Monday, October 31, 2011

Tricks and Treats

We went for a walk by the water on Saturday morning, anticipating that a big Nor'Easter was going to keep us indoors for the rest of the weekend.

But the storm just brought rain and wind to the coast.  A lot of our neighbors to the West got a foot of snow, and a few places got as many as thirty inches.  Two days before Halloween??  Mother Nature is tricky.

There were also treats.  We had a beautiful sunny day on Sunday, we harvested some arugula (no holes!) for a perfect salad (olive oil, salt, pepper = perfection),
and we got to enjoy our newly delivered stove and microwave. 

While it's not the most fascinating story, I thought I'd explain a little about our stove/microwave decision process.  Here's a before photo:
Aside from the appliances appearing dated, some of the finish was peeling on both.  More importantly, there were a few cooking problems.  The oven door did not open all the way.  You could still get big things in and out, but there was delicate maneuvering involved.  Also, the two large burners were starting to go, so I'd be waiting and waiting for a pot of water to boil, only to find that the burner wasn't hot at all.  Sometimes I could jiggle the burner and get it to start up again, but the process was getting old. 

I did look at replacing the burners, and the receptacles, which connect the burner to the electricity, because it was really those that had corroded and were causing the problem.  It was going to cost $100.  That would be reasonable, but then we had to consider how old our stove was.  We didn't know for sure, but once I found out that Caloric ranges stopped being made in the early 90's, I was convinced it was not worth the repair.  This was confirmed with an estimate that the average life expectancy of an electric range is 17 years.  It would only be a matter of time before the oven went, and one of my greatest fears was that it would be on Thanksgiving day, when we had over 20 people at our house. 

With Thanksgiving in mind, I wanted to maximize our cooking ability with the new appliances.  I went for a double oven, and a microwave with a convection feature, so we could be cooking things at three different temperatures all at once. Luxury!  I also knew I wanted to update with stainless steel.  If I had all the choices in the world, I would have selected a gas stove over electric, but we don't have gas in our house, or our town for that matter, so that will remain a dream.  I used Consumer Reports to narrow it down, and wound up choosing the Maytag Gemini and matching microwave because, while the ratings were similar, the Maytag appliances were more affordable than their GE counterparts.  I also liked the appearance better, and our less-than-a-year-old refrigerator is a Maytag, so there would be no issue with matching the stainless.

Without further ado, here it is:

Pretty, right?  Don't look to the right, because you'll see our antique dishwasher with a peeling finish, and the windows above the sink that have been taken apart and cobbled back together while waiting for a new window unit to arrive.  After Thanksgiving.  Oh, well. We are happy with the new appliances.

Wishing you a happy Halloween, with lots of treats!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Soups: Ajiaco

My Colombian friends taught me how to make this traditional dish.  It's a potato soup with lots of fixings- topped with shredded chicken, avocado, capers, half-and-half and, usually, half an ear of corn.  I went to three grocery stores and no one had corn-on-the-cob.  I think cooking the corn in the potatoes give the soup a particular flavor, but I had my mind set on ajiaco, so we did without this time.  The other ingredient that gives the soup a unique flavor is an herb called guascas.  There's no English translation- guascas is guascas.  I ordered it online


4 quarts of water
1 pound papas criollas (yellow potatoes; I use Yukon Gold instead), peeled and sliced
2 pounds "fine" or "smooth" potatoes (I use red/new potatoes), peeled and sliced
1 1/2 pounds "herd" potatoes (I use Russet), peeled and sliced
3 pounds of chicken breast, on the bone
4 corn cobs, shucked and cut into 3 pieces
3 scallions
8 garlic cloves (I used 5 big ones), minced
1 cup guascas
salt and pepper to taste
avocados, diced or sliced
mild cheese (like mozzarella), cubed

1. Cook the chicken, potatoes, scalllions, salt and pepper in water for one hour. The pototoes should be dissolving, and the chicken should be tender.

2. Take the chicken and scallions out, and add the corn and guascas.  Simmer until the potatoes become creamy.  (We got impatient and had some before all the potatoes had dissolved and it was still good.)

3.  Shred the chicken on top of the soup.  (Discard the scallions.)  Serve with cilantro, avocado, capers, half-and-half, and cheese.
Perfect for a cold night. 

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Soups: Split Pea

If there's ever a leftover ham in my midst, I will grab it and make split pea soup.  I was recently at a party with a bunch of people I didn't know very well and I heard talk of throwing the leftovers away.  It pained me, but I had to let that one go, because I didn't want to be known as the new girl who took the ham.  I still think about it.  Obviously.

There wasn't a ham in my midst today, and at least some of the last few soups I made had pancetta in them, so I decided to go vegetarian.  Vegan, actually, because I used olive oil instead of butter, and skipped adding milk at the end.  It's a great recipe either way, and I will feel good about my healthy lunch this week. 

Don't worry.  I'll still tell you how I make it when there's ham.

