With the start of the gardening season, I am looking forward to one of my favorite forms of gardening: container planting. I love to plant flowers in containers, and when the seasons change I will plant containers to reflect the time of the year.
Summer is by far my favorite time to plant because there are so many different flower varieties to choose from and all are so vibrant with color. It is an art to be able to create and design with plants, and the type of containers you choose to showcase your plants is almost as important as the flowers themselves.
First, you will need to decide if your pots will be placed in a sunny location, a shady spot, or where they’ll receive a mix of sun and shade. The type of plants you use will depend on the amount of sun in each location. There have been times that I have had to replace plants that did not last the season, either due to using incorrect plants, overcrowding, or, of course, the weather.
If you do not have any knowledge of plants, you will have to depend on your local garden shop. I have been fortunate to learn from a knowledgeable person for years who has taught me a great deal about plants and the planting of containers. There has to be symmetrical balance of the plants, and the size of the pot will determine the amount of plants used.
Annuals are plants most widely used for containers. I decide on a color palette and then choose the type of plants I will use. Some of my favorite annuals to use are geraniums, calibrachoas, verbena, angelonia and bacopa.
Rose Standard Topiary Trees and Bougainvillea Topiary Trees make a great focal point. I will under plant them with an annual such as verbena or bacopa. Another favorite option of mine is putting Dwarf Hydrangeas in containers. They need a shadier area or else they will wilt. After the season is over, you can transplant them in your garden.
I also like to do containers of mixed sedums, or a container of a creeping sedum. They are quite interesting. Boxwood Topiaries make a simple statement and, come winter, the Topiary looks great alone or under planted with greens.
My containers sit amongst my perennials and herbs as well as on ledges and walkways. They are a menagerie of all shapes and sizes. A lot of planning and work is involved in planning a container garden, but there is a satisfaction you get in knowing you have created something that is beautiful to behold all season!
I hope you enjoy some of the containers I have done. I am getting ready to start a new season and cannot wait!
Years ago I found an article on risotto, which described step by step how to prepare this delicious dish. Risotto is an Italian dish that developed in the regions between the Alps and Tuscany, and is now appreciated all over the world.
The type of rice best suited for cooking a good risotto is the Carnaroli, but Vialone Nano and Arborio are good choices as well. Depending on the ingredients used, risotto can be a first course, a complete meal, or a dessert. It can easily be prepared in about 30 minutes.
The base for a risotto is made using one of the three types of rice mentioned above, oil or butter, and a battulo, which is an ingredient used t0 flavor a recipe and can include chopped onion, garlic, celery and/or carrot. You also need a cooking liquid and one or more types of cheese.
With this base you can make many different risotto dishes depending on your choice of ingredients such as beef, chicken or pork, fish or seafood, vegetables, legumes, or truffles.
Making a risotto is as easy as following six simple steps. I like to make risotto with seafood. The following recipe also includes one of my favorite vegetables, asparagus.
1 1/2 cups of rice
1 lb of large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup white wine
4 cups seafood stock
1 bunch of asparagus
1/2 cup finely chopped basil and parsley
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the shrimp by removing the shell and deveining, if necessary. Rinse under cold water, pat dry, and set aside.
Set a few asparagus stalks aside to use as a garnish. Cut the rest of the asparagus into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal, discarding the bottoms. Steam all of the asparagus for 5 minutes, then place under cold water to stop cooking. Pat dry and set aside.
Place the seafood stock in a saucepan and heat, keeping it warm while you begin the risotto.
In a deep skillet, warm the olive oil. Add the onion (which is the battulo in this recipe) and sauté till translucent.
Add the rice and toast for 3 minutes .
Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add the warmed stock in 1/2 cup increments, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding more. Continue to cook, stirring, until the rice is tender and creamy, about 20 minutes in total.
Add the shrimp and cook till pink. Add the cut asparagus.
Add finishing ingredients, including the butter, cheese, basil, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. Place the few whole asparagus on top of the dish with some parsley sprigs for garnish.
