24 June, 2011

The accidental garden

I've tried to grow a garden in previous years, but all I've really succeeded in growing was a giant weed patch. I'd forget to water the poor little pants until it was too dry, then I'd try to make up for it and water a lot, followed by me forgetting to pull weeds. I was NOT born with a green thumb! We've had a few tomatoes from our garden, but not much else. So this year I skipped the garden.

A few weeks ago, when my husband came home, he told me I had potatoes growing out there that would need to be dug up soon. Good to know. I thought it was all weeds out there! In fact, when my husband had mowed the yard several days before, I wondered why he hadn't mowed over a few of the weeds in the garden (turns out those "weeds" were the potatoes he was referring to). Last year I planted potatoes and never got around to digging them up. I had no idea they would grow again on their own.

Why are there less weeds in this garden now that it's not a "garden"?

Happy little potato plants, growing nicely without any help from the destructive "gardener."

A few days ago, I thought maybe it was time to dig up the little potatoes and see what grew out there.

The accidental potatoes

Not bad considering I didn't do any work for them! I think I'll cook them with butter and herbs. Or maybe put them in the crock pot with a nice roast. Now I'm hungry!

17 June, 2011

Husband Approved Super Supreme Veggie Pizza

Sometimes I like to make meat-free meals. Not that I don't like meat, I do. Really. But as an American (Midwesterner no less) I think I probably have more than my fare share of animals for meals. But some of my meatless endeavors have been met with less than enthusiastic responses from my rather carnivorous husband. So I wasn't completely certain how my veggie pizza idea was going to go.
I requested my husband's help in veggie chopping, since there were quite a few (OK fine, he chopped all the veggies while I mixed up the dough). I gave him a list of veggies that were living in the fridge and these are what he picked.

(Just so you know: this recipe is my version of my friend Tonya's "Prova i miei tre pizze !" (Try My 3 Pizzas) )

1/4 oz. package of Fleischman's Pizza Crust Yeast (follow the directions on the package. I'm terrible at bread/dough and this came out great!)

Bertolli Organic Olive Oil, Basil and Garlic (I used about 12 oz.)

1 red pepper
1 green pepper
Large can black olives (the can says drained weight 6 oz.)
Fresh white mushrooms (I honestly have no clue how many mushrooms he put on here. Around 4 oz.)
2 Roma tomatoes

4 cups of shredded mozzarella
2 cups of shredded cheddar (I did mention I like cheese right?)

Coarsely chop the veggies and mix together in a large bowl, then spread over the dough. Chop the tomatoes in large pieces and add on top.
Before the cheese was added.
Now, spread on the cheese and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes on 425.

I used my Pampered Chef pizza stone which is quite large and so the crust was very thin (but still good). I think next time I would not spread the dough so thin and add a lip around the crust since I now have sauce puddles in the bottom of the oven.

Oh yes, the best part of all? My husbands reaction. He loved it! He as already requested that I make it again.

10 June, 2011

Cheddar Biscuits

A few nights ago, while supper was cooking in the oven, I was watching Iron Chef America, "Battle Cheddar," yummmmm I love cheese! By the time this episode was over, I wanted just about every recipe they used, but one in particular made me dig through the cabinets. The challenging chef was making cheddar biscuits in small cast iron skillets. "Wow, those look fantastic! Great, now I'm gonna want cheddar biscuits all night." Oh, but wait! A few weeks ago I had picked up a package of buttermilk biscuit mix to make a similar recipe from my Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats book and never got around to making it. Rachael's recipe was for chorizo and cheddar biscuits, so I revamped it. OK, mostly I omitted the chorizo and added more cheese. 

7.5 oz. package of buttermilk biscuit mix (the kind you only add water, I used Bisquick Complete)

3/4 cup of shredded cheddar (I actually used Colby since I had some left from another recipe)

1/2 cup water
Follow the package directions for temperature and cooking time.
Makes 6 biscuits

These were great! If you've ever had Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits these are really similar.

And now, I must pass along a little tip I learned last week from my mother-in-law. She told me that her spices are arranged in alphabetical order. Well duh! Why on earth I had never thought of that is beyond me. I alphabetize everything! Seriously. Book/CD/DVD stores are jealous of my alphabetization (holy cow, I can't believe spell check says that's a word!) skills. I can NEVER find spices in there. I end up with several jars of one spice and run out of something I think I've got more of living in there somewhere. So I pulled all the spices off the shelf and reorganized. 


By the way, if anyone needs any nutmeg, garlic powder or thyme, let me know.

03 June, 2011


After last weeks Hot Cross Bun catastrophe, I decided we should have a little chat about a topic I'm actually familiar with: Tea! Funny thing is, until quite recently, I never liked tea. I thought it tasted like slightly flavored water and why would you drink that? (Especially when there was such tasty coffee to be had!) As it turns out, I didn't like tea because I was making it the way most Americans make tea: Put water in a mug, plop the mug in the microwave and heat for 30 or 60 or 90 seconds (or 3 minutes if you have our under-powered mini-microwave) until the water is somewhere around boiling, drop in a tea bag and leave it alone for a few minutes, squish the water out of the bag and call it good. If this works for you then fantastic! I know quite a few people who are perfectly happy with this type of tea. But, if you, like me, are unhappy with the world's simplest way of making tea; read on! 
(OK, before you actually read any further, you need to know that none of the companies listed below have paid me anything for posting their links. These really are the places I buy tea and tea accessories from. Now you may continue.)
First off, tea bags were invented as a way for tea companies to send samples to their customers and contain only the dust and broken pieces of full sized tea leaves. They were never intended for daily use, but, like most things that make life easier, they caught on. If you want the best flavor from your tea PLEASE use full leaf. It changed the way I feel about tea.

