Chilled Ripe Cherries

Summer is here!  I found my first cherries at the local grocery store.  I'm not sure where these are from, but aren't they pretty?  To me summer is three foods:  sweet corn, tomatoes and cherries.  These little beauties are just a sign of what's to come.  A perfect addition to our Memorial Day menu which also includes some sweet corn from Florida as well as the first local tomato from the Chesterton Market which was babied along in a hoop house. 

I considered what to do with the cherries, but there is no need for a recipe.  To enjoy these summery fruits simply wash and chill.  Put the cherries out in a pretty bowl and include a second bowl to hold the stems and pits.  Delicious.

This photo made the Foodbuzz Top 9 on June 2, 2010. 


Chesterton European Market - Indiana

This is what came home with me from our outing to the Chesterton European Market today: one silk scarf, one bunch of local organic asparagus (although most asparagus is organic anyways), one beef steak tomato grown in a local hoop house, and one vintage jar from an antique store (soon to become a spice jar). It's still a little early in the season for local produce, but we did find a couple tasty items. Chesterton is more of an artisanal market than farmer's market. The majority of the vendors are selling handcrafted clothing, bags, breads, cheeses, art and jewelry. Although you will find produce and garden plants aplenty. 

Unlike the opening weekend on the first Saturday in May which was cold and windy with only a couple stands, today was 72, sunny and the market was packed with people and vendors.  I felt a little left out as we had neither a stroller nor a dog like 95% of the shoppers, but that's okay because both of those things would make navigating through a crowd difficult. 

The community of Chesterton is alive and well.  After perusing the booths we walked through the adjacent downtown district and visited several antique shops and then had lunch at a little outdoor cafe called Pablano's. 

What a great way to spend an afternoon.  The European Market is open 8:00-2:00 on Saturdays May - October in front of the old railway depot in Chesterton, Indiana.  For additional information visited the Chesterton European Market website: http://www.chestertonseuropeanmarket.com/


Moment of Glory for the Iris

 Iris hollandica 'Eye of the Tiger'

I'm not a big iris fan. They have roots and rhizomes that sit at the top of the soil making them hard to weed and susceptible to damage. They can get iris root bore. But then they flower and, wow, I get a little soft spot for them. How can you not love this?

Iris hollandica 'Cream Beauty'

Iris versicolor 'Gerald Darby'

Iris hollandica 'Bronze Beauty'

The iris have just started to flower at Taltree.  Come out soon to see the show with this hot weather they will only be at their peak for 10 days or so. 


Johnny Jump Up Spring Salad - Recipe

Johnny jump ups add some fun and color to this spring salad.  I harvested some mescaline mix lettuce out of the kitchen garden and helped myself to some johnny jump up (viola) flowers while I was at it.  Yes, these are edible flowers.  They have a slightly sweet flavor, but really are just for pretty.  In the spring I like to keep my salads light.  I might add some grated carrots, peas, chives, jicama and goat cheese.  To dress, I think a nice simple oil and balsamic vinegar dressing will be perfect. 

This little salad would be lovely for a dinner party, wedding brunch or lunch in the garden.  Tonight we are enjoying it for dinner with catfish and sweet potatoes. 


Peanutbutter Molasses Cookies - Recipe

Which is better the blue plate or the yellow plate?  I could't decide so I put up both!
It doesn't matter what color plate you eat these cookies on, they are delicious! I love a good peanut butter cookie. I was browsing foodgawker while hungry - never a good idea - and saw some peanut butter cookies. So I decided to make some. Now I already have the perfect peanut butter cookie recipe, but I thought I might tweak it a little by replacing the brown sugar with molasses. I thought to myself, "This will be a perfect duo! The naturally nutty flavor of molasses will compliment the peanut butter." And it does. What I didn't expect is the darker, very ginger snap, almost chocolate color. Isn't it pretty?

