Mog.

Friday, June 26, 2009

White Bean Salad with Mint and Red Onion

White Bean Salad

I am sure we are all in agreement, beans are good for you. They give you fiber and antioxidants and all kinds of other good things, none of which I can remember right now. In the winter, beans are easy. There is nothing I like better than a big old bowl of beans, especially if they have spent some quality time with a ham hock or two. But summer, not so easy. Oh, I try, I bookmark bean salads every time I find one. But when I sit down to plan my menus, I'm looking at veggies and what's in my freezer and I don't think of beans.

White Bean Salad

But not this time, this time I remembered. I had dutifully bookmarked White Bean Salad with Mint and Red Onion from the April 2009 issue of Fine Cooking. I thought it would make a nice healthy accompaniment to a grilled burger. Make me feel good about my half pound of ground beef with a mountain of cheese on it. And it did. It was fresh tasting, a lovely light salad. It was even better the next day with a sandwich for lunch. The only change I made was that I substituted a roasted red pepper for the fresh red bell pepper.

White Bean Salad with Mint and Red Onion
From Fine Cooking
Serves 4

1/2 cup small-diced red onion
3 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1 15-oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed (like Great Northern or cannellini)
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh spearmint or smooth-leaf spearmint leaves
1/2 cup small-diced red bell pepper
2 Tbs. nonpareil (small) capers
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, mix the onion and vinegar; let sit for 15 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix the onions and vinegar with the beans, mint, red pepper, capers, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

If you grow mint, you know you are always looking for ways to use it's over abundance! This will be my entry for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Astrid at Paulchen's Food Blog.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Citrus-Glazed Quail with Roasted Peaches, Polenta, and Bitter Greens

Citrus Glazed Quail

Every week when I went to my grocery store, I saw blood oranges. I kept toying with the idea of getting them, but since I had no clue what to do with them, I wistfully gazed at them and walked by. Then while paging through, Tyler Florence: Stirring the Pot, I saw a recipe that used..what else..blood oranges. It seemed like magic, everything had fallen in place.


You know what happened right? Yep, I went back to the grocery store that weekend, list clutched in hand, only to find neither hide-nor-hair of a blood orange. Not even an old wrinkled one leftover in a bin. So, this was made with plain old regular orange juice, not even fresh squeezed. And then I accidentally forgot the part where you actually glaze the quail. And I didn't have any bitter greens for garnish. Let's add this up shall we.. no blood oranges, no bitter greens, and no glazing. Not my finest moment. But you know what, it didn't matter, it was still wonderful. The combination of the citrus flavored quail, the sweet grilled peaches and the rich cheesy polenta was outstanding.

Citrus-Glazed Quail with Roasted Peaches, Polenta, and Bitter Greens
Serves 4

3 blood oranges, juice only
1/4 cup peach nectar
8 3-ounce semi-boneless quail
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 peaches
1 recipe polenta (see below)
1 bunch bitter greens (for garnish)

Make the glaze, by combing the blood orange juice and the peach nectar in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, until it's reduced and slightly syrupy. Set aside.

Wash the quail with cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the birds with a little oil and season inside cavities and outsides the birds with salt and pepper. Preheat grill to medium. Grill birds for 6 to 8 minutes per side (12-16 minutes total), basting with glaze with a small pastry brush, until skin is golden and crispy.

Meanwhile, split the peaches and remove the stones. Drizzle the halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until grill marks appear, set aside.

Serve quail on polenta with grilled peaches, and garnish with greens.

Polenta - in a large saucepan combine 1 1/2 quarts chicken broth with 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt; bring to a boil. Gradually pour in 1 1/2 cups polenta or yellow cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Once the broth is completely absorbed, lower the heat and continue cooking for 20 minutes, whisking often. (The polenta should be thick and smooth.) Add 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream and 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter; cook another 10 minutes, whisking often. Stir in 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and season with freshly ground black pepper.

This will be my entry for this week's Tyler Florence Fridays.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Easy Tiramisu


Do you have an installed sprinkler system for your yard? This has absolutely nothing to do with this post, I'm just curious. I'm also extremely, extremely jealous of you if you do. I spent three hours this morning watering my flower beds and the yard. Everytime I do it, it's like I have to reinvent the wheel. I move the sprinklers an inch that way, an inch this way. Some important plant or bed is always getting missed. By 10 am, I am soaked, hot and sweaty, my day might as well be over with, I have had it.


