Sunday, May 31, 2009

Food: Easy Egg Sandwiches

This past weekend I was looking to make a quick lunch (when you work inside a boring office all week, time outside on the weekends is certainly precious). We had some left over cheese bagels in our freezer, so I decided to throw together some easy egg sandwiches. Once I fried up the eggs, I layered them on toasted bagels with fresh, steaky tomatoes, thinly sliced sopressata and a touch of mustard. This was so much better than any breakfast sandwich at the coffee shop chains - and it maybe took 10 minutes to prepare. I think I should start making egg sandwiches more often!

egg bagel, sopressata, Panera, Cheese, Egg, Mustard

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Food: Roasted Rhubarb and Yogurt

One of my favorite things about spring isn't the fact the weather is getting warmer or the flowers have begun to bloom (even though I look forward to both of these). Instead, it has to do with the availability of one of my favorite vegetables - the ruby pink, celery-looking sticks of the rhubarb plant.

It's interesting to me that anyone ever thought to try rhubarb stalks since their roots and leaves are poisonous and an initial passing of the raw, crunchy veggie on your tongue would make your mouth pucker in disdain over the not-so-pleasant experience.
And no, to those of you who think you've really tasted rhubarb before, if you're counting the one time you had Strawberry Rhubarb pie, it doesn't count (in my opinion, when cooking with rhubarb, it should always be the main star of the dish or sauce, not a seeming afterthought).

So how did I become to love rhubarb so much? It starts with my mom. Although I love to cook, my mom and sister are the bakers of the family. And my mother is a queen when it comes to making pies. Over the years she has completely perfected pie crust. Hers is an amazing, light, flaky shell that makes you never want to attempt to try store-bought or restaurant pie ever again. But my favorite element of any pie she makes is the filling - particularly rhubarb. She probably gets tired of asking me what kind of pie I would like when my answer is always, never failingly, "rhubarb, please." I could probably eat an entire rhubarb pie in one sitting (although it probably wouldn't be a good idea).
Since I haven't learned my mom's craft and the favorite part of a rhubarb pie to me is the filling, I was estatic when I found this recipe for Roasted Rhubarb on the Wednesday Chef's blog. Yes, it's shown here in a plastic container - I brought it to work with my lunch one day (which if you do this, be sure to pack the yogurt and rhubarb separately and combine them right before eating to avoid watery yogurt). I'm sure some of my co-workers (male management consultants where are definitely not foodies) were looking at what I was eating like I was a little strange. I mixed it here with Dannon 100% Natural Vanilla yogurt and I'm sure it would be even more decadant with Fage yogurt (although this time I was looking for something low-in-fat).

Rose Gray's and Ruth Rogers's Roasted Rhubarb
via the Wednesday Chef


  • 14 ounces rhubarb
  • 1 blood or navel orange (or 1 lemon)
  • 2 vanilla beans or 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract (or more to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons Demerara sugar (more if you're using the lemon)


  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cut the rhubarb into 2-to-2 1/2-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl. Finely grate the zest of half the orange over the rhubarb and then squeeze the juice of the whole orange into the bowl. Split the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds and place both in the bowl. Add the sugar and stir to combine.
  • Pour the rhubarb into a baking dish and arrange the pieces so that they lie flat. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the vanilla pods.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Food: Warm Salmon, Chickpea and Tomato Bowl

I'm not quite sure what it is about Mediterranean-style food that leaves you feeling healthy and satisfied all at the same time. Meals like the one below are comforting yet don't make you feel guilty or like you've eaten too much. The original recipe is by Jill Dupleix and was featured in Bon Appetit in May 2007 (I've modified it slightly). Serve with crusty bread and a crisp white wine for a complete, relaxed meal.

Salmon Salad, Chickpeas, Bon Appetit, Tomatoes, Green Beans, Summer, Mediterranean

Warm Salmon, Chickpea & Tomato Bowl

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 center-cut salmon fillets
2 cups chickpeas from two (15-ounce) cans, drained, rinsed
2 large tomatoes, chopped (preferably meaty, beefsteak variety)
1/4 cup pitted, Kalamata Olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Juice from one orange

Juice from one lemon
1 tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed, or drained capers in brine
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 handfuls fresh green beans


