Monday, August 30, 2010

Faux Bois a la Cashiers, NC

So, guess what? I had the amazing opportunity to decorate the Cashiers Designer Show House front entry! Big time designers from Atlanta, Highlands, and Cashiers were on the roster, and this Farmer had the chance to be a part.

For a mountain home entryway, what better could there be than faux bois? What is faux bois, you ask? Well, French for “false wood,” this fashion of furniture and decorative elements has been used for years to mimic the look of wood with concrete or plaster.

Benches, settees, chairs, tables, and planters have been constructed in this fabulous fashion for hundreds of years, and the chance to implement such a design scheme in Cashiers was all too apropos! Planters from Argentina, benches and chairs from a terrific company, and vintage pots from an antique spot in Atlanta – my faux bois fete accomplis was complete.

A collection of turtle shells donning the wall and an antique wire planter greet the home’s visitors at the front door, with ‘Little Lamb’ hydrangeas peaking over Lamb’s Ear and moss. Sticks covered in lichens and moss with Joe Pye Weed dart out of a fantastic French vinegar lavabo and add a touch of the mountain drama to the entry. Pots brimming with lemon basil and ‘Key Lime’ huechera welcome visitors as well, yet the sentries of the entry are my French cast concrete beagles, Pierre and Bernadette.

Straight from France and onto the Cashiers Show House front entry, the lovely patina creatures greet all those who enter the lovely home. They sit and stay so well! Come see Pierre and Bernadette and the rest of the designer show house – any chance to come to Cashiers is a good time for sure! See you in the mountains!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Plum Crazy for Wild Plums

Growing up with a farm in Hawkinsville, a self taught education was at hand with each season offering a learning curve and lesson of that time of year’s particular offering. One of the indigenous floras that always brought an exciting reward was wild plums.

Often calling them “hog plums,” since the beasts would often beat you to the punch, these sweet and sour little fruits make for a delicious summer delicacy in several fashions – jelly, jam, conserve, fritter, or crunch. Nothing easier than fresh picked fruit mixed with a few ingredients and served with ice cream – delish!

In early spring, bright pink to white blossoms cover gray sticks of wild plum bushes across the Deep South. Striking against a newly blue spring sky or a gray sky of a lingering winter, these blossoms are the first sign of a summer treat. Several varieties and species can be found across the region and harvest can begin as early as June and extend well into the summer.

Past the beauty of their floral stems, the plums begin as a gorgeous green and can be enjoyed from their tartest of tart green stage or allowed to sweeten on the bush, turning a beautiful array of, well, plum colored shades from apricot colored, to red, to purples, and even pinks and yellows. Having a mix of the plums’ color and ripeness in a dish adds texture and flavor. Plus, they are just beautiful on their own in a dish or bowl as a seasonal decoration, bring the garden indoors to enjoy aesthetically.

If wild plums are not at your fingertips, then find some delicious specimens from your local farmer, garden market, or fruit stand. You can always mix them with blackberries and peaches for “summer basket” cobbler or tart. Try pairing some deep amethyst and aubergine colored plums with hydrangeas and blackberries for a gorgeous summer tableau…you just can’t beat the easy garden elegance of bowls and jars and even pitchers of the season’s best. Experiment with plum relishes and jellies as parings with pork or chicken glazes…a stuffed pork loin or chop with plums and pecans – yum yum yum! From this Farmer’s garden, I hope you find your niche with wild plums or garden fresh plums for a taste of one of the summer’s best fruits – just plum delicious ya’ll!

