Summer Vacation is Here! So is the Rain

We had all the “last” days this month. The last day of baseball, the last day of track, the last day of practice and, of course, the last day of school. A load of books and papers that are stored in school all year came home this week.

So it’s time to fire up the grill and start shaking up some cocktails. Well, not exactly.

Yesterday was the last day of school. Today the rain arrived. What timing.

We aren’t going to let the rain dampen our kicking-off-summer spirit. We are breaking out the indoor skillet to make burgers and getting the cocktail shaker out to make mocktails for the guys.

Somewhere along the way we collected several cocktail shakers and the guys get a kick out of watching their drinks being made as we combine different juices and pour our mixed drinks over flavored ice cubes.

We also like to wet the rims of the glasses and dip in a layer of organic sugar on a small plate.

We gather some mint from the garden and they drink the mocktails out of margarita glasses.

We planted citrus mint a few seasons ago and it is exploding right now. The citrus mint is perfect for cool drinks outside in the summer season.

We spent the afternoon making what we call “the summer ice cubes.” That means various fruit juices frozen in trays. They are a must for summer drinks on a hot day. Ice cubes help to keep your drinks cold but as they slowly melt they start to dilute the flavors in your drinks.

Instead, try using the inevitable melting process to slowly add more flavor by using ice cubes made with fruit juices. This way every last drop of your drinks have the most flavor possible.

Tonight we will make cheeseburgers and corn on the cob in our grill pan indoors and assemble our drinks for dinner. We can spread out our beach towels and have dinner and a movie to kick off summer.

A little rain isn’t going to stop us. We’ll be back out in the pool and working in the garden tomorrow if the weather reports are correct. We’ll light the beach-scented Yankee Candle and get summer vacation started.

Now, what’s a good summer movie for our dinner and a movie night?http://communitytable.com/408131/aliceknisleymatthias-2/try-the-fried-onion-burger-that-oklahoma-gave-us/

Be sure and check out my latest posts over at Parade’s food section at the link above.

Here Comes the Sun!

There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding than watching everything outside come back to life. The daffodils, tulips and flowering trees signal that the warmer weather is on the way.

Our outdoor activities are in gear with track and baseball. Last weekend we got the grill set up for another season of cooking on the patio.

We use the grill for so many dishes like pizza, with a crushed tomato sauce and torn bits of mozzarella, and hamburgers with melted American cheese.

The herb garden is slowly coming back and these are the plants that help add flavor to everything we have on the outdoor dining table in the warm-weather season.

The pizza we make on the grill is just a little better when we add some oregano and basil leaves when the pizza is near the end of cooking time and they melt with the tomato sauce and soft cheese.

The chives are making their way through the soil and they always add a nice mild onion flavor to the aioli we make for the French fries we have with our burgers from the grill.

The dipping sauce is equal parts mayonnaise and ketchup with a pinch of Kosher salt and a generous helping of chopped chives.

Hamburgers and fries with aioli is the perfect dinner for dining outside once the weather is warm and the scent of blooming flowers and trees is in the air.

We are getting ready to move the herbs we brought inside for the winter season back to the garden outside. This has to be a gradual process as the plants need to adjust to temperatures outside.

If you leave the plants overnight at this time of year, after their winter inside, you can shock the potted herbs. They need a few hours a day outside in the morning and afternoon sun.

The date for when the danger of a frost is behind us is in our area in New York is considered to be Mother’s Day.

The herbs that stayed outside in the garden are on a different cycle as they were dormant in the cold-weather season.

Having fresh herbs ready to grab at any moment brings out the flavor in your food. That’s why we make the effort to pot some up in the fall to get us through the winter season.

You know you are in for the outdoor season when you catch the scent of basil on a warm breeze.

For some ideas with using lemons in your cooking take a look at my post at Parade where you can see how to make a lemon oil from The Chew’s Carla Hall.

http://communitytable.com/390729/aliceknisleymatthias-2/for-the-love-of-lemons/

We are ready for outdoor dining and some good conversation and laughs.

Homemade Pizza for Pi Day

March is the month that gardeners start to prepare for the upcoming growing season and there are surprises coming up through the soil.

