Monthly Archives: June 2012

Greek Lamb Burgers

Greek Lamb Burgers

I’ve mentioned, on several occasions, that we have a great source for (somewhat local) grass fed lamb. We bought all of their remaining ground lamb supply and have been enjoying it ever since. This is one of my favorite uses for the ground lamb, and it’s a nice change from regular beef burgers. The burgers are simply seasoned and finished with traditional Tzatziki sauce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a little extra feta cheese. I served them in pita bread with a side Greek salad. We have great Greek restaurants (Coney Islands) near us, so I usually just buy the Tzatziki sauce (Trader Joe’s also has a good version). I’ve included a good recipe for Tzatziki sauce, but it’s really best if you make it at least a day in advance. (Serves 6)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Lbs. Ground Lamb
  • 4 Oz. Feta Cheese – plus a little extra for garnish
  • 4 Cloves Garlic – finely chopped
  • 4 TBS. Fresh (or 2 TBS. dried) Oregano- chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 3 Pieces of Pita Bread – cut in half
  • 1 Tomato- thinly sliced
  • 1/4 White, Red, or Sweet Onion- thinly sliced
  • 1/4 English (seedless) Cucumber – thinly sliced
  • 6 Slices Fresh Green or Red Leaf Lettuce

For the Tzatziki Sauce:

  • 1/2 Cup Greek Style Yogurt – strained*
  • 1/2 Cup Sour Cream
  • 1/2 English (seedless) Cucumber – peeled, seeded and sweated**
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 TBS. Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp. Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Cloves Garlic – chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. Pepper
  • 2 tsp. Fresh dill

INSTRUCTIONS:

Prepare the Tzatziki sauce: Strain the yogurt by placing a coffee filter in a colander and placing over a bowl; add the the yogurt to the filter and allow to sit for about 5 minutes until liquid strains off.  *Chop the peeled, seeded cucumber, place in a colander in the sink and sprinkle with the salt, allow to sit for 30 minutes- this will sweat out the excess water from the cucumber. In a food processor, combine cucumber, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, pepper and dill and process for a few seconds until cucumber is finely chopped, but not pureed. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and strained yogurt and mix well. Add cucumber mixture. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Let rest in refrigerator for as long as possible.

In a non-reactive mixing bowl, combine ground lamb, garlic, oregano, and feta cheese. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated, but do not overmix. Divide meat mixture into six portions and form into 1/2 moon shaped burgers (you can form into regular burger shapes, but the 1/2 moon shapes will fill out the pita bread better). Season burgers with salt and pepper. Grill* over medium heat until cooked to desired doneness (I like the burgers cooked medium, without too much pink). Put burgers into pita bread and garnish with onion, tomato, and cucumber slices. Add additional crumbled feta cheese and tzatziki sauce.

Enjoy with a side of Greek Salad or Rice Pilaf.

* You could broil or even pan sear the burgers if you prefer.

 

 

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Seared Scallops with Asparagus, Tomatoes and Sausage over Creamy Polenta

Pan Seared Scallops with Polenta

This was one of those random dinners that started out simple but, as I surveyed my refrigerator, became more complex (but not complicated). I have to admit that I’ve struggled a bit with polenta in the past. A former boyfriend’s Italian family always had a party on July 4th when all of the men cooked polenta outside over a big pot. The secret was the inclusion of the stinkiest cheese they could find. I’ve tried multiple times to replicate the recipe, but my polenta always ends up dry. This time, however, I managed to incorporate the cheese and keep the polenta creamy. And, let’s be honest, can you go wrong with seared scallops, asparagus, tomatoes, and sausage? To quote Bryan  (“We really rocked this one out of the park.”)The final dish was seared scallops with an a light orange sauce served over creamy polenta topped  with roasted asparagus and tomatoes, sausage, and fried shallot rings Although there are a lot of steps and you have to manage a few things at once, I wouldn’t say it’s hard. I recommend reading through the whole recipe/instructions first to get a general idea of the steps.  I hope will give it a try and enjoy this simple dish with amazing complex and complimentary flavors.

