Come along with me as I journal about my latest cooking and gardening adventures. Discover what grows in my zone five garden, and see what new recipes I try from my cookbook collection each week.

As I share recipes and information from my kitchen, I invite readers to comment and share ideas along with me in this blog. I am looking to increase followers to my blog, so that I may learn more about cooking and gardening.

Since moving to Midland, Michigan, I have been reading and researching many cooking journals, cookbooks and collected recipes from the past thirty years. Organizing pictures of gardens I enjoy has also been a joy for me, as I continue to learn about garden design and horticulture.

angel food cakes

angel food cakes
this kitchen is seasoned with love

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

july lily garden

this year my lilies are blooming for the first time.  i planted about forty lilies during the summer of 2008 dreaming of a lily garden for 2009.  a bunny nibbled all the lilies one dark night last summer, and therefore, i had no summer blooms last year.  even this summer, i experienced some lily loss one night, by surprise, when a few of my lilies had again been nibbled.  however, this July has been so wonderful to see my strawberries and cream lily garden in bloom.  i have had oriental and Asiatic lilies in bloom. also, i had stargazer lilies in bloom and have enjoyed every minute.  they have bloomed over a period of weeks.

Monday, July 26, 2010

barbecued baby back ribs

another summer dinner favorite on the grill has to be barbecued baby back pork ribs.  these ribs are cooked for several hours, a minimum of two and one-half, at 350 degrees in the oven, prior to grilling.  the best way to cook these ribs is in a deep roasting pan with 2 cups of water. often i use a roasting rack, and cover the ribs with a favorite barbecue sauce.  then, the roasting pan is covered with aluminum foil, and the meat is placed into the preheated oven.

the ribs are baked for as long as possible to allow the rib meat to become fully cooked and falling off the bone.  i transfer the cooked ribs to a sheet pan and cover them with additional barbecue sauce and grill them outdoors just to achieve the grilled exterior.  these are delicious served with corn on the cob and cole slaw.

this is a perfect summer meal for a Saturday night.

summer berries

a perfect summer dessert to serve guests is always fresh berries.  fresh blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries look delicious in this classic ceramic basket served with demura sugar and half and half. 

a bowl of berries could also be served with shortcake biscuits or angel food cake.  by serving an assortment of berries and accompaniments, everyone makes their own special dessert.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

vanilla meringues

baked vanilla meringues have only four ingredients. cream of tartar is essential to the stability of the cookie.  the secret is in the baker's sugar.  this sugar is very fine and delicate.  it easily incorporates into the egg whites while they are beating in the mixer.
i chose to flavor these meringues with vanilla, but almond, orange, lemon, mint, maple, rum, or others could be used for different celebrations.  every one of your guests will enjoy these low fat cookies.  although sugar is one of the main cookie ingredients, there is no fat used in the cookie preparation. 
one of the most important steps in the recipe is the baking instructions.  once the cookies are mixed into a stable fluff, the meringues are piped with a large pastry tip along with a pastry bag onto silpat mats.  this recipe makes 24 cookies.  once the cookies are placed into the pre-heated oven, the oven is turned off and the cookies are allowed to bake while the oven is cooling.  i kept the cookies in the oven for eight hours before lifting them from the cookie sheets.  this recipe can be made one evening,  and then overnight, the cookies will be completed and fresh for serving the next day.
the cookies are light, flavorful, and better than any store bought meringue.

baked pita crisps

slice pita pockets into triangular wedges, add a bit of olive oil with garlic and herb seasoning, and bake these crisps in a 350 degree oven. garnish with parsley and fresh basil.  these crisps can be served with sliced cheese, chopped olives, or even salsa. 

 here, i served the warm pita crisps with a small amount of roasted tomatoes for an evening appetizer 

roasted gourmet tomatoes

as and easy side dish to accompany grilled chicken or fish, i select a variety of gourmet tomatoes.  this grouping gives a nice variety of taste and presentation.  i roasted the tomatoes with a splash of olive oil on a half sheet pan seasoned with ground black pepper and parsley. served warm, these tomatoes are both tasty and nutritious.

