Sunday, July 28, 2013

Friday, July 26, 2013

SUMMER IN MINNESOTA: GARDEN TOURS & A FAIRY GARDEN

Just about every Summer weekend in Minnesota there are garden tours going on.  I was so pleased to hear that the neighborhood I grew up in was having a garden tour and that maps should be picked up at the school I went to from kindergarten through 8th grade.  It was so much fun walking through the school with my niece and reminiscing about times spent at the school.  But we were really most excited to visit the 14 gardens on the tour!  Here are just a few photos from our delightful day.

 The iris adds a perfect backdrop to this little scene.


 Another use for a birdbath.
 
 Reuse, recycle!  The tin man.

A lovely spider daylily.


 A water garden with interesting plants.

Normally I don't like plants growing together, but this was very dramatic!


The following six photos are of a fairy garden that extended the entire length of a house.

 Notice all of the miniature plants - mini-shrub roses, heuchera, and the pine tree.


There were many, many varieties of mini-hostas.



The fairy garden ran the length of the house!

The most beautiful flower in all of the gardens - my niece!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

CHRIS ISAAK IN CONCERT.

Throughout the summer some of the best musical options are found at the Minnesota Zoo.  Last night we went to see Chris Isaak.  Here are some photos from the evening, along with a video (not done by me).










Thursday, July 18, 2013

ARUGULA: Salads, Pesto, Pizza















Before we get into the many benefits of arugula, also known as "rocket,"  here is a fun little history from Wikipedia.

"Grown as an edible herb in the Mediterranean area since Roman times, salad rocket was mentioned by various classical authors as an aphrodisiac, most famously in a poem long ascribed to Virgil, Moretum, which contains the line: 'the rocket excites the sexual desire of drowsy people.' [English translation]  Some writers assert that for this reason during the Middle Ages it was forbidden to grow rocket in monasteries.  It was listed, however, in a decree by Charlemagne of 802 as one of the pot herbs suitable for growing in gardens.  Gillian Reilly, author of the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, states that because of its reputation as a sexual stimulant, it was 'prudently mixed with lettuce, which was the opposite' (i.e., calming or even soporific).  Reilly continues that 'nowadays rocket is enjoyed innocently in mixed salads, to which it adds a pleasing pungency.'  Arugula was traditionally collected in the wild or grown in home gardens along with such herbs as parsley and basil.  It is now grown commercially from the Veneto in Italy to Iowa in the United States to Brazil and is available for purchase in supermarkets and farmers' markets throughout the world."

The benefits of arugula, in so many regards, are tremendous!  We northern-state gardeners love arugula because we can simply put the seeds in the ground and, in no time at all, we have enough arugula to last most of the summer.  We also like that rabbits, squirrels, deer and other hungry critters do not like arugula.  How great is that?!

When we consider the health benefits of arugula, it really stands out as a great food.

Finally, I love the taste!!  It is peppery and piquant which makes it a delightful contrast to the sweetness of fruits or the tartness of lemons.

In salads it is often served with a simple lemon vinaigrette and Parmesan cheese.  If you'd like, you can add to that whatever is on hand, pitted black olives, marinated artichoke hearts, fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and so on.  For a sweet-salty salad, pair arugula with fruit (e.g. mango, fresh apricot, peach, etc.), crumbled feta cheese and toasted nuts (e.g. almonds or pecans).

Arugula makes a nice pesto to serve on grilled fish or chicken.  Puree 2 cups of packed arugula with 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup of olive oil, and 1/4 cup of toasted walnuts.  Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

If you make your own pizza, top your pizza crust with basil pesto, cover that with a handful of arugula, sprinkles of fully-cooked Italian sausage and, finally, shredded mozzarella cheese.  Bake or grill as you wish.

For a delicious summer dinner, put a small mound of arugula in the center of your plates, then top the arugula with grilled steaks and their juices.  Shave Parmesan cheese on top.  Absolutely delicious!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

POLENTA TRIANGLES WITH CORN, RED PEPPERS AND GREEN ONIONS

Most people have their own idea of what constitutes "comfort food."  Perhaps it's mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, or chocolate!  Polenta is my idea of a great comfort food.  I have so many recipes that polenta warrants it's own category in my recipe files.  Also, all of the recipes are great!  Yes!  Trust me on this!  Here is the polenta recipe I made for a meal with friends on Saturday night.

POLENTA TRIANGLES WITH FRESH CORN, RED PEPPERS AND GREEN ONIONS.  Serves 8.
*  1 tablespoon oil
*  2 cups corn (fresh cut from cobs, or drained canned)
*  1/2 cup finely diced sweet red pepper
*  3 green onions (all but 2 inches of green stems removed), chopped
*  1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus to taste
*  1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
*  1-1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra to grease pan
*  3-3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken stock
*  1 cup yellow cornmeal
*  1-1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 350ยบ.  Heat oil in a heavy, medium skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat.  When hot, add corn and cook until it starts to brown, 6 to 8 minutes.  Stir only occasionally so the corn can caramelize and develop a roasted flavor.  After corn has browned, add red peppers and onions and stir and cook 2 minutes more.  add 1 teaspoon salt and cayenne pepper.  Taste and, if needed, season with additional salt.  Set aside while you prepare polenta.

Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.  Place chicken stock in medium, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to boil.  Gradually add cornmeal in a fine stream, whisking constantly until mixture thickens.  This will take 5 to 8 minutes.  Whisk in 1-1/2 tablespoons butter and 1 cup of the cheese and continue whisking until cheese has melted.  Stir in sauteed corn mixture.  Taste and season with more salt if needed.

Immediately pour polenta into prepared baking pan and, using rubber spatula, smooth top.  Cool to room temperature.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and firm, 1 hour or longer.  (Polenta can be prepared a day ahead to this point.  Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to finalize.)

When ready to bake, arrange rack in center of oven.  Line baking sheet with foil and butter foil generously.  Cut polenta into 16 triangles.  Start by cutting polenta into 2 triangles and continue to cut each triangle in half until you have 16.  Arrange triangles on baking sheet or grill and sprinkle each with some of remaining 1/2 cup cheese.  Bake or grill until heated through and cheese has melted, about 10 minutes.

This is a photo showing the polenta before it gets cut and baked/grilled.