INGREDIENTS:

For the Polenta:

  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 3 Cups Water
  • 1 Cup Polenta
  • 1/3 Cup Macarpone Cheese
  • 2 TBS. Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Pepper

For the Scallops and Sauce (serves 4):

  • 12 Large Sea Scallops (or plan 3-4 scallops per person)
  • 4 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped
  • 3-4 TBS. Olive Oil
  • 1 Cup Orange Juice

For the Toppings:

  • 16 Asparagus Spears- trimmed to leave only the tender tops (usually top 3/4)
  • 1/2 Cup Grape (or Cherry) Tomatoes – cut in 1/2
  • About 2 TBS. Olive Oil
  • 6 Sausage Links (or about 1/2 Bulk Breakfast Sausage)
  • 1 Large Shallot- sliced into thin rings
  • 1/4 Cup Flour
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

Begin by preparing the fired shallots. Put slice shallots in a bowl of cold water. In a small- medium sized saucepan, heat about 1 1/1 cup of vegetable Oil (you want about 1 1/2 – 2 inches of oil in the bottom of the pan). Heat oil to a temperature of 350 degrees. Put flour in a bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Dredge shallot rings in flour. When oil reaches 350 degrees, fry shallot rings ( a few at a time) until crispy and golden brown. Transfer fried shallots to a piece of paper towel to drain.

 

 

Next, prepare the polenta. In a medium saucepan, bring milk and water to a low boil (a hard boil will scald the milk). Add the polenta and stir constantly to make sure no lumps forms. Once polenta starts to thicken a bit (5 minutes or so), you don’t have to be as constant with the stirring, and you can begin preparing some of the other components. The polenta will take anywhere from 20-35 minutes to really thicken; just be sure to stir it every couple of minutes to keep from clumping.

 

 

In a medium sized saute pan, heat 2-3 TBS. Olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until garlic just begins to brown. Add orange juice and bring to a boil, reduce to a steady simmer to reduce (go back and tend to polenta for a bit).

In the meantime, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place asparagus and tomatoes on a plate or shallow bowl and coat in olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer asparagus to a baking sheet or dish and set aside (go back and tend to the polenta for a bit).

Add scallops to the boiling sauce which should have reduced a little. Cook the scallops in the liquid for about 3-5 minutes (depending on size of scallops). Remove scallops from liquid and set aside. Continue cooking sauce for another 5 minutes or so until reduced by another 50 percent (go back to tend to the polenta for a bit).

Put the asparagus in preheated oven and cook for about 8-10 minutes until asparagus is just browned, but not mushy. Add tomatoes to baking tray and cook for another minute until tomatoes are just softened.

In a small saute pan, cook sausage (breaking it up into small crumbles) thoroughly.

At this point, the polenta should be thickened, (but not dry and stiff). If not, continue cooking. When polenta is thickened, add mascarpone cheese to polenta, cover and remove from heat.

Pour all of the scallop cooking liquid  into a bowl or ramekin and set aside. Turn the heat to high, return the scallops to the pan and sear until browned, turning once to sear both sides. Once scallops are seared, return reduced cooking liquid (sauce) to pan.

Assembling the dish: Add a scoop of polenta to the center of each plate (or shallow bowl). Add 3-4 scallops on top of scallops. Add a small smattering of sausage crumbles, arrange the asparagus and tomatoes around the polenta. Drizzle additional sauce over scallops and top with a few crispy shallot ring.

Dinner in the Garden

Dinner in the Garden

I could hardly believe that Summer Solstice had come and gone and we had yet to have dinner in the garden. Bryan and enjoy our postage stamp back yard; it’s like having a couple of extra rooms in the summer time. We did some renovating this year, so it seems that we’ve been busy working in the yard, but not enjoying it as much as we usually do. Bryan ran a direct gas line out to the garage and to his new grill/smoker (a Father’s Day gift), so he had to tear up the patio a bit. It worked out well, however, because he was able to address some low spots when he put it back together. We want to tile the back porch, so rather than refresh the black paint this year, we decided to strip it and live with an ugly floor until we could get to the tile. Bryan re-stained the patio furniture, and we had new cushions made. Another major decision was to put up the driveway gate (which I took down when I moved in, but saved). Bryan “MacGyvered” the gate so that it would attach to our new cedar fence (where we grow our lettuce). The importance of this is that we can let the dog out to join us in the yard. With all of our herbs and vegetables, I hadn’t really wanted Humphrey outside, but without the hunter cat, we’ve acquired a parsley and bean loving bunny. Being a Bassett/Beagle mix, Humphrey is, hopefully, the perfect bunny deterrent. Turns out he’s great in the yard – he stays out of the gardens and abstains from peeing on the herbs and vegetables. He has, however, taken a liking to eating our wild onions – we can live with that.