You'll need a kettle (either stove top or electric) Please don't use the microwave, you can be much more exact with the water temperature with a kettle. You could also use a small saucepan. I have a 1.5qt. saucepan with a pour spout that doubled as a kettle and teapot for several months.

(Mine is a hand-me-down from my Mom. I think it was given to my parents as a wedding present in the late 70's.)
Heat the water to the proper temperature for the type of tea you have chosen. White and green teas require cooler temps. or you will ruin the flavor, while black teas, herbal, mate and rooibos need water temperatures above 200* (more on that later). While the water is heating, fill your teapot with hot water (from the faucet is fine, it doesn't need to be super hot) to pre-warm the pot. You don't have to fill it to the top, just swish it around for a bit then pour it out. This way your teapot is already warm and won't absorb all the heat of the water you're using for tea. Measure in your tea of choice. I use 1 1/2 teaspoons per 8 oz. of water. You might want more or less depending on the size of the leaf and your personal preference. By now the water in the kettle should be the correct temperature, pour it over the leaves in the pot and set a timer. Like the water temperature, different teas require different steeping time. White tea is quite delicate and needs as little as 30 seconds for some varieties and chai can take 10 minutes.

This is my everyday teapot, a 2 cup Price & Kensington (its dishwasher safe).  
After your tea is finished steeping, pour it from the teapot to your cup using a strainer such as this one. I chose this style because of the long handle, no matter what cup or mug I use it reaches both sides.

Now that you know how to make tea, let's move on to the different types of tea and their temperature and steeping time specifications. This  is a very useful page for temperature and steeping time, though individual teas and your personal preference may vary.

Black tea: Probably the most common tea in North America (it's also the most caffeinated tea .... hmmm). A cup of black tea has approximately half the caffeine as a cup of coffee.

The black tea on display here is Vanilla Cinnamon from Kungaloosh. Dry leaves are on the left and steeped leaves on the right. I heat the water for this tea to a mostly rolling boil (scientific, I know) then steep it for 4 minutes. (These temps. and steeping times are my own preferences and are by no means perfect.)

This is Shizuoka Japanese Sencha green tea also from Kungaloosh. Water: Just beginning to boil. Time: 3 mins. For every 1/4lb. bag of this tea sold in 2011 Kungaloosh will donate $2 to the Red Cross and $4 for every 1/2lb. bag.

This organic Indian White Tea has no official name and was purchased from a local herb shop. The lack of details doesn't keep it from being delicious! The dry leaves smell somewhat sweet and the brewed tea has a very light, almost buttery flavor. Water: not quite boiling Time: 2 mins.

I had to include one "fancy" tea. This is Soom Estate 1st flush Darjeeling. First flush means first growth. It is picked in spring, when the first new growth appears on the plant, usually in March. Darjeeling refers to the specific area in India in which it grows, and Soom is the exact estate it was grown on. There are MANY tea estates in India and China (most of the world's tea is grown in one of those countries). Buying tea by estate can be very pricey but if you familiarize yourself with the estate names you can search the internet for tea from the same estate for a better price. For example, the tea shown above was  $10 for 4oz. I found 1st flush Soom Estate Darjeeling from another site for $46 for 3.5 oz. Temp.: same as white tea, not quite boiling Time: 3 mins.

The next teas I want to try are Lapsang Souchong which is dried by smoking it over wood instead of a hot pan like most teas, and Pu-erh, which is aged in caves for 2-5 years before its sold.

You can go crazy trying to pick the perfect kettle, teapot, teacups and teas. Don't let the over abundance of tea related items frighten you! Pick the tea accessories you like and try out a couple of teas. If you want to learn more, go from there, believe me, there is no shortage of tea info out there! Or, if you're not sure, and you happen to have my number, give me a call and you can come over and try mine.

Please note this is by no means a complete list of teas and their preparations. Think of it as Intro to Teas 101. Most of what I know about tea has been learned from the following blogs:

The English Tea Store blog, features several different bloggers including Jessica Hodges (who posts as jessrosevear) from Scotland.

Tea Time with A.C. Cargill Ms. Cargill's blogs are also featured on the English Tea Store blog, she reviews everything from tea to teaware, how to make tea and what to serve with it and even the occasional book.

Little Yellow Teapot tea reviews also posted by A.C. Cargill, this blog is dedicated to reviewing tea and has LOADS of info on what water temperature and steeping time works best for each tea. This blog is often written from the point of view of the teapot.

My Tea Break posted by Mariana and Tania these ladies travel the world tasting tea and educating readers on the history of tea, why you should drink it and preparation methods.