Monday, October 18, 2010

For dinner tonight: saffron infused scallops over a bed of basil pearl pasta with roasted asparagus

I was pleasantly pleased with the outcome of tonight's dinner, as spontaneous as it occurred. However, the cooking process was quite an adventure. 

Around 4:45 p.m., I decided I had better eat something substantial of sorts since I ran quite a bit today. Instinctively, I reach for some sort of pasta. Next came the search for a protein, and taking inventory of which wines I had in the apartment, I decided to try something new with scallops. I knew I wanted to use some basil from my little herb garden before it all dies with the frost, so giving the scallops a little color was my concern. I wasn't exactly sure how I wanted to do this, so I first pull out my grill pan. Then I remembered I picked up some saffron last week I hadn't used in anything yet, and coincidentally, I have never cooked anything with both saffron and scallops in one meal. 

So it was decided. I was going to [try] to grill the scallops after they had been infused with saffron a bit. I'm not completely sure if I didn't use enough olive oil or if I used entirely too much...but the grill pan was a fiasco. I had to toss the first few scallops (sinful, I know!) but they were not edible. Embarrassed as I am to say it, I had the heat way too high for scallops and they cooked extremely fast, on the outside only. I've grilled scallops before, so I know better. I'm not sure which variable I changed. But half the fun of cooking is trying things, ruining things, learning from your mistakes to then make something fantastic, right?

As the pearl pasta is nearing its perfect al dente state, I realize I should also have some fiber. A touch of green makes every plate beautiful. Luckily, I had some asparagus in the veggie drawer. I love roasting asparagus in the oven on a sheet tray with just some olive oil, salt and pepper for 8 minutes on 400 degrees. I often prefer to enjoy vegetables either grilled or roasted with little-to-no seasoning. Salt and pepper with a little olive oil is all you need--if you need oil at all.

When I woke up this morning I didn't plan to have a dinner as such, which is funny. Sometimes you can plan out your day with specific meals and such, and sometimes it will happen and other times it won't. While on other days, you literally won't plan a thing and a dinner will come together beautifully without a special trip to the grocery. Love it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Creamy Black Bean & Corn Soup

I decided to make something a little festive for the Steelers-Titans game today for the family: Creamy Black Bean & Corn Soup. Yes, in support for Pittsburgh. I was definitely in the mood for soup and black and gold ingredients?! It seemed like a win-win decision. However, I have never made such a creamy bean-based soup before, so it was a bit of an adventure in the kitchen. I knew it would work theoretically, but I sure made my grandmother go in a tizzy in her kitchen cooking without a recipe!

First, I decided to heat up some minced garlic and extra virgin olive oil in the soup pot. Meanwhile, I grabbed a food processor and blended 16 oz of rinsed and drained black beans, a handful of fresh parsley leaves (from my little herb garden! yay!) and 1/2 cup of sour cream (and you can use low fat if you'd like, I did and it worked fine). You don't want this mixture to be incredibly soupy, just enough that it's cohesive like a dip.

Mix in the black bean dip substance from the food processor into the soup pot with the garlic and olive oil. Then, add another 16 oz. of drained black beans and 16 oz. of drained corn (you can also get a can of the Southwestern corn which often comes with peppers and onions) into the soup pot and stir together. 

The next step is optional, but I chose to do it to make the soup a little thicker and cohesive. Get an immersion blender and blend the soup for 30-60 seconds, depending on how mushy you want your ingredients. You can use this blending method with any kind of soup with any ingredients, which is nice and it really helps everything come together. 

Serve hot with your choice of toasted bread! Go Steelers!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not Yo Momma's Banana Pudding

Growing up a southern girl, pudding is often on the dessert buffet at family gatherings. My eyes always light up when I find it is of the banana variety. So what is it about this very simple dessert that satisfies my belly and makes me smile? Maybe it's slices of fresh bananas. Anything with fresh fruit is yummy, in my opinion.