Humphrey enjoys his new “gated community”

So, we enjoyed a meal of Pan Seared Pork Medallions with a Red Currant Glaze and Fried Sage Leaves, Wild Rice with Mushrooms and Green Onions, Sauteed red Swiss chard, and grilled Ciabatta bread. I will post recipes for all later in the week. We enjoyed one of my favorite bottles of wine entitled “Sofa King Bueno” from an obscure, but fantastic winery named Chronic Cellars. The lightning bugs were out in full force, but the mosquitos were not, the sound of the fishpond waterfall served as nice backdrop, and Etta James was playing on the outdoor speakers. We enjoyed the last of our wine on the porch, and I was sorry to have to have to return to the indoors.

The Outdoor Porch

Biscuits and Gravy

Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage and Mushroom Gravy

So, I’m back on that comfort food trend. Honestly, I think I’m attracted to cooking dishes that I don’t particularly like, but other people do. Bryan loves biscuits, in general, but really loves biscuits and gravy. He’s ordered it at some of our local breakfast joints, and I always have a bite, but am never convinced that the taste outweighs the calorie/fat factor. I was at a friend’s cottage earlier in the week and had brought several pounds of our good bulk breakfast sausage that we buy from John Henry meats at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. The kids weren’t the biggest fans of the sausage patties (which I dried out a bit because I cooked them in the oven so as to not make a mess), so I thought maybe I’d try my hand at sausage gravy. We also had a lot of mushrooms which needed to get used, so I thought I could make sausage, mushroom gravy. I asked Bryan’s brother if he would eat biscuits and sausage gravy (since Bryan wasn’t there), and he was agreeable. I checked out a lot of recipes online, and the main ingredients and measurements were all pretty standard, but I figured I could make a few modifications to suit my palate, without making it “fancy” and losing the comfort food effect. I didn’t have my buttermilk biscuit recipe with me, and we didn’t have buttermilk, so I just used a biscuit recipe I found online. Well, the biscuits were a disaster, but the sausage gravy was a keeper (we ended up making a package of crescent rolls in place of the rock hard biscuits). Of course, after hearing that I made biscuits and gravy for his brother, Bryan was insistent that I do the same for him – this time, however, my biscuits worked out just as Bryan likes them. While this is certainly not going to be a regular breakfast option for us, it’s not as calorie/fat laden as I would have imagined.

Buttermilk Biscuits (4 Large Biscuits)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 TBS. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 6 TBS. Unsalted Butter (Cold)
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor (or large bowl) combine dry ingredients. Cut butter into small (1/2 inch) pieces and add to dry ingredients. If using a food processor (recommended) pulse until butter is incorporated (pulse a few times, only a few seconds at a time). If not using a food processor, use a pastry cutter, a fork, or your hands to incorporate butter. Add buttermilk in about 1/3 cup at a time, mixing in between, but do NOT overmix. Transfer dough to a well floured surface and knead (as little as possible) until dough forms a ball. You can use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a 1″ disc, but I often just pat it down with my hands (again, the key to flaky biscuits is to not overwork the dough). Use a biscuit cutter, the rim of a glass, or just a knife to cut out four round biscuits. You can reassemble the remaining dough, but, again, the more you work the dough, the less flaky your biscuits will be. Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet or 8″ round cake pan. For softer biscuits, place the biscuits so they are touching each other. For crispier biscuits, place biscuits farther apart. Cook for 12-15 minutes until tops are browned. If you want extra browned tops, you can brush the tops with milk before baking.

Savory Sausage and Mushroom Gravy

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 LB. Breakfast Sausage (Bulk or Loose)
  • 6-8 Oz. (2-2 1/2 Cups) Mushrooms – Coarsely Chopped*
  • 1/2 Cup Sweet (or white) Onion – Finely Chopped
  • 1/4 cup Flour
  • 3 Cups of Milk
  • 1/2 tsp. Fresh (or 1/4 tsp. dried) Thyme -Finely Chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. Fresh (or 1/8 tsp. dried) Rosemary- Finely Chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. Fresh (or 1/4 tsp. dried) Savory – Finely Chopped**
  • 1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes (optional)***
  • Salt and Pepper- to taste

* I used regular white/button mushrooms, but use your favorite mushrooms, I think porcinis, baby bellas, shitakes, or even (my favorite) morels.

