Monthly Archives: December 2009

bella terra: 2009

The time has come to say farewell to 2009, and HELLO 2010!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’ve debated various recaps for the blog, a review of the year that could include the introduction of a new president, my trials and tribulations with running, a trip to New York city, Bella Eats on the local news, Bella Eats Pie Month and many other wonderful memories, but decided instead to keep things simple and give our garden, the source of so many great meals this year, a little tribute.

Brian and I started our garden in the spring of 2007, tilling up a 20-foot by 20-foot patch of lawn on the east side of our house.  We chose the location to take advantage of the southern light that hits the space for most of the day, bathing the vegetables, fruits, and legumes that we grow with plenty of sunshine.  Four cubic yards of topsoil and Panorama Paydirt were delivered to our driveway, on the other side of our house, and we spent an entire Saturday hauling wheelbarrow-load after wheelbarrow-load nearly 100-feet to amend the soil and break up the dense Virginia clay.  Post holes were dug and a fence was constructed, the bottom animal-proofed with chicken wire and a gravel trench.

We based the plan of the garden on Square Foot Gardening, creating 4-foot by 4-foot boxes from borate-treated lumber (which doesn’t leach harmful chemicals in the soil, like pressure-treated wood) and divided those boxes into 1-foot by 1-foot squares with twine.  We left 2-foot paths between the boxes to allow for easy harvesting, and covered those paths with weed fabric and organic mulch in order to keep the maintenance as low as possible.  And then, the fun began.

Over the last three summers we’ve planted blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, every color of bell pepper, green beans, sugar snap peas, edamame, eggplant, corn, kale, yellow squash, collard greens, every type of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, red beets, onions, carrots, basil, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, chives, fennel, watermelon, cantaloupe and muskmelons, some of those with great success and others with complete failure.  All are grown from organic seeds or plants, and we don’t use any sprays or chemicals.

Early each spring we spend a weekend covering each box with organic compost to prepare the soil for the seeds and plants that will grow through the next 8 months.

Bella Terra: Preparation

The chives are typically the first green in the garden, emerging from the protective cover the previous season’s growth provided through the winter.

Bella Terra: Chives for a Mushroom and Herb Frittata and Cheddar Chive Biscuits and Cheddar Chive Cornbread, among other things.

The other herbs follow shortly after.

Bella Terra: Herbs for an Earthy Risotto, among other things.

The garden really started filling out by June, with the blackberry bush loaded down with little green berries and the herb and lettuce boxes overflowing.

The Sugar Snap Peas were one of our first vegetable harvests.

Bella Terra: Sugar Snap Peas for a special Caesar Potato Salad and Spicy Pickles

In July we saw some major progress, with the garden getting close to its peak season.

Cucumbers.

Tomatoes and Bell Peppers.

Bella Terra: Beets for a Red Beet Risotto and many, many salads and roasted veggie medleys.

Bella Terra: Greens for a Greens Salad with Roasted Vegetables, and lots of sauteed kale.

Bella Terra: Cucumbers for a Guacamole-Inspired Salad.

Towards the end of July and into August, our berries, bell peppers and tomatoes exploded.  We had more than we knew what to do with, but luckily froze and preserved as much as we could to get us through the fall and winter months.

Bella Terra: Blackberries for many batches of Jam, and general munching.

Bella Terra: Raspberries for more Jam, Raspberry Almond Muffins and Raspberry Buttercream Frosting.

Bella Terra: Tomatoes for Creamy Tomato Soup and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes.

Bella Terra: Peppers for Stuffed Peppers and Chile Rellenos.

Things slowed down through mid to late Autumn, as Brian and I weren’t quite as on top of getting seeds and plants in the ground for a fall harvest.  We have eaten a lot of lettuce and greens, continued to use fresh herbs in most of our cooking and even pulled some carrots out from underneath 2-feet of snow for our Christmas dinner.

It was a great year for the garden, and it is coming to a close on a bittersweet note.  Brian and I are hoping to put our house on the market in the spring or summer, and so don’t have plans to put much into the soil this year.  Instead we’ll be getting a bunch of pots and whiskey barrels, and trying our hand at container gardening so that we can move plants with us when we find a new place.  I will be incredibly sad to say goodbye to the little patch of earth that has provided us with so much, but look forward to starting again in a different part of Charlottesville.