In honor of a favorite dessert of mine, I began searching for a new recipe that really revamps the pleasure of enjoying banana pudding. I was not surprised to find that my favorite recipe was from Paula Deen. This woman knows how to make any southern favorite EVEN BETTER and of course, more unhealthy! But everyone needs to splurge every now and then, right? :)

1   12-ounce container frozen whipped topping thawed, or equal amount sweetened whip
1   14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1   8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cup milk
1   5-ounce box instant French vanilla pudding
6-8   bananas, sliced
2   bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies

Line the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch dish [I used a triffle dish] with 1 bag of cookies and layer bananas on top. In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a hand-held electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Servings: 12 servings
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: none!
Difficulty: Easy
Show: Paula's Home Cooking/Just Desserts cookbook/Mar/Apr 2006 issue

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What to do with eggplant

To many people, eggplant is a vegetable that seems to come from an uncharted planet from a far universe. Because of this mentality, it is often over-looked in the grocery, under-used in recipes and forgotten in the culinary scheme of things. I think that it's a travesty to degrade eggplant to such a level and therefore dedicate this blogpost to all things eggplant. If you were once an individual known for shying away from the vegetable, I hope this will give you some much-needed courage! 

First of all, at least for us East-Tennesseans, eggplant is at its peak during the late summer weeks. Yes, I am hinting at is the perfect time to explore eggplant recipes! Many chefs from the Italian or French culinary paradigms will say that eggplant needs to be fried in a lot/not a lot of oil or that it is often bitter/not bitter. I say let's all just agree to disagree on the matter and get to experimenting in the kitchen. Like many ingredients, the more you familiarize yourself with it, the more you will learn tips and tricks that work best for you in your own kitchen. Until then, I will share with you some tips I have found help me. When I want to grill eggplant (which I do often, and highly suggest for various occasions) I typically will select smaller ones rather than the extremely large eggplants EXCEPT when I want to grill it for a panini or burger...then I select large ones. Anyway, my reasoning behind this is simple: smaller eggplants typically are more firm and tend to be about the same diameter from top to bottom (so your appetizers or whatever will be consistent in appearance). The larger eggplants tend to bow out wide near the bottom of the vegetable. But then again, I am picky, so all this may not matter to you! To each their own, right?

One more tip from myself: when you cut into an eggplant, don't freak out about the small brown spots/seeds. They're supposed to be there. I'm going to tell on my ignorance a bit, but the first time I used eggplant my sophomore year of college I was unaware of this tiny little trait and thought I picked a bad one and tossed it in the garbage! I know. What a waste. Live and learn, and that I did.

Here is an easy appetizer for a gathering where eggplant is the star:
How to make this: slice eggplant 1/4 inch thick. Salt and pepper to taste and douse with a little extra virgin olive oil before grilling (outdoor grill or grill pan both work great). Cook time varies with a person's preference of how crunchy you want your veggie. I usually grill till I have some nice, pronounced grill marks (as pictured). Then slice some tomato (variety is up to your preference...all tomatoes are delish!) and top with your favorite cheese and herb. I chose fresh mozzarella and a sprig of sweet basil. Enjoy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Restaurant Reviews and Food Critics

Famous for his sarcasm and food knowledge, Anthony Bourdain discusses something a little close to home in this video : the fairness of restaurant reviews. 

In this video, Anthony Bourdain discusses the ethics of food critics in general. I found this one exceptionally intriguing, tho the video is a bit long. Enjoy! :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon

This has been a classic recipe for years, however, thanks to a certain movie this has become a very popular and almost cliche dish to an unfortunate extent. Nevertheless, it is delicious and I like to make it from time to time when I'm feeling nostalgic of one of America's greatest and most adorable celebrity chefs, Julia Child. 

I took a few pictures step-by-step as I made this, but I do want to provide you all with Julia's recipe word-for-word. So here it goes. And as Julia Child would say, "Bon Appetite!" 

Boeuf Bourguignon
recipe adapted from Julia Child
serves 6

6 ounces bacon
3 pounds lean stewing beef , cut into 2-inch cubes
1 cup baby carrots
1 sliced large onion
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. flour
3 cups full-bodied, young red wine , such as a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme
Crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 small white onions (white pearl onions)
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms , sautéed in butter
Chopped chives or parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Sauté the bacon in a dutch oven (no oil) over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. (The bacon will render and give off enough fat to cook with.) Remove the bacon from the pot and place in a bowl; set aside.

Dry the stewing beef in paper towels - it will not brown if it is damp. Add the beef, a few pieces at a time, to the dutch oven to cook in the rendered bacon fat. Sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Remove the beef from the pot and add it to the bacon in the bowl; set aside.

If the bacon fat has been absorbed by sauting the beef at this point, feel free to add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. In the pot, brown the carrots and onions.

Return the beef and bacon to the pot and toss with the salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the flour over the meat in the pot and toss everything in the pot to coat the beef lightly with the flour. On the stovetop, heat the pot for about 2-3 minutes to lightly cook off some of the flour.