** If you don’t have savory, or one of the other herbs, use a combination that equals about 1 1/4 tsp. total.

***I think the red pepper flakes add the perfect amount of heat, but some sausages come flavored with a little bit of spice, so use your judgement.

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a large saute pan, cook sausage over medium heat (breaking it up while it cooks). When sausage is thoroughly cooked, drain off excess fat/liquid (leaving about 1-2 TBS. in pan. Add butter, onions, mushrooms, herbs and red pepper flakes (if using) and cook until onion is translucent and mushrooms are soft. Add flour, (a couple TBS. at a time, so the flour doesn’t clump) stirring until flour is incorporated. Cook until flour is browned – the only way to tell if it’s browned is by the browned bits on the bottom of the pan- about 7-9 minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk to pan and as it heats, be sure to scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium low (a little more than a simmer, but not a boil) until the mixture is thickened – about another 7-9 minutes- stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper and serve over a biscuit slice in half.

Hot Dogs (Hers and His)

His and Hers Hot Dogs

As a native Chicagoan, I have very clear ideas about the “proper” hot dog.  In fact, an entire cookbook has been dedicated to the art of the hot dog, and the name is “Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog.” So, you can imagine the angst when Girl from Chicago meets Boy from Detroit (home of the “Coney” – which is just an excuse to smother a hot dog in a bunch of stuff which, in a Chicagoan’s eyes, doesn’t belong on a hot dog). So, needless to say, when we have hot dogs for dinner, we “agree to disagree.” The most challenging aspect of building the “Chicago Dog” is finding Poppy seed buns (I have yet to be able to find them in Detroit), bright green sweet relish (a necessity which I managed to smuggle past the TSA last time I flew back from Chicago – but I have seen it locally), and what are called “sport peppers” (very small hot peppers) – I substitute a spicy dill pickle and manage to get two ingredients in one. The Chicago Dogs are boiled and served on steamed buns; the Detroit Dogs are barbequed and served on toasted buns ( with, yes, don’t get me started, melted cheese).

If any of you have thoughts about which hot dog looks (appears to, or  tastes) better, please comment– (you may disappoint a certain Chicagoan, or Detroiter, but we’ve reached an impasse, and , yes, there’s pride riding on this one).

INGREDIENTS:

For the “Chicago Dogs”

  • 2 Vienna Style (or All Beef) Hot Dog
  • 2 Hot Dog Bun (Ideally with Poppy Seeds, but these are hard to find)
  • 3 Grape Tomatoes (cut into 1/4)
  • 2 tsp. Chopped Sweet (White) Onion
  • 2 1/4  sliced Dill Pickle Spears*
  • 4 Sport Peppers
  • 2 tsp. Sweet (Bright Green) Relish (or substitute regular sweet relish)
  • Mustard (the regular yellow kind)
  • Celery Salt

* We have a local pickle company McClure’s http://www.mcclurespickles.com/products/which makes spicy pickles, so I use a spicy pickle in place of a pickle plus sport peppers.

INSTRUCTIONS:

Fill a medium saucepan about 3/4 full of water and bring to a boil; add hot dog. Cook hotdog until heated through (about 4 minutes). Place a grated cooling rack over the saucepan and lay hot dog bun on top to “steam.” Flip bun to steam other side. After bun is steamed, and hot dog is cooked through, add the other ingredients, beginning with the mustard and relish,finishing with chopped onion; add pickle, sport peppers,and tomatoes. Sprinkle with celery salt.

Chicago Dogs with French Fries

INGREDIENTS:

For the “Detroit Style (though not Coney) Dogs”

  • 2 Vienna Style (or All Beef) Hot Dogs
  • 2 Hot Dog Buns
  • 1 Slice of American Cheese
  • 2 tsp. Chopped Onion
  • Ketchup

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat a grill to medium. Add hot dogs and cook until just browned and cooked thoroughly (about 4 minutes- flipping once). Just before the hot dogs are cooked, add the buns to the grill to toast lightly. Add cheese to hot dogs and allow to melt. Remove hot dogs and buns from grill, add ketchup and chopped onion and serve.

