Saturday, March 31, 2012

Our New Southern Garden

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One of the fun things about buying a house in the winter is you have no idea what is in the garden.  Soon after we moved in on Thanksgiving weekend (remember?) we started hearing from some of the neighbors about all the wonderful things we would be finding in the Spring.  They all fell short.  So far here are but a few of the things we have been enjoying this month.



The cherry trees in front of the house gave quite a show a couple of weeks ago.  They are over now.  The garden underneath is full of perennials and ground covers just beginning to come on.  I have no idea what they are



They were so lush you couldn't see the house from the street.



The new front door.  The hardware was a gift from my mother and me for Christmas.  The urns are the real thing...they weigh a ton.  Can't wait for the ferns to get bigger! Some of the little pots need to be moved to another part of the yard and replaced with white impatients. And yes, I know, the coach lights need to be larger but they have to wait for the next lottery



This photo doesn't do justice to that white azalea.  White has never been at the top of my list in the azalea category but boy, was I wrong.  The Southern azaleas are just coming on. That's a rhododendron in green next to the fence.  You can't see it from here but there's a brook back there.  There were lots of daffodils in the woods earlier on.



There are over 20 azalea bushes in the back.  Believe it or not, some were lost when the heavy rains came a couple of years ago.



I have no idea what this is called.  Anyone?  It's a ground cover under the bushes in the front.  Again the photo doesn't do justice to the vibrant color of the flowers.



See? It's on both sides.  Beautiful color green.  Don't look at the grass.  It needs work, lots of it!



The shutters are to be painted this week in black.  I wanted a very dark green but my daughter wants black.  So black it is.



Again, the back garden, with a closeup of the southern azaleas.




Was that a white tail I just saw??



The other side of the garden with more southern azaleas



I am like a dog with a bone with these southern azaleas.  I learned about them from my dear friend Sandra Jonas.  If you haven't seen her blog it's a must!



And there's Lily, our champion dock jumper turned warden of the back yard.  She's waiting to catch the deer who visit the woods at least twice a day.  They couldn't care less about her...they just stare and go about their business.  The next door neighbors keep a salt thing in the back and feed them.  You can imagine the crowds this Spring.



This is how she spends her day.  The sous chef, on the other hand, has to be pushed out to do her thing.  Oh, and we have a bunny family too.  Saw the daddy yesterday. He already ate some of the new plantings for the vegetable garden.  My daughter thought it was cute.  Wait 'til they eat all her hard work.

Even though this yard is already beautiful and has great bones,  there's a lot to do to bring it back to it's full potential.  The house was empty for a long time so nothing has been fertilized in awhile.  I am waiting for the blooms to fall off so I can feed the azaleas.  There are about five or six bushes that have no blooms in them.

The grass is another matter.  Lots of weeds.  Has been treated once but we will need to keep on top of it to get it just right.  Needs seeding too.  The backyard was full of dead leaves and we just had them cleared.  Will need truckloads of bark chips.  (That's why the lights in the front have to wait) There's lots to do.  This is a long project but I'm up to the task.. Better than going to the gym.  Later...


Photos Lindaraxa

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mother's Baked Ham With Pineapple Mustard Glaze

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This is the baked ham I grew up with and the one my family has always served when we have a sit down Easter dinner.  Unlike Mrs. Adam's ham, the glaze here is runnier and not appropriate for a buffet.  Scalloped potatoes are the traditional side dish and, of course, asparagus, grilled or in a vinaigrette.

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 1 large can of pineapple slices (I use Dole) drained.   Save juice
  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
  • 2 TB Dijon mustard
  • 3 TB of dry Sherry 
  • 1 smoked, bone-in ham (10 pounds), trimmed of excess skin and all but a 1/4-inch layer of fat
  • 40 whole cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Directions
    1. Mix brown sugar, orange juice, pineapple juice,  mustard, Sherry and cinnamon in a bowl.  Stir to combine and set aside.  You can add more juice if needed but make sure glaze is thick.
    2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in lowest position. Score ham with a sharp knife in a pattern of 1 1/4-inch diamonds. Press a clove into the center of each diamond. Place ham, cut side down, in a roasting pan; cover tight with foil, and bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven.
    3. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees. Uncover ham, lay pineapple slices on top and around the pan and coat with glaze (some will fall to the bottom of the pan).
    4. Bake, uncovered, basting occasionally, until browned, 40 to 45 minutes. (Tent bone with foil if it becomes too dark.) Transfer ham to a cutting board; let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. Serve with pan drippings and pineapple.
    Note:  You can use fresh pineapple if you wish. Just slice 1/4 inch thick.

