Sunday, April 28, 2013

An Embarrassment Of Riches And An Asparagus Souffle

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I have been on a mission all week to get everything planted before Summer arrives.  That's the way it goes with me...rush, rush, rush.  Everything done at once and then I collapse.

The yard is a nightmare.  Just the spring cleanup is a full time job and the yard crew we had last year  is nowhere to be found this Spring. No matter how much you do (and spend) there is always more that needs to be done.  I thought I would spend my years of retirement in a nice condo like the one I had in Key Biscayne...on the penthouse with a view of the ocean and no grass in sight. Instead I spend my days worrying about the grass, the never ending weeds that grow better than anything I ever plant and the pruning.  Of course I have to insist in doing the latter by hand, the old fashioned way, and I keep forgetting that I am not as young as I used to be, although my chest is pretty perky these days. Oh God, you sure have a funny way of kicking me in the rear sometimes!

and rewarding me on the other side....

In the meantime, the southern azaleas are putting on quite a display this year,  I've been rewarded after all the loving care and pruning I did last year.   A few bags of fertilizer didn't, of course. We are expecting rain tomorrow, lots of it.  Everyone was out at the nursery buying plants to put on the ground before it arrives. I have 80% of what I bought in the ground and most of the fertilizing that needs to get done by this time of the year.  My daughter is sick with a cold so not much help from that end but she did help getting the stuff on the ground last weekend...her Mother's Day present (or so she thinks!) Her big project is the vegetable garden and at least the heirloom tomatoes and peppers went in today.

There is lots of stuff coming out already but my biggest surprise is saved for the next post.  My friends from  the Atlanta Hydrangea Society are going to be pea green with envy...who would have thought!

 The hydrangeas with those *$%# weeds all around them.  And it's not even May.  I discovered Roundup last year and in my enthusiasm killed half the plants in the front.  Now I keep it hidden from my daughter in the trunk of the car.  It was Madame Mere's suggestion, the trunk not the Roundup.

 The fence is the barrier between "them" and us...them being the deer that come everyday around nightfall.  They laugh at the barking of the dogs and go on about their business, whatever it is.  Sometimes there is a couple, sometimes a whole herd.  They are fun to watch as long as they keep on their side of the fence.  I've never seen the brook, or stepped outside the gate. I'm terrified of the snakes.  They are mean here in the South, copperheads and others I don't care to find out. It's a different world on that side of the fence!

Sandra Jonas my dear friend and noted landscape designer gave me this hydrangea when she came for lunch last Fall.  The name escapes me but it's one I liked on the tour with lacey little caps for blooms.

This is my work in process...the rhododendrum which didn't bloom last year but hopefully will after all the love and care I've given it.

And this is my pride and joy...the Night Blooming Jasmin or cestrum nocturnum which EVERYBODY told me wouldn't come back, even the books! No way...we shall see (look closely)

And guess what else came back...the lemon balm, the curly parsley and the lemon verbena.  Now that was a surprise!  Make sure you plant some of the balm this year if you haven't before.  Great for cooking, especially for pastas.

This is turning into God's Little Acre!

And finally the front.  The ferns did not survive the winter, as EVERYONE told me they wouldn't but they sure put up a good fight.  They made it through Christmas much to my chagrin as I wanted to put something else in the urns.  This year no impatients, except for the New Guineas which are rapidly becoming a favorite.

Mother tells me regular impatients have all disappeared from the gardens in Miami.  Sandra told me about the disease last year and she was usual.

The crew on a break

By the way, those Merrell shoes you see are the best gardening shoes I've ever had.  They are rubber and wash beautifully.  Got them at TJ Maxx on sale!

Oh I did say something about a souffle.  Yes I made one this weekend as an alternative for Mac And Cheese.  Those who read the last post will know exactly what I'm talking about!

Asparagus Souffle

The recipe is really for two and was made in two 5 inch souffle dishes, buttered and coated with grated Gruyere cheese.

Oven Temperature 350 degrees for 25 minutes

Cut the ends of 1/2 lbs of asparagus and steam.  Process them in a food processor.  You should have about 1/2 cup of the puree.

 Make a cup of bechamel with 2 TB. butter, 2TB flour and 1 cup of milk.  Melt the butter, add the flour cook for a minute and add 1 cup of hot whole milk.  Cook until it almost comes to a boil.  The sauce will be nice and thick.

Add the asparagus puree to the sauce and some grated Gruyere cheese if you wish, salt and pepper. 

Separate 3 eggs and add the yolks to the bechamel sauce. Mix well.

 Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks.  Make sure you beat well or souffle won't rise.  With a wooden spoon take some of the whites and incorporate into the sauce and then fold the rest carefully so as not to deflate.  Don't do this too much, it's okay if you have some patches of white "clouds".  