And now, for the final Bella Terra post of 2009…Rosemary.

Our holiday meal was a festive event this year, with my Momma and stepfather in town and 6 additional friends here to share our table.  We decided on an Italian theme, with braised short ribs in a thick tomato sauce over fresh fettucini, brussels sprouts sauteed with pancetta, the carrots pictured above in a white wine and sage glaze, garlic-full mashed potatoes.  And, as a precursor to the actual sit-down dinner, we had rosemary roasted cashews alongside bacon-wrapped dates.  Everybody was pleased, and it was a very merry Christmas day.

These nuts are salty and sweet, earthy and spicy.  They solve whatever craving you may have, and are gracing our table again this evening as we ring in a new year.

Rosemary Roasted Cashews

from the kitchen sink recipes

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 pounds cashew nuts (roasted, unsalted)
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar, light or dark
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp melted butter

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375*.
  2. Place nuts on parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, mix together rosemary, pepper, sugar, salt and butter in a large bowl.  Toss the warm nuts with the mixture until well coated.

immediately, if not sooner

I know that I am so late in saying this, but,

MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY HOLIDAYS! WARMEST WISHES!

I hope that you all had as lovely a holiday as Brian and I did, filled with family, friends, good food, wine, multiple desserts and maybe even a little bit of snow.

Charlottesville actually had a lot of snow last weekend, just a few days before Christmas.  We did go out and frolic around in the drifts – laughed as the dogs frog-leaped through fluff as high as their shoulders, got in a workout shoveling multiple routes to the car and street, attempted the creation of a snow angel and a snowman – but mostly we watched the accumulation from behind our windows, warm and toasty in fuzzy socks with hot coffee in hand.  It was so peaceful, the snow falling silently on the other side of the glass, the city slipping into a lazy slumber as it was blanketed in white.

I managed to tear myself away from the windows and snow-watching for a short time in order to bake, feeling the need for the tiniest bit of productivity and worrying that we would lose power and the opportunity.  I had cake on the brain, particularly a store-bought, rum-soaked pound cake that my family consumed by the dozens when I was young.  We’d hand the mini cakes out as holiday gifts to all of our friends, and keep a stash of them in our pantry for months after Christmas.  It had been years since I’d had one of those cakes and I wanted  one.  Immediately, if not sooner.

While this isn’t exactly the cake of my youth, it has all of the most important attributes.  To me it screams “Winter! Holidays! Friends!”.  It is rich and dense, heavy with vanilla flavor and soaked with rum, and will warm you from inside out.  It is the perfect cake to whip up as snow falls outside your window, and lovely to share the next day with friends who walk a mile through two feet of fluff to visit with you.

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake with Rum Caramel Sauce

adapted from Paula Deen and Bon Appetit

serves 12

Cake

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 tsp fine salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean
  1. Preheat oven to 350*.  Butter and flour a tube cake pan, knocking excess flour from pan.
  2. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and shortening.  Add the sugar a little at a time, and blend well.  Add eggs one at a time, blending after each addition.
  3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl.  Add to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk, starting with the flour and ending with flour.  Mix in the vanilla and the scraped-out insides of the vanilla bean.
  4. Pour into your buttered and floured baking pan and smooth the top of the batter.  Bake for 60-75 minutes, until the top is starting to turn golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool on rack completely before removing from pan.

Rum Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp spiced or dark rum
  1. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt your butter.  Stir in sugar until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Add cream and rum and bring to a simmer, cooking until sauce thickens and is reduced to about 1-1/2 cups, about 5 minutes.
  2. Drizzle rum sauce over individual slices of cake.

Sauce can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.  Refrigerate, and reheat on stovetop when ready to serve.

homemade gift ideas

Christmas is only 5 days away (!), and I’m guessing that most of you already have holiday gifts determined and purchased…right?!?  This post is probably a bit late, but I thought it might be helpful to those of you still looking for last minute gifts for friends, family and co-workers.