Peanut Butter Molasses Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup organic peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Step 1: In a large mixing bowl beat the room temperature butter and peanut butter until smooth. If you are starting with cold butter, you can microwave it slightly until soft, but don't liquefy it. Add the granulated sugar, molasses, baking soda and baking powder. Beat till combined, scraping sides of bowl. Mix in the egg and vanilla until combined. Stir in the flour. If necessary, cover and chill dough till easy to handle.

Step 2: Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in additional granulated sugar to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, flatten by making a crisscross pattern with the tines of a fork. Bake in a 375 oven for 7-9 minutes or until bottoms are starting to brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Makes about 36 cookies.

Nutrition per cookie: 83 calories, 4 grams of fat, 0 grams of fiber.

I think I like the blue plate best.


First Fruit of Spring Rhubarb - Rhubarb Pie Recipe

Rhubarb is one of those old fashion fruits.  Every Midwestern farm wife had a couple plants out in the garden.  It's fallen out of fashion these days, but it's time for a comeback.  Rhubarb is a long lived perennial and one of the first things ready to pick in the garden.  If spring could be summed up in three plants it would be daffodils, asparagus and rhubarb.  Rhubarb is not quite as fleeting as say morels or spring onions.  It's a fruit that can be harvested right up to the 4th of July.  Then you should stop so the plant can store some energy to make it through the winter. 

I recently read the rumor that rhubarb is poisonous before it's cooked.  Is this true?  Is rhubarb poisonous raw?  Jeff's grandmother often gave him a stalk to chew on right out of the garden.  Was she inadvertently poisoning her grandchild?  He grew up to be my handsome husband, so I think not.  According to the Center for Disease Control, CDC, yes rhubarb is poisonous:
Never eat rhubarb leaves, cooked or raw. Eating the leaves can be poisonous because they contain oxalate. This toxin, plus another unknown toxin also found in the leaves, has been reported to cause poisoning when large quantities of raw or cooked leaves are ingested.
But apparently it's only the leaves.  Rhubarb is really sour so I'm not sure why you would eat large quantities and the leaves feel like sandpaper, so they aren't really appetizing anyways.  It's the stalk that gets all the glory.  The beautiful green with red speckle stalks. 
Jeff's Grandma also has a Rhubarb Pie recipe.  It's right next to the baked asparagus recipe.  It's a lot of sugar.  But rhubarb needs a lot of sugar to balance the sour.  A cup of coffee is the perfect accompaniment to this spring dessert:

Rhubarb Pie

3 cups diced rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon quick cooking tapioca
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 a lemon worth of lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of nutmeg
2 pie crusts

Step 1:  Line a nine-inch pie tin with half of the pastry and sprinkle with a little flour - put in fridge until ready to fill. 

Step 2: Combine rhubarb, sugar, tapioca, lemon zest and salt.  Turn into pie shell.  Sprinkle with nutmeg and dot with butter. 

Step 3:  Arrange a lattice of pastry strips on top.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour. 

Tip - my experience is the pie tends to bubble their rhubarb filling up over the edges and all over the bottom of the oven.  Which is why a cookie sheet underneath is helpful as well as using a deep dish pie plate. 

Unfortunately I took pictures of the end result, but none of them were very pretty.  I'll take pictures the next time we bake with rhubarb. 


Woodland Garden Flowers

I may spend my days maintaining a very planned landscape.  However, some days I am most impressed with the woodland flowers I see as I walk out to my gardens.  Currently blooming in the forest at Taltree are May Apple, Wild Geranium, Trillium, and Jack in the Pulpit. 
I have also been noticing the many gooseberry and raspberry bushes.  I'm told their are wild grape vines too, but I have yet to see them.  So many wild goodies to try this summer. 


