August 31, 2011

Peach Sorbet

Mmmm... Those fresh peaches in the supermarket look so good, don't they? I was inspired to make them into a simple and refreshing sorbet! Accented with a hint of mint and a pinch of ginger, it tastes a little more complex than just peach- it's delicious! It is also dairy-free, so if you or your family members have dairy allergies, this is a treat you can all eat!

Peach Sorbet

3 cups puree from fresh, peeled peaches (either 4 HUGE peaches or 6-8 regular sized peaches)

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

10 mint leaves

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Do you have an ice cream maker? They are very cool- you can use them for sorbet, too! Make sure you have one of the bowls frozen and ready before you make this. In a small pot on the stove, combine the water, sugar and mint leaves and heat over medium-low heat. While that's happening and causing the sugar to dissolve nicely, peel and puree your beautiful peaches in the blender. I'd use a blender as opposed to a food processor because my food processor tends to leak when it's very liquid. Are your peaches firm and not yet ripe? Did you know that leaving peaches out of the refrigerator will cause them to ripen faster? In even more of a hurry? Place them in a paper bag. When I buy peaches, I buy them firm, and then when I know I want to use them, I leave them on the kitchen counter about 2-3 days before I want them to be ripe. So, we've got out wonderful peach puree now, set that aside, go back to the stove and stir the water, sugar and mint. You don't need this to boil, just heat until the sugar is dissolved and then turn off the burner and let it sit for about 20-30 minutes. This will just help the mint flavor get into the sugar syrup. After 20-30 minutes, combine with the peach puree and the ginger, removing the mint leaves, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

After about 30 minutes, you can go ahead and put the mixture in the ice cream maker, run for about 30 minutes, or until it looks the right consistency to you. Then, scrape into containers with lids and freeze! Ta-da! Not only do you have a fun, refreshing dessert, but, you can obviously make this ahead of when you plan to eat it!

August 27, 2011

Adventures in Knitting

I apologize for neglecting the blog for the last several weeks- we went to visit friends and family in Connecticut and Maine, which was lovely, but, 'reentry,' as one of my girlfriends calls it, is difficult! There's laundry, unpacking, and just in general getting back into the swing of things. While we were in Maine, I was inspired to take up knitting again! My sweet grandmother, the one I've mentioned before, with the amazing garden in Maine, she taught me how to knit when I spent summers with her. We would knit in the living room, watching television. I can't remember anything else she watched other than General Hospital, which, I think she actually watched for the clothes. Despite the fact that she lived in a small town in Maine, she was sharp! My sister and I actually still have her beautiful mink stole that she used to wear down to the theater in Boston, it is even hollanderized with her initials on the inside. Anyhow, she was such a capable woman, in the kitchen, keeping a house as neat as a pin- (she ironed bed sheets) and even though she has passed away, when I visit Maine, I get to thinking about her and the things she taught me.

One of our activities in Maine on this trip, was to visit a cashmere goat farm! At first, I chose this activity because there was a special insert in the newspaper that listed farms nearby that were open to visitors. The write up for this particular farm was so charming- baby goats, you'd be able to pet them- so one morning, my husband, my mother, baby and I were all off! Well, two things happened. First of all, we couldn't find it at first, and the directions in the paper were completely unhelpful, AND, my mother realized reading the newspaper insert that there had been a special 'farm day' on which all these farms were open, and today was not that day. Well, my husband and mother particularly enjoyed that fact at my expense (hey, what do I care?) and we decided we'd invested so much into visiting the goats that we'd just show up and see what happened... Well, there was absolutely nothing to worry about, the woman who ran the farm was incredibly sweet and welcoming, introducing us to her favorite goat, explaining how when goats had children they typically had fraternal twins, but one of them had had triplets recently, and about how the shaggy hair that some goats had was a recessive gene and actually not related to their cashmere fiber production- that's actually the undercoat. In addition to petting the adorable goats and baby goats, she showed us some beautiful cashmere yarn that had been made out of her cashmere- I snapped up a lovely pink and a creamy blue and was immediately inspired to knit! If you have a chance to visit, I highly recommend it, it is Black Locust Farm in Knox County, Maine, but call first!

Well, I didn't remember how, exactly, so off I went to the town's knitting store, the aptly named "The Cashmere Goat". The two ladies running the store were so helpful, they paired me with a beginner's book and off I went. I was back a few days later, explaining that the knitting needles I had were slippery- they had an answer for that, too- wooden needles for softer, more slippery yarn, and true it was, working with a 2 ply cashmere yarn with bamboo wooden needles was incredibly easier! These two ladies were full of useful information- they introduced me to this knitting website called, which is wonderful- you can search for patterns and then look at them online- many are free, some are a few dollars. I can't yet read charted patterns, but written patterns I can follow.

