Saturday, June 30, 2012

Experimenting With Spices-Kefta Spice Mix

I use several spice mixes in my cooking. 7 Spice Mix(Middle Eastern), Greek Seasoning, Herbes de Provence, Italian Seasoning,Tony Chacheres's Creole Seasoning, Adobo, and Sazon with Culantro and Achiote. Each can be used in multiple dishes, in a myriad of ways.

Kefta Spice Mix is different. Moroccan cooks use it to flavor lamb meat balls in a traditional dish called "Kefta".

I bought this spice at K&S World Market to experiment with it. I have used it to flavor shrimp sauteed in olive oil.

I have used it on Roasted Tomatoes.

I have cooked couscous with diced carrots seasoned with Kefta.

Each dish was superb! The shrimp, simply sauteed in olive oil flavored with Greek seasoning and sea salt, then dusted with Kefta Spice Mix and topped with crumbled Feta, is one of my best recipes for shrimp. The photo shows it accompanied by Ratatouille and Rosemary Garlic Baked potatoes . A meal from both sides of the Mediterranean-

The tomatoes(3 sliced Bradleys from Howell's Farm here in Nashville), were fried briefly on both sides in olive oil and flavored with sea salt. I then moved them to a baking dish, drizzled a bit of red vinegar over them, and dusted them with Kefta Spice. I added some sliced garlic, then baked them at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes. What a unique flavor from the allspice, pepper, and secret herbs and spices.

I think cooks should strive to be fearless in the kitchen.Cooks from the past were. The first Italian to experiment with the tomato,the first Europeans to cook with chocolate- the New World's gifts to the Old. Nowhere is it written that spices belong to just one dish.

Use them bravely!

My other blog-Tales of a Nashville Gardener at

Friday, June 29, 2012

Morning On A 106 Degree Day

Cool nights and desert hot days bring ground fog to Edwin Warner Park this morning.

Perhaps these clouds mean the Gulf of Mexico is coming to our rescue and bringing rain!
Alas-by 10 am, they had burned away-

While all else wilts and suffers, this Johnson grass stands tall and fresh, for in pasture, field, and rock garden it will prevail, no matter how hot it gets.

This box turtle was on his way into the verge along the Little Harpeth River-until he was waylaid by a little dog named Popette.

These photos prove that early mornings are still open for walks and gardening, no matter what the afternoon brings. If this day indeed reaches 106 degrees it will be the hottest day I have ever lived through. A milestone. How I hope it is an anomaly and not some terrible harbinger of things to come.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A New Blog

I have started a new gardening blog on Wordpress. It is Tales of a Nashville Gardener".
I attempted to start it on Blogger, but was thwarted by technical issues. I hope you will visit. I plant to post on both blogs twice a week.

Tales of a Nashville Gardener

Friday, June 22, 2012

When A Tree is a Big Mistake

* A note to my small cadre of readers- I am presently working on restoring a garden for a friend, and soon will start work on a second. This brings gardening back into my life on a scale greater than that of the pot garden in front of my windowsill. I plan to write about these projects. My blog is about many things,and I hope to find readers who appreciate that. People who want all recipes all the time will be disappointed, and will drift away- as some already have. This blog is going into its third year, and people do find it, though not in great numbers. I try to set a high standard, and am not interested in the Twitterverse, just as it is not interested in me. I will continue to write an eclectic blog about subjects dear to me. I hope it will continue to appeal to an audience who knows how to communicate in over 140 characters.

As I write this today, the parking lot outside my apartment is shaking with the sound of limbs being sawed off and branches being pulverized in the wood chipper. Another dead sycamore is coming down. For whoever landscaped these apartments planted the sycamore of woods and river bottoms as a street tree. Marooned in small patches of earth in an expanse of concrete. With no place for roots to grow, they are dying off a dozen at a time. Even the ones that seem content are dropping their leaves and littering the parking lot, and giving an Octoberish look to the scene.

Decades ago, the city of Brentwood planted Bradford pears along Old Hickory Boulevard near Maryland Farms. Now, I have heard it is illegal to plant them in that rich county where appearance is all and the Codes Department reigns supreme.

Young Bradford pears are neat looking trees that look as though they were born to line boulevards. But looking closer(and I have), one can see fissures where each limb meets the tree. These look ominous, and they are ominous, for when the next tornado spawner moves through, or even when there are some downburst winds off the local thunderstorms, off comes the limb, or down splits the tree.

