Friday, May 22, 2015

What Would George (and Martha) Do?

George Washington's Mount Vernon, south of Alexandria, Virginia, has a plant sale each spring. Among the offerings are some of the same types of plants that George and Martha had in their own gardens. I was tempted by several tomato varieties, geraniums, purple cornflower, heliotrope, various herbs, and more.

After taking my time reading about all the plants, I scored something called False Blue Indigo, a perennial that one of the Mount Vernon staff said wouldn't disappoint. Even the leaves are interesting.  It should do well in a sunny spot but tolerates some shade. That's key in my setting in Northern Virginia, surrounded by mature trees.

I also bought yet another lavender, this one of the Provence variety. I'm not sure my woods-surrounded garden will get enough direct sun for the lavender, but I'm going to give it a try.

They had a nice assortment of seeds, too, which were collected from Mount Vernon's actual gardens. Pretty cool.

Learn more here:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Secret to Growing Cilantro (With Bonus Recipes for Chicken Satay and Sauce!)

Cilantro is a cool weather crop.
Cilantro, it turns out, is a cool weather crop. Doesn't seem logical, since many of us associate it with guacamole and other summertime foods. But a recent seminar by one of the owners of Lavender Fields Herb Farm set me straight.  Cilantro's preference for cooler temps would certainly explain my failed attempts to grow cilantro for summer harvesting. Each year, it starts out strong, then sags and stops producing as temperatures rise.

But fret not. We have a couple of viable options:

  • Grow some in spring for immediate use, plus harvest some you can freeze for later, and
  • When temperatures rise, plant Vietnamese Coriander, also known as "Bootleg Cilantro." They say it's a terrific summertime substitute.
I'm making the most of the cilantro I have now by throwing it in all sorts of recipes.  Here's my adaptation of Williams-Sonoma's Chicken Satay, followed by Ina Garten's peanut satay sauce.

Chicken Satay
(Adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe)

1.5 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 Tbs. firmly packed brown sugar (either light or dark are fine)
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. curry powder (if using hot Madras style, omit red pepper flakes)
1 tsp. fish sauce
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 Tbs. canola oil or cooking spray
Peanut sauce (for serving; recipe follows)

Cut chicken into strips lengthwise about 1/2 inch wide. In a large bowl, stir together the coconut milk, brown sugar, cilantro, curry powder, fish sauce, and red pepper flakes. Add chicken and stir until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight. If you're in a hurry, you can get away with only marinating for an hour.  But the chicken won't be as flavorful.

Marinating chicken strips.

Soak 15-20 wooden skewers in water for 20 minutes while the grill heats.

I use a tall pilsner glass, and flip them over after
 a few minutes so the whole skewer gets soaked.

Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade.  Thread 1-2 pieces of chicken on each skewer. When grill is ready, brush or spray with oil and arrange skewers over medium heat. Turn after 2-3 minutes, and continue cooking until golden brown.  Serve with peanut sauce or a satay dip.

Ina's Satay Dip
(from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
Satay Dip

(Makes 1.5 cups. Lasts for a month in refrigerator)

1 Tbs. good olive oil
1 Tbs. dark sesame oil
2/3 cup small-chopped red onion (1 small onion)
1.5 tsp. minced garlic (2 cloves)
1.5 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I always have chunky on hand, which works fine)
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1.5 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

Cook the olive oil, sesame oil, red onion, garlic, ginger root, and red pepper flakes in a small, heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat until the onion is transparent, 10-15 minutes. Whisk in the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce peanut butter, ketchup, sherry, and lime juice; cook for 1 more minute. Cool and use as a sauce for chicken satay.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Let's Call It Tulip Wabi-Sabi

I'm totally down with the philosophy of wabi-sabi, the "Japanese aesthetic of transience or imperfection." [Wikipedia]  There's something quite pretty about a fallen blossom below a beautiful blooming azalea, or a pine cone on the ground beneath a towering tree -- pine needles, leaves, other "mess," too. What fun is it to have all that debris constantly raked and swept and hauled away? It's just not natural.

When it comes to cut flowers, the same thing can be said. One fallen tulip petal on the table or floating in the vase adds some dimension and interest to the arrangement. 

Fading tulips.

So, at what point does wabi-sabi turn into bad feng shui? 

Feng shui says to discard spent blooms, as faded flowers do not generate good chi. I suppose the timing is a matter of personal preference. I hung onto these tulips another day, enjoying the change in their shape and colors a bit longer before I tossed them into the woods.   Do you struggle with this question?

By the way, red tulips are supposed to encourage romance. These were more of a dark orange. That'll teach me.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Heart-Shaped Chocolate Cutout Cookies

You don't need a sweetheart to like making (and eating) Valentine's Day-themed treats. I was on the lookout for a chocolatey cutout cookie recipe, and found one on  Not only is this an easy recipe to follow, but you can make the dough ahead of time.

Chocolate Cutout Cookies 

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4    cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8    tsp. salt (if you use unsalted butter, increase salt to 1/4 tsp.)
3/4    cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1       egg

Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt together.   Set aside.  In a medium bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until smooth.  Beat in egg until light and fluffy.  Gradually mix in the dry ingredients.

Divide dough into two balls. Flatten each and wrap in plastic wrap then refrigerate for 2 hours. (If you want to wait until the next day to rollout and bake, set the chilled dough out for 20 minutes to let it partially soften.)

Cutting out the dough on a floured pastry cloth.

Preheat oven to 375.  On a lightly floured surface (I like to use a pastry cloth that I dust with flour), roll one of the dough balls out to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets 1 inch apart. Gather up scraps, re-flour your pastry cloth, rollout and cut again. Repeat with other dough ball.

Cutouts on cookie sheets, ready for baking.

Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. Allow cookies to remain on cookie sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.  Store in airtight container.

Could these BE any cuter?