Easy Cheesey Eggs

Easy Cheesey Eggs (shown with avocado garnish and a side of crispy bacon)

My Lizzie has been down twice this year with pneumonia. The poor girl just wanted to sleep and had no interest in food. One day she finally woke up and said she was hungry; I was thrilled. She’s not a big fan of scrambled eggs (and even goes through periods where she “hates eggs”), but she loves omelets. I wasn’t quite in the mood for fussing over an omelet, so I decided I would just dress up some eggs for her. I added chopped chives to my scrambled egg mixture, melted Mexican cheese over the top of the eggs, and served them with a few slices of avocado. The result: she asked for the same exact thing the next morning…quote: “you do have avocado don’t you?”. I made her crispy well done bacon (not my norm, but she likes her bacon nearly burnt) as a side. I thought salsa and sour cream would be a great additional accompaniment, but she wasn’t interested – maybe I’ll convince her (or someone else), at a later date. So, here’s the simple version.  This is for a single serving, but allow about one and a half to two eggs per person and adjust the cheese so that you have good coverage over your eggs.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 TBS. Milk
  • 2 TBS. Chopped Fresh Chives (or substitute green onions – green parts only)
  • 1 TBS. Butter (or substitute Olive Oil)
  • 1/4 (or a little less) Grated Cheese (I used a cheddar and monterey jack mix – pre-packaged)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • 1/4 Haas Avocado- sliced (use a garnish)
  • 3 TBS. Salsa (use as a garnish)
  • 3 TBS. Sour Cream (use as a garnish)

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a small non-stick saute pan, melt butter (or heat olive oil) over medium heat. In the meantime, combine eggs, milk and chives and beat until well combined. Add eggs to saute pan and, stirring constantly, cook until loose but not entirely cooked. Mound eggs in center of pan and cover with cheese. Place a lid over pan to allow cheese to melt; cook, covered, checking occasionally, until cheese is melted. Remove from pan and serve immediately with chosen garnishes.

Homemade Bloody Mary Mix

Classic Bloody Mary

Without going into a lot of detail, let me just say that I was forced into making my own Bloody Mary mix, and I am all the happier for it. I used Clamato juice (again, long story not worthy of repetition), but I think I would prefer this made with V-8 juice. Let me say, however, that the Clamato juice has no “clammy” taste whatsoever, but it is a significantly thinner product than V-8. But let’s be honest, it’s the accoutrements that make it all worthwhile. I served my Bloody Mary in a simple fashion with just a celery salted rim and a celery stalk, but that was merely because I didn’t have the other good stuff to add…olives, pickle spear, or whatever else you fancy. This mix is not super spicy, but I would have made it so had I thought that people other than me and my Bloody Mary teacher friend would have liked it. So, if you’re like me, add to the heat by adding additional hot sauce (I recommend a green chili sauce if you want a really fiery taste). Horseradish is a key component; and while it adds to the heat, it also adds a lot of horseradish flavor that may be overpowering, so use that to your liking.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 64 Oz. Clamato or V-8 Juice
  • 1/2 tsp. Citrus Salt (or substitute regular salt)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. Celery Seed
  • 1/2 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper (red chili flakes)
  • 1/2- 1 tsp. Fresh Ground Pepper
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 TBS. Hot Sauce (your favorite, or whatever you have in the refrigerator)
  • 1 TBS. Horseradish

FOR GARNISH (all optional):

  • 1 Lemon (for juice)
  • 1 TBS. Celery salt
  • Celery
  • Green Olives
  • Pickle Spear

INSTRUCTIONS:

Combine all ingredients in a blender or large pitcher. Pour celery salt onto a saucer or shallow rimmed bowl. To make Bloody Mary’s: Use lemon to coat the top edges of glass and then twist around in celery salt.  Add ice, 1 shot of vodka (use Pepper Vodka for added spice) and Bloody Mary mix to the salted glass. Garnish and enjoy.