Serve this dish with your favorite crusty bread and a salad. Enjoy!
With the start of Spring this week, the 11th annual Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens is a must see. The beauty of the orchids, one more exotic than the next, is a fascinating experience to behold.
The show, which runs from March 2 to April 22, 2013, is a spectacular exhibit that displays thousands of orchids in the country’s largest curated show. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory has been transformed into a lush rainforest where the orchids are displayed in an amazing array of colors, shapes, sizes and textures. Tens of thousands of blooms stand out amid stately palms and exotic tropical leaves.
This year they have incorporated into the show Hurricane Sandy storm damaged trees as a design element and an acknowledgement of how orchids grow in the wild. The New York Botanical Gardens has orchids from all over the world, there are more than 7,000 orchids representing 3,075 different varieties in their collection.
There also are special programs you can attend, including orchid care demonstrations, talks, and tours, to name a few. Located in the Bronx, New York, it is well worth a trip to experience the Orchid Show. Enjoy more photos of these mysterious flowers!
This year’s show includes a rare event — the Darwin’s Star Orchid in bloom. The Botanical Garden rarely gets to share this flower with visitors while it is in gorgeous full bloom. Visitors often look for this flower, not only because of its elegant beauty but because of its associate with Charles Darwin. Legend has it, Charles Darwin was sent one of these orchids. When he examined it, Darwin theorized there must be an insect with a long proboscis capable of reaching the nectar at the bottom of this long, narrow flower and, in the process, enabling the orchid to be pollinated. No such insect could be found, however, and many scientists ridiculed Darwin for his unsupported theory. It wasn’t until decades later that a hawk moth fitting Darwin’s exact description was found to be drinking from and pollinating these orchids late at night when their activity had been completely unobserved. Darwin’s Star Orchid turned out to be a perfect example of co-evolution.
February is American Heart Month. Keeping this in mind, I went to the Web MD website with a list of the 25 Top Heart Healthy Foods. These foods are loaded with heart healthy nutrients that help protect your cardiovascular system. By eating a variety of foods, including fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and more, you are getting the different nutrients which are needed to protect your heart and
blood vessels. I am very conscious of the meals I prepare and the ingredients I use in those meals. I buy fresh herbs, produce, and vegetables and use olive oil when I cook. We eat fish more than once a week and eat plenty of fresh fruit, so I am definitely into eating healthy.
I decided to highlight a few of the foods they recommended in the Web MD article. It would be well worth your time to read the entire article. You might be surprised to see that many of the foods are ones you probably already eat regularly!
I have a great recipe featuring a popular heart-healthy food. This tuna dish is a favorite in our house, especially when my husband returns from an offshore fishing trip with fresh tuna. The original recipe is from a Williams Sonoma cookbook titled “Essentials of Grilling,” a great book to have! I have changed it some to suit our tastes, of course, and I hope you enjoy it!
Soy sauce, less sodium preferred
½ cup White Sesame seeds
½ cup Black Sesame seeds
4 Ahi Tuna Steaks, 6oz each, 1 inch thick
1 cup crème fraiche
2 tsp. wasabi powder, or to taste
Chopped chives for garnish
In a shallow dish, add the soy sauce. On a piece of wax paper, mix the white and black sesame seeds. Dredge each piece of tuna in the mixture, then place in soy sauce, turning to coat. Add any left over sesame seeds to tuna, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hrs.
To make wasabi crème, in a small bowl stir together the crème fraiche and wasabi powder. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Add chives just before serving.
Grill your fish, turning once, until it is seared on the outside and rare on the inside, 3-5 minutes per side. If you prefer your tuna cooked through, leave it on the grill for 1 – 2 minutes longer per side. You can also cook the fish in a heavy skillet on high heat.
Transfer the tuna steaks to warm individual plates. Garnish the wasabi crème with the chives, and pass at the table.
Serve with grilled or lightly steamed asparagus, dressed with an olive oil and herb mixture of chopped basil, parsley, and black pepper. Enjoy!