  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in each of 2 heavy large skillets. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Add fillets to each skillet and cook until almost cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Cool slightly.
  • In a small skillet, add 4 tablespoons of water and place over medium-heat. Add green beans and simmer until cooked through yet still crisp, approximately 5 minutes.
  • Heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chickpeas and all remaining ingredients (including cooked green beans) except parsley. Stir until warm. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Divide chickpea mixture among 6 plates. Tear salmon into 1- to 1 1/2-inch
    pieces; scatter over chickpea/tomato mixture. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Food: Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Pork Tenderloin

Do I have a treat for all of you today! Not only am I sharing two absolutely delicious recipes, but my sister has deemed this to be her "new favorite meal." Both of these dishes would make a great menu for a low-pressure dinner party since the gnocchi can be made in advance and the pork is relatively low-maintenance. The gnocchi is soft, warm, sweet, and pillowy (although my lesson learned is to use half of the butter the recipe called for since the gnocchi has plenty of moisture on its own). The pork is salty and moist and works very well with the sweetness of the soft onions and the crunchy texture of the green beans. And if you aren't having a dinner party both the pork and the gnocchi make wonderful leftovers.

(My mom and sister are pictured below with the gnocchi...they did a great job!)

sweet potato gnocchi, brown butter, sage, bon appetit, food and wine, sweet, salty, pork, rib roast, tenderloin, green bean, onion
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage
From: Bon Appétit - December 2005


2, 1-pound red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with fork
1, 12-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve 2 hours
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 3/4 cups (about) all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (MM Note: The gnocchi are so light and airy I felt this was actually too much oil. Next time I make the dish I plan to cut the amount of butter in half.)
6 tablespoons chopped fresh sage plus whole leaves for garnish


  • Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place sweet potatoes on plate; microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes per side. Cut in half and cool.
  • Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer 3 cups to large bowl. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and nutmeg; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.
  • Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long rope (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent. Transfer to baking sheet.
  • Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to clean rimmed baking sheet. Cool completely. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
  • Preheat oven to 300°F. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until butter solids are brown and have toasty aroma, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes.
    Add chopped sage (mixture will bubble up). Turn off heat. Season sage butter generously with salt and pepper.
  • Transfer half of sage butter to large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add half of gnocchi. Sauté until gnocchi are heated through, about 6 minutes. Empty skillet onto rimmed baking sheet; place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining sage butter and gnocchi.
  • Divide gnocchi and sauce among shallow bowls. Garnish with sage leaves.

Sweet and Salty Pork Rib Roasts by Jean-Georges Vongerichten
MM Note: Food & Wine also listed a spicy broth to serve with this dish. Since I felt there were plenty of flavors going on, we served the pork without this added step.

1 quart water
1 cups soy sauce (MM Note: Modified from 2 cups; Recommend to use low-sodium due to adding salt)
1/2 cup pure Grade B maple syrup (MM Note: Modified from 1 cup)
1/8 cup kosher salt (MM Note: Modified from 1/4 cup)
Two 5-bone pork rib roasts, about 4 pounds each (MM Note: I used boneless pork tenderloins, which worked perfectly!)

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 large head of garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
1 fresh red Thai chile with seeds, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound thin green beans


  • Prepare the Pork: In a large nonreactive pot, mix the water with the soy sauce, maple syrup and salt, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the pork rib roasts and refrigerate for 2 hours. Light a grill. Preheat the oven to 350°. Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry. Grill over medium heat, turning several times, until lightly charred all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pork to a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 50-60 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 150° when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Transfer the pork to a carving board to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the onions: In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic and chile, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened but not browned, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Stir the green beans into the onions. Cover and cook over moderate heat until warmed through.
  • Transfer the green beans and onions to a platter. Using a sharp carving knife, slice the roasts from the racks, using the bones as a guide. Carve the deboned roasts 1 inch thick and arrange on top of the onions.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gardening: Starting from Seed Update

Remember all of those trays of seed I planted weeks and weeks ago? Well the weather up here is finally starting to become more consistent. As a result, this past weekend I moved the "babies" outside to start hardening them off. They're sitting under a tree in the back yard getting ready to be planted this coming weekend. Hopefully Jonathan remembers to water them since they're at his house :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Food: Italian Sausage and Oven Baked Onion Rings