After a morning of wrestling with the sprinklers, I deserve this. An incredibly quick and easy dessert. Hey dessert is not just for after dinner. There is nothing written in the rule books that says you can't have dessert at 10 AM. I don't know how authentic this is, but I don't care, it's good and it's easy. It comes from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast and you can also find it here.

Easy Tiramisu
Serves 6

3 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1 bar (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 packages (3 ounces each) soft ladyfingers
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

1.In a medium bowl, mix espresso powder with 3 tablespoons boiling water until the espressor powder is dissolved. Add 1 1/2 cups cold water; set aside.

2.With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese with heavy cream and sugar until light and fluffy.

3.Spread a few tablespoons of cream-cheese mixture in the bottom of a 2-quart serving dish. Separate ladyfingers. One by one, dip a third of ladyfingers in espresso, then arrange in bottom of dish. Spread with a third of cream-cheese mixture. Repeat twice with remaining ladyfingers, espresso, and cream-cheese mixture (can be refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day).

4.Dust with cocoa just before serving.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mango Vinegar

Mango Vinegar

So, I sez to myself, "Self, what is this the summer of? Is it the summer of my herbs? No, that was last summer. Is it the summer of my cleaning out the garage? No, that lasted about 5 minutes two summers ago. Oh, wait, I remember this is the summer of my organizing. Which is coming along swimmingly. That is, if you swim like I do, with lots of floundering and sputtering and barely keeping my head above water. Though I do have one bookcase that simply looks amazing, don't worry I've taken pictures for proof, and I'll post at a later date. Must leave you waiting with baited breath.

The components

So, back to this summer. In addition to the summer of organization, it is also going to be the summer of my putting up, preserving, pickling. I want to have a freezer and pantry filled condiments and goodies to remember summer by.

So, mangoes were on sale at my expensive organic, feel good about yourself, store. I grabbed a bunch, and was set on canning mango chutney. After reading the recipe, I realized I was missing a few things, plus it looked like alot of work. This is summer after all, my vacation time. So, I settled on something much simpler, and better yet, time does all the work, not me. Mango vinegar. It is steeping away even as we speak. What am I going to do with it? Not quite sure. Michael Chiarello's Flavored Oils and Vinegars: 100 Recipes for Cooking with Infused Oils and Vinegars has several recipes that use mango vinegar: Grilled Chicken Marinated in Mango vinegar and Tarragon, Margaux's Tropical Barbecue Sauce, Mango Granita, and Spicy Tropical Fruit Salsa, just to name a few.

Mango Vinegar
Blue Ribbon Preserves: Secrets to Award-Winning Jams, Jellies, Marmalades and More

1 large ripe mango, pitted, peeled and chopped
2 cups rice vinegar

Place the chopped mangoes in 2-quart clean glass jar

In a medium non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar until simmering, but not boiling.

Remove the pan from the heat, and pour the hot vinegar over the mangoes in the jar. Set aside to cool. When it's cooled, cover the jar with 2 layers of plastic wrap and screw on a jar lid or screw ring. Place the jar in a paper bag and set in a cool, dark, dry location and let it steep for 2 weeks. Gently shake or swirl the jar every few days to help blend.

Start tasting the vinegar after 2 weeks until it gets the flavor that you want. It can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks.

When it's reached it's desired strength, strain the vinegar through 3 layers of clean cheesecloth. Then strain through a coffee filter. Let the vinegar sit over night covered and allow any sediment to settle. Strain the vinegar again through 2 layers of coffee filters.

Prepare your final bottle by washing with warm, soapy water and filling it with boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain the bottle and fill with the vinegar, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace. Seal each bottle with a new cork or screw cap.

So, my peeps, what would you do with mango vinegar???

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Simplicity 4668

Simplicity 4668

After fitting issues with last week's shirt, I decided to make something that doesn't have to fit. What doesn't require fitting...answer...a purse. Or as they are apparently called in sewing, a tote.

Simplicity 4668

This is my favorite purse pattern, I've made it several times. I went out to the Simplicity website to get a picture of the pattern for you, but it must be out of print. I like that it has all these panels, and that you can mix or match fabrics to get the look you want.