Here we are at the start of the New Year, when many people are feeling more health conscious! Between the television shows, tabloids, and fitness club offers, we’re all reminded of our options for eating and staying healthy. Hopefully, the motivation to create healthier eating habits and consistent exercise routines will turn into long-term commitments that last throughout the year.
I recently came across a recipe for kale and knew I wanted to try it. Then I thought, “Why not write about healthy eating in general?” While looking through magazines and websites for ideas and recipes, I came across a Cooking Channel article called Superfoods: Nutrient-Rich Foods to Eat Every Day. These superfoods are known to prevent disease, help control weight, and maintain overall health.
Here are a few of the 21 foods recommended by the Cooking Channel. To see the rest of the list, click here for the full article.
I hope you enjoy this recipe for kale from Giada DiLaurentiis. She is a favorite chef and author of mine! Her cookbooks are great, and her recipes are delicious and easy to follow. Her Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale will convince you that eating healthy doesn’t mean eating bland or boring!
Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, green beans, salt, and pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and continue cooking until the green beans are almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and the kale and continue cooking until the kale has wilted, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and the Parmesan cheese. Toss to coat and serve immediately.
SERVES: 6 (SIDE); Calories: 138; Total Fat: 8 grams; Saturated Fat: 2 grams; Protein: 5 grams; Total carbohydrates: 15 grams; Sugar: 5 grams; Fiber: 4 grams; Cholesterol: 1 milligram; Sodium: 830 milligrams
Guest Post from Debbie Aidinis
Cacciucco is one of my favorite meals, especially when the weather turns colder. I originally had this for dinner years ago in a restaurant and loved it. I always try to make meals I enjoy, so I searched through cookbooks and found a few recipes that were close to the restaurant meal I’d liked. This is a hearty stew that tastes just as good -if not better- the next day. I serve it with crusty bread seasoned with an olive oil mixture and placed in oven until it is crispy. This bread is delicious when dipped in the Cacciucco broth.
For this recipe, I prefer to use prawns, when available, with the shells still on. The flavor is superb in the stew. Another option is using lobster tails with the shells on. I also like to use Halibut as the fish, which is a very mild white fish. As always, everyone has preferences when cooking with seafood and this dish lends itself to many variations in the type of fish used. The amount of seafood used can also be adjusted to your own liking.
Cacciucco — Mediterranean Fish Stew
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery with leaves, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 oil packed anchovies
1 can (14 ½ oz) San Marzano plum tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
Pinch of Saffron threads
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup white wine
4 cups fish stock (see Note)
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
1 ½ to 2 lb white fish fillet, such as Halibut, skin removed
12 little neck clams, cleaned
12 black mussels, cleaned
8 jumbo shrimp or prawns shelled and deveined
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Warm Crusty Bread
Lobster Tails with shells, cut in half lengthwise
Note: If fish stock is not available, you can substitute 2 cups (16fl oz) bottled clam juice plus 2 cups vegetable stock.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy deep skillet. Add onion, celery with leaves, and carrot to skillet and sauté. Add red pepper flakes and thyme. Chop anchovies and add to skillet. Sauté until anchovies have melted, about 3 minutes. Add wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands or a wooden spoon. Add the fish stock and 1 cup of water. Add the saffron, bay leaf, rosemary, basil, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add some of the reserved tomato juice if you want more liquid or tomato flavor. Adjust seasoning if needed.
Cut the fish into 2 inch pieces, add to broth, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add clams, mussels and shrimp. If using any additional seafood, add to mixture at this time. Cover and cook until shrimp is pink and clams and mussels have opened. Discard the bay leaf before serving.
Slice bread in half to open, and spread with a mixture of olive oil, chopped basil, parsley, black pepper. Place in the oven at 400 till crisp and brown. Cut bread into long pieces.
Ladle the stew into bowls, place bread on the side, and serve.