To the pot, stir in the wine along with the stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the pot and set in lower third of preheated oven. Allow the pot to braise very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms:

For the onions - place the unpeeled white pearl onions in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring the saucepan up to a boil over the stovetop and allow the onions to boil for about 5-10 minutes. Remove the onions from the water and cool. Cut off the ends of each pearl onion and remove the outer layer of skin. Once all pearl onions are peeled, saute the pearl onions in a skillet with 2 tablespoons of butter. Allow the pearl onions to caramelize. Remove from the skillet and set them aside to cool.

For the mushrooms - add 2 tablespoons of butter to the same skillet used to prepare the onions. Saute the mushrooms in the butter until caramelized. Remove from the skillet and set them aside to cool.

After the meat has braised, remove and strain the beef and vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl; set aside. With the remaining sauce left in the pot, allow it to simmer. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down rapidly to reduce and thicken. If it's too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning.

At this point, return the beef and vegetables to the thickened sauce, along with the caramelized pearl onions and mushrooms. Gently heat everything over a medium low heat and then serve. Garnish with green chives or parsley.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 4th weekend: Smoked pork

Ladies and gentlemen, the main event! Well, for the most part. We pretty much pigged out the entire celebration, but here are some of my favorite items from our main buffet. 

First of all, let me explain that my grandfather is a master on the grill and smoker. Seriously. I would like to see a battle of the grill or something with him and Bobby Flay. I am that confident in him. And papaw is more variant in his flavors and doesn't hold true or fall back on southwestern flavors... Anywho, so of course papaw wants to showcase his ability and manliness with the grill and smoker. His latest masterpiece? Smoked pork. 

And we even ground some to mix with BBQ sauce and slop on a bun:

July 4th weekend: EASY red, white & blue cookies

This recipe can be mixed and matched with any flavor, and is a super easy and quick way to have some creative cookies. You start with a box of cake mix from the grocery store. Yes, any flavor works with this cooking baking method. In this case, I chose red velvet in honor of Independence Day. 

Next, you take the cake mix, 3 eggs and 1/3 Cup of oil (vegetable oil preferred) and mix in a bowl. After all the lumps are worked out into a smooth mixture, use a cookie scooper to place a ball about 2 inches from each other. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes. More if you like them crunchy and less if you like them gooey. 

Super easy, right? I can't tell you how many times I've had to make cookies last minute for something and used a cake mix as the cookie. Probably not what Martha Stewart does when she attends parties, but hey, I do what I can. 

I served these red velvet delights with some cream cheese icing sprinkled with some blue sugar. America, America! You've never tasted so good. 


Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4th weekend: Blueberry Granita Stuffed Strawberry

I am a faithful subscriber to Food Network Magazine, and as I was reading the current issue, I stumbled upon a recipe from a chef of a Miami hotel: Basil Granita in a Strawberry. Sounds tasty, and I thought it would be a nice snack to have poolside on a hot July day. However, I wanted something a little more patriotic. So I swapped the basil for blueberry, since I picked five pounds of blueberries at a local patch earlier this week. Though the recipe is simple, making these strawberries was quite an adventure...

First, I began with a variation of a simple syrup on the stove top. In a medium pot over medium-low heat, I combined 1 Cup of sugar, 2 Cups of water, 1 Cup of apple juice and 1 Cup of sparkling white wine. After bringing the syrup to a boil, I added it to the blender with 1 Cup of blueberries. It was at this point in my endeavor that I scoffed at the note in the magazine article saying to leave the lid off the blender...why on earth would someone blend something with the lid off? However, the pressure from the heated syrup causes the steam to rise, and well, explode if the lid is on. Resulting is a big, sticky mess. Believe me, I found out the hard way.

After cleaning every inch of my kitchen, I started the recipe from the beginning. After the syrup is blended with the blueberries, you can choose to strain the fruit skins from the juice, but I didn't. I wanted as much blue-ish color as I could get to attempt to be patriotic, though it all looked purple-ish anyway. At least I tried, right? 

Next is the easy part. Pour the juice in a 12 inch glass or metal baking dish and freeze for at least 3 hours. It is again here where I had some discrepancies with the magazine article. Food Network suggests that you take a fork and scrape every 20 minutes, however, I found that it took a bit longer for it to actually freeze with that method. Instead, leave it alone for a few hours then bring it out for the scraping. A fork does work well for scraping the granita into a slushie form. 