A couple of weekends ago my family came into town to visit. Since they were arriving on Friday evening and I was going to be at work until almost dinnertime, I decided to make a relatively low-maintenance meal. First, my sister Meghan helped me sear some spicy Italian sausage on the stove top which we then added to a crock pot with sliced green peppers and marinara sauce. We put the pot on high and let it cook until my parents arrived. Next, we decided to try making Ellie Krieger's oven-baked onion rings. Although the flavor turned out great, we did have a few issues in coating the onions - the buttermilk caused massive chip clumping early on in the process. As a result, next time I make these I'd plan to follow two tips posted by reviewers of the recipe: Grind the chip mixture to the point it resembles cornmeal; Put the onions in the fridge for 15-20 minutes after coating them with buttermilk. Also, be sure to follow the last step in Krieger's directions - coating the rings with cooking spray keeps them from burning.

oven baked onion rings, ellie krieger, italian sausage, quick meals, motown maiden

Ellie Krieger's Oven Baked Onion Rings

Cooking spray
4 cups baked potato chips (Baked chips made from whole potatoes work best)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (I left this out since we were having spicy sausage - they still tasted great)
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 to 2 large Vidalia onions, peeled


  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  • Spray a baking sheet slightly with oil and set aside.
  • Place potato chips in the bowl of a food processor and process into crumbs, about 20 seconds. Transfer to a shallow bowl, add cayenne, and set aside.
  • In another bowl, combine buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper and set aside.
  • Slice onions into 1/2-inch circles and separate into rings, keeping only large, whole rings (reserve rest of onions for other uses). You should come out with about 12 to 14 rings.
  • Place the remaining flour in a sealable plastic bag, then add onions, and shake to coat.
  • Dip onions 1 at a time into the buttermilk mixture, then dip into potato chip crumbs and place on baking sheet.
  • Spray canola oil evenly over rings and bake for 20 minutes, or until coating is crisp.
  • Season with salt, to taste, and serve immediately. (I didn't think they needed any salt due to the potato chips containing plenty already).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Gardening: Weekly Update

More flowers are in bloom this week in my garden...alliums, bearded irises, and columbine. And the peonies are budded out!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Food: Sweet and Sour Brisket with Brown-Beer-Braised Brussel Spouts

When I read this description about the Sweet and Sour Brisket in Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave," I knew I had to make it - Jonathan and I both love stuffed cabbage and I often crave things sweet and sour. When deciding what to serve with the brisket, I took a cue from Krieger's description. I decided this would be perfect served with "cabbage" (i.e. brown-beer-braised brussel sprouts (try saying that five times fast!)) and potato wedges (instead of mashers).
  • Per Krieger: "This dish takes pot roast, one of my all-time-favorite comfort foods, to new heights with a sweet-and-sour tomato sauce usually found in an Old World stuffed cabbage recipe. The brisket is meltingly tender and the familiar tangy-sweet, raisin-studded sauce makes you want to lick your plate clean. Growing up, we always had pot roast on special occasions. While this recipe is festive and makes enough to serve company, don't wait for a holiday to make it. You'll be glad for the leftovers any day of the week."
Simple Sides:

Brown-Beer-Braised Brussel Sprouts:
Heat stove burner to Medium. Take one small bag of brussel sprouts and cut lengthwise into thin slices. Add sliced sprouts to large pan with ~1/3 bottle of brown beer (I used Newcastle Brown Ale). Cook until the liquid has evaporated and sprouts are cooked but not mushy (generally takes less than 10 minutes), stirring occassionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Note: I've found that cooking brussel sprouts this way lends a nice texture to a dish and makes the normally strong flavor some people dislike, a little less potent. Brussel sprouts cooked this way also make a lovely bed when plating pork or beef medallions.

Quick Crispy Potatoes:
Take one package of baby Yukon Gold potatoes, wash, dry and slice into halves. Add wedges to a microwave-safe dish with enough water to cover all of the potatoes. Cook on high for 6 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain potatoes and place on an oven-safe plate, cut side up. Brush exposed side with olive oil (or spritz with a little cooking spray) and sprinkle with salt. Place potatoes under a broiler for 8-10 minutes until the cut side becomes brown and crispy (a toaster oven broiler will work just as fine as the oven).

