Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not Your Moms Brussel Sprouts

Why do we boil foods? Veggies in particular have often been subjected to this horrible cooking technique for decades. Most vegetables not only lack any color but grey when boiled but also leave their flavor in the water.
Enter the solution to even brussel sprouts, yes brussel sprouts, roasting. The king of all things oven related is the dry heat cooking marvel. Vegetables lightly coated in oil will develop as much flavor as possible as they roast in the oven.
I bring to you the recipe that will change the way you view brussels for ever.
3 cups brussel sprouts (halved length-wise)
3 table spoons canola oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme minced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
preheat oven to 400 degrees
After cutting the brussel sprouts in half toss them in a bowl with the oil. Add the fresh thyme and salt and pepper and mix. Place the brussel sprouts on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes or until the brussel sprouts are fork tender. (meaning they can be pierced with a fork with little resistance and the fork easily pulls away) Keep the feta cheese for the next step.
Remove the brussel sprouts from the oven and toss in a bowl with the feta cheese. Taste the brussel sprouts to see if they need more salt and pepper.


I've recently been debating to either have mulched or grass paths in my new garden expansion. In searching the options I'm always amazed at how heated the topic of grass is in lawns.
Some seem to be on a quest for the holy grail of lush green grass all season and expense is only a road sign to that end. Others go with the more zen approach of as long as it's green let it grow and keep it mowed.
Leave your comments on what your approach is?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The List...

In February I'll be receiving a very large shipment of conifers and Japanese Maples. How large? The freight shipping kind of large, over 70 plants in all. The sizes will range from 2ft up to 9-10ft in size. For me this will be like Christmas in late February. When the truck comes down our driveway I'll be giddy like a school girl. Below I'm going to put the list of plants I'll be receiving, if you have any of them and would give me any opinions or comments that'd be great.

Abies concolor Compacta 21"-24"
Abies koreana Glauca 30"-36"
Abies magnifica Nana 24"-30"
Acer palmatum Boskoop Glory 6'-7'
Acer palmatum Diss. Nigrum 30"-36"
Acer palmatum Nuresagi 7'-8'
Acer palmatum Red Spider 5 1/2'-6'
Acer palmatum Shaina 3 1/2'-4'

Cedrus atlantica Horstmann 4'-5'
Cedrus deodara Divinely Blue 15"-18"
Cedrus deodara Glacial Blue 15"-18"
Cedrus deodara Miles High 5'-6'
Cedrus deodara Snow Sprite 15"-18"

Cupressus glabra Raywood Weeping 4'-5'
Cupressus macrocarpa Fine Gold 5'-6'

Picea abies Aurea Jacobsen 21"-24"
Picea abies Rubra Spicata 7'-8'
Picea bicolor Dwarf Tigertail 18"-21"
Picea engelmannii Bush's Lace 6'-7'
Picea mariana Aureovariegata 30"-36"
Picea mariana Blue Tear Drop 18"-21"
Picea omorika Berliner's Weeper 4 1/2'-5'
Picea mariana Doumetii 24"-30"
Picea omorika Bruns Pendula 3 1/2'-4'
Picea pungens Deitz Prostrate 30"-36"
Picea pungens Fastigata 5'-6'
Picea pungens Golden Feather 21"-24"
Picea pungens Glauca Pendula 30"-36"
Picea pungens Hunnewelliana 18"
Picea pungens R.H.Montgomery 15"
Picea pungens Rick's White Tip 30"-36"
Picea pungens Taponis 12"
Picea pungens Wood's #2 8"
Picea pungens Foxtail 30"-36"