With the strawberries, I hollowed out each berry like the magazine said, but I also cut the bottom tip off each so they can stand up on their own. I found some rather large berries, so serving them upright seemed best. However, when we all started digging in, it really didn't matter. We didn't eat them all immediately, and I'm so glad we didn't! We tossed the platter, strawberry and granita both, into the freezer while we had a splash contest and such by the pool. When we brought them back out, they were even better as frozen strawberries too! We used them as ice cubes in our purple hooter shooters my aunt mixed. All in all, a fun day.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4th weekend: Cheese balls

If you know me at all, you know that I am a cheese fiend. I always have been, and I will forever be obsessed with cheeses. I feel that I am not alone in this though. Think about it. Every time you taste something that is so decadent and absolutely mouth-watering, and you ask, "what is in this?" the answer is often some sort of cheese. So what makes the perfect appetizer for large parties? Cheese balls. 

2 packs of low fat cream cheese
4 sprigs of green onion
6 slices of ham (deli ham works fine if you already have it in your refrigerator)
1 T of season salt
1/2 C crushed walnuts

-Place two packs of cream cheese in microwave for a minute to soften. Chop green onion and ham into fine pieces, then mix into cream cheese. Add season salt and mix. Form into a ball-ish shape and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours. I always leave it in overnight. After chilling, roll in chopped walnuts. Serve with your favorite crackers!

2 packs of low fat cream cheese
16 oz. crushed pineapples
1 C shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 C sliced almonds

-Place two packs of cream cheese in microwave for a minute to soften. Mix drained pineapple and shredded sharpe cheddar cheese. Refrigerate overnight. After chilling, roll in sliced almonds. Serve with your favorite crackers!

Getting creative with cheese balls is half the fun, as my family and I found out 4th of July weekend when my dad's family came in town from Pennsylvania. After devouring the first two cheese balls, we brainstormed a new cheese ball. (and made another green onion, ham and walnut ball!)

2 packs of cream cheese
1/2 C sliced banana peppers
1 T season salt
6 slices of bacon

-Fry bacon in oil on skillet. Dry and crumble into small pieces. Place two packs of cream cheese in microwave for a minute to soften. Mix in banana peppers and season salt. Refrigerate overnight. After chilling, roll in bacon crumbles. Serve with your favorite crackers! 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Moo Shu Pork

I often have a craving for oriental food. Maybe my dad is to thank for that, as he took our family out for sushi and stir-fry over the years. He works for a Japanese company and has traveled overseas several times over the years. I guess I never realized how much that affected what we eat--because when we splurge on a Saturday night, you won't find us at a steakhouse. You'll find us at happy hour sushi at our local hangout. Fun times. This recipe is a quick way to enjoy some Moo Shu pork without having to call for takeout (and its more healthy too). 

-3 T. hoisin sauce (plus more for serving)
-3 T. rice vinegar
-minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
-salt and pepper to taste
-1 3/4 lb. pork tenderloin trimmed and cut into strips
-2 T. vegetable oil
-8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
-1 14 oz. bag coleslaw mix
-1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
-12 Bibb lettuce leaves

1. Whisk the hoisin suace, vinegar, garlic and 1/2 t. each salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the pork and marinate 10 minutes. 
2. Heat 1 T. vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Remove the pork from the marinade using tongs (reserve the marinade) and stir-fry until browned, about 4 min. Transfer the pork to a plate. Add 3-4 T. water to the skillet, then pour the pan juices over the pork on the plate/ 3. Add the remaining 1 T. vegetable oil to the skillet. when hot, add the mushrooms and stir-fry until slightly golden, about 2 min. Add the coleslaw mix and cook until wilted, about 3 min. Add the pork, the reserved marinade and half of the scallions. Stir-fry 2 more min. Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with remaining scallions. Serve stir-fry in the lettuce leaves with more hoisin sauce. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scallops with Watercress Salad

Summer is the perfect time to mix your favorite seafood into a fresh salad. While I am a huge fan of ALL seafood, scallops continue to be at the top of my list of enjoyment. I'm sure this recipe will be a favorite of yours too, if you also crave creatures of the sea. 