Guest Blog by Debbie Aidinis
With the cooler weather upon us, we start to look forward to meals that are warm and hearty. Veal Rollatini is a great dish for this season. It may take a little time to prepare, but it is well worth the effort. For those who do not eat veal, this dish can also be done with chicken. I like to serve this with a marsala sauce and a mushroom risotto on the side. There are many good packaged risottos available, so you do not have to make your own from scratch unless you have the time to do so.
With this recipe, I have found that using specific ingredients is a must. For example, the cheese. I use an Italian Scamorza, belonging to the same family as Mozzarella, but it is firmer, drier and has more flavor. It melts evenly, making it perfect for this dish. You will probably have to go to an Italian deli that carries specialty items to buy this cheese. Make sure it is hard; if the cheese is soft, it is not ready to use. I also use Prosciutto di Parma, but not a domestic brand, which can be too salty. The Veal Demi Glace gives the sauce a good flavor, but if you can’t find any you can use 1 cup veal stock in place of the water called for in the recipe.
I always enjoy going to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to shop for the food I need. Mike’s Deli in the market is where I find the cheese and prosciutto, plus many other items. Biancardi’s is my stop for meats, and Madonia Bakery for excellent breads. On 187th Street, you will find Borgatti’s for fresh pasta and, of course, you cannot miss Egidio’s for some delicious Italian pastries. With so many stores to choose from, you definitely will not come home empty handed! It is a true culinary experience and well worth the trip in order to stock up on the best ingredients to make this Veal Rollatini dish a truly authentic and memorable meal.
8 Veal cutlets, sliced and pounded very thin
1 Scamorza, sliced thin and cut in half or thirds, depending on size of the veal cutlets
½ to ¾ lb Procciutto di Parma, or enough to use 2 slices per cutlet
½ cup Seasoned breadcrumbs
¼ cup Grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup Marsala wine
¼ lb Shitake Mushrooms, sliced
2 Shallots, chopped
8 oz Vegetable stock
½ tsp Veal demi glace
1 cup Water
3 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp Olive oil
¼ cup Basil, finely chopped
¼ cup Parsley, finely chopped
1 Sprig of Rosemary
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and a small amount of the basil and parsley.
Place one veal cutlet on a flat surface and spread the breadcrumb mixture on the cutlet. Place 2 slices of prosciutto di Parma on top of the breadcrumb mixture, then place a slice of scamorza cheese on top, covering cutlet but not hanging over the sides of the cutlet. If the cheese is cut too thick, it will make the cutlet difficult to roll. Roll the cutlet and secure with skewers. Repeat with remaining cutlets.
In a large, deep skillet, melt 2 tbsp of butter with 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Season veal rolls with black pepper and place in skillet. Cook, turning rolls to brown on all sides. The total cooking time will depend on the size of the rolls, but typically a few minutes per side or total of not more than 15 minutes is sufficient. Remove rolls and keep warm.
To the same pan, add 1 tbsp of butter, the shallots, and the mushrooms and sauté until tender. You may need to add a bit more butter while they cook. Next, add the marsala wine and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock, 1 cup water, and veal demi glaze. Let mixture cook, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper, add rosemary sprig, remaining basil and parsley, and let simmer for 5 minutes.
Place veal rolls and juices they’ve exuded into the sauce, turning to coat, then let simmer for about 30 minutes. You may need to add more water or stock, especially if your rolls are on the large side. Before serving, remove the rosemary sprig.
Place Veal Rolls on a platter with mushroom sauce. Serve with a risotto, salad, and a warm crusty bread.
Guest Post from Debbie Aidinis
There are two things that I love to do: cook and garden, even though I have no formal training in either of them. But, I have always had a love of plants. About 10 years ago, when we were redoing the pavers around the pool, our contractor suggested planting perennial beds along one side of the pool. I really did not know what to expect with using perennials. I’d always enjoyed container planting with annuals, where I found a great satisfaction in creating the arrangements, but this was different. This was the start of something I had never experienced before.