Fill the two souffle molds leaving about 1/2 inch at the top. I inserted a finger in one and went around the rim.  I didn't do it with the second and it really didn't make a difference.  Place in the preheated oven.

Pour yourself a glass of rose and mix a simple green salad.  By the time you are finished, your souffle will be done.

And that, dear readers, was all I accomplished this weekend!

As I am finishing this post it has started to rain...hard.  The garden will be happy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Product Review...Barefoot Contessa's Frozen Meals

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 When my daughter is away on a business trip I take the opportunity to either cook something I love that she doesn't like, defrost something I have saved, or buy a frozen food dinner.  Yes dear readers, people like me sometimes want a break from the pots and pans! My favorites in the latter category are Stouffer's Macaroni And Cheese, and P. F Chang' s frozen meals particularly their General Chang's Chicken and their spring rolls. They are as close as you are ever going to get to Chinese takeout.

Last week, just as I was reaching out for a bag,  I noticed the new Barefoot Contessa line of frozen meals.  Eureka! something new to try out.  I must say the choices were not too inspiring, particularly at $8.99 a bag which serves two. Among the meals available were Barefoot Contessa Penne Pasta with 5 Cheeses, Sesame Chicken & Noodles, Beef Stew Bourguignon, Tequila Lime Chicken, Shrimp Scampi & Linguine, Creamy Chicken Stew, Pasta Carbonara with Pancetta, Garlic Ginger Chicken, and Jambalaya.   Ok,  no problem, I can do this. Since I had been salivating for Chinese the choice was easy...Sesame Chicken and Noodles, how easy was that?!

 I arrived home all excited, poured myself a hefty vodka on the rocks took out the wok and in no time dinner was cooking on the stove.  This is how it comes out of the bag. far so good!

I remembered I still had some  Wonton Strip's from Archer Farms at Target which I keep in the pantry for my Chinese Chicken Salad .

The meal comes together in no time and at first glance it looks quite good!

Ready to rock and roll, Mad Men on the screen and I am salivating...!!!

Won ton strips for a personal touch!

And I take a bite,then another and yet another.  I want to like this, seeing Ina is not only my hero but everyone's favorite chef. Every single recipe of hers that I have ever made has been a keeper and she has never let me down.  She is so nice and so reliable and so is Jeffrey.  They deserve a larger apartment in Paris and a bigger house in East Hampton.   Truly they do.

Needless to say I was thoroughly disappointed.  The whole thing was bland and dull, the chicken pieces although quite plentiful, tasted rubbery.  I ended up eating half of what was on my plate and throwing out the rest.  Maybe my expectations were too high but then again it is Ina.  She never disappoints. I am sure I could have rescued it by adding soy sauce or something else.  But not for $8.99 a bag.  Maybe some of the other choices are better but my first impression left such a bad taste I don't think I care to try again.  If I am going to eat frozen food it better be good and as far as I am concerned, there are other brands out there that deliver a better product, even for frozen food.  Sorry Ina, though I still love you!

I was not asked to review this product.  The opinions on this post are my own and are based solely on my purchase of one frozen bag of Barefoot Contessa's Sesame Chicken & Noodles

Top photo Google the rest Lindaraxa

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Smoked Trout, Cucumber And Tomato Salad

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One of the things I  found at Trader Joe's last week was a tin of smoked trout.  I have been wanting to try this in a salad for a long time and finally I did.  This will be terrific this summer, so stock up!

(serves 2-3)


250-300g hot smoked ocean trout, skin removed

1 long Lebanese cucumber, peeled and cut into small chunks

2-3 ripe yellow or red tomatoes, cut in half and then sliced into half rounds

handful chives, sliced into fine rounds

Persian feta, crumbled (goat cheese would be fine also)

baby radishes, finely sliced (optional)

For the dressing:

juice of half a large lemon

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper


Flake the hot smoked ocean trout. Gently toss it with the cucumber, tomatoes and chives in a large bowl. Add the feta, pour over the dressing and toss lightly again. Arrange on serving plates.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shrimp Risotto With Saffron and Peas

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Or...What to do when you have less shrimp than you thought you had!

Risottos are easy...they just take more time and love than you might have to give at the time.  If you have guests for an informal dinner AND you have an island in your kitchen with stools on one side they are fun to make while you cook and your guests watch. It's better too if  you and your guests have cocktails in hand! The periodic stirring of the rice seems to mesmerize everybody to the point that nobody cares when dinner will be served. So if you are refraining from making a risotto because it's a last minute thing, don't.  Just know when to serve it and that is when good friends are the guests.

Risottos are also a good idea when someone drops in unexpectedly and whatever you had planned for dinner is just not enough.  Such was the case for this risotto. What had been originally planned as  Shrimp Scampi with rice for two suddenly turned into this delightful risotto for four, very similar to the Spanish Arroz Con Camarones, yet a bit more upscale.