-2 strips bacon
-2 bunches watercress (thick stems trimmed)
-2 Kirby cucumbers (cut into spears)
-2 handfuls of fresh spinach leaves (real technical measurements, I know)
-1 C. diced pears
-1/3 C instant flour
-salt and pepper, to taste
-3-4 T. extra virgin olive oil
-1 1/3 lbs. large sea scallops (about 16)
-juice of 1 lemon (zest too, if you'd like)
-1/3 C chopped fresh chives
-4 thick slices rustic bread (toasted)

1. Cook the bacon in a medium skillet until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain; reserve the skillet. 
2. Divide the watercress, spinach, cucumbers and pears among plates.
3. Season the flour with salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Discard all but 1 T. of the bacon drippings from the skillet, add 1 T. extra virgin olive oil and heat over medium heat. Working in batches, toss the scallops in the flour and cook until golden on the bottom, about 2 min. Turn and cook until golden brown on the other side, about 2 min. (Add 1 T. of extra virgin olive oil if necessary)
4. Arrange the scallops over the salads. Add the remaining 2 T. of extra virgin olive oil and the lemon juice (zest too if you want) to the skillet, then remove from the heat and add to 1-2 T. water, swirling the pan to release the browned bits. Crumble the bacon and add to the skillet along with the chives, and salt and pepper to taste; swirl to combine, then pour over salads. Serve with toasted bread.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Music pairings with recipes...yes, you read correctly ;)

So if you took my advice a few posts ago about watching season 6 of The Next Food Network Star, you already know the CD I am about to talk about because they've been advertising it like crazy during the show. Thanks to FYE, you can also be a proud (and embarrassed) owner of Get Ready: Next Food Network Star, Season 6 CD. So typical of the curious music and food lover that I am, I went and bought it. And to my surprise, it is a lot cooler than I expected. But keep in mind that I'm a big dork.

Music pairings with a recipe is a fantastic idea...we pair wine with food, why not music?! I had a lot of fun listening to this CD and reading their recipes. But I must say, some song choices I had to laugh'll see what I mean when you check it out.

Pick up the CD in the FYE store closest to you and get cooking these recipes...and don't forget to crank the tunes :)

Getting Saucy: Alfredo

I love to make my own sauces for several meals, but especially pastas. There's just some canny aftertaste or something of sauces you buy from the grocery store and let me break the news to you--you can make your own without the headache. 

Here's a recipe of Alfredo sauce my grandmother shared with me from one of her favorite cookbooks, "Cooking with Vestal and Friends." Who the heck is Vestal, you may be wondering? Vestal was a member of a gospel singing group my grandmother really enjoyed. She even managed to get all of her cookbooks of Vestal and Friends signed by Vestal herself! My grandmother always had a knack for meeting people and winning contests...maybe I get that from her :)

And for the recipe:

  1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  1 pint of heavy cream
  1/4 cup blue cheese
  1/2 stick butter
  dash of white pepper, to taste

  Melt butter, then melt blue cheese. Add heavy cream and white pepper. Let boil and then add Parmesan cheese. Pour over your favorite noodles...may I suggest some fettuccini :)

Triple-D with Mel B.

As of late, I have had horrid fits of insomnia. However, my absurd schedule has enabled me to watch a lot of late night Food Network. One of the shows that commonly airs late night is Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, hosted by a Next Food Network Star winner Guy Fieri. If you aren't familiar with this show, he travels around the country and visits restaurants to sample favorite items on the menu. He interviews the chef or owner as well as guests in the dinning room--who commonly say they tell anyone who visits ___(insert city name here)___ absolutely must eat here during their stay. 

So what does my post have to do with Diners, Drive-ins and Dives? Well, Alcoa, Tenn. has a restaurant I think should be featured on Fieri's show. The Hot Rod Diner is the most authentic 50s diner I have ever seen--from the hearty burgers, shakes and even ribbon fries. While the menu doesn't reflect items most would call "health foods," Hot Rod Diner is not your typical greasy spoon diner either. 

As soon as you walk in, you notice the fun atmosphere, complete with the perfect 50s nostalgia decor--from humorous tin signs on the wall to a pimped out arcade area. I was impressed that lil Alcoa, Tenn. has a place as neat as this--with good food.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Next Food Network Star season 6 is coming soon to a TV near you!

So it is a common fact (if you personally know me) that I am a bit obsessed with the Food Network, in a healthy way. However, what you may not know is my favorite show that appears on the network---The Next Food Network Star. This program airs each summer, and the 2-hour 6th season premier airs on June 6th at 9 p.m

While Food Network provides fans with a blog, video interviews and picture content on the show site, I'll provide you with commentary on the judges' and contestants' decisions and what not as the show progresses throughout the summer. My family and I really get involved with the show, so feel free to leave comments of commentary of your own!