I truly fell in love with those perennial gardens and continued to incorporate them into our landscaping. I moved on to the front of the house, where I put in more gardens. My gardens are truly a labor of love with many hours spent working in and enjoying them.
My gardens are forever evolving as I am always looking to see what I can move or replace for the following year. For me, gardening is still a learning experience. There are plants for sun, partial sun, shade, dry, and wet conditions, just to name a few. I now do my research on the different variety of plants and have come to understand that there are plants that will not do well in certain areas even if you love them and want them in your garden. Sometimes you instinctively know the plant you just put in the ground does not belong there. I’ve also learned to plant flowers according to their blooming schedule. Some bloom early in the spring while others bloom into the fall. Because I like to always have flowers in garden, I now arrange my plants so I have flowers throughout the growing season. It’s not unusual for me to replace plants or move things around in the middle of summer if I see a part of the garden without flowers!
I’ve also learned through trial and error with specific plants. For example, I love Lavender. When I started my gardens I had a grouping of Lavender which came back for a few years and then just stopped. For a while, I replaced the Lavender every year. Then, I finally realized that area was not the right location for Lavender. My nearby Viburnum had grown a lot through the years and the area became shadier and, of course, wetter. I eventually put in plants that were better adapted to that environment, such as Solomon Seal, Japanese Painted Ferns, and Hostas.
Around my pool, which gets hot sun, the landscaper originally planted a lot of very large Hostas. Every year, by mid summer, the leaves would be burnt from too much sun exposure. They have since been moved to another area where they are very happy and thriving with more shade.
The one plant I can never have enough of are Hydrangeas. There are many beautiful varieties. One in particular is called “Annabelle” and does not do well in full sun. They, too, were moved to another location after a summer of constantly watering them to keep them from wilting away. This year I planted Hydrangea macrophylla “White Out” in container pots and will put them in my garden in the fall, in a spot which has partial shade.
Another plant that I love is the Coneflower. Unfortunately, so does the local ground hog! Once I realized the ground hog was the culprit behind my chewed Coneflowers, I almost gave up on growing them. Inexplicably, I found I can plant Coneflowers in one of my front gardens and the ground hog will not munch on them. Why he avoids that particular spot I may never know!
The early morning when the sun comes up is my favorite time to be out in the garden. There is a beauty to behold, just looking at the flowers through the haze of sunlight and morning dew. Of course, the garden at dusk would be a very close second, when the sun is setting and cooler breezes bring relief from a hot summer day. If only I could find more space to plant another garden!
My mom is a very talented cook and gardener. She is also my new guest blogger! Please welcome Debbie Aidinis as she contributes her first post, her amazing tuna salad recipe. –Amy
This is a great summer dish that can be a light main course on a very hot day or to start as an antipasto or appetizer. I am not one who measures the ingredients. If I follow a recipe, I will only do so at first and then make changes after I’ve made the dish a few times.
This Tuna Salad is a recipe I decided to try one night after having a similar dish at a restaurant. It is a lot like a scungili salad or a combination seafood salad. You can definitely substitute another seafood for the tuna.
You will need:
2 cans of Solid White Albacore prime fillet in water or Tonno, which is an Italian tuna
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped (optional)
½ to ¾ cup green olives, pitted and sliced into halves
½ to ¾ cup large black olives, pitted and sliced into halves
1/3 cup 0live oil
Handful of fresh basil
Handful of fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Coarse black pepper, to taste
Salt to taste, optional
Romaine lettuce, for serving
Place the green and black olives and the tuna in the refrigerator until they are cold. Chop the celery and onion, if using, and place into a medium bowl. Slice the olives and add them to the bowl. Drain the tuna and pull it apart, then add this to your bowl as well.
In a food processor, chop the parsley and basil together. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, parsley/basil mixture, black pepper, and lemon juice. Whisk together thoroughly and add to the tuna mixture. You may need to add a bit more olive oil, just to hold the ingredients together. Combine all ingredients well and season to taste with salt. Place in the refrigerator until chilled through.
For individual portions, place lettuce on each plate and top with tuna salad.