Sunday, March 18, 2018

How to Window Box, Small-Space Plants to Grow Indoors or Out, a Review

While reading the adorable new book, How to Window Box, Small-Space Plants to Grow Indoors or Out by Clarkson Potter designed, certainly, with me in mind, I couldn’t help but think about my mother. No, she was not a gardener, but she did make Easter baskets for every attendee at her annual Easter brunch. She took a month or more to put these baskets together, each with a different theme based upon the interests of the recipient. As I held this book in my hand, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful theme window box gardening would be for an Easter basket. This book, a bag of potting soil, some liquid fertilizer, a few plants, not to mention a fairy garden accessory or two, and you have a wonderful gift for your green-thumbed friend. But I digress.
If you, like me, no longer garden on a grand scale, this book is for you. Talk about inspirational! The pictures alone will have you champing at the bit to get outdoors and start gardening, but the information is the most valuable aspect of this book, and there is plenty, but I am getting ahead of myself. The book provides a nice introduction to window box gardening, and then guides you step-by-step through the process. Here you will learn about a wide variety of theme gardens, one or more of which will no doubt tickle your fancy. I’m not going to list them all, but some of them include: The Sandbox, The Herb Garden, The Detox Box, Edible Petals, The Jungle Box, The Salad Bar, and The Window Bog. Intriguing? I have to tell you, every one of the window boxes in this book intrigue me. Each one mentioned is not only thoroughly described, but there is a nice, easy-to-read chart on the page that will provide a quick guide to creating your own box. It will suggest a location, provide information on recommended light, window, soil, how much you need to water and fertilize, and even give you ideas for topping the box in order to make it look pretty.
 Resources are provided in the back to help you get started, and there is also adequate information to allow you to customize your window box to your own interests and needs. Should you have difficulties (Heaven forbid!), there is a nice section on troubleshooting.
If you like to garden like I do, or if you have a friend who does, pick up a copy of this book. It is small in size (and I like that), but BIG on information.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pappardelle with Leeks and Bacon

With Easter in the offing, it's time to do something a little different. One of the things that you might consider is starting your meal with a pasta appetizer. A two-bite portion is a great way to get those juices flowing, and to provide some insurance against eating way too much when the entrée is served. This is a wonderful little dish that works well as an appetizer. It's easy to put together, thanks, in part, to Melissa’s Cleaned and Sliced Leeks, and will yield of 4-6 starter courses, or two entrees.
Pappardelle with Leeks and Bacon
Adapted from Bon Appétit

1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
5 slices bacon, cut into ½” pieces
1/2 pkg. (3 oz)
Melissa’s Cleaned and Sliced Leeks
Kosher salt
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
6 oz. Pappardelle
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice*

Heat oil and butter in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until bacon is crispy, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in leeks and season with salt. Increase heat to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks begin to brown, 4-6 minutes. Stir in cream, thyme, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, 9 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving a cup of pasta cooking liquid.

Add pasta, Parmesan, and a half-cup of cooking liquid to the sauce, and stir to coat. Increase heat to medium, and continue stirring until the sauce coats the pasta. If you like your sauce a little thinner, stir in remaining pasta water, a little bit at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Add fresh lemon juice, and serve immediately.

* If you do not have fresh lemon juice available, omit this (and in the name of all things holy do NOT use RealLemon! Egad!). I find that fresh lemon juice brightens this dish, but it will be fine without it.
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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Shamrock Shakes

If you don’t want to bother making a Guinness Stout Cake to conclude your St. Patrick’s Day meal, whip up some fun with these boozy, delicious, and colorful shakes. Ideally a malted milk mixer is the best option, but if you have a bullet blender, it will do. The beauty of these, besides their delicious taste, is that they can be made ahead and stored in the freezer up to and including the whipped cream topping and mini chocolate chips. Because of the alcohol content they don’t freeze solid, so you can store them in the freezer until you’re ready to serve them. I stored mine in the freezer with the straws in them so there was no delay whatsoever in getting them to my curious guests. Keep in mind that these shakes are adults only; enjoy responsibly!
Shamrock Shakes

1 ounce Irish cream Liqueur
1 ounce Crème de Menthe
1/2 ounce white Crème de cacao
2 to 3 scoops vanilla ice cream
Whipped Cream, for garnish

Mini chocolate chips, for garnish

Place all ingredients, except garnishes, into a blender and mix until creamy. Depending upon the size of your ice cream scoop, you may need to add a bit more ice cream. Serve in small glasses topped with a spritz of whipped cream and some mini chocolate chips.
Makes 2.



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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wearing 'o the Green Tablescape

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up on Saturday, and my table is wearing ‘o the green in celebration.
I am a big fan of green and white, and, as a consequence, I thoroughly enjoyed putting this table together.
The Fitz & Floyd pitcher centerpiece belonged to my mother. When, a dozen or so years ago, I started having the St. Patrick’s Day dinner, she passed it on to me. It has become as much of a tradition as the corned beef!
I decided to fill it with flowers this year, instead of my usual pot of shamrocks. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake. This pitcher is huge!
It has a very wide opening, and the sad bunch of flowers that I had picked up at the market needed some serious help, so I filled in with some artificial flowers. I think I pulled it off.
I topped it with a vintage St. Patrick’s Day card from the collection of St. Patrick’s cards that I started a while ago. Isn’t it sweet?
This year, I’m happy to say, I was finally able to locate a pair of leprechaun salt and pepper shakers to match the pitcher! This Fitz and Floyd pattern goes back to the 80s, so they’re not all that easy to find. I’m happy to have this whimsical addition to my table.
The wine glasses are new this year and from Pier 1. I thought they added a bit of sparkle and whimsy to the table, plus they hold a lot of wine!
The napkins with the shamrocks are new as well. I found these, believe it or not, on Amazon. They are nice, large, and quite colorful, not to mention low in price. You can find them here.
The chargers, a gift from a blogger friend, are used more often than any others in my collection. The white plates, “Blanc Amelie” from Versailles, are also among my favorites, because they blend with everything. The raised border gives them a rather elegant look; the mugs are this pattern as well. 
 Lotus bowls that I generally use for serving Asian food, worked well here as vessels for shamrock cookies.
The lidded soup bowls I have had for about 40 years. They are handy for a variety of foods and make a very special presentation. 
If you are celebrating this year with a dinner or gathering, tell me about it, I love to hear what others do!

