Indoor herb garden

Last month I planted an indoor herb garden using the culinary herb kit which came with the Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Classic 6.  Even though I am an Advanced Master Gardener and enjoy growing edibles outdoors, I have not been a fan of indoor gardens.  What attracted me to this system is the soil-free hydroponic features of this garden.  It also uses LED high performance lighting for maximum plant growth.  Everything was included in this particular kit, even the plant food which is required for the best growth.

Even the pods are pre-seeded, guaranteed to germinate, and grow faster than if planted in soil.  The garden’s lights are timed and come on based with the program provided within the system.  The unit notifies me when the plants need food and more water to nourish their root system.

Since planting day on March 15th, I have been very happy with my new indoor herb garden.  The plants began to grow under the provided grow domes within one week and have been growing nicely ever since those first days.

Since Michigan weather is just now warming up, and my perennial herbs outdoors are waking up for the season–I haven’t been without my own home grown herbs for a couple of months.

Harvesting has been fun and easy.  My culinary herbs include two types of Basil, Thyme, Mint, Dill and Parsley. I have been using them in my cooking and love to snip just what I need for a particular dish.

Placed in my sun room, the AeroGarden does not take up much room and is quite attractive, adding some green to the environment. The garden does not use GMO seeds, herbicides or pesticides either.  In six months, I plan to try the lettuce kit and enjoy fresh grown greens throughout the Fall.

AeroGardens have been around for many years, so I am happy now to be on board as an indoor gardener.  Kits can be bought at Home Depot, online or at many specialty cooking stores.

Rustic potatoes

In an effort to reduce carbohydrates at holiday meals, I look for alternative ways to serve potatoes.  Everyone seems to love a potato as a comfort food, and my family is no different. In the past five years, I have made an effort to try different types and sizes of potatoes to see if they would be disappointed not having the traditional large slices of potato casseroles or baked potatoes.  To my liking, everyone seems to enjoy these smaller roasted potatoes.  I season them differently, but always roast my potatoes in the oven. Personally, I love them.

Here is how I made my potatoes for Easter this year.  The secret is to find very small potatoes.  I used Baby Boomers from the Little Potato Company.  And, they were delicious.

Prepare a small baking sheet with spray Olive Oil and season the potatoes with Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, parsley flakes, and Italian herb seasoning to taste. I also give the potatoes a spray of the Olive oil as well.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Roast them for 30 minutes and check half way through to make certain they are evenly roasting.  Delicious and easy !!

In this photo, you can see the size of the potatoes compared to the carrots also prepared at this holiday meal.

Seasoned chicken with vegetables

As other foodies have featured one pot meals, I am also “all-in” with this easy and delicious way to have an amazing meal on the table with layers of flavor and excellent taste. I can’t say enough about cast iron cookware, but my Staub essential oven pot is one of the best.

Some of their best features make a huge difference in the end result of any dish prepared in my Staub cookware.  The interior has a matte black enamel finish which resists food from sticking, as well as benefits the self-basting cooking method.  The convex interior lid encourages moisture to stay within the pot, creating the most delicious moist dishes. Food is basted evenly and throughout the cooking process to create a superior end result.

Here is another dish I prepared in this essential pot, and I can’t wait to make it a second time.  It was just that good.  Gather these ingredients: 5 small red skinned potatoes, Kosher salt, minced garlic in a tube, 2 Tablespoons margarine and 1 tablespoon Olive oil, 2 bone in chicken breasts, 6-8 white sliced mushrooms, 2-3 yellow onions, chicken seasoning, black pepper, parsley flakes, 1/2 cup white wine, 1/2 bag small carrots

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a sauce pot, clean, cut and boil the potatoes for 10 minutes and drain.  Brown the chicken in the Olive Oil and margarine.  Season the chicken.  Add sliced onions and lightly soften and brown, add mushrooms and cook until soft and lightly browned.  Then add carrots and do the same.  Add garlic and extra seasoning for the vegetables. Add the potatoes and the white wine. Stir.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes COVERED.  Serve with crusty bread, popovers or a side salad.