I'm looking forward to the star-search this summer, and I hope you are too! Don't forget to tune in to Food Network Sunday, June 6th at 9 p.m. for the premier!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Here's how I started growing my herbs this spring

As the trees get new leaves in the spring, I take that as inspiration to spice up my recipes and such cooking techniques. In my previous blog entry I discussed general tips to begin herb growing, so in this entry I'm going to share how I started growing this season. 

Since I am in a new residence and with limited space of my own, I picked five herbs to plant in individual pots. While the exact specifications of the pots are up to personal preference, I chose ceramic pots with a ten inch diameter so the herbs could have room to grow well. If you know me personally, you will not be surprised to know that I painted the ceramic pots in quite lively colors: 

Now to the herbs that I chose. For me, it was simple. I chose the herbs that I use most often in my recipes. Sage, Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary and Basil. While I eventually want to grow more on a larger scale, this is very satisfying to take care of these so far this spring. 

The sage, thyme, rosemary and basil require full sun while the parsley requires part sun/shade. Because of this, they are placed on various sides of the house to accurately receive the correct amount of sunshine. I also water them twice a day, unless it happened to rain that day. These are considerations I and you must undergo if you take on herb growing as a hobby. Painless, I promise :)

Here are what my herbs looked like the day I planted the starter plants: 

While I'm only a few weeks into taking care of these herbs, they still have a lot of growing to do. I'll be sure to update the blog with any significant milestones of their herb lives haha!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to: begin growing your own herbs

As many a chef knows, a quick and easy way to liven up your cooking is to use fresh herbs.  However, in an economy like ours, it is expensive to buy fresh herbs in the super market when three ounces of thyme is seven dollars, for example.  What’s a solution? Here are fun solutions that keep the greens around—both in your garden and your wallets. 

The pasta is al dente, the sauce is piping hot and the plating process is almost complete.  As you have the fork in hand, you proudly look at your creation and scoff.  Something is missing.  You decide to shrug it off and take your first bite.  As you are chewing, you then realize there really is something missing.  But what did you forget?  You hastily check your recipe and you included everything, even salt and pepper.  However, you didn’t use a small but powerful ingredient—herbs. 

Many people don’t bother with buying fresh herbs each month for cooking at home, but it’s a common agreement among cooks that using fresh herbs can make the dullest of recipes pop with excitement.  Unfortunately, fresh herbs are more expensive in the super markets and dry herbs don't generally have the same purity of flavor as fresh herbs and they go stale quickly, according to  What’s a solution?  Growing your own herbs.  While this may be an intimidating project to begin, these simple tips will help even the greenest of thumbs successfully grow herbs.  

Placing your herbs 

A good place to begin is to decide where you want to plant your herbs. Take note of how much space you have to work with—if you are planting them in the ground of your yard or if you are going to plant them in a pot—these are major details that will determine which herbs you select and where you plant them in relation to each other. To make sure herb don’t grow into each other, allot at least 12-18 inches for each plot to give adequate spacing, according to an agricultural article published by West Virginia University. It is also necessary to plant annual and perennial herbs separately to keep your herb garden organized.   

Keep in mind you are not restricted to a pot or garden—you could have herbs growing in timpani drums in your back yard like Rob Clark, a high school administrator for Blount County Schools in Maryville, Tennessee who has grown herbs for several years.  “I have the biggest basil bushes I’ve ever had this year, solely because I took better care them.  You have to remember to snip the flowers off when they bloom in basil plants so all the nutrients can stay in the leaves rather the unnecessary flower,” Clark says. 

However, he learned most of his tips from a local greenhouse.  Stanley’s Greenhouse and Plant Farm is a family-owned business in the heart of Knoxville.  The employees there can tell you exactly which month to plant what herb, what side of your house to plant herbs on and even which will grow best in your region—literally anything you would need to know, according to Clark.  We were so curious, we went to Stanley’s ourselves to see what tips they had.  

“When placing your herbs, keep in mind that all herbs need at least 6 hours of sun a day.  Some are slightly different, but that’s a general rule for growing in this area,” Stanley’s employee of three years Beth Rue says.

Site and soil conditions

The next thing to consider when beginning an herb garden is the site and soil conditions.  If you decide to plant directly into the ground, consider drainage of the soil when it rains because no herb will grow in wet soils.   “Lavender trozence does well in this area, but it needs really good drainage.  It’s best to mend with sand,” Rue says.  