Use the shrimp shells to make a subtle shellfish broth for the risotto. Make sure you don’t overcook the shrimp; they will take only four to five minutes to cook, and the contrast of their succulent texture against the chewy rice will be lost if the shrimp become rubbery.

I did not add peas this time but included them in the recipe as an afterthought.


1 pound medium shrimp, in the shell
6 cups fish stock, OR chicken stock or water 
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2  cups arborio or carnaroli rice
2 large garlic cloves, green shoots removed, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
A generous pinch of saffron (optional)
1 cup thawed frozen peas, or fresh peas steamed for five minutes (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste


1. Shell the shrimp and de-vein if necessary. Salt them lightly, and set aside in a bowl (in the refrigerator, if you won’t be making and serving the risotto right away). Rinse the shells, and combine them with 6 cups of water or lite chicken broth in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, skim off foam, reduce the heat to low and simmer partly covered for 30 minutes. Strain. If you are using fish stock just bring it to a boil,  taste, add enough salt to make a well seasoned broth and bring to a simmer in a saucepan.

2. Heat 2 TB butter over medium heat in a large nonstick frying pan or a large, wide saucepan. Add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, three to five minutes, and then add the rice and the garlic. Cook, stirring, until the grains of rice are separate and beginning to crackle. Add the saffron and cook for a minute.

3. Stir in the wine, and cook over medium heat, stirring. The wine should bubble, but not too quickly. You want some of the flavor to cook into the rice before it evaporates. When the wine has just about evaporated, stir in a ladleful or two of the simmering stock, enough to just cover the rice. The stock should bubble slowly.

Cook, stirring often, until it is almost absorbed. Add another couple of ladles of the stock. Continue to cook, stirring often — not too fast and not too slowly, adding more stock when the rice is almost dry — for 20 minutes.

4. Taste a bit of the rice. It should taste chewy but not hard in the middle. Continue adding simmering stock and stirring until the rice reaches this al dente stage. Stir in more stock to cover, add the peas and lay the shrimp on top of the rice.  Cover for a minute. Uncover and stir, for another four to five minutes, until the shrimp are pink and cooked through but still moist and the peas are bright. Stir in the parsley and another small ladle of stock, remove from the heat, add pepper,  and 1 TB butter. Stir  and serve.


Yield: Serves 4.

Advance preparation: The shrimp can be peeled and the broth can be made several hours before you wish to cook the risotto.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lunch At Madame Mere's...Tortilla Espanola

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The Spanish tortilla is the most common gastronomic specialty you can find all over Spain. There are hundreds of variations even in one specific region, but the most common is the one made with eggs, potatoes and onion.

The potatoes, ideally starchy rather than waxy ones, are cut into thin slices or in small dices. They are then fried in olive oil together with the sliced onions at a moderate temperature until they are soft, but not brown. Browning is often avoided by an excess of olive oil, which can later be strained and reused. The potatoes and onions are then removed, drained, and mixed with raw beaten and salted eggs. This mixture is then returned to the pan and slowly fried.

The tortilla is fried first on one side and then flipped over to fry on its other side. Flipping is accomplished with the help of a plate or a "vuelve tortillas" (a ceramic or wooden lid-like utensil made for this particular purpose). The plate or “vuelve tortillas” is placed on top of the pan and then, with one hand on top of the plate and the other holding the pan, both are inverted, leaving the tortilla upside-down on the plate. The tortilla is then slid carefully back into the pan.

The tortilla may be eaten hot or cold.  It is commonly served as a snack (tapa) or picnic dish throughout Spain. As a tapa, it may be cut into bite-size pieces and served on cocktail sticks, or cut into  triangle portions (pincho de tortilla).

Unlike the American or French omelette, in the Spanish tortilla the main ingredient, in this case the potatoes, take precedence over the eggs.

When my family lived in Brussels in the 1970's they had a Spanish maid named Valeriana who came to clean on a daily basis.  She was fabulous, as all Spanish domestics were in those days. Her lunch every day was a Spanish tortilla.  Every day, without fail. 

For an authentic recipe, I turned to Penelope Casa's book, The Foods and Wines of Spain, which is my mother's go to bible for Spanish food.  She never disappoints.

Make a big tortilla, more than you would eat in one seating,  and leave the rest covered at room temperature for snacks or cocktails.

This one was made with leftover potatoes au gratin

If you make potatoes au gratin, save the leftovers.  The next day cook the onions first and then add the potatoes.   Proceed with the recipe.


Tortilla Española

Recipe from Penelope Casas The Foods & Wines of Spain

1 cup olive oil
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/8 inch slices
Coarse salt
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 large eggs

Heat the oil in an 8 or 9 inch skillet and add the potato slices one at a time to prevent sticking. Alternate potato layers with the onion slices and salt the layers lightly. Cook slowly, over a medium flame, lifting and turning the potatoes occasionally, until they are tender but not brown. (The potatoes will remain separated, not in a "cake.")