Split Pea Soup

6 tablespoons butter (I used 1/2 cup olive oil)
4 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into rounds
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 large onion
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 pounds dried split green peas
14 cups of water
1 meaty ham bone (or not)
4 sprigs fresh parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup milk (I left this out)

The split peas can be soaked overnight in cold water, covered by 4 inches, OR you can add a half hour to the cooking time.

Heat the olive oil in your soup pot, and add the leeks, carrots, celery, onion, salt and pepper, cooking for 10 minutes until softened but not brown.  Add the split peas, water, (ham), and herbs, and let simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (or as long as 2 1/2 hours if you didn't have the foresight to soak the peas overnight).

Remove the bay leaves and the ham bone, if there is one, and stir in the milk (if you're adding it).  You can puree part or all of the soup, or you can go "rustic" (lazy) and save yourself from having to clean another appliance. Add chopped pieces of leftover ham if you've got them, and season to taste with more salt and pepper.

Easy. Peasy. 

I didn't want to miss out on all the fun, so I cooked some shallots in really hot oil to make them crispy, and put them on top of the soup.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Planting the Garlic

We finally got around to it.  Garlic should be planted about a month before the ground freezes (in areas where the ground does freeze).  I'm hoping that the mild weather has bought us some time. 

We planted 16 cloves last year and harvested 6 usable bulbs.  I can only blame myself for that, because the animals and bugs have left everything in the onion family alone in our garden.  I think I may have been overwatering; I'm not sure.  The goal is to re-plant some of what you grow, so we've sacrificed one bulb for that purpose.  

There are stiff-neck garlics and soft-neck garlics.  The soft-neck are what you usually find in the grocery store. The stiff-necks are the ones that grow scapes, which I prefer because we get to enjoy a pre-harvest treat.  They have a core at the center that the cloves grow around.
For best results, it's recommended that you order from a seed company in your region.  I found I had to order mid-Summer to have my choice, and they shipped it to me in the Fall.  You can try using store-bought garlic, but it has probably been treated so it won't sprout.

Last year's garlic was German Extra Hardy. I also ordered some Russian Red from Johnny's Seeds, and then a variety called Persian Star from Botanical Interests, once I realized we didn't have much of our own to plant and everything was already selling out. 
The Persian Star, at the top of the photo, was the nicest looking garlic with the biggest cloves.  That's our home-grown German Extra Hardy on the right, and Russian Red on the left.
We cleared the area where the edamame and some tomatoes were growing, and turned the soil.  The cloves get planted six inches apart, and pushed flat side down 2 inches into the soil, so the pointy end sticks out the tiniest bit at the top. 
I think we planted 46 cloves.  That ought to bring us a bigger harvest next year!  Once the leaves fall, we'll use them to cover the bed until Spring, when we'll remove the leaves so the sprouting garlic can poke through.

We'll also harvest the parsnips in the Spring. 
They're supposed to taste sweeter after they've been in the ground all Winter. 

A few other things are still making a go of it in the garden.  A couple more baby eggplants from the plant that keeps on giving.
Carrots, which I hope will poke through soon, because we'll need to harvest before we get a real frost.
Plenty of scallions.
And, since most of the bugs have died off, maybe some arugula?
In light of many failures, there are still a few successes.  It was good to get back in the garden, and start thinking about what we'll grow next year.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Soups: Black Bean Pumpkin

Sometimes life takes over and you forget you have a blog.  I didn't really forget.  It's just been one of those weeks where there's lots to do and no time to reflect.  The only home improvement I've managed recently is buying some mums and a pumpkin for the front porch,
and I realize that's not very exciting.  I'm always drawn to the white ones.  I love all the colors- the oranges and yellows and purples- but there's something about the big puffy white ones that makes me just want to smash my face in them.
Is that weird?  Anyway.  Tonight I put a roasted chicken in the oven with lots of fresh herbs from the garden- sage, rosemary, oregano and thyme- and then I made some soup.

I've made a vegetarian version of this soup using vegetable instead of beef broth and skipping the ham, and it also turns out great.  The pumpkin is subtle, the cumin is not. Your most important tool here is your can opener.  There's not a lot of chopping or fresh ingredients outside of the onions, shallots and garlic, of which there are plenty.  This recipe adds ham at the end, but I use the Trader Joe's 4 oz. package of pancetta and cook it at the beginning with the onions.  It's packed full of flavor, and a great Fall soup.

Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup
from Gourmet Magazine

3 15 ounce cans black beans (about 4 1/2 cups), rinsed and drained
1 cup drained canned tomatoes, chopped
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup minced shallot
4 garlic cloves minced
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter (I used olive oil with success)
4 cups beef broth
a 16-ounce can pumpkin pureé (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup dry Sherry
1/2 pound cooked ham, cut into 1/8-inch dice
3 to 4 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
Garnish: sour cream and coarsely chopped lightly toasted pumpkin seeds

1. In a food processor coarsely pureé beans and tomatoes.

2. In a 6-quart heavy kettle cook onion, shallot, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper (and pancetta, if you do it my way) in butter (or olive oil) over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened and beginning to brown.

3. Stir in bean pureé, then broth, pumpkin, and Sherry until combined and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

4. Just before serving, add ham and vinegar and simmer soup, stirring, until heated through. Season soup with salt and pepper.