Also, decide early if you want your herbs to be more organic—this will determine if you buy a starter plant or the
box seeds and also what type of soil and fertilizer you use according to Clark. "I used Miracle Grow potting soil but have never sprayed any insecticides or fertilizer on them. It's just better for me to eat that way. The leaves aren't always the prettiest, but that's okay with me," Clark says.
Decide which herbs to plant

Next, decide what specific herbs meet your needs, such as culinary, aromatic, ornamental and medicinal—you can use herbs for more than cooking if you want.  However, most common herbs are culinary herbs:  thyme, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, basil, tarragon, sage, dill, mint and chives. Rosemary is a low-maintenance herb that does not require re-planting each year like the other herbs, which is a good herb to plant for beginning gardens.   

Keep in mind that mint will take over your pot or garden, so plant those separately from your other herbs, according to Rue. “You have to watch ground covers—they overtake everything. Herbs like thyme, oregano and winter savory, (which is a spicier thyme) are bad for taking over gardens,” Rue says.  

“I tried growing cilantro last year but it died quickly. The soil here in Tennessee doesn’t work very well,” says Clark.  Clark suggests researching the herbs you choose before planting them because some have more specific care instructions than others.  

“Perennials are easier and cheaper long term because you don’t have to worry about care during the winter,” Rue says. “I really think it is worth the extra money to get herbs like tarragon, basil and dill because they are great for cooking—and they’re perennials.”

 Indoor herb growing

If you don’t have a yard for an herb garden, a window works well too. Even if you live in a small rented space, some apartments have window seals that can make a home for a nice herb garden.  But if you prefer, you can grow herbs indoors for year around enjoyment.  Indoor herbs will need natural sunlight and well-drained soil—just as outdoor herbs—but you will want to choose a south or west window to get adequate sunlight for most herbs.  Keep in mind that perennial herbs grow better outdoors.  

“Keep in mind that with indoor growing, you need a lot of southern or western sun exposure. Grow lights or herb boxes are another easy option you can research,” Rue says. Grow lights are artificial lights designed for growing gardens inside that are widely available in retail stores, Rue explains. These grow lights are an appropriate alternative to natural light if you do not have a lot of space near a window. Even if you don’t have a window at all and plan to grow herbs in a basement room, for example, it would be possible with a grow light. Rue also says herb boxes are a similar concept, just specifically designed for herbs and is enclosed rather than open.  

Get growing

Herbs do not need a lot of water to prosper, so don’t drown them.  So essentially, they’re easier to take care of than a goldfish. “I love keeping up with my herbs and other plants around the house.  I don’t have a pet, so it keeps me busy.  I figured if I can consistently keep a plant alive I can work up to a dog,” Clark jokes.  After all, water and light are much easier to remember than water, food and vet visits.

If you're looking for a hobby, herb growing is a good one and it will keep extra cash in your wallet. Starter plants average five dollars a plant and if you take care of it, you could have a bush that would be the equivalent of forty dollars of herbs just with that one plant. Imagine how much money you could save if you grew several herbs. 

Final encouraging words to rejuvenate an old garden or if you are beginning a new one:  keep the basic rules of growing in mind for the most success with your project.  For you new gardeners, Rue leaves you with some advice as well: “I think that sage is your best bet for an herb if you have never grown before.  It’s an annual herb, it roots really well and it spreads further than most herbs.” Rue says. 

So here's your challenge: I want to encourage you to pick a culinary herb to be a nice addition to your garden, if you haven’t already planned to choose one.  Now you can cut down the grocery list of produce down a bit and have ingredients on hand for our recipe section.  If you are having trouble picking know which herb to grow first, choose rosemary (which is quite easy to grow in East Tennessee).  This savory herb has the perfect flavors for year around recipes, so pick up your starter plant now and get growing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mythbusters: "Bad things" are healthy now?

Well, not really healthy now; they have always been healthy. Your favorite "bad food" may not be so taboo in the realm of healthy living. Blame your mother for telling you the following are bad for you all those years. 

For more ways to splurge smartly, refer to Prevention. In the meantime, just remember that anything can be unhealthy if you eat too much of it, especially in one sitting. A trick to make sure you don't overeat (no matter what is for dinner) is to eat meals on smaller plates. Sometimes people get in the habit of filling their plate when it's actually way over the recommended serving. 