When I found this cute fabric at Hobby Lobby, I thought that it would make a great purse, because it had all those different colors. It would go with everything. But while making the purse, I decided that it would make an even cuter skirt. Just think of all the different colored t-shirts that it would go with. But I can't very well have a skirt that matches my purse, because that would be just too weird. So, I have ruined this fabric for a skirt. But have no fear, I just found out that there is a cute quilt shop about 10 minutes from my home (pause here, while hubby inserts an anguished wail). I don't quilt, but I could always start, and besides there is no law that says quilting fabric can't adorn a body, now is there?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Weekend Cat Blogging #211

Menu planning involves lots of small naps.

It requires deep thought and contemplation.

It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it.

This will be my entry for this week's Weekend Cat Blogging hosted by Mr. Tigger and the M-Cats Club.

P.S. I just found out that I will be the selected blog on the Tyler Florence Blog! My (well, mine and Tyler's) Cobb Salad with Poached Shrimp will be featured!! This is so exciting. Eagle-eyed readers will, of course, note that Smudge just so happens to be sitting on Citrus-Glazed Quail with Roasted Peaches, Polenta, and Bitter Greens from Tyler Florence: Stirring the Pot

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quick Pickled Baby Turnips

Turnips looking deceitfully pretty

Did you just gag a little when you read the word turnips in my title. It's okay. I understand. Believe me, if it were not for my CSA, turnips would not be passing through these lips. Seriously, you people that talk about planting your garden and how good your turnips are doing...really? I mean...really!? I find it so hard to believe that there are people who actually think, "Wow, I'm going to plant some turnips!" Of course, you're probably the same people who also plant lima beans, and there is simply no hope for you. None at all.

So anyways, I've got these turnips. And I admit they are kind of pretty, in their whole part of nature kind of way. So, I turn to my handy dandy new book The Joy of Pickling, Revised Edition: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market. Yes, I said, NEW. I do not consider this another cookbook purchase however. It's preserving, it's planning for the future, it's economical. So, let's drop the whole she-bought-another-cookbook train of thought, shall we?

Turnip Salvation

I decide to try the Quick Pickled Baby Turnips. I've got absolutely nothing to lose. If they are horrible, that's fine, I throw them out, and my opinion of turnips remains confirmed. If they are good or even tolerable, then it's a win! And guess what? They were pretty darn good. She says that they are ready after two days, but they were still kind of strong then. It's been about a week, and they are mellowing out a bit, and quite tasty. You can use them wherever you would normally use a pickle, like as a snack with sandwiches or cut them up into salads.

Pickled Turnips

Quick Pickled Baby Turnips
Makes about 1 pint

1 pound small turnips (1-2 inches in diameter) trimmed and peeled
2 teaspoons pickling salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon seeded and minced hot or sweet chili pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups rice vinegar or white wine vinegar

Score the turnip on the top and bottom. Place the turnips into a bowl. Dissolve the salt in the water and pour this brine over the turnips. Let them stand for 30 minutes to one hour.

Drain the turnips and return them to the bowl (I placed mine straight into the canning jar). Add the minced peppers. Combine the sugar and the vinegar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour this over the turnips. Cover the turnips and refrigerate. They are ready to eat after 2 days. If you keep them covered and refrigerated they will keep for several months.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

California Cobb with Poached Shrimp and Green Goddess Dressing

Cobb Salad

Let's see. When was the last time I had Green Goddess dressing. MMMM...let me think...mmm...thinking...thinking. Nope, I got nothing. I don't know if I've ever had green goddess dressing before! How can that be? How can something so creamy and so full of herby goodness have not crossed my plate before? And better than that, why with my herb garden in full swing, have I not been making this year after year.

My new love

I know that I should have started off talking about the salad. But of course the salad is good, it has shrimp and bacon and black olives and bacon and hard-boiled eggs and bacon. Nope, I'm not going there, I want to focus on this dressing. It's so easy to whip up a quick vinaigrette that I forget about creamy salad dressings. From now on my lowly dinner salads will occasionally get a pick me up from this creamy herby love in a jar.

Gratutious shot of bacon

Back to the salad. It was wonderful. The poached shrimp were fabulous. This is how I am going to cook them for any recipe that calls for poached shrimp. Everything wonderful, as usual. Would you expect anything less from Tyler??