This Year’s Garden

Summer 2012

As summer heats up, I’ve fallen behind on my food blogging; so I thought I would share with you why… the garden. Bryan, the kids, the dog, and I occupy a small, but what I like to think of as quaint, home on a postage stamp sized lot in a suburban community of Detroit Michigan which I often refer to as “Mayberry.” We’ve worked hard to try to transform what was once a somewhat barren (other than being ridden with lemon balm and mint) yard. When I moved to the house (pre-Bryan), the back porch was enclosed with aluminum walls and outdated windows. The floor was painted an obnoxious bright blue (they missed the mark if they were going for the U. of M. look). At first I thought it would be a good game room for the kids and me, but as summer approached, it occurred to me that the space would better serve as an outdoor living room. I had the walls and windows torn down, painted the floor black (which we recently stripped, as we are getting ready to tile it), added a rug, patio furniture and LOTS of planters. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with a home renovation decision. I sewed some side curtains to make the covered area seem more enclosed and room-like, and I hung a bamboo curtain over the expansive brick wall which, unfortunately, had been painted white.  The key to the charm of the patio, however, was the potted flowers. Annually I make the trek to my favorite greenhouse http://www.tellys.com/ and fill two full sized carts with a random assortment of flowers. I start with no plan, but just start trying to mix and match colors, shapes, and growth patterns.

A random collection soon to be “organized”

Over the years, I have come to rely on a couple of favorites which include any combination of blue with orange, pink with yellow and deep purple, a variety of coleus, trailers in a variety of colors ranging from grey to chartreuse, and I always buy a decorative clover (sometimes purple, sometimes green) for good luck. For my window boxes (both in front and a few in the back), I try to be a little more symmetrical and balanced, but I love the whimsical feel of the potters on the back porch.More Porch Potters

Climbing Beans in Potters against Garage

As a cook, and daughter of a past regional president of the Herb Society of America, it was imperative that I have an herb garden. After pulling most of the invasive lemon balm and mint (I will never grow either except in a pot), I tore up a patch of grass right in the center of my tiny yard and started an herb garden. I have quite a few perennials including sage, oregano, two varieties of creeping thyme, tarragon, lavender, chives, and my beloved sorrel. Every year I add such standard annuals as parsley (flat and curly), dill, cilantro, rosemary (for a few years my rosemary survived the winter), fennel, and, of course, basil. So, it’s the basil where things started to get a little out of control.  This year, we “cut back” a bit on the number of basil plants and varieties. We currently have 9 basil plants which include six varieties.

A few of our potted basil plants

Quite honestly, the only reason we cut back is that we couldn’t find our lemon and lime basil varieties – but the season is young, so we very well may end up with even more. Because we have such limited ground space, we grow most of our basil in pots, and it does just fine. This year’s basil varieties include:

  • Genovese Basil (Sweet Basil) – sweet, peppery flavor; excellent for pesto, Caprese salad and with almost any type of pasta.
  • Thai Basil (Holy Basil) – peppery, licorice type flavor; excellent in any Thai or Vietnamese dish – it just smells like Thai food.
  • Opal Basil (Purple Basil) – a strong basil flavor, excellent if you want color or used in flavored oils or in homemade vinagrettes.
  • Lettuce Leaf Basil – smells and tastes like sweet basil, it just looks a little different, which I think is cool
  • Pesto Basil – varigated small leafed basil, smells and tastes like pesto, as if the garlic is built right into the basil. I use it in place of pesto.
  • Spicy, Spray Globe Basil – small leafed, globe shaped plant with a spicy flavor. Excellent just added as a flavorful garnish to any dish which contains or beckons for basil flavor.

Here are a couple of links for websites which have more information about basil varieties:

http://www.basilbasics.com/basil-plants.html

http://www.herbcompanion.com/gardening/basil-varieties-a-cooks-guide-to-uncommon-basils.aspx

http://backyardpatch.blogspot.com/2011/06/holy-basil-herb-of-week.html

If you are going to have a basil obsession, why not have a tomato obsession – after all, what pairs better than tomatoes and basil? Bryan is really the tomato guy in the family. The first year that we planted multiple varieties of tomatoes, mostly heirlooms, he did a ton of research on caring for tomatoes. What he learned…tomatoes like to be touched and (I think this was just his own addition), talked to. After a long day managing laborers on commercial construction sites, Bryan enjoys time bonding with his tomatoes. I don’t complain because it means that he handles most of the evening watering. We grow a few tomatoes in the herb plot, but we grow the majority in pots which we scatter around the patio and other parts of the yard. This year we pulled out the day lillies which grew along the patio to make room for more tomatoes.