What brought on this post? Well, my dad has lost 18 pounds (and counting) just by watching what he eats, walking during lunch and hiking/biking with me on the weekends. Granted, he doesn't really eat beef at all anymore because of all the grease, but he'll splurge and eat a burger or something once a month. We have replaced ground beef with ground turkey in every applicable recipe. So far, without missing beef at all (except with chili. the texture was just not the same at all. we're still tweaking it).

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'll take some cheese with this wine

Wine pairing with antipasti parties and such gatherings is essential. So look at your menu and plan accordingly. A common accompaniment for wine are cheeses, but you have to match them up just right. Some wines are fruity or nutty, dry or fresh; cheeses can be bold or subtle, tangy or elegant. There's a lot to think about, but that doesn't mean pairing has to be stressful. These are just suggestions for basic cheeses:

50% reduced fat cheddar: half the fat, all the flavor in mild, easy melting cheddar. 
     white wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. (Tangym sippy flavors and aromas of grapefruit and honeydew melon.)
     red wine pairing: Dry Rose. (Semi dry pink wine with soft aromas of violets and subtle flavors of cherry and spice.)
     appetizer: put this wonderful cheese on a platter with summer sausage, crusty bread, fresh fruit and vegetables. Add a side of ranch or french onion for dipping and enjoy. 

Mild cheddar: subtle, refreshing flavor. 
     white wine pairing: Late Harvest Reisling. (Off dry medium bodied white wine with aromas of honeysuckle, apricot and flavors of soft peach and spice.)
     red wine pairing: Sangiovese. (Medium-bodied, dry red wine with soft flavors and aromas of vanilla and fresh cherries.)
      appetizer: shred a bar of mild cheddar and drape over a plate of crisp corn chips, top with sour cream, guacamole and black olives. 

Sharp cheddar: rich, rustic flavor.
     white wine pairing: White Bordeaux. (Crisp, smooth, medium bodied white blend of Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc with hints of melon and citrus.)
     red wine pairing: Zinfandel. (Bold, dry red with rich aromas and flavors of blackberries, vanilla, black pepper.)
     appetizer: A potato gratin is the perfect side dish for a turkey or ham. In a buttered casserole, arrange layers of peeled and sliced Yukon Gold potatoes, shredded sharp cheddar and creme fraiche (about 1 1/2 cups each of cheddar and creme fraiche for 3 pounds of potatoes.) Season with fresh chives, salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then 350 degrees Fahrenheit until potatoes are tender in the center. 

Extra Sharp Cheddar: elegant, rich, lush. 
     white wine pairing: White Rhone. (Silky, medium bodied blend of Marsanne/Rousanne/Viognier with spicy yet floral nose and rich lingering flavors of peach, nutmeg and tropical fruit. 
     red wine pairing: Red Rhone. (Dry, full flavored red blend of Syrah/Grenache features cassis, mulberry, spice.)
     appetizer: Fruit and cheese make an elegantly simple way to end a meal. Serve extra sharp cheese with seasonal fruits like red grapes and Seckel pears. Or top slices of buttery pound cake with oven-roasted pears and a spoonful of creme fraiche whipped with a little honey.

Seriously Sharp Cheddar: bold, pungent and memorable. 
     white wine pairing: Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine/Champagne (Rich, creamy, yeasty, full flavored Brut styles.) 
     red wine pairing: Petite Syrah. (Rich, dry, full-bodied red with hints of raspberry, blackberry, chocolate, toasted oak.)
     appetizer: Hearty roast beef sandwiches with thick slices of seriously sharp cheese. Top with horseradish sauce and serve on rye bread. 

Pepper Jack: spicy, tangy, fun.
     white wine pairing: Gewurztraminer. (Semi dry, fruity, light white with floral nose and touch of sweetness.)
     red wine pairing: Beaujolais. (Light bodied, fresh, fruity, tart red wine.)
     appetizer: Quesadillas. Shred pepper jack cheese and sprinkle on top of flour tortilla. Sprinkle layer of cooked shredded chicken or crab over cheese. Top with tortilla. Grill or pan cook until golden on both sides. Cut into wedges and serve with sour cream and chopped cilantro. 

These are just basic cheeses that most people have around the house, but there are hundreds of cheeses to choose from. For a quick reference, check out these sites: 
Wine and Cheese Pairing Guide 
Wisconsin-Pairing Guide
Oregon-Pairing Guide