Meanwhile, in a large bowl beat the eggs with a fork until they are slightly foamy. Salt to taste. Remove the potatoes from the skillet and drain them in a colander, reserving about 3 tablespoons of the oil. (The potatoes give the oil a delicious flavor, so reserve the rest for future use.) Add the potatoes to the beaten eggs, pressing the potatoes down so that they are completely covered by the egg. Let the mixture sit 15 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil in a large skillet until very hot (you may use the same skillet as long as absolutely nothing is stuck to the bottom). Add the potato and egg mixture, rapidly spreading it out in the skillet with the aid of a pancake turner. Lower the heat to medium-high and shake the pan often to prevent sticking. When the potatoes begin to brown underneath, invert a plate of the same size over the skillet. Flip the omelet onto the plate. Add about 1 tablespoon more of oil to the pan, then flip the omelet back into the skillet to brown on the other side. (If your skillet was not hot enough, some of the omelet may stick to the pan. If this happens, don't despair; scrape off the pieces and fit them into their places on the omelet. With subsequent flips, the pieces will mesh with the omelet.)

Lower the heat to medium. Flip the omelet 2 or 3 more times (this helps to give it a good shape) cooking briefly on each side. It should be slightly juicy within. Transfer to a platter and serve hot or at room temperature. I prefer it after it has been sitting for several hours.

The kitchen at Madame Mere's is perhaps the cleanest you will ever find anywhere.  There are two maids who take turns cleaning and taking care of her.  She sweeps after them.  Those are my Bottega Veneta shoes which I gave her when my feet went up a size.  Much to my chagrin, she loves to clean and garden in them.

All photos Lindaraxa

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Around the Garden

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Finally Spring has arrived in Georgia! maybe this time it will stay. 

We have had so many false starts that I don't know what to think any more.  Last year by this time, the azaleas were already in bloom. They are just starting to show a little color. Maybe in a week there will be color in the garden, which means we are about two weeks behind schedule.

I went by Home Depot and Lowes today to pick up some things and ended up turning around and coming home.  The place was mobbed! I have had to replace some of the dianthus which I killed last year (don't ask) and I am exhausted from all the digging I've had to do to get them in the ground.Temperatures are supposed to hit 70 degrees this week and I am more than ready to put all the sweaters away and start wearing t shirts and shorts to work around the garden.  I know wishful thinking, but one can always hope.

The view from by front door is to die for!

The view from the front door.  if you look closely, you will see the pink tulips under the cherry trees.

Look at that sky!

My daughter planted these tulips under the cherry trees last Fall.  I can't bring myself to pick them and bring them inside.

I got this lavender at the grocery store last week.  Who would have thought!

It will be planted outside in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile the kitchen smells divine!

Another grocery store purchase last week and still going strong!

Remember her? she was given to me in the Fall when I had the ladies lunch.

This is the orchid that keeps on giving.  More buds!

The secret to orchids,  I have discovered, is lots of light, preferably from the East.  Water them by placing the pot in the sink and running water for about a minute.  When the water finishes draining from the bottom put them back.  Do this once a week.  That's all!

All photos Lindaraxa

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pita Margherita

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I have lunch at home practically every day of the week.  Two or three times a week I have eggs, baked or in an omelette.  The rest of the time I will either have a leafy salad or one with tuna or chicken.  Planning for lunch and dinner on a daily basis can be a full time proposition and coming up with something new can be quite a challenge. 

One of the things I try to avoid to keep my weight in check is bread;  but once a week I will treat myself to a pita sandwich or one of these little pizzas.  If you keep the cheese to a minimum, you can justify the splurge and eat a fairly good lunch for around 350 calories.

You don't have to stick to these toppings.  Try different cheeses, sliced onions, roasted red peppers, chorizo, chicken and salsa, whatever you have around.  You will be surprised at what you can come up with.  No matter the combination always sprinkle some Parmesan over the crust.  It helps to keep it from absorbing the moisture from the toppings.

These little pizzas also come in handy when unexpected guests drop in for lunch.   

  • 1 round pita bread
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 very ripe tomato, unseeded and sliced
  • 1 ounce fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 teaspoon prepared basil pesto or basil leaves
  • Parmesan cheese 
  • 1 slice of prosciutto)optional)


Position rack in center of oven. Place baking sheet on rack. Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush both sides of pita with olive oil.* Cover top side with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, sliced tomatoes, prosciutto, cheese and basil leaves.  Drizzle some olive oil on top.

 Transfer to hot baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese melts and crust is crispy.

For a really crispy crust,  prebake the crust for 5 minutes before you add the toppings.

Serves 1

All photos Lindaraxa
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