mint chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate peanut bark

another one of my favorite ice cream flavors is mint chocolate chip.  using my basic vanilla ice cream recipe, i omit the vanilla and substitute mint extract.  once the mixture is ready for the ice cream maker, i add a couple of drops of Wilton green food color.  in order to keep a light green color, only a very small amount is necessary.  chopped dark ghirardelli chocolate is added after the mixture has processed for 25 minutes.  the ice cream is frozen in a stainless steel container.
serve a couple of scoops with a taste of chocolate bark.  this recipe is easily made by melting chocolate in a double boiler, and then by adding a selection of dried fruit and nuts. this bark was made with diced dried apricots, dried cranberries, and peanuts.  after cooling overnight in a quarter sheet pan, it is easily removed and broken into serving size pieces.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

roasted yellow pepper penne

for another vegetarian pasta night, i chose to use yellow peppers and grape tomatoes, mixed with yellow onion in a deep saute skillet.  after browning all three, i added one can of petite diced tomatoes and continued to allow the mixture to simmer. i added some fresh ground pepper, and mixed it through the vegetables.  after the penne boiled for eleven minutes in another pan, i added the pasta to the vegetable saute and cooked for another few minutes to heat through.  to finish off the dish, i added fresh basil and parsley from my patio herb garden.  this was a great meal.


after watching my daises growing and blooming for the past week, i decided that today was the day to make a daisy bouquet for the sun room.  these daises love the sunshine and have done very well in this garden spot near my deck.  i plan to divide them in the fall and move some to the perimeter of my fenced garden.

cold brewed tea

for years we have been making sun tea, but i found a new product on one of my trips up north in michigan called twinings cold brewed iced tea.  i really didn't believe that it would work, but within five minutes, i had fresh brewed tea that i served over ice. i simply added the tea bags into cold water and watched the tea brew right on my kitchen counter.

twinings suggested using 4 tea bags per quart pitcher, however; i only used 2 per quart carafe, and that was plenty for me.  i may even just use one tea bag the next time, as i prefer lightly brewed tea to decrease the caffeine intake.

so easy and so refreshing!

patio lettuce garden

this year, i decided to practice growing some vegetables and herbs on my deck.  this was my first attempt, and wanted to keep them away from the bunnies that seem to roam in my yard every evening at dusk and dawn. so far, this method has worked and i have been able to harvest basil, parsley and now mesculin lettuce.  my deck is very sunny. as long as i water these clay pots every day that it doesn't rain, i think i am going to have enough for a salad.  i have been shopping around for elevated deck gardens in the catalogs, so i am planning a larger vegetable garden for next summer. the third pot has gourmet cat grass that my coco loves so very much.  since she is an indoor cat, she really is enjoying the fresh taste of these greens.  this is the second clay pot of greens i have grown for her this summer.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

lemon dill sauce for fish

this is a wonderful sauce to make to accompany any type of fish, prepared at home.  it is much tastier than a store-bought tartar sauce and very delicious served with baked, broiled or fried fish.  i used this sauce last week, when i made a crispy panko baked trout for dinner.  the sauce recipe comes from cooking light magazine april 2010.

mix 1/4 cup of low fat canola mayo, with 2 tablespoons chopped dill pickles, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon dill.  i used dried dill from my pantry instead of fresh dill, and it was equally delicious.

summer shrimp boil

every summer i make this dish at least once, as it reminds me of classical new england summer cooking.  the whole dinner is made in one pot and served on a large plate family style. a variety of seafood can be added to the recipe, such as clams, mussels, lobster, or even scallops.  we prefer just having large shrimp, and find the meal quite hearty without adding more seafood.

a large pot of water is started on the stove, with the pot filled to just over one-half.  as the water comes to a boil, i squeeze in two lemons that have been sliced in half, and drop them in.  at this time, i also add the sliced onions. they are rough cut in half.  this weekend, i used both shallots and small yellow onions.  i also add at this time, one packet of shrimp and crab boil seasoning.  after the mixture has boiled for ten minutes, i add the small red potatoes.  they are added whole, and boiled for 15-18 minutes. then, the fresh corn on the cob, which has been sliced into smaller thirds, is added to the boiling pot.  the corn boils for about 5-7 minutes, and then the peeled and cleaned shrimp are added.  i leave the tails on for presentation.  the shrimp boil for 3-5 minutes depending on their size.  when everything is cooked, i use a very large wire strainer to remove the meal from the pot.  i serve coleslaw and fresh herb bread with the meal. a small dish of melted margarine can be used to drizzle over the meal as desired.

lemon madeleines

one of my favorite desserts is found in the pastry shops of France, but can be easily replicated in the home kitchen.  unlike most desserts, this recipe does require a special type of baking pan, however; they can be easily found in most cooking stores today.  i have three different types of madeleine sheet pans, all made of tin, but of different shapes.  the classic shape is the elongated shell, with the traditional shell being the next typical shape.  my third pan makes smaller bite-sized madelines, and i didn't choose to use it this past week.

there are several important steps to making madeleines.  the first is to follow the recipe exactly using the recommended ingredients.  cake flour is essential to having the madeleines puff up and bake appropriately.
another important step is to thoroughly grease the tin sheets while placing them on baking sheets prior to baking in the oven.  this works much better than simply baking the sheets directly on the oven racks.
madeleine recipes are quite versatile, since these cookie cakes can be flavored many ways.  lemon is my favorite, but orange, almond, anise or even vanilla could be substituted for the recipe. when using the powdered sugar prior to serving, it is best that the madeleines are cooled some.  most recipes will say to serve these cookies while still warm, so there is a timing element to the powdered sugar step.

