Sunday, April 28, 2013

Approachable Appetizer Class

We had our first Approachable Appetizer Class today.  The first one was held at Swanstone Gardens in Green Bay WI.  Milly, Bonnie, Amy, Ginny, and Dawn were there for the fun.  It was nice to meet a few new people, and to see several familiar faces.  

Our approach was making appetizers that are made with easy to find ingredients, but ratcheted up a bit. We built our appetizers and then tasted them.  Everyone had great ideas about how to make each recipe their own with flavor profiles that appealed to them.

Here's how you set up your breading ingredients when deep frying.

Everyone enjoyed the first appetizer.

Remember!  When you are making a plate, make it look appealing.!  Color and texture are important.

Use fresh and organic ingredients whenever possible.  

Aren't these stuffed peppadews and tomatoes pretty?  

Black bean dip is a tasty and extremely healthy option for an appetizer .  It is also very versatile.  Pam uses it on her baked potatoes. 

Everyone was asking questions, giving suggestions and taking notes.  It's great to have such good interaction.

We finished up class with a lovely Tassie with cream cheese and lemon curd.  That recipe is found below.

The Cactus Flowers couldn't find lemon curd in the store.  Besides, we'd rather make everything from scratch.  So we found a recipe that worked for the class.  It was easy and oh so tasty.  Give it a try!

Lemon Curd:
3 large lemons, zested and juiced
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter

Place zest and sugar in food processor and blend.  Add juice and egg, blend until smooth.  Slowly add melted butter.  Blend until well incorporated.

Place mixture in the top of a double boiler.  Heat the water to only come to a simmer.  Stir until mixture thickens.  DO NOT let it come to a boil.  Pour lemon curd in a covered container and allow it to chill completely in the refrigerator.

This will last for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

For those who are interested in taking the class at Swanstone, there is another class being held on Aug 3rd and one on Aug 4th.  We would love to see you there.  

Thanks for a great day everyone!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Super Star, Super Food, Super Kale...

 Here’s what the nutritional world is saying about Kale:

“Kale is King!”
“Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.”
“Kale is being called “the new beef”, “the queen of greens” and “a nutritional powerhouse.”

So what is the big deal with kale?  Let’s find out, shall we?

Interestingly enough, it seems that kale is grown throughout the world.  Towns in Germany, for example, even have tours of the kale growing areas.  The plant has been around for 100’s of years and many people have relied on it for its nutritional benefits.  Wikipedia says:  During WWII, the cultivation of kale in the UK was encouraged by the Dig for Victory campaign. The vegetable was easy to grow and provided important nutrients to supplement those missing from a normal diet because of rationing.

Kale is considered a super food.  That means that there is so much nutritional goodness packed in this green, leafy vegetable that it is a super power in the food world. Kale is a green that is found in most grocery stores and in all food co-ops. 

Kale should be firm, with dark green leaves.  If the leaves have lightened or turned yellow, the vegetable is old and this will likely affect the flavor.  Small leaves will indicate a more tender plant with a milder flavor.  While you can find kale year round, the peak season of kale is the middle winter through the beginning of spring.

If Popeye had eaten kale, would he be even stronger?  All indications say yes.  ( If spinach and kale were in a contest, kale would win because it has 10 times more Vitamin C than spinach and more Vitamin A & K.  Kale also contains more lutein, an antioxidant that works to keep your eyes healthy.  Even spinach can’t match the power of kale.  Popeye would still be strong, and his eye-sight might have improved!

Now don’t get upset with us, because the truth is we love spinach, and we watched Popeye as children.  However, we do think that sometimes we get caught up in the routine of some foods and we need to look at how we can add to our food experience.  Of late, we have introduced kale to our recipe repertoire.  

Here is an example of how to make kale as a snack:

Kale Chips

1 head kale, washed and thoroughly dried
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Sea Salt (Himalayan is our favorite)

Other  seasoning options:
Italian seasoning
Garlic salt
Sriracha, Franks Hot Sauce or Tabasco 
Whatever your favorite toppings

Preheat oven 275 degrees

Remove the ribs from the kale.

Tear into large pieces

 Place in a bowl and toss with olive oil and sea salt.

Lay on a baking sheet. 

Bake until crisp, turning the leaves halfway through, about 15 minutes. 

Serve as finger food.

Kale away our friends! Kale away!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fennel, Fennel, who’s got the Fennel?

I've only been using fennel in my cooking for a few years.  I’m sorry to report my delay in understanding this plant, because now I find it has become a staple of my kitchen.  

Fennel is a wonderful ingredient that makes so many of my dishes more interesting and flavorful.  When eaten raw, fennel has a mild anise flavor.  It can be sliced on sandwiches, diced in a salad, sautéed or roasted with other vegetables.  Just as onions become sweet when cooked, so does fennel. I very often substitute fennel for celery in my chili and vegetable soups.  

Fennel is a versatile vegetable that plays an important role in the food culture of many European nations, especially in France and Italy, where it is widely grown. It turns out that in Greek mythology fennel was not only closely associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine, but that a fennel stalk carried the coal that passed down knowledge from the gods to men.

Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb out of which several stalks extend.  These stalks are then topped with feathery leaves.  Flowers grow out of the leaves and there is where you find the seeds of the plant.  The beauty of the fennel plant is that all these parts are edible.  Use the dried seeds in your meat dishes.  They are often used as a seasoning is brats and other sausages.  Use the bulb in soups, stews, and anywhere you use other vegetables.  Use the leaves as an herb for seasoning.  If you have extra of the leaves, use them in your table centerpiece with flowers, as they are a beautiful green/light green addition.  Fennel is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander in nature.

Here’s what to look for when purchasing fennel in the grocery story.  Good quality fennel will have bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs should be whitish or pale green in color. The stalks should be relatively straight and close together on the bulb. Both the stalks and the leaves should be green in color. There should be no signs of flowering buds as this indicates that the vegetable is past maturity. Fresh fennel should have a fragrant aroma, smelling subtly of licorice or anise. 

Fennel is an excellent source of Vitamin C. It is also a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, folate, and molybdenum. In addition, fennel is a good source of niacin as well as the minerals phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper.  Click on this link for more in-depth information on the health benefits of this wonderful plant:  Planet Well

Here’s an easy fennel recipe to try:

Roasted Fennel with Parmesan 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 fennel bulbs cut horizontally into 1/3 inch thick slices
1 medium size onion cut horizontally in 1/3 inch thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan

Lightly oil the bottom of a 13 x  9 baking dish.  Arrange the fennel in the baking dish.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then with the Parmesan   Drizzle with the oil.  Bake until the fennel is fork-tender and golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Serves 6.
Get all your ingredients together

Slice the top off the fennel, but keep the leafy part for later.

Slice off the bottom of the fennel.

Make a vertical slice through the bulb.  Keep your fingers tucked in!!!

Cut out the core at the bottom.

The inner workings of a fennel bulb.

When slicing, make sure that all the slices are the same size.  

Now we will do the same with the onion.

A sharp knife and a deft hand will make slicing an onion easier.

All our slices are just about the same size.  This makes for even roasting.

Make sure you put some olive oil in the bottom of the baking dish .  After you place the Parmesan on top, give the dish a drizzle of more olive oil.

Ready to bake!!
Chop fennel leaves to get about 2 teaspoons and sprinkle them over the roasted fennel and serve.
All baked up and ready to serve.   YUM!

So what’s not to like, right?  Fennel is beautiful to look at.  It tastes great and adds wonderful flavor to so many dishes.  It is versatile and nutritious.  So go out and get some fennel and enjoy all it has to offer!


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

2011 Garden Party in the Cactus Garden

Pam held her annual Garden Party in September 2011.  There were 12 guests on a perfectly lovely day.  It rained all week and we were frantic that the weather wasn't cooperating, as there were still clouds looming in the sky.  

Roasted Vegetables
The guests were expected to arrive around 11:30.  Pam was frantically worrying about the possibility of rain, and at the same time was running around (she was still in her pajama's!) trying to get the patio set up with her lovely table-scapes!!!  You know how this goes, right?  There are always last minute things that couldn't be done until just before the party starts.  

Panna Cotta
Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen making sure that nothing was burning, that everything was ready for the final cooking and presentation. Putting together a 6 course meal takes a lot of planning.  There isn't just what will the menu be, but what to prep ahead, what must wait, and what order to do everything.  

Just around 11:45 our good friend, Kelly, arrived.  She drove in from out of town and with her she brought the sunshine.  It was lovely to see her and all the other women as they found their way to the patio.  There was lots of meeting and greeting, and laughter began to fill summer air with goodness.  We sat in the Cactus Garden and relished the sunshine, the soft breeze, and the fine company of good women.  

The menu and recipes

Friends talking...

 More talking...

Listening to Chef T

 Where is the food...

Gusie waiting for his plate of goodies!

It ended up being a great day of food and visiting.  What could be better?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Welcome to the cactus garden of the 2 Prickly Pears!

We are two sisters that are a little prickly, a little sweet, and wonderfully creative and talented when it comes to designing home and table. 

We started out in the corporate world, doing all the things that we were supposed to do, including making money, obeying the rules, and working hard.  This ultimately didn't get us where we were meant to be.  We walked away from that life and decided to begin again.  

In our Cactus Garden grows 2 Prickly Pears, they are:

Prickly Pear 1:  Terry, I'm the Capricorn Cactus Flower.  I am solidly earth bound, very focus and detailed oriented, who is often told to take it down a notch.  I embrace the Crone spirit in myself.  I started (along with Frank) an organic/fair trade line of comfort drinks, snacks, and candy called Winter Goddess Foods .  

Prickly Pear 2:  Pam, I'm the Libra Cactus Flower.  I look for balance in the world around me and have been told I am impulsive and have a shoot-from-the-hip approach.  I'm often told to stay FOCUSED!  I am an artist by trade with a line of unique lamp shade called Shades of Light & Design.  I also founded Clairalience, which is a natural skin care line. 

Through our closeness and ingenuity, we started to work together to build many ideas that seemed to revolve around design and food.  After several dinner parties and through teaching classes, we decided that there was more to do.  Looks like we will be writing a cookbook that will help the average cook or foodie find lovely, artful, and delicious ways to make their get-together's fun and stylish.

We believe that we live in a world of abundance.  Sometimes you have to think beyond the familiar and safe, to reach that abundance.  We strongly support local, organic, sustainable businesses and see ourselves as pioneers and adventurers in our own lives.

With a prickly sincere, let's have fun!
Terry and Pam