    photo: Martha Stewart


    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    Sunday Brunch...Baked Eggs Florentine

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    This is one of the easiest egg dishes to prepare and one of the most sublime.  Contrary to what you may be served these days, the traditional recipe for Eggs Florentine does not include English muffins or Hollandaise Sauce.  The classic Uova alla Fiorentina, a specialty of Florence, are lightly poached eggs served on a bed of spinach, which has been first boiled and sauteed in butter, and baked in a buttered dish. Mornay sauce is poured over it then it is sprinkled with grated cheese and bread crumbs and baked in the oven.

    I was inspired to post this recipe while reading one of the best books ever written on Italian food, The Food of Italy by Waverly Root. Mr. Root, considered one of the major writers on cuisine in his time, passed away in 1982.  During his life he was a foreign correspondent in Europe for fifty years,  representing the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Time and UPI.  He also contributed regularly to the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and Gourmet Magazine. 

    This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Italian cuisine and indispensable for those wishing to capture the subtleties of the Italian palate in his or her kitchen. You will also learn many interesting things such as...the origins of petit pois!  Referred to all over the word by their French name, these tiny tender peas, piselli novelli,  came to France from Genoa in 1660 as a present for Louis XIV.  They took the country by storm and the rest, as they say, is history.  I didn't know that, did you?

    I haven't had real Eggs Florentine in a long time and reading about it brought memories of lunch at my grandmother's house in Havana in the fifties.  Her mother was French and she loved all things baked and gratinee in the oven.  One of these days I will post the carrot gratin served chez elle as I remember.

    The only thing that you have to be careful in this recipe are the eggs.  Make sure you don't over cook them or you will end up with hard boiled eggs on top of spinach.  Lightly poach them in water with a drop of vinegar for no more than 4 minutes and set them aside to cool.  You want them runny and remember they will continue to cook later in the oven when you pour the warm sauce and broil them.

    Now, this recipe serves two or four, depending how you want to serve them.  Instead of ramekins I use the baking dish on the photo and place two instead of one egg in each dish.  I feel it's the least one can eat if serving as a main dish for lunch or brunch.  The recipe is very adaptable though and you can increase the ingredients proportionately if you wish to serve more people. Buon appetito!

    Ingredients
    •  4 tbsp butter 
    • 3 tbsp all purpose flour
    • 1½ cups whole milk
    • Freshly grated nutmeg
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 large egg yolks
    • 2 tbsp heavy cream
    • 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
    • 2 shallots, chopped
    • 1 lb (450g) fresh spinach, well rinsed but not dried
    • 4 hot poached eggs
    • 1 TB breadcrumbs
    • 4 slices buttered toast, to serve

    Special Equipment:

    • 4 flameproof serving dishes*

    Directions

    1. Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and let bubble for 1 minute. Gradually beat in the milk. Cook, whisking often, until boiling and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Whisk egg yolks and cream together, then whisk into the sauce. Stir in ¾ cup of the Gruyére. Keep warm.

    2. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, about 2 minutes, until softened. Add the rinsed spinach, cover, and cook about 5 minutes, until the spinach has wilted. Drain well.

    3. Position a broiler rack about 6 inches from the source of heat and preheat the broiler. Divide the spinach among four (or 2) flameproof ramekins. Using a slotted spoon, place a poached egg  (or 2) in each ramekin, then top with the sauce and sprinkle with the remaining Gruyére. Broil until the cheese is melted and golden.  Alternatively, you can bake in a very hot oven, 450 degrees, for 2 to 4 minutes.  Serve right away*, with the toast. 

    *don't let the finished dish sit or the eggs will continue to cook and you will end up with...you guessed it, hard boiled eggs!


    Photo © 2008 Dorling Kindersley


    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Balthazar's Profiteroles

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    Profiteroles 


      Balthazar is probably the only restaurant in the world where I think of dessert first and everything else last. Serve me anything to get it over with and get to the real purpose of my visit...Profiteroles!  If I were to die tomorrow, this dessert and Julia Child's chocolate mousse would be tough contenders in the last meal sweep stakes and this recipe might just win the grand prize.