one final critical step is noted, but might be often skipped during the cookie preparation.  and, that is to rest the batter, after mixing, for thirty minutes.  if this step is overlooked, the batter will be too thin and will not have the proper texture of a madeleine when baked. as the batter rests, it thickens in the mixer, as can be seen in this photograph.

i used martha stewart's recipe from her current most recent cookie cookbook.

madeleines must be served and eaten in a couple of days, or they will store well in the refrigerator.  they can be served with tea or coffee, whipped cream or ice cream. i find the taste of fresh lemon peel in the cookie makes the difference in taste, texture and flavor.

Friday, July 9, 2010

summer reading this week

two more of my favorite summer cookbooks came off of my library book shelf this week.  the lobster roll is written by the owners of the famous Hampton's restaurant known as lunch.  the shop has an old fashioned sign on the outside of the establishment, which simply says lunch.  the official name of the restaurant is the lobster roll.  the book includes recipes from appetizers and soups to drinks and desserts.  detailed directions are given for their famous lobster roll, shrimp salad, how to prepare soft shelled crabs, clam rolls and even how to steam a lobster at home. the grilled citrus chicken made with basil, honey and orange juice is on my list to try in the upcoming weeks.

serendipity sundaes is a cookbook from serendipity, a famous cute little place to eat in new york city on the upper east side one block or so from Bloomingdale's.  we ate here several years ago, and it is worth the wait, so cute and whimsical.  the book is filled with toppings, sauces, and ice cream recipes that look oh so delicious.

serendipity is known for their frozen hot chocolate recipe, made with hot chocolate mix, blended with ice and topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

bistro shrimp fried rice

i found this recipe online and it could be called a copycat recipe from p.f. Chang's, as the dish is very tasty. it could be made with shrimp or chicken.  i chose to use large shrimp which made the dish especially nice in presentation.  along with the rice, i added petite green peas, shredded carrots, and green onion.  it would be optional to add bean sprouts.  i used egg substitute, which is cooked first and then placed aside, while the other ingredients are stir fried.  i also prepared the rice early in the day, to decrease the preparation time during the dinner hour.

for the sauce, the recipe calls for Dijon mustard, minced fresh ginger, minced garlic, molasses, and light soy sauce.  the sauce and the egg are added last, after all the vegetables are cooked through and the rice is heated to serving temperature.

this is a great recipe for a summer meal or it could be used on a Chinese buffet for entertaining.

perennial sweet peas

this plant has been growing in my garden here at 6110 since summer 2008.  it is a very pale pink sweet pea and does not have any fragrance, however; it is a wonderful cut flower and does well in full sun.  my references say that it can grow to twelve feet on a trellis, but mine is about 7 feet and droops over the trellis which i encourage. the look is very soft and appealing to me, and one that i have included in my cottage kitchen garden. 

each year, the sweet pea has become stronger and more sturdy on the trellis, though i prune it back to the ground every fall to prepare it for the winter cold and snow. it is cold hardy to zone three and one of my favorite plants in july.

red skin potato salad

another one of my favorite summer potato salads is made with red skin potatoes.  early in the day i boil a small quantity of potatoes with their skins on after a good scrub in the sink.  then, i chill the potatoes until very cold for several hours.

at preparation time, i chop the celery and green onion into small pieces.  according to preference, chopped green or red pepper could be added.  next, i chop the potatoes into cubes with skins left on.  the dressing is absolutely delicious. mix one tablespoon of low fat mayonnaise with one tablespoon of Dijon mustard.  add salt to taste, and then start with 1/4 cup of light olive oil and mix in red wine vinegar to taste, always keeping the vinegar ratio much smaller than the olive oil.  combine all ingredients.  stir and taste.  cover and refrigerate. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

picnic salad

every picnic needs a crunchy vegetable salad.  this is one of my all time favorites that can be adapted to personal taste.  i use broccoli, cauliflower, shredded carrots and celery.  chop the desired amount of broccoli tops, cauliflower tops, and celery pieces.  i purchase the carrots already shredded to save preparation time. decide ahead of time how much salad will be used within a day or two, and only prepare enough for the meals.

one the chosen ingredients are ready, decide on the dressing mixture.  the recipe calls for an equal amount of mayonnaise, sour cream and salad dressing.  being health conscious, i only use a low fat mayo, and a light or fat free sour cream.  for the dressing i have used peppercorn, poppy seed or a light ranch.  all three offer a different taste equally enjoyable.  personally, i prefer using less mayo and a bit more of the sour cream and peppercorn dressing. 

