Gardening, Travel

Christmas at the Phipp’s Conservatory in Pittsburgh

If you are ever in Pittsburgh and love flowers, take time to visit Phipp’s Conservatory.  I have visited the conservatory with my husband and his family during multiple seasons over the past few years.  Each visit has been unique.  Several years ago, we toured during a Chihuly glass exhibit. Last fall, we sat through an Indian spice session in the Indian Rain Forest exhibit and then toured the Center for Sustainable Landscapes.  This year, we visited during the winter display featuring decked out Christmas trees, poinsettias galore, a “snowman” wedding made out of air plants (bromeliads) and more!  Enjoy the photos below – don’t ask me the names of all the orchids because I couldn’t tell you!

One of the decorated trees at Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

One of the decorated trees at Phipps Conservatory

Norfolk Pine, Paperwhites and Hydrangeas at Phipps Conservatory      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Norfolk Pine, Paperwhites and Hydrangeas at Phipps Conservatory

Beautiful Display at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Beautiful Display at Phipps Conservatory

Staghorn Ferns + More in a large wire hanging basket at Phipps Conservatory www.morewinelesswhines.com

Staghorn Ferns + More in a large wire hanging basket at Phipps Conservatory

Bridal Bromeliads at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bridal Bromeliads at Phipps Conservatory

Succulent Christmas Tree    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Succulent Christmas Tree

Air Plants in all their glory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Air Plants in all their glory

It'll be a Blue Christmas without you!   www.morewinelesswhines.com

It’ll be a Blue Christmas without you!

Beautiful spin on a classic boxwood garden with a poinsettia twist at Phipps Conservatory   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Beautiful spin on a classic boxwood garden with a poinsettia twist at Phipps Conservatory

www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com

Phipps Conservatory - Poinsettias, Cyclamen, and more!     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Phipps Conservatory – Poinsettias, Cyclamen, and more!

Bromeliad ring bearer at Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bromeliad ring bearer at Phipps Conservatory

Bromeliad bride with Bouquet at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bromeliad bride with Bouquet at Phipps Conservatory

Eco bears at the Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Eco bears at the Phipps Conservatory

A light display meant for nighttime at the Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

A light display meant for nighttime at the Phipps Conservatory

 

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Cooking, Gardening

Porterhouse Steak, Mashed Potatoes & Chive Oil

Chives from the Garden   www.morewineless.whines.com

Chives from the Garden

This weekend I did a deep dive into the cookbook, Jean-Georges Cooking at Home with a Four Star Chef, by Jean-Georges Vongerichten & Mark Bittman.

Below is what I have planned on the menu for this week:

Mushroom Soup with Greens (I already made the mushroom broth.  It is waiting patiently in my refrigerator.)

Gently Cooked Salmon with Mashed Potatoes

Sautéed Chicken with Green Olives and Cilantro

Sunday’s Dinner:

Steak with Red Wine Reduction & Carrot Puree

Let me begin by saying that I do not eat a lot of red meat.  I save it for special occasions (such as making meatballs and sausage for Sunday tomato sauce, beef tenderloin skewers with cognac mustard dipping sauce or marinaded beef kabobs).  Occasionally, I will ‘splurge’ on a good cut of beef.  This past weekend was one of those occasions.

Chive Oil     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Getting Ready to Make the Chive Oil

I made this steak recipe for the first time on Sunday.  It involved 3 ingredients:  porterhouse steak, red wine & carrots (plus sea salt, pepper & H2O).

Chive Oil     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Chive Oil

The grilled steak turned out perfectly, but the sauce did not work for me.   We let the steak sit at room temperature for 20 minutes, preheated the grilll,  sprinkled the steak with sea salt & pepper, and cooked the porterhouse 4-5 minutes per side over medium heat.

Porterhouse Steak - soon to be topped with chive oil    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Porterhouse Steak – soon to be topped with chive oil

I used an inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon for my red wine reduction.  While the wine tasted fine in a glass on its own, by the time I reduced it for almost 30 minutes, it was very apparent that there was little nuance in flavor.   All that hit my palate were peppery, bitter notes.   I plan to re-make this recipe in the future with a different wine.