This year’s new tomato patch

This year’s tomato varieties include:

  • Black Krim (Heirloom) – cherry style, deep purple in color, sweet in flavor
  • Juliet- mini Roma style tomatoes, excellent flavor cooked or raw
  • New Yorker- one of the earliest emerging varieties, very hardy
  • Sunsugar – medium sized cherry style, orange in color, very sweet
  • Ponderosa Pink- Huge (up to 2 lbs) meaty tomato, excellent for eating or canning
  • Black Prince- described as rich and juicy. Excellent served raw
  • Bloody Butcher – early producing, 5-9 medium sized tomatoes per cluster
  • Green Zebra- chartreuse and green striped, sweet flavor with a bit of a bite
  • Rutgers-originally grown commercially, well known for smooth skin that doesn’t crack – reliable traditional tomato flavor
  • Watermelon Beefsteak – slightly scalloped shape, excellent flavor with just the right amount on acidity
  • Chocolate Cherry – sweet delicious complex flavor, can be picked and ripened indoors
  • Sugar Snacks – bite size super sweet tomatoes, grows in clusters

We purchase our heirlooms at our local farmer’s market, but there are plenty of companies which sell seeds on-line. Because our growing season is short here in Michigan, and I don’t have a good indoor starter space, we always buy plants.

I’ve always loved fresh cut greens (lettuce varieties), but they require quite a bit of room and are always susceptible to be raided by critters. In fact, since my cat (the world’s greatest hunter) died, my parsley and beans have been ravaged by a bold little bunny who I’m soon to introduce to my bunny hunting hound dog Humphrey. So, I decided I would try to grow lettuce in pots, more specifically, window boxes. Bryan built me a shelf along the fence between the neighbor’s yard, and we line it with window boxes filled with lettuce. It is pretty much bunny resistant, and, since lettuce needs constant harvesting, it allows us to share the bounty with our neighbors. Whether making a salad or just topping a burger or sandwich with lettuce, I just go out to the fence and cut the lettuce.Lettuce on the fence

We grow several varieties of lettuce including:

  • Arugula (my favorite)- peppery flavor excellent in salads, pasta and with beef carpaccio
  • Red Boston Lettuce
  • Boston Lettuce
  • Green Leaf Lettuce
  • Red Leaf Lettuce
  • Bibb- Butterhead
  • Bibb- varigated

A couple of tricks to keeping your lettuce going throughout the season: clip it often (you can store it in the fridge in a damp paper towel in a baggie), don’t let it flower – if it does, remove all flowers (seeds), and don’t overwater it.

Green Leaf Lettuce

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff with Egg Noodles

I think that since the death of my Dad earlier this year, I’ve been drawn to comfort foods and recipes from my childhood. This very easy beef stroganoff recipe was a staple in our house growing up, and, quite frankly, I have yet to meet a man who, like my Dad, didn’t love it. My dear teacher friend and frequent dinner guest requests it, often for her special birthday dinner, or at times when she just needs some good food after a long week of lunches which include such oddities as “fish treasures.”  My mom used to try to add variety to this dish; sometimes she served it over rice, other times over egg noodles. Sometimes she even made it with ground beef, but, I have to say, I am partial to thinly sliced sirloin. I’ve never tried freezing this, but I’ve read that you can. However, it is delicious as a leftover; just store it in the refrigerator and reheat in the microwave and thin it with 1-2 TBS. of water if necessary (my mother used a double boiler back in the day before microwaves). This recipe serves 4 (you can increase quantities to ensure you have a couple of luncheon sized leftovers).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. Filet of Beef or good cut of Sirloin (sliced into thin strips)*
  • 1 Package Button (white) Mushrooms – sliced **
  • 2 TBS. Unsalted Butter
  • 2 TBS. Olive Oil
  • 2 TBS. Sweet Onion – minced
  • 1 Clove Garlic – minced
  • 1/4 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 16 Oz. Sour Cream (at room temperature)
  • 2-3 TBS. Corn Starch (as needed)
  • Salt and Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a non-reactive bowl, combine beef, olive oil, garlic, and a generous amount of salt and pepper and marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Remove meat from refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking to allow to come to room temperature. In a large saute pan, melt butter; add minced  onion and saute until translucent. Add marinated beef to pan and cook over medium heat until beef is just barely pink in the center. Drain off all but 1/8 cup of liquid. Add white wine and mushrooms to pan and cook until mushrooms are tender. Push meat and mushroom mixture to on side of pan, forcing liquid to the other side. One large spoonful at a time, add room temperature sour cream to liquid side of pan and whisk until creamy. Repeat until all sour cream has been incorporated. If sauce is too thin, spoon off a small amount and combine with a couple of Tablespoons of corn starch – add back to pan.  Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently so as to not allow sauce to separate. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice or noodles and garnish with chopped parsley.