5. Serve soup garnished with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds. If you have them, which I didn't.

It's not much to look at without the garnish, but it tastes good.
Have a great week!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fall Flowers, Weekend Plans

Despite a few pretty things still struggling to make us look good, our yard is looking like a hot mess these days.  This Montauk (or Nippon) Daisy is a good example.  It's in full bloom, as it should be in October
but it's looking rather leggy.  I looked it up and learned that I should cut it down to 8 inches in May to keep this from happening.  Good to know.  Next year.

This hydrangea has performed for us beautifully, inside and out, since June,
but it looks like it could really use a little breathing room.

The dahlias were crowded out from the beginning and infested by something that ate most of the foliage, but this sad little flower still perseveres.

Speaking of persevering, it looks like the zucchini feels guilty for only providing us with a handful or so over the summer.  It's still trying to make a go of it.
Do you see the baby zucchinis at the bottom?  They just might have a shot, because we're expecting unusually warm temperatures this weekend.  It's supposed to be 84 degrees on Sunday.

In addition to doing some yard clean-up this weekend, we've got garlic and tulip bulbs to plant, a few painting projects to finish up, and maybe a little project involving seaweed.  (Seaweed?  I'll share more on that next week if we get to it.)  Since it's going to be so beautiful, we're also determined to get in one last trip in the kayaks. 

Have a happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Old Chairs, Modern Fabric

Time spent researching is always necessary, but it's not as much fun as time spent creating.  We finally ordered a new stove and microwave to match, which took a while, but cooking dinner will be much less annoying when we don't have to worry about the burners going in and out.  The new appliances are also going to make our biggest event- Thanksgiving- a lot easier, because now we'll have a double oven, and convection in the microwave to boot.

I'm also hoping I'll have some new chairs in the living room by Thanksgiving.  I've been trying to find the right fabric to bring new life to the antique chairs from the free yard sale haul a couple of months ago. 

I think I'm going to move the teak chairs, the most modern part of the room, upstairs to the bedroom,

and now with the addition of the antique table I just fixed up

I am worried that the addition of the antique chairs might make the room start to feel too...old. 

I want our living room to be comfortable, a little eclectic, young and fun.  I've found lots of examples, a few of which I really like, where a bold modern fabric is used on an antique chair, which is just the sort of thing I think I need.
via Design Sponge

via Design Sponge

Lilly's Notebook via Little Green Notebook
I also found this makeover of a rocker exactly like the one I picked up at the free yard sale. via Design Sponge
Inspiring, right?  But, I've been having a hard time finding a fabric that speaks to me, never mind actually fitting with the color scheme in the room.  Here are a bunch that have caught my eye...
Madeleine Terracotta (Calico Corners)

Expedition Coral (Calico Corners)

Fripps Lemon (Calico Corners)

Westminster Aqua/Green (Calico Corners)

Tribal Thread (

Blue Wovens (
This new collection was mentioned in this month's Coastal Living- Jubilee from Thibault.  It was Sunburst (on the pillow here) that sent me looking for more.
Pillow is Thibault Jubilee Starburst in Apple Green
The geometric pillow comes in blue/white, and blue/green, among others, which could definitely work in the living room.
Thibault Jubilee Kozar in orange.
 This ikat is an indoor/outdoor fabric.
Thibault Jubilee Thai Ikat in Apple Green

Lots of pretty things to look at, but I'm not sure I've come any closer to a decision.  I'm going to get a bunch of swatches and see if there's something here.  What do you think? Anything catch your eye?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sunday Soups: Fall Minestrone

This is my standard minestrone recipe, only I've swapped out zucchini and tomatoes for butternut squash and kale, because that's what we have in the garden this time of year.

I'm totally lying.  Doesn't that sound great, though?  I would love to be able to say that most of the vegetables in this soup came from the garden.  But, in our garden, every single little butternut squash spontaneously aborted before it actually started growing, and the kale that wasn't eaten by an unidentified animal has stopped growing. 
In the meantime, I'm glad grocery stores sell the things that won't grow in our yard.
I should also acknowledge the plants that did grow for us and contribute to this soup- the garlic and parsley- for which we are very grateful.

Fall Minestrone

1/4 cup olive oil
4 oz. pancetta, cubed (Trader Joes sells a little package already chopped- handy!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup carrot, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 cups butternut squash, cubed
1 cup potato, cubed 
6 cups chicken broth
4 cups kale, stems removed, and chopped
1 can of cannellini
minced parsley
grated parmesan

1. Heat the olive oil in your soup pot and add the garlic and pancetta, and sauté  for 2 minutes.
2. Add the onion, carrot, celery, salt and pepper, and cover, cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes.
3. Add the butternut squash and potato, and cover to cook again, for 10 minutes.
4. Add the broth, cannellini, and kale and cook until the greens are tender, about another 10 minutes.
5. Serve topped with minced parsley and grated parmesan.

It's just the right thing on a cool evening, when it's starting to feel like Fall is settling in.

Bon appétit!