Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mini Baked Brie Bites and a First Try at Poached Eggs

I love love love breakfast food!  Every Saturday, I take a long time to make myself a special breakfast (or sometimes brunch if I'm feeling lazy).  I like to try out new recipes and also take this time to master the basics.  I have to admit that I was always a little afraid of trying poached eggs.  Being intimidated by an egg sounds silly, but for some reason it seemed like an unattainable feat.  Well, this week I decided to bite the bullet and poach an egg.  Being a scientist at heart, I turned to a chef that always seems to know, chemically, why food cooks the way it does, Mr. Alton Brown.  After a science lesson from Alton I was ready to tackle the poached egg.  Alton suggested adding a teaspoon of vinegar for each cup of water in the pan.  Brilliant!  I never would have guessed that step in a million years... thanks AB!  Okay, I know this is too much enthusiasm about the poaching an egg, but the thing is that it worked and tasted really really good!

I put about 2 inches of water in a deep sided sauce pan, added 2 tsp of vinegar, then added one egg at a time to the boiling water (I cracked them individually into a bowl first).  Then I covered the pan, took it off of the heat and let it sit for 6 minutes.  I served the poached eggs on a toasted English muffin with sauteed arugula that I bought at the South of the James Market.  Yum!!

To accompany my newly mastered poached eggs I decided to adapt a recipe that I first tried for Thanksgiving.  Since the Food Network stars are a second family to me, I called on a recipe from Ms. Paula Deen for Baked Brie.  I just love Paula.  She adds butter to everything which makes it taste amazing and she is just so darn cute.  My mom recently introduced me to the mini-bries from Trader Joes, so looking at the sheet of puff pastry that I had left over from the Thanksgiving baked brie and thinking about my mini-bries, lightning bolts went off in my head and I decided to make mini-baked brie bites!  I feel like this is one of my crowing achievements as a home cook.
Mini Brie Bites from Trader Joe
I started by defrosting one sheet of puff pastry and cutting it into six rectangles.  Then I browned about 1/4 cup of chopped pecans in butter.  Then I placed one mini-brie on each rectangle of puff pastry, topped it with about a teaspoon of nuts and a table spoon of blackberry jam.
Puff Pastry cut into six pieces, topped with a mini brie bite, toasted pecans, and blackberry jam.
I pulled the corners of the pastry up to make a little enclosed packet and brushed the outside with a beaten egg.  *In this part of the recipe I deviate from Paula's recipe.  She says to brush both sides of the pastry with egg before you fill it.  I found that the part that touches the cookie sheet will stick to the pan if it is brushed with egg, so I waited until the end to only brush the outside with egg and it didn't stick.  Take note Paula!
Mini Baked Brie Bites fresh from the oven.

The pastry packets were cooked at 425 degrees F for 25 mins and I served them warm on water crackers.  They were divine!
Melty, cheesy, blackberry goodness!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

South of the James Market

I'm learning that one great thing about Richmond is that the people here like to eat.  I have a list a mile long of restaurants that locals have recommended to me and my experiences at the few I've tried have been nothing but great.  In addition to restaurants, there seems to be a plethora of farmers markets.  I'm all about buying and eating local, so knowing that I won't have trouble finding fresh food makes me very happy.  This weekend, my co-worker, Jonah, and her two kids took me to the South of the James Market.  Visiting this market was my first opportunity to cross the James River, so I was already excited before we got there.
Vendor booths at South of the James Market surrounded by fall color on a beautiful sunny day.
The open-air market operates from May to December and boasts about 80 full time vendors and a dozen part time vendors.  I had to show constraint because everything looked so delicious and I kept having to remind myself that I can always come back next week.  One of my favorite aspects of markets is the feeling of community.  The busy vendors always seem to have time to stop and talk to the customers, families bring kids of all ages, many with their dogs, shopping, eating, socializing- it is just a great way to spend a Saturday morning.
Wreaths of dried citrus rings and magnolia leaves.
I came home with a pretty good haul of salad greens, arugula, sweet potatoes, pumpkin fettuccine, pork chops, pumpkin potato bread, and creamed almond honey.  The recipe ideas are already swirling in my head!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Filoli Estate

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I was able to visit many wonderful gardens with fabulous new-to-me plants.  One of the gardens was Filoli.  Its website describes that "Filoli is an historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and one of the finest remaining country estates of the early 20th century."  Finished in the 1920s, the house is now a museum containing many English antiques from the 17th and 18th centuries.  During my visit, I took a self-guided tour of the house and had a long talk with a wonderful volunteer docent who knew tons about the history of the property's owners the Bourn and Roth families. 

The gardens exhibit both Georgian and English Renaissance styles and reminded me of the historic estates that I visited while living in England.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rain Water Harvesting at Temple University

Water is one of our most precious resources.  At the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University, there are many examples of water-wise gardening including xeriscaping and managing stormwater through rain gardens.  While I was Horticulture Supervisor at Temple, I learned about rain water harvesting using underground cisterns.  I thought this would be a fantastic way to take our stormwater management to a new level.  I worked with colleagues from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture as well as the Center for Sustainable Communities, Dr. Sasha Eisenman and Susan Spinella, to write a Growing Greener Grant through the DEP to fund an underground rainwater harvesting cistern.  We were awarded the grant and two cisterns were installed during my last week working at Temple.  What a great send-off!

Rain garden specialists, Complete Aquatics, donated their services in-kind to install two underground cisterns which will capture and hold 12,000 gallons of water at a time from the Temple Ambler greenhouse and headhouse roofs.  The water will then be pumped back into the greenhouse and used as irrigation water.  You can read more about the cistern on Temple's web site here.
Digging the pits.
The pits were leveled, lined with a thick rubber liner, and then coated with a layer of stone.
The pits are filled with hollow matrix units.  These provide stability and hold a surprising amount of weight.  These are often installed under parking lots.
Filling the pit with matrix units.  The large pipe will contain the pump.
They let me install the last matrix block :)
The rubber liner is then wrapped over the blocks and soil or gravel is filled in on top.  One of the systems will be under our parking lot and the other system will be planted with grass.
Pipes that will move our rain water from the roof to the underground cistern and then back into the greenhouse.
Laying the pipes.
These are pipes connected to the large underground cistern which has been covered with soil.  This one will have grass planted on top.

Two of my former students, Mike Ford and Lisa Falls came to help with the installation.

Each system will have a filter to remove any leaves and debris that might come off the roof.
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