The Main Dish:

Ellie Krieger's Sweet and Sour Brisket
1 (3-pound) beef brisket, first-cut or flat-half cut, trimmed of any excess fat
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, cut in 1/2, then thinly sliced into 1/2 moons
3 cloves garlic, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
One 15- oz. can tomato sauce, preferably no salt added
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water
3 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/3 cup raisins (I only had golden raisins and they worked out fine)
5 black peppercorns
1 allspice berry (I didn't have a berry so I used a couple sprinkles of ground allspice)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Pat the brisket dry and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or braising pot. Sear the brisket until it is browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the brisket to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pot and cook the onion, stirring a few times, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce, broth, brown sugar, 1/3 cup of the vinegar, the raisins, peppercorns, and allspice and stir to combine well. Bring mixture to a boil, return brisket and any accumulated juices to the pot, spoon some of the tomato-vinegar mixture over the brisket, cover tightly, and transfer to the oven. Cook until the brisket is fork tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Remove the brisket from the oven, transfer the meat to a cutting board, and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes or, if serving later, cover and refrigerate the meat and sauce for several hours or overnight. When you are ready to serve, cut the meat against the grain into 1/4- inch
thick slices. Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar into the warm sauce. Return the sliced brisket to the sauce until heated through, then serve.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Food Fixes: How to Make Perfect Rice

I blogged previously about my issues with the rice cooker a couple weeks ago. Well it must have been fate, because I was on the Gourmet Magazine website the other day and stumbled across this recipe from Francis Lam from March (the 10th to be exact) called "Koshary Needs Love, Too." In it, there were instructions for perfect rice! I can't wait to try it...(and I love how he makes fun of people who can cook perfect rice on the stove - LOL).

"Preheat an oven to 350°F, unless you’re one of those freaky people who can cook rice perfectly on the stove....Warm up a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Give it a few nice glugs of olive oil. Don’t be stingy. Throw in your cinnamon and roll it around in there until you can smell it. Now throw in your rice and stir it around. Add your spices and toast all this together, stirring, until the spices are all aromatic and maybe half the rice has turned opaque. Pour in your water; it will probably boil immediately. If not, make it boil. Then cover it and drop it in the oven. Pull it out 13 minutes later. If you’re one of those freaky people who can cook rice perfectly on the stove, do whatever it is that you do. Weirdo....Is the rice done? Good. Season it with enough salt to make it tasty while you fluff it. Let the excess moisture steam off."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Honey: The Little Things

toothbrush, detroit, cavityMy dentist won't be pleased when I visit him tomorrow evening. I have a cavity...something I'm not proud of since up until a couple of years ago I had lived my entire life cavity-free. I blame my recent blemish on my current lifestyle...all work and no "Sarah time." I've been eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at work and the dry cereal I munch on in the morning (I'm a big fan of Kashi Honey Sunshine) is probably the culprit since it sticks real nicely in my teeth.

I had a hard time believing the cavity was there at first since I brush twice a day and use Act restoring mouthwash (it contains flouride -and- is supposed to "remineralize" weak spots...whatever that means) and I even drink lots of water and chew tons of sugar-free gum right after eating. Oh well.

Anyway, my Honey was worried about me. And he's big into tooth health being practically cavity-free himself. So he brought me a toothbrush, travel case and toothpaste and told me to put it in my briefcase. It was very sweet.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Food: Grilled Kielbasa and Quinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro

Quinoa, Black Beans, Cilantro, Kielbasa, Grill, Detroit, Quick Meals
I had an exhausting week at work last week so Friday evening I wanted to eat something that was hearty and comforting yet quick to prepare. For some reason I had a craving for kielbasa, grilled until the skin has split, crisp on the outside yet juicy and steaming in the middle, served with sauteed peppers and onions and tangy yellow mustard (I'm making my mouth water just thinking about it). I must have been feeling nostalgic because this was something I remember having at my parents' house in the summer, where we would eat dinner on the back porch, looking out into the horse pasture and woods beyond. If only I could back to those days of relaxing dinners with family, the ones where you didn't have to worry about going back to work the next day, only enjoying the weather and fellowship. But I digress :)

Since I didn't think kielbasa would be hearty enough on its own, I decided to dig up a quinoa recipe that appeared in my September 2008 Bon Appetit magazine. Besides the black beans, the two other things that appeal to me about this recipe are the salty feta cheese and fresh, lively cilantro. I happen to love the flavor of cilantro. But I find it interesting how a little plant can be so polarizing. It's a food that causes so much emotion people have blogs dedicated to either loving or hating it. Even the Wall Street Journal in February found it noteworthy enough to dedicate an article to Cilantro Haters. When I was in graduate school earning my MBA, I once had a marketing professor say that if you've designed a product that evokes love or hate, you've succeeded in a respect because you've struck on emotion and emotion causes people to act. So in that regard, I now like to think of cilantro this way - that using it in food is something good because your food won't be bland and boring but, instead, cause a little bit of fresh controversy.

Quinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups chopped white onions
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup quinoa,* rinsed, drained
2 teaspoons chili powder (I used Chipotle Chili Powder)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup water
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
Crumbled Cotija cheese or feta cheese (optional)

Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and red pepper; sauté until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in next 4 ingredients.

Add water; bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until quinoa is almost tender, about 14 minutes.

Add beans and 1/4 cup cilantro; cook uncovered until heated through and liquid is fully
absorbed, about 3 minutes.

Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with 1/4 cup cilantro and cheese, if desired.

*A grain with a delicate flavor and a texture similar to that of couscous; available at natural foods stores. (You can also find this in the natural foods/grains section at many grocery stores...near the Bob's Red Mill products)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Dear Mom -

I saw these tulips this morning when we went to brunch and thought of you. They reminded me of how you try to make the world a more beautiful place through your art and art lessons, flower gardens, and home make-over projects and the endless things you seem to always be doing for others. You taught me to not be afraid to be creative and express myself and be my own person. I am your #1 fan. Happy Mother's Day.
I love you.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Nature: Goldfinch

Today a beautiful, little goldfinch visited me outside the bathroom window. He even was kind enough to wait for me to fetch my camera so I could gently capture his image through the screen.
birds, Detroit, Nature, Spring, Poems, John Keats, I stood tip-toe upon a little hill, goldfinchFrom John Keats' "I Stood Tip-Toe Upon a Little Hill" (1817)
Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop
From low hung branches; little space they stop;
But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek:
Then off at once, as in a wanton freak:
Or perhaps, to show their black, and golden wings,
Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.
Were I in such a place, I sure should pray
That nought less sweet, might call my thoughts away.
Than the soft rustle of a maiden's gown
Fanning away the dandelion's down;
Than the light music of her nimble toes
Patting against the sorrel as she goes.
How she would start, and blush, thus to be caught
Playing in all her innocence of thought. (5. 27-40)
You can read the entire poem here if you wish.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gardening: Privacy Fixes

It was only a few years ago the area next to Jonathan's house looked a lot like this photo - pretty, natural grass that provided both privacy and a nice, scenic backdrop to the patio in the summer. Unfortunately, a couple years ago, the neighborhood association cut down everything next to the house to "fix" a water drainage problem (I like to gripe about this since first they never notified Jonathan before doing this and second since they left the grasses shown in the photo below behind all the other neighbors' houses...not fair!). Anyway, this spring, Jonathan and I decided it was time to do some planting to make up for the lack of privacy. The ornamental grasses I've started from seed will hopefully help us add to the volume - it's a fairly large space to cover. And our parents gave us some grass divisions from their plants too. Once we have more items planted and they start growing, I'll show you what progress we've made making it pretty and private once again.

Here's what the area by his patio now looks like now, without tall grasses to block the view...Views are shown from the neighborhood side and the road side:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gardening: Starting from Seed Update

It's now week three in my seed starting project and the plantings are coming along very nicely. Almost EVERYTHING has germinated with the exception of a few delphinium (even the giant plume grass has shown it's baby roots). So far so good...I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Luckily the frost-free date is quickly approaching (May 15 for here in Detroit) meaning these babies can be transplanted outside very soon!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

DIY: Office/Guestroom Project

For the past few years my office/guestroom has bothered me. The decor doesn't really seem well planned out or truly finished and it definitely doesn't go with the rest of my house. Since I don't know how much longer I'll be living here, I wanted to come up with a relatively low-cost, DIY solution to fancy the place up. Here is a small clip of what the current space looks like. Followed by a teaser of what's to come. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gardening: Weekly Growing Update

Spring brings weekly changes...welcome additions to the reawakening garden. This week the redbud is in full bloom, leaves on my Japanese maple are starting to emerge more fully and chives, clematis, allium, and bleeding hearts are budding out in preparation to bloom. My hostas, catmint, siberian irises and ornamental grasses are starting to gain some more height. And the astilbe I thought had died last year has started to come up, stronger than ever!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Food: Simple Stir-Fry (and not-so-easy rice)

On Friday I decided to make a recipe out of this month's Bon Appetit (May 2009): Stir-fried Beef, Broccoli and Yams. It turned out to be a very easy dish (minus our slight disaster with the short-grain brown rice) and was a nice combination of sweet, crunchy and spicy. Some slight modifications I made to the recipe included throwing in some water chestnuts and doubling the amount of red pepper (since we like things a little more spicy). I think the stir-fry would have also been good with peanuts instead of the water chestnuts, so I'll have to try that next time. The sweet potatoes in the sauce reminded us both of candied they definitely needed the beef, broccoli and heat to balance out the sweetness.