If you start plants and vegetables from seed, now is when you start to prepare those seeds and seed-starter medium indoors so they are ready to roll out to the garden in mid-May.

Sedum is the last flowering plant to stick around in the fall and the first plant to come back in the spring. It emerges as the last of the snow melts away around here.

Today is Pi Day for math fans as the date of March 14, 2015 translates to the mathematical equation of Pi which reads as 3.1415. The month, day, and year, in numbers today is 3/14/15.

So, we decided our contribution to Pi Day would be in the form of a pizza pie.

We can pick up some good-quality pie dough which makes dinner little more than an easy assembly of ingredients.

We use a basic tomato sauce with a base of onions and garlic started in olive oil in a pan. Then we add our tomatoes and allow the sauce to simmer a bit to thicken.

You don’t want to skimp on the cheese since good pizza is made from only a few ingredients. Don’t reach for fresh mozzarella as it has a higher water content and that can make the pizza soggy.

Save the fresh mozzarella cheese for your caprese salad or other salads.

IMG_20130705_183656

Try a mixture of a few cheeses mixed together. Many markets carry bags of shredded mozzarella along with other cheeses and it can be a nice twist of flavor for your pizza topping.

Remember when spreading sauce on the pizza dough that less is more.

Too much sauce weighs down the dough and prevents the pizza from cooking through evenly.

We like to make pizza on the grill but tonight the pizza will be made in a super-hot oven.

You want to really crank up the oven heat to get a nice crust on your pizza as the toppings melt.

We like some fresh oregano leaves scattered on top when the pizza comes out and piles of shredded basil ribbons.

The herbs get some gentle heat as the pizza cools and the herb flavor mixes with the tomato sauce and melted cheese.

Our indoor herb garden in pots has gotten us through the winter once again. We know the herbs want to feel the warmth of spring sunshine just as much as we do!

Take a look at my latest at Parade. http://parade.com/382048/aliceknisleymatthias-2/signs-of-spring-with-beets-and-holiday-ham-ideas/

Flip for Eggs and Storage Idea

What is it about an omelet or Eggs Benedict that says weekend? You wouldn’t take the time to make these dishes for yourself during the week because it’s not practical with the amount of time available in the morning.

If you make an omelet or Eggs Benedict for yourself on the weekend you are relaxed, and have the time, or you’re lucky enough to have a seat at a brunch spot.

We eat eggs in our house for breakfast and they pair well with our fresh herbs we grow inside for the winter season.

We love some fresh sprigs of thyme in a batch of creamy scrambled eggs. When the thyme stems are new and tender you don’t have to strip the leaves. It’s the older, woody stems that can’t be used.

When the eggs are poached for Eggs Benedict the chives are the star of the lemony Hollandaise sauce.

Maybe you picked up some organic eggs from your local market only to find you still had a handful of eggs left in the refrigerator. We’ve all done that. Instead of two cartons taking up space reduce it to one container.

Flip the full container upside down and place the remaining eggs in the slots. All the eggs are in the refrigerator and they’re taking up less space than two cartons of eggs.

All your eggs are stored and ready for breakfast dishes or baking. Want ideas for lemon baked treats? Check out my post from Parade’s Community Table.

http://communitytable.com/368875/aliceknisleymatthias-2/pucker-up-love-and-lemons/

 

 

The Indoor January Garden

At the end of the growing season we dig up some herbs to bring inside to continue to give us fresh herbs like chives, oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and basil.

The thyme really grew and spread last summer so we divided it and brought a big pot inside.

The transition from outside to indoors has to happen gradually or the sudden change can shock the plant.

A few hours inside a day, and slowly increasing the amount of time indoors, will usually bring success.

The herbs can provide flavor for winter meals and plants like the hibiscus, or gardenia, will continue to bloom.

When the winter winds are swirling, and the snow piles up outside, the chance to brush against a pot of rosemary or basil and have their scent released into the air reminds you that spring is on the way.

January is a good time for the plants inside because they have thoroughly adapted to their conditions and are full of energy right now.

If you have plants in south-facing windows you really have to stay on top of the watering cycles. All that sun means plants can dry out quickly.

The other night we made a hearty stew with some sprigs of rosemary that simmered in the stew as it cooked and added a woodsy flavor. When simmering herbs in soups and stews we tie a few sprigs together and drop them in the pot.