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Irish Mash

I don’t know how you make your mashed potatoes, but it used to be that I would make mine by peeling and quartering a bag of russets, boiling them, draining them, and then attacking them with a hand-held electric mixer. I would beat them to within an inch of their lives, funneling in butter and cream in the going. I did it this way because this is the way my mother used to do it. You see, back in the day, it was positively scandalous to have lumps in your mashed potatoes.

These days, I embrace lumps and call them rustic. No more do I want to get out the hand mixer, deal with bits of potato flying all over the kitchen, and then have to scrape it off the wall. Now, I mash them with a potato masher, and beat them as well as I can with a whisk. Someday they’re more rustic than others, depending upon my upper arm strength.

These potatoes, laden with deliciously sweet sautéed leeks and seasoned with a hint of thyme, are the perfect accompaniment to your corned beef dinner. They can be made ahead, scraped into a casserole dish, refrigerated overnight, and reheated the next day. If you have a difficult time getting vegetables into your family, mixing them into mashed potatoes is one sure way. Leeks are not without nutrition. They contain vitamins A, C, E, and B6, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and are known for their antioxidant properties as well as being low in calories. Wow! So, stirring them into your potatoes is a healthy, as well as tasty and attractive choice.

Don’t wait until St. Patrick’s Day to enjoy them, they’re good anytime with roast beef, chicken, or fish.
  2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse potatoes and place into a medium/large saucepan; completely cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil, and cook for 15 minutes until fork tender. Drain and return to pan to allow all moisture to evaporate.

While potatoes are cooking, melt butter in a 9-inch sauté pan. Add leeks and thyme, and sauté until leeks have softened. In a small saucepan, heat milk and cream.

Mash potatoes in any manner you like (I am a big fan of the potato masher/whisk combination), adding milk/cream as you do. Add seasonings and leeks. Stir to combine. Serve immediately.

   *If you are unable to find Melissa’s Cleaned and Sliced Leeks in your local market, use one large leek.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

ABC Salad

Sometimes (a lot of times) I have difficulty sleeping. I just can’t seem to shut my mind down. On those nights, when I have trouble getting to sleep, I think about a lot of weird things. The other night I was thinking about having a mystery dinner that would feature dishes that reflected titles of popular mystery novels. Having just finished watching Agatha Christie‘s ABC Murders, I decided that would be the name of my salad.

It is certainly easy enough to make a salad that contains three ingredients beginning with the first three letters of the alphabet. I chose three of my favorite salad ingredients, fresh apples, beets (in this case golden beets), and cubes of Camembert cheese. It was a delicious combination, not to mention packed with a nutritious punch. I was tempted to toss in a handful of walnuts, as I often do when I make a salad, but decided to leave this as is; I enjoyed it a great deal. It’s colorful, tasty, unique, and so good for you!
ABC Salad

1 container of mixed greens
2-3 Gala apples, cored and cubed
1 9-oz. pkg.
Melissa’s Peeled, Steamed & Cubed Golden Beets
1 small wheel Camembert cheese, cubed
Your favorite vinaigrette salad dressing*

Toss all ingredients together, and serve immediately.

*I tend to use a raspberry vinaigrette anytime I have fruit in a salad, which is often. I like the tangy-ness of the dressing, and feel that it really brings out the flavor of the fruit. Here’s the recipe that I use, but don’t feel hemmed in by this, you can use any favorite dressing of your own.

Raspberry Vinaigrette

1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup vegetable oil

Place all dry ingredients into the bottom of a medium size mixing bowl and whisk together until blended.

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Lemon Pepper Leeks & Mushrooms

I go green crazy on St. Patrick’s Day, and like my meal to have green in every course from beginning to end. I tend to favor leeks around this time of the year, and if you feel the same, you will love this recipe that can be on the table in 10 to 15 minutes. One of the reasons it’s such an easy dish to prepare is because Melissa‘s Produce has done all of the work for you by cleaning and slicing the leeks. You don’t have to worry about storing unwieldy leeks in your refrigerator, spend time cleaning out the sand and grit, deciding what part of the leek to use, and then spend even more time slicing it; all of that has been done for you. 

This dish is pretty much just dump, sauté, and serve. If you like, you can buy mushrooms that are already sliced and use those to speed things up even further. This is one of those dishes where the flavors are subtle, but unique, and people tend to go back for more. You may want to double the recipe to be on the safe side. Should you have any left over (you won’t), it makes an excellent filling for an omelet.
Lemon Pepper Leeks & Mushrooms

2 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced
4 ounces mushrooms, cubed
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Melt butter in a 9-inch sauté pan. Add leeks and garlic and sauté until soft.  Add mushrooms, wine, red pepper flakes, and lemon pepper seasoning. Sauté until mushrooms are soft. Finish with lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve immediately. Makes 4 side dish servings.

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