      Opened in 1997 in the Soho district of New York City, Balthazar is as close as you will ever find on this side of the pond to a French brasserie.




      Contrary to what you may think, profiteroles are one of the easiest desserts to serve at a dinner party, particularly if you have the puffs already made and frozen..  The hot chocolate sauce is made at the last minute and takes less than two minutes to prepare. How long does it take you to add two scoops of ice cream?

      A word of advice, though.  Before Balthazar came into my life, I used to make the Julia Child recipe for the puffs.  This time, I thought I would try something else.   At one point, I almost thought I might have to throw the whole batter away.  You will find it a bit runny and hard to work with.  I measured the flour exactly but used the White Lily brand thinking it might turn out a lighter puff.  That might have been my problem.  Next time I will definitely try it with regular all purpose flour.    Because of this light mishap I did not brush the puffs with the egg yolk, which did not make any difference in the presentation.  Luckily, and much to my surprise, the puffs rose to their expected height and were light, airy and wonderful.  I was most pleased and expect to make them again very, very soon.

      At Balthazar, profiteroles are served by a food runner who pours a warm chocolate sauce over the ice-cream-filled puffs, adding the finishing touch at the table. One runner began making a terrific show of all this, starting with a reserved drizzle, then gradually hoisting the little metal pitcher high above his head. Still pouring, he miraculously hits the ice cream target with no resulting splash. He began a trend among the food runners, all of whom now amaze and frighten the guests with their wild chocolate pouring.

      Ingredients
      Serves 6

      For the puffs
      1/2 cup whole milk
      1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
      1/4 teaspoon salt
      1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
      5 large eggs
      1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
      I added a pinch of sugar to the batter*

      For the chocolate sauce

      1/2 cup heavy cream
      8 ounces semisweet Valrhona chocolate, coarsely chopped
      1 pint vanilla ice cream

      .
      Directions

      Make the puffs

      1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C)
      .
      2. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, butter, and salt with 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil. Add the sifted flour and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined into a dough. Continue stirring over medium heat for about 3 minutes.

      3. Transfer the dough into the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir at low speed for a few minutes to lower the temperature of the dough. Increase the speed to medium and then add the eggs, one at a time. Mix until a smooth, cool dough forms, about 4 minutes.

      4. Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a #9 tip, with the dough, or use a soup spoon to form small puffs, about 2 inches in diameter, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the puffs with the beaten egg yolk and transfer to the oven.

      5. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool the puffs on a wire rack and then slice them, as if they were hamburger buns, with a serrated knife
      .
      Make the chocolate sauce 

      1. Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until it foams. Reduce the flame to low and add the chopped chocolate. Whisk until all the chocolate has melted and the sauce is smooth and shiny. Keep warm over a pan of simmering water

       To serve

      1. Fill the puffs with a scant scoop of ice cream and serve on small plates or in shallow bowls. Pass a pitcher of warm chocolate sauce at the table.

      Lindaraxa's Note: Although the normal portion at a restaurant is three, at home I only serve two puffs filled with a small scoop of ice cream.  It is more than enough per guest.


      Recipe adapted from The Balthazar cookbook © 2003 Keith McNally, Riad Nasr, Lee Hanson. Photo © 2003 Christopher Hirsh


      Thursday, March 15, 2012

      Orkney Is Not Just For Westies...Scottish Beef Stew

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      In the summer of 2009, shortly after I started Lindaraxa, I decided to explore this new thing called Twitter which, at the time, seemed to be gaining a lot of press.  In the beginning it was awkward, nobody knew exactly what they were supposed to do;  but pretty soon companies, celebrities and the press started to join in the bandwagon.  So why not try it out? Maybe it would give me an edge getting subscribers for my blog;  but I needed a pen name or something to conceal my real name. After all, what if this thing was a scam?  Enter @Lucywestie  (that's the sous chef on the right).  So I started to tweet, under her name, and soon found out there were other Westies on board... lots of them.  Instead of getting humans to follow my blog I was getting Westies!