Grilling a Porterhouse Steak    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Grilling a Porterhouse Steak

While the wine reduced, I thought I would make the chive oil ahead of time for Tuesday’s salmon dinner.  This oil is so easy – chives, canola oil & sea salt.  The most time consuming part of making this flavored oil was cutting and washing the chives from my garden.  I made the oil by whirling all the ingredients together in the mini food processor.  Voila!  Magic!  I tried the flavored oil and just said “wow.”  I ended up drizzling this on my porterhouse steak and mashed potatoes instead of the red wine reduction that I (conveniently) botched.  It was so good that all attempts at taking photos of the finished product were forgotten.

Porterhouse Steak - soon to be topped with Chive Oil      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Porterhouse Steak – soon to be topped with Chive Oil

I still have a little bit left for the salmon we are having Tuesday evening!

If you can, please try making and serving this flavored oil with fish, vegetables, rice, chicken or steak.  It is excellent and I will be making it often in the future.  I can see adding this simple recipe to both my Thanksgiving and Easter menus.

Chive Oil
Original Recipe from Jean-Georges Cooking at Home with a Four Star Chef

20 chives, cut into 2″ pieces
4 tsp. canola oil (or other neutral flavored oil such as grapeseed)
pinch of sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a small food processor.  Pulse 10-15 seconds or until mixture begins to get creamy.  Scrape sides of bowl down with spatula if needed.  Pulse one last time prior to serving.

Spoon atop your favorite vegetables, fish or meat.  Store in sealed container in fridge no more than 5 days.

Enjoy!

Mashed Potatoes

Peel and chop 2 lbs small yellow potatoes.  Place in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan.  Cover with water by 2″.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat slightly and allow potatoes to boil for 30 minutes or until fork tender.  Drain.   Immediately transfer potatoes to stand of a MixMaster.  Using paddle attachment, beat on speed 4 (medium) until smooth.  Mix in up to 4 T. unsalted butter, 1 T at a time, up to 3/4 c milk (we use skim) and a pinch of sea salt to taste.   Serve warm.  These are excellent with a little chive oil drizzled on top.

 

Grilled Porterhouse Steak

Let the steak sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.   Preheat the grill.   Sprinkle the steak with sea salt & pepper, and cook the porterhouse 4-5 minutes per side over medium heat or to desired doneness.

 

Serve the above meal with a mixed greens salad.

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Cooking, Gardening

Pesto, Goat Cheese & Grilled Bacon Crostini

Fresh Basil from the garden    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Fresh Basil from the garden

Summah, Summah, Summah Time… (Summah = summer)

I am a Gemini, born in the month of June, and have forever and always declared summer to be my favorite season.  Perhaps I am reveling in this summer even more because of the never ending Chicagoland winter.  Regardless, I have been celebrating summer with a bountiful harvest from my garden.

Making Pesto  www.morewinelesswhines.com

Making Pesto

My vegetable garden, which measures roughly 25′ x 8′, is flourishing.  It has been raining an incredible amount here and the plants are loving it.  Many of my tomato plants and sunflowers are tipping 5′ +, the lettuce is just petering out, the swiss chard, zucchini and herbs are growing like weeds and  I cannot find bare ground anywhere.

Making Pesto    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Making Pesto

The tomatoes and sunflowers have grown far taller than I expected and are shading out some of the basil.  I harvested the more shaded basil plants and trimmed a few of the huge plants toward the front of the garden for pesto.  This time, I made the pesto with pistachios and 3 different types of basil – Sweet Genovese, Ruby Frills & Emerald Frills.  My goal is to make a batch every week or two so that I have more for the freezer this fall & winter.

Sunflowers and Tomatoes in my garden   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Sunflowers and Tomatoes in my garden

Goat Cheese atop Grilled Baguette Slices    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Goat Cheese atop Grilled Baguette Slices

For a quick, easy summer linner (lunch + dinner, usually served between 2-3 pm), I made pesto while my husband grilled some bacon* and toasted  baguette slices.  We schmeared the baguette slices with a little goat cheese and pesto then topped them with crumbled bacon.  The result?  Simple & delicious food, perfect for a 89 degree Sunday.

Pesto, Goat Cheese and Grilled Bacon Crostini   www.morewineelesswhines.com

Pesto, Goat Cheese and Grilled Bacon Crostini

Pesto, Goat Cheese & Grilled Bacon Crostini

1 baguette, cut into 1/2″ thick slices
extra virgin olive oil
6 strips center cut bacon, cooked and broken into pieces*
5 oz goat cheese
1 batch freshly made pesto
1 baguette, cut into 1/2″ thick slices

Make pesto. Set aside. Brush one side of baguette slices with a little olive oil. Place baguette slice, olive oil side down, on grill a few minutes, taking care not to burn the bread. Using tongs, turn the bread over and grill about 1 minute on the other side. Transfer grilled bread to a serving platter. Spread each baguette slice with some goat cheese, a spoonful of pesto and top with bacon pieces. Serve warm.