California Cobb with Poached Shrimp and Green Goddess Dressing
Tyler Florence: Stirring the Pot
Serves 4

Green Goddess Dressing
1/2 cup sour-cream
1/2 cup store-bought-mayonnaise
1 lemon, juice only
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 anchovy fillet
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
water as needed
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1 lemon, halved
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 head Bibb lettuce, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
8 slices bacon, cooked and cut into pieces
2/3 cup medium-size black pitted olives
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
4 eggs, hard-boiled and halved lengthwise
4 sprigs fresh cilantro, for garnish

To make the Green Goddess Dressing, combine sour cream, mayo, lemon juice, garlic, anchovy, and herbs in a blender and puree until light green and creamy. Add water as needed to achieve a smooth, light consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to come together. When ready to use, add additional lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

For the shrimp, fill a large pot with about 1/2 gallon water.Squeeze in the lemon juice and toss in lemon halves for extra flavor. Add the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, garlic, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes to infuse the water with the aromatics. Before adding the shrimp, bring water to a rolling boil. Add the shrimp, them remove from heat and allow shrimp to poach for 7 to 8 minutes, until the turn pink. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp from the poaching liquid to a bowl. Chill shrimp in the refrigerator.

To assemble, combine the lettuce, bacon, olives, tomatoes, and blue cheese in a bowl. Toss with Green Goddess dressing to coat evenly. Arrange egg on top, followed by poached shrimp. Sprinkle with blue cheese and garnish with cilantro.

This will be my entry for this week's Tyler Florence Fridays.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Roasted Strawberry Salad with Baked Goat Cheese

Roasted Strawberries and Goat Cheese Salad

As the strawberries are saying their final adieu here in Tennessee, I wanted to try something different. I immediately remember Kevin's from Closet Cooking, Roasted Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad that he made last July, because I have mind like a steel trap. Ah! Do you believe that? My mind is actually more like a colander, saving things like Donny Osmond's favorite color (or at least what was his favorite color when he was 14), and setting free, things like why I walked into this room in the first place. But through the miracle of Google, I was able to find it again.

Roasted Strawberries and Goat Cheese Sals

I remembered this salad because..one, it called for roasting the strawberries, which sounded intriguing, and two, it had baked goat cheese. Everything is better with baked goat cheese. My only concern was the vinegar with the strawberries. Vinegar and strawberries sounded creepy to me..kind of like the whole watermelon and feta thing that some people do. I really can't bring myself to try that, but the vinegar and strawberries sounded like it might have possibilities. It was wonderful! The strawberries almost tasted like a sweet wine, so deep and flavorful. We ate this as a light dinner salad (the day after one of those 1/2 pound burgers that I've been known to grill), and it was perfect. I'm not going to repost his recipe, since I followed it exactly, just follow the link back to Kevin's and check it out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lemon-Rosemary Sorbet

Lemon-Rosemary Sorbet

Look at my picture and look at the title of the post. Yeah, I know, I garnished Lemon-Rosemary Sorbet with Thyme. It saddens me to say that by the time I ate this later in the day, I had completely forgotten what herb I used. I ran out snipped some fresh thyme, took the picture, ate the sorbet. It was not until I was doing the dishes that it dawned on my that I garnished a rosemary sorbet with thyme.

Oh well, at least there is no law against wrongful garnishing.

And thank goodness, because if there was, I would be one of those three strikes you're out felons. Federal garnishing prison for me. I think that there is a certain skill in garnishing. So, that it almost looks like the garnish belongs, is a part of the dish, but yet, extra. Alas, that is a skill that I do not possess.

But one skill I do possess, is being able to chose recipes. I can't make them up, but boy can I chose them. Like this Lemon-Rosemary Sorbet from Fine Cooking August/September 1996. This was so good. It was kind of like those frozen lemonades you buy when you're walking around at a carnival, except better, way better. The rosemary flavor was subtle and gave just the right twist to the frozen lemon sorbet.

Lemon Rosemary Sorbet
Adapted from Fine Cooking

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/3 cups fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons vodka (I used vanilla vodka)

In a pan, stir the water and sugar over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves and the it is simmering, about 5 minutes. Remove from the the heat.

Combine the warm syrup with the rosemary, lemon juice, and vodka. Stir to combine and let the mixture cool until room temperature. Strain the mixture to remove the rosemary leaves, and refrigerate until well chilled.

Process in your ice cream maker.

This will be my entry for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Graziana at Erbe in Cucina (Cooking with Herbs).