Pinus banksiana Broom 21"-24"
Pinus banksiana Schoodic 21"-24"
Pinus banksiana Uncle Fogy 3'-3 1/2'
Pinus cembra Chamolet 24"-30"
Pinus densiflora Aurea 3'-3 1/2'
Pinus densiflora Golden Ghost 4 1/2'-5'
Pinus densiflora Jane Kluis 15"
Pinus densiflora Umbraculifera Compacta 30"
Pinus leucodermis Aureospicata 3'-3 1/2'
Pinus leucodermis Compact Gem 21"-24"
Pinus leucodermis Green Bun 15"-18"
Pinus mugo Big Tuna 18"-21"
Pinus mugo Honeycomb 24" Specimen
Pinus mugo Sherwood Compacta 12"
Pinus mugo Teeny 10"
Pinus mugo White Bud 15"-18"
Pinus nigra Black Prince 3'-3 1/2'
Pinus nigra Caperci's Golden Cream 24"-30"
Pinus nigra Obelisk 3'-3 1/2'
Pinus parviflora Hagaromo 10"
Pinus strobus Golden Candles 30"-36"
Pinus strobus Verkade's Broom 18"
Pinus thunbergii Aocha-matsu 21"-24"
Pinus thunbergii Ogon 3 1/2'-4'
Pinus thunbergii Shirome Janome 3'-3 1/2'
Pinus thunbergii Thunderhead 30"
Pinus uncinata v.rotundata La Cabanase 15"-18"
Pinus uncinata v.rotundata Novak 12"

Tsuga canadensis Gentch White 18"

Ropa Vieja Redux

I grew up in Florida and Latino foods were a huge part of my life. Ropa Vieja was always a favorite dish of mine to eat. The translation of the dish is "torn clothes" and when the braised meat is pulled apart if you blur your vision maybe you could see how it got the name.
The braised chuck roast pictured above is what I braised in the last post's pureed onion marinade. The great thing about braised meats is they're super tender and cheap. For less then $3/lb you can get a great meal prepared. All it takes is some basic technique and time. While this was cooking I continued clearing a large part of our property, more on that tomorrow.

Monday, December 29, 2008

You Serenade the Meat

Marinading meats has always seemed an 80's thing to me. I'm not sure why I view it that way but I've always been more of a fan of making a sauce to finish the meat with then trying to infuse the meat with a flavor with a marinade.

I've been slowly trying to not use this book as my mantra for not needing to marinade meats. Recently I've found a very simple yet effect technique for marinading meats. Pureeing onions in water and adding other flavors. Adding raw sliced or minced onions never makes since to me and this technique turns the onions, and garlic in the case above, into a fine puree that clearly has more of a chance of infusing the flavor into the meat than a onion pieces.
Give it a try.
2 cups water
1 cup onion
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon bay leaf powder
Add all to a food processor and puree till completely smooth. Pour over meat and marinade for 12-24 hours.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Before and Some After

With weather approaching 70degrees here in Tennessee I decided to seize the opportunity and go a chainsawing.
If you need a chainsaw buy a good quality model. I had purchased three different cheaper brands until I finally found my Husqvarna. The 18 inch chain goes through wood like a knife through truffle butter.
This area has turned out to be very treacherous to work. There is a very old chicken wire fence that some of the native trees have grown through. The metal is now embedded into the flesh of the trees creating dangerous projectiles if hit by the saw. Remember kids, safety first.
Overall this job is either one for a scalpel or extreme machines. Unfortunately I don't own a large sized bulldozer. So it's got to be the scalpel approach. I feel very positive about the first dent I've made in the area. Although the pictures so far don't really capture the progress. The weather looks like it might continue to be unseasonably warm, so my chainsaw and I will continue to be friendly.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Dinner

If I've said it once I've said it at least three times, steak is over rated. I'll always prefer for a great meal a slow braised meat like the above beef brisket I had above for our Christmas dinner.

A quick braising liquid of sage, thyme, onion, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and water and 4 hours of cooking time is all it takes for this tender and delicious meal. The brisket had a very nice fat cap layer which is a must for a long cooking piece of beef. It allows for the fat to slowly render into the meat as it cooks. A grass fed piece of beef from West Wind Farms doesn't hurt either.

Also pictured a goat cheese and sweet pea risotto and shallot and garlic sauteed green beans.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Cookie

We all know the drill, leave high-fat cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve and receive holiday joy and presents the next morning.

The subject of a great cookie is always a hot culinary topic. In particular, what makes a great chocolate chip cookie?