once the dressing is prepared to personal taste, mix lightly and chill the salad prior to serving. 

refrigerator pickles

one of the best summer recipes is for refrigerator pickles.  this recipe does not require use of any canning techniques and makes the best crunchy pickles.  the recipe was published in Martha Stewart's everyday food magazine.  i usually make one large jar using one of Martha's jars.  this recipe makes enough pickles for three smaller jars, which could be made and given as gifts to friends.

homemade pickles have a wonderful taste and are nothing like what is purchased in a store.  to make the pickles:  purchase 6-8 small Kirby cucumbers, celery, and white vidalia onion. chop the celery into small pieces, slice the onion in small rings or half-rings, and slice the cucumbers into small circles.  place all three into a colander and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.  allow to drain for at least 30 to 45 minutes,
while stiring every 5-10 minutes to allow extra moisture to drip out.

when the mixture is ready, place into a decorative jar or jars, and prepare the pickling juice.  use 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. (i usually reduce this amount in half) then add 1 teaspoon celery seed and 1 teaspoon mustard seed. stir until the sugar is dissolved.  pour this mixture over the pickles, cover and refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours before serving.  the pickles will last in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. i love the taste of these pickles and totally recommend them.

lavender and baby's breath from the garden

one of my favorite fragrances in the garden is lavender hidcote.  i arranged several plants in a circle surrounding my sundial in the garden.  the lavender is in full bloom and i couldn't resist cutting some for my sun porch. my gyposphila paniculata is in bloom as well and compliments the bouquet.

my gyposphila is a perennial and has tripled in size in three years.  it produces a wonderful display of tender white flowers and this year, i plan to dry them for the first time.

both lavender hidcote and lavender munstead grow well in my garden producing two different colors of bloom and wonderful fragrance.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

grilled chicken tacos

stovetop grilling is a great way to prepare these easy chicken grilled tacos.  prepare the chicken by slicing into strips and marinate in your favorite marinade.  using one with a lime juice base compliments the flavors of the mexican dish.  after the chicken is grilled, i grill the other vegetables; onions, tomatoes, and peppers.  once all the cooked toppings are prepared, melt shredded cheddar on the whole wheat shells in a 350 degree oven for a couple of minutes.  then add the cooked toppings to the center of the tacos, and return to the oven to warm for about 5 minutes.  remove and add the cold toppings. for this dinner, i used shredded lettuce, sliced black olives, shredded onion, and light sour cream. roll the shell into a log and slice in half to serve. this meal can be accompanied with spanish rice or just a side salad. 

easy ice cream sandwiches

sometimes taking the time to create something totally homemade is not feasible. so, here is a quick way to create a semi-homemade dessert like sandra lee often promotes on the food network. these ice cream sandwiches are made with store bought white chocolate chip cookies and edy's chocolate chip yogurt ice cream. simply by using a small cookie scoop, place one scoop on a cookie and sandwich with another cookie.  i freeze these in wax sandwich baggies and serve while frozen.  everyone loves an ice cream sandwich and this one can be adapted to use your favorite sugar cookie, chocolate cookie or even peanut butter chip cookie.  change the ice cream and every time you will have a unique sandwich dessert.  bet you can't eat just one.

crusty herbal bread

one of the easiest ways to have fresh bread it to incorporate fresh ingredients with pre-made frozen bread.  in this recipe, adapted from donna frawley, i use my charlotte tin mold for baking the loaf.  after thawing the frozen bread dough for several hours, i incorporate herbs, either fresh or dried.  this is easily accomplished after rolling the dough flat, and then folding the dough into a roll.

i usually divide the dough into three sections and allow the bread to rise again in my charlotte mold for at least one hour.  by using the same baking directions that are suggested on the frozen dough, the bread turns out just perfectly--crusty and brown and very soft inside.

it is important to prepare the pan with a spray oil, and i recommend coating the pan with cornmeal.  that allows the bread to be easily removed from the pan without any problem. donna suggests baking the bread in a flower pot that has been seasoned prior to baking.  either way, this will be a hit with your guests. serve the sliced bread with a flavored herbal butter with parsley, dill or even chives.

oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies

for the fourth of july, everyone likes traditional desserts.  this cookie is soft and chewy with chunks of chocolate and walnuts.  the recipe was found in my williams sonoma picnics and tailgates cookbook, where a great number of their recipes are classic, portable, and easy to prepare.  unlike most cookies with oats, this recipe has less flour than expected compared to the unsalted butter ratio.  therefore, the cookies do spread about two inches on the baking sheet. if you are looking for something different than the traditional chocolate chip, try a combination cookie with lots of flavor while keeping a classic taste.