I planted one in the front yard of my old house. And one day long ago when some garden ladies came visiting I heard my first warning. Edna Metcalf, the late garden columnist for the Tennessean came with them. Ms Metcalf liked my garden, but when she pointed to my tree she was less impressed."That is going to take over", she warned.

It did. It shaded out my cottage garden, and ended it. Nothing grew beneath it but monkey grass. It threatened the house and the electrical wires and one night in a routine July thunderstorm it split and destroyed a border and one of my Moonglow pears, which was rich with fruit. I had to hire a local teenager to clean it up, and until the day I left that house I never had an easy moment, wondering what it would fall on next.

Yesterday, as I stood in the West Meade garden I am working on, I looked up to the upper lawn above the terrace and the rock garden I have been cleaning up, and saw an oak at the top of the hill. Set apart, possibly a century old, with not a dead limb or tattered bug ridden leaf. A magnificent giant watching over the rolling lawns of
Vaughn's Gap Road. It threatened no house, no other tree. Safe for nests or for the lookout of the local Cooper's Hawk. The right tree in an intelligent place, and a lesson to us all.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

An Elegant Shrub for the Southeast

This is "Snowflake", a double version of the Oak Leaf Hydrangea. I photographed it this afternoon in the garden of my friend Mrs. George Rosenthal of Bellevue, Tennessee.

The Oak Leaf Hydrangea is native to the Southeast, and a stalwart in our gardens. It knows there may be no summer rain and that our winters may go to zero. It is not fazed. I never tire of seeing it, just as I never tire of seeing Crape Myrtles in bloom, even the watermelon pink ones.

The oakleaf grows in sun or partial shade, and when I see that someone has chosen it for their garden I see intelligence at work, or at minimum, good advice from a trustworthy nursery . Better one Oakleaf than a line of dumpy white azaleas whose blooms look like soiled dishrags as they fade.

The shrub whose blooms I photographed is six feet high and four wide- a princely specimen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Potato Salad with Fresh, Raw Corn

Fresh corn is cheap in the markets now. And unlike our ancestors who boiled it, dried it, lyed it, and pounded it into a staple, we buy a few ears to wrap in foil and broil on the grill, a ritual of The Great American Summer.

I rarely bought fresh corn until I started using it to fill tortillas or to make a Sopa de Fideo. I discovered then how tasty raw corn kernels are. And today, while boiling red jacket potatoes for salad I decided to experiment by adding the kernels from two ears to the mix, along with diced sweet onion.

If anyone needs to know how to scrape off kernels allow me to say there is a hard way, and there is an easy way.The hard way splatters corn juice all over the counter, your hair and your glasses.Instead hold the corn ear, all silk removed, in a wide pan. Hold it by the sharp end with stem end anchored firmly on the pan bottom. Slice off the kernels top to bottom with a sharp knife. That is it.

Now boil 4 large red jacket potatoes, diced and unpeeled, until they are just tender. Perhaps 15 minutes. Dice up a quarter of a large sweet onion, combine it with the corn kernels and the potatoes. Dress with mayonnaise, or do as I did. To half a cup of mayonnaise add a tablespoon of canola oil,3 tablespoons of Mexican crema, and season with adobo seasoning to taste. Add this to the vegetables and mix very well.

This should feed four of five.

This is tasty, and a creative alternative to the tin foil treatment.

Potato Parmesan Pizza- A bit of Whimsy

I was on my way to make hash browns last night, but invented this instead. I put 5 peeled potatoes through the julienne blade of my food processor. I shredded up a small white onion as well. I put the vegetables in a bowl and tossed them in olive oil to coat them. I lightly salted them. Then I put them in a tart dish and sprinkled grated Parmesan on top. Then I put some Chorizo rounds on top, though pepperoni would have worked as well. Then a little more grated Parmesan, then 25 minutes at 375. It did not come out in slices, but I did not care. This would serve 4. I suppose this is really a gratin, but since I invented it, I get to name it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 3- The Last of the Orzo- Pasta in Brodo

My three favorite cuisines are Mediterranean, Mexican, and Maritime (by which I mean seafood and coastal cooking). This recipe is Italian in spirit.