I stand clearly in the chocolate chuck corner of the cookie arena. Also, my fat of choice is the always popular butter-based cookie dough. The chunks I prefer because it is far easier to find great chocolate in bar form rather than the chip form. (One of my two keys to a great chocolate chip cookie) The butter should be whipped after being left at room temperature to a very creamy state. Then after your dough is finished, wrap the dough into a tube in plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge. ( The second key to a great cookie)

Many a cookie dough recipe can be found, but the below ratio creates an easy to remember and delicious cookie dough base. Add whatever chocolate and or vanilla or other flavor elements you so desire.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
1 egg (beaten)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Whip butter till light, then add egg and mix until combined. Next add the brown sugar and blend. Add half the flour, baking soda, and salt mix until the dough is smooth and well combined. Add the rest of the flour and mix again till smooth. Fold in chocolate chips/chunks or any other dry ingredients. Form dough into a tube and place in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 1 hour. Cut dough into cookie shapes and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until the edges of the cookies have started to brown but the center is still soft.

For Your Holiday Entertainment

OK, so occasionally I get to pull myself out of my garden or a kitchen and get to do something cool. This was one of those cool events.

For those of you non sports fans I hosted a cooking class with Tennessee Titans' linebacker Keith Bulluck . Keith is not only a great football player and has helped the Titans reach the NFL's best record but he's extremely active in charitable work.

This event was to help promote heart healthy cooking. The only problem was Keith needed some help in getting the point that it was about healthy cooking. Hope you all enjoy this clip and have a great holiday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's a Ghost

There is always one plant that's really difficult to find for that perfect spot. I've been longing to replace two very boring red maples. These maples sit in front of our home in a prominent spot. They have shown absolutely uninspiring fall color two years in a row and aren't that exciting the rest of the year.

I've wanted to replace them with two larger lacebark pines. The particular tree I want is 'silver ghost' . Lacebark pines have a really striking bark and the 'silver ghost' cultivar has a brilliant silver patched bark that's an eye catcher all year long.

Here's the problem, large 'silver ghosts' are a ghost. I can not find any large specimens available. I can find large lacebark pines but those are 'compacta' which wouldn't fit my need for larger growing trees in this area. As I continue my hunt I'll have to settle for the small 'silver ghost' I have pictured above.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Oh Panettone...Oh Panettone

Recently I was reading about Christmas food traditions and the subject of panettone bread came up. The writer compared the Italian panettone to the familiar American fruit cake. That's not a bad comparison except for one detail. Panettone is absolutely fantastic and fruit cake is horrible.
Being a bread snob I've had many fantastic artisan breads laced with nuts and dried fruits but that thing that is labeled as fruit cake and sold at stores this time of year in an abomination. It's neither cake or bread. The only thing it can claim is being awful. I'm sure there are people who might bake their own fruit can and I would expect those to be better. However the store bought version needs to be banned.
On the flipside is the store bought panettone. The history can be found here . For those who have not tried pannetone you're really missing out on what can be a fantastic holiday addition. It's a very tedious and time consuming process to make panettone from scratch due to it's unique dough. That's what makes the great quality store bought version such a great thing.
Panettone resembles if a brioche and sourdough breads had a baby. Then you added wonderful candied citrus to the party and then dried raisins. It's great sliced and served with your beverage of choice or you can take my approach which is to layer it with a chocolate hazelnut and mascarpone cheese filling. Slicing the panettone and layering it with the chocolate mixture. Picture in the future of the finished product.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Before

In the coming weeks I will brave the cold and try to avoid the thorns of many a wild blackberry cane, horrible tasting BTW, to clear this long strip of our property.

In it's place will be the latest addition to my growing garden/arboretum. Conifers and Japanese maples will fill this space and hopefully create a really great addition. I'll be giving a full play-by-play of how each day with the chainsaw and brushcutter in hand goes as well as giving a list of plants that are on the slate to go in this new garden area.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Slice Of Summer

It seems like just yesterday visions of fresh tomatoes dance in our minds. The birds were singing and flowers were in the air.