Enjoy!

*Note:  Yes, you can grill bacon.  Do it over medium to medium high heat over a gas powered grill  on a big piece of foil, with the edges turned up to make “lips.”  The dangerous part about grilling bacon is if you are not careful, you can end up with a terrible grease fire.  If this makes you nervous,  just cook the bacon in the oven/on the stovetop or buy the precooked kind (Trader Joe’s has a great variety).  If you are up for an adventure, the grilled bacon has a great smokey taste to it.  

Pesto, Goat Cheese and Grilled Bacon Crostini    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Pesto, Goat Cheese and Grilled Bacon Crostini

 

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Gardening

Scenes from a Chicagoland Garden in May

Stella Bear stopping to smell the primrose blooms   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Stella Bear stopping to smell the primrose blooms

I was fortunate enough to spend last Friday surrounded by beautiful flowers.  Saturday became my workaholic- have not seen summer weather in Chicagoland for 8+ months sort of day.  I hand tilled my 25′ x 8′ garden with a pitch fork.  I won’t get too deep into the story, but I decided since my husband was working I would do it myself.  I asked him what I should use, as I could not rent and lift a rototiller in and out of the car on my own and misunderstood what he really said.  Note:  Do not EVER till a garden with only a pitchfork!  The soil is incredible, but my back, neck and arms ached from all the lifting and bending.  Regardless,  it felt liberating to be out in my garden again!

Here are a few photos highlighting the month of May from a Chicagoland garden:

Daffodils blooming in front of the rhododendrons    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Daffodils blooming in front of the rhododendrons

Chanticleer Pear against the blue sky   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Chanticleer Pear against the blue sky

My front yard summer container    www.morewinelesswhines.com

My front yard summer container

Close-up of my front yard summer container  www.morewinelesswhines.com

Close-up of my front yard summer container

Planting Away in the vegetable garden    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Planting Away in the vegetable garden

St. Francis of Assisi watching over my parents' garden    www.morewinelesswhines.com

St. Francis of Assisi watching over my parents’ garden

The sunrise from my Sunday morning 6:42 am walk with Stella bear    www.morewinelesswhines.com

The sunrise from my Sunday morning 6:42 am walk with Stella bear

Sweet 100 Tomato Seedlings -  www.morewinelesswhines.com

Sweet 100 Tomato Seedlings

Ostrich fern unfurling among Lily of the Valley     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Ostrich fern unfurling among Lily of the Valley

Bloom on one of the 6 PJM Rhododendrons we planted last spring   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bloom on one of the 6 PJM Rhododendrons we planted last spring

One family of Geese and their goslings   www.morewinelesswhines.com

One family of Geese and their goslings

 

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Cooking, Gardening

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta

Heirloom Tomatoes for my Bruschetta

Heirloom Tomatoes for my Bruschetta

My mom made the mistake of letting me go grocery shopping with her.  I take FOREVER in the grocery store!

Then, to make matters worse, I saw a sign advertising ‘heirloom tomato plants for sale’ on our way home.  It was May, I had the itch to start planting and it had been a cold, cold spring.  In an effort to convince me NOT to stop and look at plants, my mother reclined in the passenger seat of the car, made choking noises and blew her eyes and mouth open really wide, then flashed her eyelids open and shut quickly.  I asked her to stop making a scene, pulled over the car, parked, and walked toward the garage of the woman selling the heirloom tomato beauties.  There were ice cube trays with tomato seedlings, small plastic-fabric ‘greenhouses,’ and styrofoam cups filled with soil and marked in black sharpie with a name or number.

I spent almost a half hour talking with this woman about tomatoes and came away with ~ $17 worth of plants.  Some performed better than others, but my favorites were:

  • Old German
  • Mortgage Lifter
  • Purple Russian
Old German Tomato, Sliced to reveal coloring

Old German Tomato, Sliced to reveal coloring

I also have a new favorite and old standby (neither came from someone’s garage) that I really enjoyed this year:

  • Indigo Rose
  • Sweet 100
A sampling of both heirloom and new tomatoes from my garden

A sampling of both heirloom and new tomatoes from my garden

With the Old German, Mortgage Lifter, Purple Russian and Indigo Rose, I made my best bruschetta yet.  I only used a little bit of each for this bruschetta.