      @Lucywestie's first friend was a little Westie from Orkney named @Molliewestie.  Orkney? where the hell  in the world was that?  Now,  I pride myself on my knowledge of geography but I certainly had never heard of this place. I didn't even know where to look...the Indian Ocean?  Enter Google.   Pretty soon I knew everything there was to know about the islands, an archipelago in northern Scotland, 16 kilometres (10 mi) north of the coast of Caithness.

      The name "Orkney" dates back to the 1st century BC or earlier, and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years.  They contain some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe, and the "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Contrary to what you may think, it doesn't snow much in Orkney

      Anyway, a wonderful friendship began with this adorable little dog named Mollie which lasted until about a year ago when she stopped tweeting.  I was sad and missed her, but it happens.  Interest is lost and all of a sudden, from one day to the next, you lose contact with someone or something which was a part of your life.

      Her blog, MollieWestie, Diary Of A Little Dog From Orkney is still up and if you want to see photos of Mollie and Orkney pay her a visit.


                           

      Just when I thought I knew everything there was to know about Orkney today, quite by accident, I learned  something else.  Orkney produces some of the best beef in the world...good enough to be sold at Marks &  Spencer in London. Mon Dieu, did @molliewestie know this? Of course she did.  But  she never told me...she was always worried about skipping her bath.  Over 28,0000 head of the prized Aberdeen Angus cattle graze in the rocky hills. That's about 6,000 more cows than all the people that inhabit these islands.  That is incredible, do the math.

      Farming there is tough, whatever the season. This summer Orkney basked in enough sun to let you sit about in a T-shirt for a day or two.  From October until March it is dark by 3.30 pm and first light arrives at 8.30am.  But I knew all this from  @Mollywestie.  She used to complain about the long nights and wanting morning to come soon so she could go off and chase the ducks in the nearby pond..

      I am sorry I lost contact with this adorable friend .  Not only for the laughs and chuckles but for her insight into another world, far different from mine.  It's funny, we lead our lives thinking everything revolves around us.  Only when we travel do we realize how small we are in this life and how happy one can be in another little corner of the world.  No Guccis, no Pradas and definitely no $20 million townhouses.  Just a couple and their dogs,  happy with their lot.  That's all...but that's a lot. And, that's Twitter for you.

      But this is a cooking blog and I almost forgot about the recipe.  Now, I'm well aware Saturday is St. Patricks Day and Scottish Beef Stew is not Irish.  But let's face it, Irish people, you are a lot of fun, have fine lace, great castles and Whisky and your men are lustful...BUT,  your cooking is not something we rave about,  except perhaps for the Chocolate Stout Cake I posted in your honor.  I know, I was married to an Irish American and my mother in law was lovely but her cooking...let's just say we ate chez elle once.  On the other hand, there is nothing like a good Reuben Sandwich,  my idea of what to eat on St. Paddy's Day or any day of the year.




      SCOTTISH BEEF STEW

      This stew is intensely flavorful and deserves a full bodied wine.  Try a hearty Bordeaux. 


      Ingredients

      1. 2 tablespoons pure olive oil
      2. All-purpose flour, for dredging
      3. 2 1/2 pounds well-marbled boneless beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
      4. Salt and freshly ground pepper
      5. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
      6. 2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
      7. 2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
      8. 2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch dice
      9. 4 ounces rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup) You can substitute parsnip
      10. 2 tablespoons red currant jelly
      11. 2 cups dry red wine
      12. 2 cups beef stock or low-sodium broth
      13. 2 thyme sprigs
      14. 1 garlic clove, smashed
      15. 1 bay leaf
      16. Skirlie Potato Cakes, for serving
      1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Spread the flour in a shallow bowl. Season the beef with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour; shake off any excess flour. Add half of the meat to the casserole and cook over moderately high heat until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until browned on the other side, about 2 minutes longer. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and floured meat, browning the meat over moderate heat.
      2.  Melt the butter in the casserole. Add the onions, carrots, celery and rutabaga and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 7 minutes. Add the jelly and the wine and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the casserole. Add the beef stock and bring to a boil. Add the browned meat and any accumulated juices along with the thyme, garlic and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
      3. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl. Boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 2 cups, about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the casserole and season with salt and pepper. Discard the thyme sprig and bay leaf. Serve the stew with the Skirlie Potato Cakes.
      The stew can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

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