Having cooked a pound of orzo pasta, I still had some left over after using it in a cold salad and paired with shrimp. I made soup with it today in under 30 minutes. The longest time was spent sauteing a diced yellow onion in olive oil. I used 1 1/2 cups of leftover orzo, 2 cups of water, 1 chicken bouillon cube, 2 cloves of garlic(diced or pressed) and some fresh basil, fresh marjoram, and oregano. I used a little salt when I sauteed the onion, but I was careful since chicken bouillon is saltier than plain chicken broth . This was a very filling soup.

Chicken broth or vegetable broth can be used instead of bouillon cubes.

Twice Cooked Orzo with Shrimp in a Savory Onion Sauce- Back to Miss Betsy's Experimental Kitchen

This was last night's quick,impromptu, and newly invented dinner. The orzo was a leftover, for when I cook any pasta I do it a pound at a time and freeze it. Orzo is a small pasta shape resembling grains of rice. No one knows how long it takes to cook it. I boiled mine 8 minutes, slightly too much. But I suspect the true cooking time is 6 minutes, 12 seconds and 10 milliseconds. Who knows. But 8 minutes , while a tad too long, will be edible, though it may be sticky.It does not matter. You can throw the leftover into a soup, where it will unglue, or into this recipe where it will melt into a risotto like consistency.

This recipe uses Fischer and Weiser's Savory Onion Sauce. Amazon will sell it to you for 9 bucks, or you can find it at Publix. The Tee-Tiny Kitchen cannot do without it. It is a top pantry staple.

This recipe is quick, since bagged shrimp thaw quickly, and you will be using cold leftover orzo.

I regret this is one portion size but if you know how to multiply by two you will be all set.

1 cup cold cooked orzo
4-6 jumbo shrimp- I use bagged frozen and farm raised.
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pats real butter
3 tablespoons Savory Onion Sauce

Put the butter, cream, and onion sauce in a saute pan and heat to medium. Toss in the shrimp and saute until pink. Take them out of the pan and set aside. Do not be alarmed if the cream starts to separate and curdle in the mixture. Raise the heat a little and toss in your orzo. If it is glued together it won't be after you quickly reheat it. Stir it well and see how creamy it becomes. Then put it on your plate and mix in the shrimp.

Serves one and can be ready in under 15 minutes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cold Orzo Salad with Two Cheeses

Here is a delicious Cold Orzo Salad I made tonight. Not only is it good, making it did not heat up the kitchen 10 degrees. Living through the Tennessee summer is like living in a bowl of warm consomme. I cannot afford to pay the Nashville Electric Service for a frigid kitchen, so I heat it up as little as possible.

You need 2 cups of cold cooked orzo,8 to 10 olives,3 large chopped up basil leaves,1/2 teaspoon of marjoram, one or 2 diced Roma tomatoes, 3 tablespoons of melted Brie, and a couple tablespoons of crumbled Feta . You can taste as you mix the salad and add more or less. Avoid extra salt. The Kalamata olives and feta are salt enough.

As you can see I am not too good to use a cracked plate.

A Good Laugh

Some days can be turned around by a good laugh. Some bad weeks too. A good laugh, some humor reminds me of Robert Frost's poem "Dust of Snow".

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I rued.

Tonight, plagued by insomnia, I fell across an old clip from YouTube. It was a Canadian comedy act called "The Frantics" and a skit called "Her First Period". Only slightly off color it portrays a man whose daughter has just called hysterical about her first period.With the mother away the father has to explain this event to his daughter and to tell her what to do.Three older men witness this cellphone call and their reactions make the skit great comedy.

Another great joke I found was about the contrasting diaries of a dog and cat.It is hugely funny because it contrasts tail waving canine happiness with the saturnine ,aloof cat who calls his owners "tormentors" and plots to trip them on the stairs. A silly piece maybe, but true to the bone.

To me, after a rough patch, this silliness was like the snow, and put some cheer back in my day.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Windowsill Garden and a Member of the Neighborhood Watch

Woe be to the chipmunk, dog-walker, pug, or UPS Man who tries to sneak by this window unnoticed!

Sunrise on the Last Day of May

Another May has passed, and now June with its ripening blackberries and its Midsummer Night is here. June is the last month for pleasant summer weather for people in Nashville. We escape inside in July the way New Englanders do in January. It is the Southern season for cabin fever. Gardeners it dismays by withholding rain. The whine of the hose is heard in the land-

Elizabeth Lawrence, in her "Through the Garden Gate" quotes a poem I do not know and cannot find.

"O Gallant May,
Which month is painter of the world,
As some great clerks do say".

And now on to the Summer Solstice.