It Shines in Winter

Let me start by saying I don't like these trees. At least I don't like them for about 8-9 months a year and then in the winter they finally live up to their name.
Even if you're not a total Japanese maple maniac you've probably seen an acer palmatum named 'sango kaku' at a local garden center. It's your typical green palmatum leaf maple most of the year and also is prone to a very twiggy growth habit. It's young growth structure is lame and the leaves are very blah.
Taking all that into consideration typically this tree would be a pass. Here's where it takes a turn for the better. In winter it's bark is a scarlet red and that's where they get their name coral bark. They stand out as a blazing winter flame, in fact one dwarf version is named 'winter flame'. The only downer to this habit is as the tree gets older the mature bark doesn't display the red habit. I would also note that I feel that a cultivar named 'Japanese sunrise' is superior in growth habit to the more common 'sango kaku'

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fe Fi Fo 'Tom Thumb'

One thing you'll learn very quickly if you choose to allow the plant collecting bug to bite you, if you have a choice, there are so many cultivars/plants with great names.

Above is one of my favorites Picea orientalis 'Tom Thumb'. The American Conifer Society describes it as "A witches' broom discovered on a garden specimen of 'Skylands' in Nyack, NY. A dense, bright gold cushion with an extremely slow growth rate. " Translation - it's a little baby version from a large growing tree that will always stay pretty small.

'Tom Thumb' is another conifer that adds stunning color after the party ends for annual and perennial flowers. If you live in a warmer climate you might want to give it some afternoon shade. As always, every growing condition is different we all have our own micro climates. The fun part is finding a plant with a cool name and trying to grow it in your garden.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

You Say Potato, I say...

I say cool. The potato continues to get a bad wrap. Falling into the category of a "side dish", we tend to see the potato as always the bridesmaid never the bride.

It's true at first glace the potato may seem a tad boring. Hopefully this video blog entry will make you look at the potato with little more thought to it taking center stage.


Introducing... Slice. Of. Summer.

For all of us who are already tired of cloudy days and heavy snow fall here is reminder of warmer weather to look forward to.

Pinus strobus ‘Gold Painted’ (above & below)
Pinus strobus 'Winter Gold' (above & below)
Pinus mugo 'Aurea' (above & below)
Many people see a pine tree and refer to it as an evergreen. I was no different until the gardening bug surprisingly bit me.
Pines, as any conifer geek will tell you, are not all so called "evergreens". Many conifers turn a brilliant gold color in the winter months. The photos posted above are just a sample of the wide selection of pines that offer fantastic winter interest. There is nothing better then on a cloudy winter day to walk in the garden and see the great glowing golden pines.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I do

I teach cooking classes professionally. A lot of people have asked me what makes a good cooking class? The answer is pretty simple the instructor and the topic. Unfortunately there isn't any kind of cooking instructor standard of excellence, so I can not tell you all cooking classes are great. Before you sign up for one or buy one for a friend go to the cooking school location and meet the instructor. If they have a personality that most resembles paint drying or a drill instructor do yourself a favor and go buy dinner for your self or a friend at a great restaurant instead.

If you have or haven't taken a cooking class, I hope you'll enjoy these highlights of a super fun class on heirloom tomatoes.

No Label ... No Problem

I'm sure this has happened to anyone that buys plants on a regular basis. You see a nice plant. One that you think would fill a perfect spot in your garden. label. Sure you might have a basic idea of what species the plant is but in the case of conifers that's a wide range of guessing. Is it a dwarf globe shape or will that little globe eventually throw up a leader and reach for the sky.

The above example is such a plant I found at a local nursery and my guest is it might be a picea omorika but the cultivar name I'm not sure on. Any help would be appreciated.

New Arrivals

In my never ending want/need to add conifers to my property I received a very nice shipment of plants today. For those of you that love conifers let the photos begin.

Pinus Densiflora 'Red OD Burke' (above & below)

Pseudotsuga Menziesii 'Seattle Mtn' (above & below) Picea Omorika 'Nana' (above)
Pinus Sylvestris 'Sentinel' (above)
Pinus Parviflora 'Gimborn's Ideal' (above)

Conifers Fans Unite

I realize some conifers are rare and unsual. After this spring there will be over 200 rare and unsual conifers on my property.

Despite this, I can not see paying over $40 for the above grafted conifer. I know this might get me kicked out of the conifer geek club, but someone needs to say it. Enough with the expensive newly grafted conifers. I'd like to get more people interested in conifers, but if I'd tell them you'll pay over $40 for a plant like this, they'll run away laughing.

This and most current non-conifer people would pay $50 for and think that's a nice deal. So let's all unite in effort to bring conifers to masses and from full sun to even more full sun.