My Gardens - National Public Garden Day

After I have worked for a public garden I consider it mine. In honor of National Public Garden Day I'll tell you some little known facts about my gardens:
  • Chicago Botanic Garden - Glenco, Illinois
  • Reiman Gardens - Ames, Iowa
  • Longwood Gardens - Kennet Square, Pennsylvania
  • Taltree Arboretum and Gardens- Valparaiso, Indiana
Chicago Botanic Garden
My first public garden was Chicago Botanic Garden where I was an intern for Alana Mezo in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden. After this internship I knew I wanted Alana's job. I wanted to be a horticulturist when I grew up. Little known fact: Chicago Botanic is a series of "islands" in a "lake". It is actually a series of raised bumps in a swamp. Fruit and Vegetable Island had a huge ground squirrel population the summer I was there. They ate all the bean, squash and melon seedlings! We used have-a-heart traps to live catch the little buggers and transport them off the "island". In the end we caught and relocated 19 ground squirrels. The great part of gardening on an island they didn't come back! Also bonus, no deer!  Although the raccoons would swim over and tear down the grape arbor to get a midnight bunch. 

Reiman Gardens 
I was a intern at Reiman Gardens. This little gem is located right off Iowa State Univeristy's Campus. It's 16 acres of winding paths and many little garden rooms. This is the place for the home gardener to get ideas. They also have a butterfly wing conservatory that is an absolute treat. Little known fact: when they first opened up the butterfly wing they had a major problem. The acute angled roof confused butterflies and they would run into the glass committing butterfly suicide. There would be little piles of dead butterflies in the corners the entomologist had to clean up every morning before visitors could come in. They fixed the problem by hanging nets in the corners to keep the butterflies from getting up there. Currently Reiman is housing the World's Largest Cement Garden Gnome.

Longwood Gardens
I love internships. This was my fourth and final internship and it was a year long. Longwood is considered the Kew Garden of America. It's an old DuPont Estate. There are so many fascinating facts. Here's a good one. Longwood does a big Fourth of July lighted, dancing fountains and fireworks display all choreographed to music. It is impressive. But even more impressive is the staff wets down all the plant material the day before and even has sprinklers running over some of the more valuable specimen plants during the show because one year a very old hemlock bush burned from some way ward sparks. There are even a couple bushes with fire damage if you know where to look. Another fun fact is there is a secret passage from the Longwood house to the conservatory so Pierre didn't have to go outside in the winter to get to the green houses.  One more thing, in the above picture is me in the lily pond and as you can see the pools aren't that deep.  So to get a nice reflective surface for showing off the Victorian Hybrid Waterlilies developed at Longwood they dye the water black so it looks dark, deep and opaque. 

Taltree Arboretum and Gardens
This is my newest garden. I started working here as a horticulturist three months ago. This is the first garden I have worked at that is actively growing. There are huge plans in the works. A model railway garden is set to open next spring (2011). Plans also include a visitor's center and children's garden. The arboretum continues to grow and newly acquired forest is set to have a trail laid through it this summer. Fun fact: the model railway garden will also show case a collection of dwarf conifers. There are over 1000 varieties of plants ordered to go in this two acre area. I'm learning a lot about dwarf conifers as I am set to be the horticulturist for this area. In the picture above is part of my garden area the pavilion. 

Egg, Ramp and Goat Cheese Pizza

A friend procured some wild leeks, also known as ramps, for me.  I repaid with a couple of morel mushrooms I knew were hiding nearby.  Ramps are a member of the allium family and have a nice mild onion flavor.  They are a little more forgiving on the pallet than say the potent wild onions we've been eating.  Since pizza was already on the menu Jeff cut up a couple leeks and paired them with creamy goat cheese and, the strangest pizza topping, one raw egg. 

The egg idea came from Smitten Kitchen who has an egg breakfast pizza where right before putting the pizza in the oven a couple eggs are cracked on top.  I was curious so we decided to try just one egg on the pizza.  The conclusion?  Eggs are excellent on pizzas!  Make sure to sprinkle the egg with a little salt and pepper before you put it in the oven.  The egg cooks while the bread bakes and the cheese melts.  Plus it looks pretty and gourmet.  I can see making topping combinations with eggs like: onion, bacon, prosciutto, asparagus, mushrooms or salsa for a juevos rancheros flavor.  Too bad I didn't think of that for Cinco de Mayo!

This post was submitted to YeastSpotting.