I was wondering why recently I am enjoying knitting so much- I think that the reason is that knitting is actually a wonderfully complex three dimensional math problem- especially with complicated patterns- my favorites tend to me what are called 'lace.' This is when there's a lot of holes or eyelets created with yarn over stitches, and a lot of decreasing and increasing stitches going in certain directions. I recently completed my first project, a vine lace pattern scarf using 1/2 oz. of pink cashmere 2 ply yarn, and we met the goats it came from! This scarf is on its way to a sweet friend as a belated birthday present!

August 17, 2011

Pesto Chicken

The basil in the garden has been looking so inviting that I thought I'd make some pesto! Tonight, we went outside to play in the yard and I brought a little bag and picked some cucumbers, basil and flat leaf parsley from the garden. This pesto is simple and delicious, and even better, you can make it once and then enjoy it over the next few days in different ways! Tonight we had it as a marinade on chicken cutlets, but it is also wonderful tossed with pasta or on fresh baguette as a snack.

La Dolce Duchessa's Pesto
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, loosely packed
2 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
2 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup whole walnuts, loosely packed
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup pecorino romano, freshly grated with a microplane
1/4 cup parmesan, freshly grated with a microplane

You'll love how quick this is to make- grab your blender! Wash your parsley and basil, remove and discard the stems. Remove the skins from the garlic cloves, cut off the small root and chop coarsely. Add all of the ingredients to your blender and blend until combined. Use a spatula as needed to scrape down the sides. If there are any large pieces of garlic or nut that are resistant, just fish them out and chop them yourself, adding back to the pesto.

You're done! You're ready to either toss freshly boiled pasta in the delicious sauce, or use it as a marinade for chicken. Tonight, I used this pesto for chicken cutlets- chicken cutlets are breast halves that have been butterflied open. I used 1 Tbsp. to 1 1/2 Tbsp. of pesto for each chicken cutlet, covering the whole piece with pesto, and let it marinate for 1 hour before cooking. You can marinate it for longer if you like, or if you have less time, that's alright too! Whatever you can do- it will still be delicious. Store the unused pesto in the refrigerator and enjoy it tomorrow or later on in the week!

To cook the pesto chicken, heat some olive oil in a skillet on the stove over medium heat. Once the oil moves easily around the pan, add the chicken. I cooked it for about 4 or 5 minutes on the first side, waiting until the chicken was easily moved and flipped (don't hurry this, you want some nice browned parts on the chicken) and for about 3 or 4 minutes on the second side. Top this with some baby arugula and a little grated parmesan and you have a lovely presentation! This is a wonderful weeknight dinner, but you may like it so much that it may get upgraded to dinner party or weekend lunch!

August 15, 2011

Simple Summer Cucumbers

Celebrate summer with this delicious and wildly simple cucumber dish! This is the way my Grandmother would serve us cucumbers fresh from her garden. It is wonderful as a snack, an appetizer, or as a side dish- serve in place of a salad!

Simple Summer Cucumbers

Cucumber(s) (peeling optional)
Apple cider vinegar, Sea salt

First, wash your cucumber(s). Peeling is optional, I usually don't bother. Remove the very ends of the cucumber where the stem connected, then slice into pieces about 1/3" thick. Place in a shallow bowl, add a little apple cider vinegar (just enough to cover the bottom of the bowl or plate). Sprinkle with sea salt. This salt in the picture has a reddish tint because it is Alaea Hawaiian sea salt, colored by clay, but any variety will be delicious!

While we were traveling, the garden literally went insane! The PVC pipe and hardware cloth covers we put over the beds to keep out 'thieves' have proven to be too short, especially with regard to my ambitious plans to grow vine plants vertically... It probably would have worked a little better had I actually been around to train the vines?! Anyhow, I decided I would just make the covers taller- so one trip to Lowe's and several afternoons during the little one's nap time later, I am almost finished with making the cover on one of the beds super tall... I am hoping the crazy melon plants that might take over the yard will just keep growing up?

The only bad part of this process is that during this work, one of the beds has been completely open to the little thieves and vandals that maraud around the yard- and all of the green zebra tomatoes have been stolen! Even worse, I found a little tomato carcass on the ground today, all sad and empty.

I must console myself with the robust-ness of the melon plants and the promise of other tomato varieties! The basil is looking especially lovely- perhaps we should have some pesto?

Check out these exciting Cherokee purple tomatoes!