Now, as the last of the tomatoes in my garden are ripening, I will be making my final batch of bruschetta.

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta

2 lbs Heirloom (or regular plum) tomatoes, seeded, then chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, white parts only, thinly sliced
1.5 tsps fresh oregano + 1 sprig for garnish
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 T. balsamic vinegar

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, leaving 1 spring oregano for garnish.  Refrigerate for a few hours to overnight.  Toss and season with more balsamic vinegar, sea salt and pepper to taste.  Add oregano sprig. Serve with  freshly toasted baguette slices.

Optional:

1 baguette, thinly sliced
2-3 T. olive oil
1/4 c. Romano cheese (Locatelli Romano is great)

Brush each baguette slice with olive oil.  Sprinkle with Romano cheese.  Broil 2 minutes, or until cheese starts to melt.  Serve on a platter next to bruschetta.

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Cooking, Gardening

The Humble Basil Plant = a Mean Pistachio Pesto

One of the many seasons in the garden:  the beginning

One of the many seasons in a garden: the beginning

Several years ago, determined as any strong -willed teenager can be, I started digging up the grass in my parents’ yard.

Have you ever dug up sod, by hand, on an 85 degree,  humid Chicago  summer day?

After getting about a 6′ x 2′ strip of former yard cleared, my father took pity on me and rented a sod cutter.  Then, several loads of compost later, I attempted to hand ‘double dig’ the compost into the soil, just like my gardening books advised.  Once again, after watching me struggle with a failing, rusty shovel, and many yards of compost and untilled soil, my father came to the rescue with a rototiller.

And thus, my first vegetable garden was born!  I found a beautiful, hand crafted metal arbor for the entryway, a statue of St. Francis for positive blessings and minimal rabbit damage, and planted everything from asparagus to zucchini.

I also planted several varieties of basil – Classic Sweet Genovese, Boxwood Basil, Pesto Perpetuo (a beautiful bicolor) and a red variety..  Why on earth would someone plant all that basil around the tomatoes?  To attract beneficial insects?  Sure… But more importantly, I needed to find the best variety for making pesto, of course!

The  quick verdict?  Go with the plain Jane, humble Sweet Genovese ‘classic’ basil.

  • Boxwood Basil resulted in a pesto with a very mild flavor, which I liked the best, but it is a pain to pick the little leaves off of the stems and if you put the stems in the food processor, they sometimes do/sometimes don’t process all the way.
  • Pesto Perpetuo Basil imparted a very strong flavor to the pesto – too strong in my opinion. It is a great ornamental variety and good in small quantities with bruschetta, etc.
  • Red basil resulted in a bitter pesto, so I will continue to grow it but more for ornamental purposes

Years later, in my own yard and in a garden my husband helped me grow, I harvested the last of my basil and made my favorite Pistachio Pesto.

Pistachio Pesto Ingredients

Pistachio Pesto Ingredients

Pistachio Pesto

2 c. firmly packed basil leaves

2 small cloves garlic

1/3 c. + pistachios, shelled & toasted*

1/2 c. + grated Parmesan or Romano cheese** (if using Romano, you will not need much sea salt, if any)

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor.  Pulse together a few times.  Slowly, pour the olive oil through the feed tube and pulse until the individual ingredients combine and form a vibrant, green paste.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Sometimes, I will add a little more cheese instead of salt, but that is my preference.

Prior to 'pulsing' into pesto

Prior to ‘pulsing’ into pesto

This pesto freezes well.  I usually put about 1/4 c. into small plastic containers, pour the slightest film of olive oil over the top of the pesto, then cover and label the container.

* To ‘toast’ the pistachios:  Place pistachios in a small, dry skillet.  Heat skillet over medium-low heat and toast the nuts ~ 5 minutes, until slightly fragrant, shaking the skillet occasionally to keep the nuts from burning.  Toasting is not necessary for this recipe, but it does intensify the flavor of the pistachios.

** I like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Locatelli Romano.  Please don’t use parmesan out of the green cylinder.  The basil and pistachios will start to cry.   Let the best ingredients shine.

Fresh Basil on "The Don's" porch

Fresh Basil on “The Don’s” porch

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