The leaves that fall away deepen the flavor of the dish and the sprigs are easily retrieved when the cooking time is done.

The other night we toasted some slices of bread for fresh goat cheese and drizzled some organic honey to make crostini to serve with roasted carrot soup.

Then we snipped some thyme and scattered the tiny leaves on top of the goat cheese spread smoothly on the toast.

Nothing brightens a winter marinara sauce like a few torn basil leaves stirred in at the last moment of cooking time. This is why we bring some herbs indoors for the winter season. All this freshness in our food for the winter season.

As we sat down to dinner someone spotted that the hibiscus had bloomed a new cotton-candy-colored delicate bloom.

These are the pleasures of the indoor January garden and a reminder that all of this will be outside with warm breezes again.

Back to winter. There’s a blizzard on the way. Look at that beautiful bloom again!

You can check out my piece about warming up with a mug of something delicious over at Parade.

http://communitytable.com/364600/aliceknisleymatthias-2/hot-chocolate-or-hot-cocoa-is-there-a-difference/

How the Summer Herb Garden Helps Holiday Meals

Where do the weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas go? Hopefully you have gotten the decorations out, thought about holidays gone by and have the chance to continue to meet with friends and family.

We dug up some herbs from the garden so that we can cook with them all winter long. Most herbs are sturdy enough to make the transition. You have to slowly introduce them to being indoors by bring them in at night when the weather starts to cool and gradually extending their time indoors.

We brought in a huge swath of thyme that was growing rapidly in the garden and that is all the better for the sauces and roasts in the kitchen. The same goes for the rosemary. Two medium pots came in and sit by a window in the kitchen. Snip some sprigs and place on top of a thick slab of meat as it bakes in the oven and it infuses the cut with deep flavor.

We will have a holiday ham for dinner tomorrow. It has a thick mixture of honey and brown sugar that coats the outside layer. If you like mustard with your ham but find the tanginess to be a bit overwhelming cut the mustard with a half Dijon mustard and half light cream combination. Add a little kosher salt and a healthy serving of chopped fresh chives.

Make sure Christmas morning breakfast and present opening is as stress-free as can be. Stay in your pajamas, have a cup of tea or coffee, and enjoy a breakfast that practically makes itself as you tear open wrapping paper and share some laughs.

Take a look at my post over at Parade to make Christmas morning as easy as you can by putting your oven to work for you. With a few easy steps the oven can do the work and allow everyone to relax before the day begins in full swing.

http://communitytable.com/357105/aliceknisleymatthias-2/let-the-oven-make-3-breakfast-items-for-the-holiday/

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth.

 

 

Tips to Pour the Gravy and Pass the Stuffing and Potatoes

What a day-before-Thanksgiving travel day it is today. The constant rain is set to become the first snow of the season.

The nice thing about Thanksgiving is that it is all about jumping off the merry-go-round of our busy schedules and spending time with family and friends.

A spread of food is the anchor for enjoying a relaxing meal.

Are you hosting the holiday? Thanksgiving has  turkey hotlines where there are people who will answer your cooking questions for the turkey who is the star of the show.

The side dishes are where holiday menus reflect the family tastes. Nuts in the stuffing? Sweet potatoes or mashed? Everyone knows what they like when it comes to holiday meals..

Many of the herbs in the garden like thyme and sage are still around before the first hard frost. These herbs are terrific in Thanksgiving foods like gravy and stuffing.

Check out my posts over at Parade’s new Community Table food section.

Get ideas for homemade gravy, stuffing the way everyone likes it, and how to make super-creamy mashed potatoes. First up is the easy-to-make homemade gravy that will be in your gravy boat with a few steps.

http://communitytable.com/352220/aliceknisleymatthias-2/gravy-making-basics/

Can’t get everyone to agree on a stuffing recipe? Take a look at my post for tips on how to stage a make-your-own stuffing for the holiday table.

http://communitytable.com/351370/aliceknisleymatthias-2/how-everyone-can-have-stuffing-the-way-they-like-it/

You can also see my post for how we accidentally discovered how to make the creamiest mashed potatoes. Sometimes you stumble across ideas without planning for them!

http://communitytable.com/350350/aliceknisleymatthias-2/an-easy-step-for-super-creamy-mashed-potatoes/

Happy Thanksgiving!