Easter green beans

Many of you are not fans of green beans, but I found a recipe that even a green bean hater enjoyed.  I was inspired by the blog Once Upon a Chef and adapted her recipe a bit for my own family this past week. Of course this technique could be tried any time of year, but it is certainly one to remember for those holiday meals.

What I like about the technique is that it starts with French green beans.  That is a special type of very thin green bean, which I am able to find at only some markets. Packaging may say Haricots Verts or Petit green beans.  If you try this recipe with frozen green beans or thick green beans, don’t expect the same result or even worse, your green bean haters will emerge again at the table.

To make the recipe, gather olive oil, red onion, 1-1 1/2 cups water, about 8 ounces of thin green beans, salt and pepper to taste.

Using a saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the thinly sliced red onions until soft and lightly browned. While they are cooking, clean the ends of the beans and place into the pan when the onions are ready.  Salt and pepper to taste, and continue to stir them until they begin to slightly cook as well.  I probably sautéed them for 3-4 minutes.

Next, add 1/2 cup of the water and continue to cook on medium heat, never leaving the green beans.  This is a dish that needs constant attention.  The object is to continue to cook until the water is gone. Then add more water and continue until all of the water has been cooked through the green beans with no water left when the beans are done.

This technique will take about 8-10 minutes total time.  Test the beans to make sure they are done cooking.  Check to see if they are easily pierced with a fork, and look cooked through, hot, but not limp and watery at all.

Transfer to a serving dish and be amazed at the flavor and seasoning.

Baked Easter carrots

These carrots are perfect any time of year, though I recently prepared them for Easter. I happened to find red carrots at the market, and they seemed to add an extra sweetness to the dish.  I would recommend them highly.

Here is how I prepared the carrots. I used two bunches of red carrots and trimmed the greens down to fit on a baking sheet, after peeling them. I prepared the sheet pan with spray Pam with olive oil and seasoned the carrots to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a sauce pot on the stove, I added 2 tablespoons margarine, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, and 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Bring up to temperature to melt the margarine and incorporate the ingredients.  Pour over the carrots on the sheet pan.

Bake for 30 minutes until tender.  I checked them and rotated them after 20 minutes.  If the carrots are very thick, they could be sliced again to help with the roasting time.

These were very tasty served with our Easter ham.

Easter flowers

Today has been an absolutely beautiful day in Michigan.  I can’t remember when the sun, the sky, and the temperature has been this lovely.  My daffodils are blooming and it really feels like Spring has come to stay.

I love flowers for a special table setting, and I always try to have something different for a holiday meal.  I especially love Spring flowers and decided on pink tulips this year for my Easter table.

I used antique Ball pale blue jars for vases and have been admiring the tulips every day since I placed them on the table. There is just something about the colors that are so peaceful and elegant.

Sometimes just a simple table arrangement makes all the difference in presentation of a special meal.  Our family enjoyed a special glazed ham with vegetables this year, along with my classic Easter Egg cookies.  I will always have these memories of the enjoyment I share when preparing a meal for everyone.

Cheese Board

For a busy holiday party, I find it easier to serve an appetizer or cheese board while everyone is waiting for the dinner hour.  When guests arrive, it is very easy to have many types of cheese, nuts, dried fruit, condiments, crusty and multi-seeded bread ready to go. Guests can serve themselves while they enjoy conversation with others and the family.

I usually set up the table earlier in the day or the day before, depending on the guests’ arrival time.  I have the serving dishes ready to go and mark them with post-it notes so it is an easy task to assemble at the last-minute.

This technique has worked for me over the years and keeps me from not having to hunt for a certain platter or dish just as the party is starting.

This past Easter I served a cheese board with four cheeses, complimented with many choices for both sweet and savory snacking.

Here are some photos which included the following choices:

white cheddar cheese with blue seedless grapes, fig jam, and hard salami

mini mozzarella balls with grape tomatoes and fresh basil

black and green olives with small dill pickles

aged cheddar with blueberry honey and candied tangerine slices

Bremner wafers with candied ginger nuts

Gouda cheese with natural almonds and dried cherries

Dill Havarti cheese with crusty bread and multi-grain seeded bread

Carr’s crackers, raspberries and bar cheddar cheese

Chocolate eggs and jelly belly beans