Stir-Fried Beef, Broccoli, and Yams


  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (or a little more if you want some heat)
  • 1 1-pound flank steak, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil, divided
  • 4 cups broccoli florets (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 8-ounce yam (red-skinned sweet potato), peeled, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices (I used a regular sweet potato and it turned out fine)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • Stir first 4 ingredients in small bowl until sugar dissolves. Set sauce aside. Place beef in large bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cornstarch and toss to coat.
  • Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in large wok over high heat. beef mixture; stir-fry until no longer pink outside, about 3 minutes.
  • Transfer beef mixture to medium bowl. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet. Add broccoli, yam, and ginger. Toss to coat; sprinkle with salt and pepper. sauce.
  • Cover, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook until vegetables are just tender, about 5
    minutes. Add beef mixture. Toss until sauce coats beef, about 1 minute. Serve.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gardening: My Nemesis - VIOLETS

For the past few years I've been battling violets. Yes, the seemingly harmless, little purple flower some people like to use in pretty jams or lovely teas has become one of my biggest botanical problems. Although pretty on their own, once they start spreading into the yard, goodbye lush, green grass! Unfortunately, according to my online research (and helpful garden-center folks), there isn't a weed product out there that kills violets completely (unless you kill the grass as well). *Sigh* And since sitting in your yard, pulling them out by hand isn't exactly a desirable or effective method(believe me, I've tried it before and it's no wonder it's difficult to kill them...they have huge, strong roots!), I've been using the Ortho product shown below. The "bottle with the purple label" seems to be the best for helping control violets - and is most effective when used on the plants in their early growth stages (before they bloom). Happy spraying!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Food: Hamburgers with Chipotle Ketchup and Fresh Guacamole, Oven Sweet Potato Fries

Since the weather was so beautiful this past weekend, we thought it was fine time to get out the BBQ and grill up some hamburgers. I decided to fancy things up a bit by topping the burgers with fresh, garlicy guacamole and chipotle-spiced ketchup and serve oven-baked sweet potato fries on the side. The italian sesame seed hamburger buns shown below are awesome - they're supplied from a bakery in Windsor, Canada and some of the grocery stores in the Detroit-area (specifically Busch's) carry them in their bakery section.

Weber has a grilling guide that has become my best friend when it comes to cooking things on the grill. I suggest you to visit Weber's website, print out the guide and keep it in one of your cookbooks. We've found when we follow the instructions, everything comes out cooked just how we like it with no worries that we have to put something back on the grill/run the risk of overcooking/drying out the meat.
Here are my "basic" instructions:
Hamburgers - Preheat your grill to medium heat. In a medium-sized bowl, mix 1 finely diced shallot, 2-3 Tb of worchestershire sauce and ~1.5 lbs of lean ground beef with your hands. Hand pack into paties ~3/4" thick. Cook paties on Direct-Medium for 8-10 minutes (Weber guide tip).
Guacamole - This is my basic proportioning for guacamole, which does the trick every time. In a bowl, combine 2 ripe avacados (halved, pit removed, pulp scooped out into bowl), juice from 1 lime and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves. Combine/mash ingredients to desired consistency/texture. Add salt to taste.
Chipotle Ketchup - My favorite way to make this is to use canned chipotles in adobo. In a small bowl, mix ketchup, a few Tb of adobo, and a portion of a diced chipotle to taste. If I'm just making a small amount, sometimes I don't want to waste an entire can just for ketchup. In this case, I follow a quick and easy version, mixing chipotle hot sauce (Bufalo or Tabasco both work well) into ketchup, adding in increments until I reach the desired level of heat and smokiness.
Sweet Potato Oven Fries - Preheat oven to 450. Peel sweet potatoes and slice into matchsticks. Toss potatoes with a few Tb of olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them on to baking sheet(s) so that they compose one layer (they'll brown up and get crispy (not soggy) if you keep them from overlapping). Bake "fries" until browned, 45 minutes-to-one hour (you may have to cook longer if you you're using two oven racks).
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