Unusual Pizza Toppings

We eat pizza at least once a week and we always make two. We could just make one big one, but we want to have more topping options.  Sometimes we even divide each pizza in half and have four topping combination options.  This time we had:

Tomato, black olive, sausage -

Goat cheese, mushroom on one half and pineapple, sausage on the other -

The boarder of the goat cheese, mushroom with the pineapple was delicious!  I can see putting those three together on future pizzas.  The sausage black olive and tomato was just so-so.

Tonight we are trying Pineapple with feta and wild leek with goat cheese and egg. Should be interesting.  I am especially curious about the egg.  ***Update*** Check out my new post on the Egg, Ramp and Goat Cheese Pizza.

If you want to know what my secret ingredient for delicious pizza sauce is check out this post:  Quick and Easy Tomato Pizza Sauce.  This is also the post where we tried my favorite pizza topping combination apple, spinach, feta!

Do you have any favorite pizza topping combinations? or specilty pizzas you make?


My Jungle Kitty Likes Butternut Squash

Zeus, our jungle kitty we brought back from Panama, loves winter squash.  He begs for it.  He wouldn't leave this cutting board alone until we put a little of the stringy insides in his food bowl.  It's just one of his many, many quirks.  After taking photos of my strange cat we made the butternut squash into Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad


Wild Onion, Mushroom and Egg Sandwiches - Recipe

The wild onions are still going strong near me. So for lunch this weekend I put together a quick but delightful meal: Sautéed Wild Onions and Mushrooms with a fried egg on homemade wheat bread and orange slices. It was delicious. The wild onions and mushrooms started to caramelize and the runny egg yolk soaked into the bread, there was a touch of mayo to hold things together. I give this lunch five stars for flavor and five stars for easy!  This post was featured on YeastSpotting.com

 Wild Onion, Mushroom and Egg Sandwiches

1 small wheat bread loaf
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup wild onion, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 eggs
Salt to taste

Step 1:  Sauté the wild onion and mushrooms until a little browning starts.  Meanwhile, slice your loaf and toast it in the oven or toaster oven. 
Step 2:  Mix a tablespoon of mayo and the lemon juice into the mushrooms and wild onions.  Top one side of the loaf with the mushroom mixture.  Using the same pan fry up to eggs, you can leave the yolks a little runny if you wish.  Slide the egg on the other side of the bread and serve. 

Yields two sandwiches


Look What I found: Morel Mushrooms - Plus Recipe

I can't tell you where I found these that is the secret of the mushroom gatherer.  Or should it be mushroom hunter?  Forager?  I wasn't actively looking when I came across a clump of five, but I put them in my pocket and brought them home.  I can tell you I found them near a pine tree where the earth was recently disturbed. 

I decided to prepare them simply by sautéing them in butter with a bit of salt. That way the flavor really comes through.  Morels have a very distinct earthy mushroom-y taste and a solid texture.  The morels let out a surprising amount of water as they cooked. In the end we enjoyed a nice little bowl of buttery morels as an appetizer. I saw an ad on Craig's List selling morels for $30 a pound.  Wonder if he got any takers?

Sautéd Morels in Butter Sauce

1 tablespoon of butter per half pound of morels
Sprinkle of Kosher salt

Step 1:  Clean the morels with water making sure to get all the grit out of their gills.  I find the sprayer thing on my sink works well for this.  Then slice the morels into rings, remove any dried out or desicated spots. 

Step 2:  Over medium heat saute the morels in butter.  A lot of water will come out and that's fine, just keep cooking them until they have shrunk a bit and are darker in color.  There will still be quite a bit of liquid.

Step 3:  Serve in small bowls with a sprinkle of salt on top. 


Reusable Produce Bags

Why reusable produce bags are great:

1.  Less plastic bags in the world
2.  Reusable produce bags are pretty
3.  They are perfect for storing mushrooms and non leafy vegetables and fruits because they breath
4.  Many stores will give you $.05 off your bill per reusable bag.  These cost $8 for two so in 40 trips these babies will have paid for themselves and will start saving you money.