Garden trip: Japanese garden

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Last month we visited the Frederik Meijer gardens in Grand Rapids Michigan.  A new Japanese garden installation was completed last year and covers eight acres of the space, which also includes a variety of other gardens, a conservatory, greenhouse and other educational gardening spaces.

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We were most interested in seeing the Japanese garden this year, as it has been in the works for over four years.  The plantings, bridges, waterfalls, sculpture, and other water features were simply beautiful. Now, remember, these plants have only had one year to take hold, and as every gardener knows, it takes some time for the “look” of an established garden to be solidified.

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Nevertheless, the style, design, pathways, and overall idea and concept of this garden is very well planned and executed.  The bridges were lovely, with lily pad overlooks.  The tea house was intricately placed within the garden, and the overlook of the entire garden was also quite nicely thought through and built.

As just one feature of the Meijer gardens, this Japanese garden is something special to enjoy and appreciate.  From the rocks and boulders that line the water, to the Zen and bonsai gardens, there are so many unique features to this garden to enjoy and celebrate.

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If you visit, leave enough time to also enjoy the other areas of the Meijer gardens, including the carnivorous plant exhibit and the Gwen Frostic shade garden — Such a nice tribute to a lovely Michigan artist who loved and created her art based on plant and animals.

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Tip: preserving green onions

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If you are harvesting green onions or purchasing them in the market, I recently found an amazing way to store the onions in my home refrigerator.

I seem to always have an endless battle with green onions if I don’t use them promptly within a couple of days of purchase.  The green ends shrivel into weak blades of grass, and my hand-picked green onions can’t be used as I intended in many of my dishes.

So, here is the tip to keep your onions super fresh for weeks.  Yes, weeks. I unwrapped these onions after almost two weeks in my vegetable bin and they look as fresh as the day I placed them in there for storage.  Wrap in plastic straight from the garden or market. I do not wash the ones from the market at all until I use them.  Then, the secret is to wrap that plastic package in aluminum foil tightly. Total preservation.

Amazing and I know this tip will help many of you who did not know the secret.  After discarding shriveled onions for more than 30 years, I finally found the proper storage method. This method works for celery too.  I do clean the celery before storage.

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Farm fresh strawberries

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Summer strawberries fresh from the farm were gifted to me a couple of weeks ago, and were they ever delicious. There is something special about fresh strawberries that have not gone through a market of handling, packaging and processing for shipment.

These berries were sweet, tender and delicious. Many of them were petite and perfect for strawberry tarts.  I have an amazing recipe that I have used for years that makes any type of fruit tart bakery quality.  This time, I did not add the glaze, which even makes their presentation more spectacular, but opted to just enjoy the sweetness of these special berries instead.

Using your favorite pie crust, determine the size and shape of the tarts.  I have a variety of pans, and often choose to use my heart tart pan. This time, I used one large rectangle and three smaller circle pans for the recipe quantity.  Prepare the crust and cool.

Make the tart filling. Whip together one 8 ounce package of softened cream cheese, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1 tablespoon thawed frozen orange juice concentrate, and 1/2 cup whipping cream.  Spread into the tart shells.  And, then top with fruit. I dusted these tarts with white sanding sugar.

An additional glaze can be added of 2 tablespoons honey mixed with 1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate and brushed over the fruit.  Refrigerate until serving.

Yummy for summer.

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Grilled chives from the garden

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Summertime herbs are being harvested in my garden, and I recently decided to grill some chives with my other vegetable assortment for dinner.

The chives were delicious on the grill and gave another texture to the Asian dish, which I paired with some grilled shrimp.  There is something just so wonderful about taking cuttings from a home garden and adding them into the dinner menu.

I usually clip my chives a couple of times a season and enjoy them in everything from herb dips to garnishes for salads or pasta dishes.

If you did not plant chives this year, be sure to put them on your list for next year, as they are super easy to grow and will even tolerate some shade in the garden.

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Dad’s Frito Pie

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We lived in Houston for less than one year, but I still have a fondness for some of the regional foods and dishes that I experienced while living in Texas. Since today is Father’s Day, here is a salute to dads, as they seem to love this dish any time of year.

Keeping with the theme of a Texas chili, this recipe adds baked beans and crunchy corn chips for serving. If your dad doesn’t like beans in his chili usually, I bet he likes baked beans instead.

Here is how to make this simple dad-style favorite:  Brown one pound of ground round.  Add 2 small chopped white onions and soften for a few minutes.  I did both of these steps in my multi-cooker.  If you have a slow cooker without a browning option, just use your stove top to begin the recipe.

Next, in the slow cooker, add one 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with green onions and one can of Grillin’ beans.  I used a 25 ounce can of Bourbon and brown sugar beans.

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Cook on low for 5-6 hours.  When ready to serve, use Fritos at the bottom of the bowl or plate, and add the chili mixture.

I offered toppings of shredded cheddar cheese, chopped black olives, chopped green onions and sour cream.

Perfect for those sports parties, winter meals, or any time dad desires. Leftovers freeze perfectly for dad.

graham cracker sandwiches

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I must be the last person to see this recipe for graham cracker sandwiches.  I think it has been around for a while and hundreds of variations are on Pinterest now.

Even though this is not a new one, I just had to share it, because it is just that fabulous.

Select any type of graham cracker that you like. I found so many different types now including chocolate, vanilla, and low-fat cinnamon in the store aisle.

Using one carton of Cool whip whipped topping, spread evenly about 1 inch thick on one 2-part graham cracker.  Add chopped strawberries lightly to the top of the whip and then cover with the second half of the graham cracker.  Wrap in waxed paper and cover with foil on a small cookie sheet. I wrapped the whole tray in one large piece of waxed paper. Freeze for at least two hours before serving.

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Since there are a variety  of Cool whip flavors, that selection will also personalize your graham cracker sandwiches.  These are many fewer calories than an ice cream sandwich and are really quite tasty.  Leave the fruit out, add different fruit, sprinkle in nuts, or whatever is desired.  This is a create your own frozen delight recipe.

Very inexpensive and so far, everyone who has tried one at my house loves them. Great for treats after a barbecue or grilling out.  Great for kids too.

Easy tortellini soup

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We have had a few chilly days here in Michigan, and it doesn’t take much for me to bring out a soup recipe.  I have so many favorites and always welcome leftovers.  This recipe makes around 8 medium-sized soup bowl servings.

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I love the zesty flavor based on the type of diced tomatoes used for cooking. I use chili ready tomatoes, which includes a nice profile of spice.  Actually, that profile is perfect for this soup.  I have tried it with other variations of tomatoes as well, and if you are a tomato fan, you will like this recipe no matter which canned product is selected.

To begin the soup recipe:  Use about 2 tablespoons margarine to saute 4 cloves of fresh chopped garlic.  When softened, add 4 cups of chicken broth and boil.  Add 1/2 bag of slightly thawed frozen cheese tortellini to the mixture on the stovetop.  CooSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESk 3 minutes and then add one can of diced tomatoes.   Bring back up to a boil and cook another 2-3 minutes.

To finish the soup, I used fresh basil from my garden, chopped in thin strips, and added some chopped dark green romaine lettuce to the pot.  I continued to lightly boil the soup for another minute or so.  Serve with shredded or freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle with parsley flakes.

A great way to warm up on a chilly day.

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