Brian and I have given homemade gifts out for the last few years, and always enjoy the pleased responses we receive in return.  In a time when spending significant amounts of money is difficult for most, putting personal effort into gifts rather than cash is a nice alternative.  I’ve compiled a few ideas for you to choose from…enjoy!

Homemade Jam

Homemade jam can be made with fresh and frozen fruit.  Be sure to use a proper method of preservation if you plan to give the gifts un-refrigerated.  If you’d rather not tackle the canning process, tell recipients to keep their jam refrigerated for up to 4 weeks.

blackberry peach jam

Homemade Granola

A batch of granola is quick to whip up, and keeps for weeks in an airtight container in the pantry.

mixed fruit granola

Homemade Almond Butter

Nut butter made from scratch is so much better than store-bought because you can mix your own interesting combinations.  It can be a bit pricey though, depending on the nuts you choose.

cinnamon vanilla almond butter

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix and Marshmallows

Homemade marshmallows are nothing like their store-bought cousins.  So light and fluffy, they truly melt in your mouth (or your hot cocoa).  For a little twist, add some peppermint extract in place of vanilla.  If you don’t have vanilla sugar for the cocoa mix (it takes about 2 weeks to make your own) just substitute regular sugar.

hot cocoa mix

marshmallows

Homemade Baked Goods

Always a winner, nobody frowns at a box/tin/basket/bag full of baked treats.

triple ginger cookies

dark chocolate almond bites

peppermint eggnog scones

citrus scones with cranberries and ginger

perfect for a ‘snow day’

As I write this post snow is softly falling outside, turning my little city into a winter wonderland.  In the five winters that Brian and I have spent in Virginia, we’ve never seen a snowfall like this.  Its breathtakingly beautiful, the 22-inches we’ve received so far softening the landscape with a blanket of white, turning our street into an unrecognizable scene dotted with pedestrians in bright winter parkas out enjoying the snow.

Holed up inside for the day, I managed to pull myself away from the window for about an hour to satisfy the urge to bake.  An urge  that is unavoidable when your outside world is blanketed with snow and inside, curled up in your favorite chair, under a quilt, with hot coffee (and perhaps a splash of Bailey’s Irish Cream…), you are toasty warm and feeling very domestic.  I’ll share the cake that I just pulled from the oven in the next day or two, but on this snowy afternoon I feel it appropriate to give you a recipe for some chewy ginger cookies.  They feel so very ‘snow day’, the perfect snack waiting on the counter when you come in from making snowmen and snow angels.

Ginger cookies have been a longtime favorite in our household, but I do believe that this is the first time I’ve ever made them myself.  I’ve helped my momma on many past Christmas Eves to roll out perfect little balls of ginger snap dough, the delightfully crunchy cookies a staple between meals on Christmas day.  But last year Brian and I were introduced to a different variety of ginger cookie, one that was chewy rather than crispy in texture, and laced with chunks of crystallized ginger. Brian declared them his favorite cookie, ever, and I vowed to find a recipe to replicate them prior to the next Christmas.  Lucky for me, Bon Appetit read my mind.

We love the soft, chewy interior texture of these cookies, complemented perfectly by the crunchy shell of turbinado sugar that coats the exterior.  The bits of crystallized ginger throughout are wonderful surprises.

Triple Ginger Cookies

adapted from bon appetit, december 2009

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temp
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1-1/2 tsp finely grated fresh peeled ginger
  • 1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar (for rolling cookies in)

Method

  1. Position 1 rack in top third of oven, 1 rack in bottom third; preheat to 350*.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together flour, crystallized ginger, baking soda and 1/4 tsp salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy and light in a separate bowl for about 2 minutes.  Gradually add brown sugar and beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes.  Add egg, molasses, fresh ginger, ground ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  Beat to blend.
  4. Add flour mixture to wet mixture in two additions, beating on low speed just to blend between additions.
  5. Place 1/2 cup of turbinado sugar in small bowl.  Measure 1 tbsp of dough (a 1-tbsp ice cream scoop works really well) and roll into a ball between palms of hands.  Roll dough in sugar and place on baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining cookie dough, spacing cookies 1-1/2 to 2-inches apart.
  6. Bake cookies until surfaces crack and cookies are firm around edges but still slightly soft in center, about 15 minutes.  Cool completely on sheets on rack.

small packages

I’d been wanting some of these little tart tins for, oh, at least one year. Its not that I make a lot of tarts and require a variety of vessels for filling…it really comes down to the fact that I love the tiny proportions of the tins themselves.  There’s just something very appealing about baked goods in small packages.