*Put beef in the freezer for up to 1 hour before slicing and you will be able to slice the meat more thinly.  I don’t like really thin slices, but I also use really high grade meat. If you’re using a lower grade meat (tougher or with not much marbling), you can marinate for longer.As previously mentioned, you can substitute ground beef or ground sirloin.

** You can use a combination of mushrooms if you like. I’ve used criminis, shitakis, and protobellos (sliced small). If I’m using the button mushrooms, I buy them pre-sliced as a time saver.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

OK, so I have to admit, this photo is of reheated macaroni and cheese – the good news is that it reheats well. My son asked that I bring homemade mac and cheese to his end of the year lacrosse party. I showed up with two large dishes of homemade macaroni and cheese, and it seems it was a big hit. I have always thought that kids didn’t like homemade mac and cheese (damn Kraft), but maybe their taste buds change when they mature (like 7th grade). I also had a couple of compliments from parents (thanks all!) and requests for the recipe. I promised to post to my blog, so here it is. My apologies that it is a week and a day late, but the end of the school year is always incredibly hectic for me. I also apologize that I didn’t photograph the mac and cheese in process – quite frankly, I wasn’t planning on posting it on the blog. Regardless, the dish is super easy and quick to put together, so you all probably don’t need a lot of pictures of boiled macaroni and basic cheese sauce.

I first learned how to make macaroni and cheese from my (now former) second cousin Lydia Shire who is one of the top chefs in Boston and in the country. She served it at her mother’s memorial service gathering. She said the secret was to using as many different types of cheese as possible. So, it worked out well that when I made this batch of mac and cheese I had leftover cheese from the day before when I provided the cheese platter for the LAX Jam. You can use any combination of cheeses – combine pungent with mild and well melting cheeses. *The recipe below is a standby, but it is meant to be adapted based on the type of cheese you have, or like; just use the overall measurements as a guideline. The mascarpone, in my opinion, is a really nice addition that adds to the creaminess of the finished dish. You could probably substitute cream cheese, but I haven’t tried it. If you don’t have mascarpone, be sure to substitute an equally creamy cheese.

This recipe serves a crowd: 16-20, but can easily be cut in half to serve 6-8).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lbs. Elbow Macaroni
  • 6 Cups of Grated “Triple Cheddar Cheese” (sold packaged) or any combination of mild and sharp cheddar
  • 2 Cups Grated Colby/Jack Cheese (sold packaged)
  • 1/4- 1/2 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese
  • 6-8 Oz. Mascarpone Cheese
  • 8 TBS. (1 stick) Unsalted Butter
  • 8 Cups of Milk
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1.5 TBS. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Pepper (white pepper is preferable)
  • 1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 Degrees.  Cook macaroni 2-3 minutes less than directed on box (al dente). Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Set cooked macaroni aside. Coat a casserole dish or baking dish (es) with butter or butter spray and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat milk over medium heat. Heat until just below boiling (do not scald), and keep warm over medium heat.

Melt butter in a large saucepan. When butter bubbles, add flour and cook, whisking constantly, for at least two minutes.

While whisking, slowly add hot milk to the butter/flour mixture. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes thick and bubbly.

Remove the mixture from heat and add all cheeses, salt, and peppers. Add cooked macaroni to cheese mixture and combine thoroughly. Pour into prepared casserole dish/es.  Add additional shredded cheese if desired. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown on top.