What to Do with All That Halloween Candy!

Our trick-or-treaters did their candy route in record time and pulled in quite a haul. You could smell the sugar wafting from their bags as they ran by.

As the weather cools, the hydrangea bushes have dried flower heads which are visually interesting. They mix with some plantings that are at their most colorful display when the season starts to usher in cooler weather.

This bush has long and graceful green branches in the summer. Right now it is studded with bright purple berries. It’s a welcome sight come fall.

But it’s  a group of hydrangea that are doing something different this season. They still have fresh blossoms.

These pale-pink blossoms have come out just recently and are fluffy pink clusters right by the fence.

There are a few new blossoms of purple too. The leaves on the purple hydrangea have darkened to an eggplant sort of color as they normally do at this time of year. Yet, there are new blue-lavender blooms.

This part of one of the bushes, poking right through the fence, has a new flower and a blossom that appeared recently. Maybe it’s like when kids do something nice to surprise you.  Don’t ask why. Just enjoy!

Now, we’re fresh from Halloween with the holidays around the bend. Do you have bowls of candy that you’re avoiding dipping your hands in?

Head on over to the new Food section of Parade for some ideas for your Halloween candy.

http://communitytable.com/349072/aliceknisleymatthias-2/5-ideas-to-take-halloween-candy-through-the-holiday-season/

 

 

After the Storm

Two years ago today we were clobbered with Hurricane Sandy. Some were devastated and some escaped without any damage.

Slowly the stories were being shared of everyone’s experience. We lost power for over a week yet we were able to use our grill outside for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Making dinner inside, with a ton of candles lit around the kitchen, was a race against the darkness as dusk arrived each evening.

http://herbinkitchen.com/2012/11/18/stormy-weather/

This blog began weeks before Hurricane Sandy and this post from early on explains the experience.

Everyone welcomed the trick-or-treaters in their costumes that year as something light and happy to think about for a change.

Be sure and check out my latest post for Parade about Halloween treats and what to do with leftovers.

 

http://parade.condenast.com/350247/aliceknisleymatthias-2/halloween-treats-and-leftover-ideas/

Have fun and boo!

September Slides into View

It’s hotter today, on the first of September, than it was on any given day in the month of August. Go figure.

This summer we took our annual cruise up the East River for bird watching with the New York City Audubon. It was a beautiful evening and we watched the sun set behind the UN building.

Someone also turned another year older with a dinner of juicy hamburgers and hot dogs at the request of the birthday boy!

He also wanted his aioli for dipping French fries which he calls “French fry dipping sauce.” Oh, and an ice cream cake that combines two of his favorite things!

The mint in the garden exploded this year so we put it to use in salads, desserts and drinks.

The guys overheard a conversation about turning cocktails into mocktails by removing the booze from a drink.

It’s a way for everyone to enjoy the flavors of cocktails with a non-alcohol version for the non-drinkers and the kids.

The word mocktail alone was a source of a lot of laughter.

Start by making a simple syrup. Mix equal parts sugar to water.

The sugar dissolves and melts into the water so there are no sugar crystals floating around in the drinks. Allow to cool before using.

You can mix combinations of fruits and juices. Play with mixing the juices with some carbonation like seltzer or ginger ale. We mix organic juices with a French Berry Lemonade from Trader Joe’s available in the summer months.

The guys experimented with learning how to muddle mint leaves in the bottom of a glass to make mocktails.  Pressing down on the leaves and lightly bruising them releases some of the essential oils.

This more concentrated mint flavor brightens a cold drink. You can read more about muddling mint leaves at seriouseats here.

http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/05/cocktail-101-how-to-muddle-mint-herbs-how-to-make-a-mojito.html

Cheers to summer 2014! Take a look at my PARADE post that helps you turn leftover wine into dessert. http://parade.condenast.com/322045/aliceknisleymatthias-2/how-you-can-turn-leftover-wine-into-a-refreshing-dessert/

This is brought to you by the wonderful Alice Medrich and it is a dessert you must try before summer slips away!