Although the tins aren’t that expensive, I hadn’t been able to justify purchasing them for their aesthetic appeal alone. I felt that I needed to have in mind a specific recipe that absolutely required the use of such tins. Or perhaps, at the very least, to have gone through some serious experimentation in the full-size tart pan that I already owned to justify my graduation to experimentation with its smaller siblings.

Lucky for me, my stepfather came to my rescue and put me out of my indecisive misery. While home for Thanksgiving, Joe took me shopping. For baking pans. Many, many baking pans. So many pans that Brian and I had to reorganize our entire kitchen. I now have my tiny tart tins, a beautiful tube cake pan, additional sheet pans and cooling racks, even some ice cream scoops for balling cookie dough. Suddenly recipe searching has taken on a whole new agenda, with me thinking “oh! I could use my new [insert baking tool here]!”.

And so, although things have been quiet on this little blog of mine this last week I assure you, I’ve been busy in the kitchen. And busy shopping. And busy wrapping. And busy writing out holiday cards. But mostly, I’ve been busy enjoying my new toys.

I have a few recipes I still want to share with you prior to Christmas Eve and so, in the interest of getting all of the items on my holiday ‘To Do’ list crossed off [and therefore maintaining my own sanity…I’m just a little bit OCD…] I’m going to have to keep posts a bit shorter than usual. I hope you won’t mind.  My guess is, you all are pretty busy too.  🙂

I was certain that the debut of these little tins would involve sharing something sweet with you all, and so was surprised when the urge to make a savory tart struck me first. The possibilities for fillings are endless, truly, but we were pretty pleased with the results of our first attempt, which I’ve shared below. I think they would be a great addition to the buffet table at a party, easy to pick up with one hand while holding your cocktail glass in the other.

Savory Winter Tarts

makes (6) 4-inch tarts

Ingredients

  • 9-inch pie crust dough (the rolled dough, not the kind in the aluminum dish)
  • 1/2 pound bacon, fried
  • 1 medium leek, light green part only, sliced
  • 1 medium red potato, very thinly sliced
  • 4 large mustard green leaves, washed and chopped finely
  • 3-oz chevre, crumbled
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • salt + pepper

Method

  1. Thaw your pie crust dough according to the instructions on the package.  Preheat oven to temperature indicated on package.  Roll out the dough until it is 1/8-inch thick, and cut into roughly 5-inch by 5-inch squares.  You’ll probably only get 4 squares from this first pass.  You’ll want to gather the scraps, ball them up, and roll the dough back out to cut the remaining squares.  Place a square of dough into each tart tin, pressing the dough into the bottom and sides of the tin.  Trim the dough to be flush with the top of the tin.  Place tart shells on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and bake according to the instructions on the dough package.
  2. Gather your filling ingredients (other than the eggs, milk, salt and pepper) and set aside.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and milk.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Remove the tart shells from the oven once they are starting to turn golden brown. Set oven temperature to 400*.
  5. Once the tart shells have been baked and cooled about 10 minutes, you can fill them.  Fill tarts first with potatoes, mustard greens, leeks then bacon.  Do not overfill the tarts, you may not use all of the ingredients.
  6. Carefully pour the egg/milk mixture into each tart, dividing it evenly amongst all 6 tart tins, being careful not to let the custard overflow.  Drop chevre on top of the tarts in bits.
  7. Bake the tarts on the cookie sheet at 400* for 25-35 minutes, until custard is set and toppings are starting to brown.

*Note – Tiny tart tins aren’t absolutely necessary for this recipe, (1) 10-inch tart tin will accommodate these ingredients.  But, the miniature tins sure are fun…