Farmer’s Wild Plum Crunch

  • 2 cups of small wild plums, washed, pitted, and split in two
  • Half a cup of brown sugar…more or less depending on sweetness of the plum
  • 1 Tablespoon of local honey
  • Juice and zest of half a lemon
  • Half a cup of all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

***combine the above ingredients in a bowl and then pour into a buttered baking dish.

For the topping

  • 1 heaping cup of old fashioned oats
  • ¾ cup of pecan pieces
  • ¼ cup of brown sugar
  • ¾ a stick of cold butter, cubed
  • ½ a teaspoon of salt
***combine the above ingredients in the in the mixer, hand mixer or your hands themselves. Spread over the plum mixture and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until bubbly…serve a la mode!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Farmer’s Beurre Blanc

Butter and white wine…already you know this is good! Literally the French term for “white butter,” a buerre blanc is a traditional sauce with simple ingredients. Quite elegant and versatile for many dishes and full of garden flavors, this beurre blanc can become a backbone for your garden living lifestyle.

Brown an onion in some olive oil. Salt and pepper for flavor and then add garlic once the onion begins to caramelize. This is the background and foundation of your sauce, for the caramelized bits of onion and garlic are the keepers of amazing flavor. The wine will deglaze the pan, releasing the browned goodness of the onion cousins. Allow the wine to come to a simmer and reduce by a third. This step, reducing the wine, intensifies the flavor of the wine, concentrating the bouquet and natural essence of the wine. Tossing in a couple bay leaves awakens the sauce and steeps their flavor in the wine reduction.

Now for the namesake - butter. Add the cubed butter in shifts, whisking the butter into the sauce and allowing it to thoroughly melt it. Once the butter has thoroughly melted into the wine, the smooth sauce can now be livened up even more with some fresh lemon juice and zest. White pepper makes a great complement to this easy sauce as well, yet, where does the garden come into play?

With the basics of this sauce under your belt, this sauce can be created year-round and then flavored with the best of each season’s goodness. Thus, the very essence of garden living itself – taking a standard or basic idea or product, and making it totally seasonal for each special time of year – can be incorporated into this classic sauce.

Making this dish in the summer, I infused and garnished the sauce with basil – a quintessential summer flavor. Compatible with the lemon and wine, the basil brings the beurre blanc to a summer table, presented with fresh grouper, summer succotash, and grit cakes.

Fresh caught black grouper is like a seafood steak in itself. A thick and mild white fish, these filets of grouper take no time to cook. Season the fish with salt and pepper and lightly brown the filets in some olive oil. Once the fish begins to brown, finish cooking this fruit de la mere by braising it in the beurre blanc for fantastic flavor. Some grits, leftover from breakfast, can be cut into wedges and serve as the foundation to build your plate upon. The succotash, flavored with basil as well, is the base of my Summer Vegetable Pasta and makes for the perfect side to this fresh dish.

Whether you make your beurre blanc in the summer and infuse the sauce with summer herbs or make it with toasted pecans in the fall or rosemary in the winter or parsley and chervil in springtime, prepare this sauce as a toast to the season! From this Farmer’s garden and kitchen to yours, bon appétit!

The Farmer’s Beurre Blanc

  • 1 large Vidalia onion
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 1 stick of good butter
  • Salt, cracked black and white peppers
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 bottle of a good white wine
  • Juice and zest of a lemon (or two!)
  • Chop the onion and brown the pieces in some good olive oil
  • Once caramelized, add the garlic and cook the garlic until tender
  • Deglaze the pan with the bottle of white wine and bring to a simmer – reduce by a third…add bay leaves as well.
  • Once the wine sauce has reduced, add the butter in cubes, whisking each batch of cubes into the wine so it is thoroughly melted and incorporated into the sauce. Season with salt and peppers…teaspoon of each or to taste.
  • Add the juice of the lemon and its zest, continuing to allow the sauce to simmer and reduce a bit more.
  • After this mixture has reduced by about a fourth, add the basil and remove from heat.
  • Braise fish, chicken, or pork and also serve as a delicious sauce on vegetables or bread…enjoy!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Peach Pie a la Mimi

Akin to her Apple Pie, Mimi’s Peach Pie is a celebration of the season baked into a pie. What’s the secret ingredient? Tapioca!! Once again, this ingredient is the key to a delicious pie, fusing the fruit, sugar, and crust into a concoction of heavenly delight.

Towards the end of July, the “July Prince” peach and the “Red Globe” are in season and make for phenomenal pie fillers, garnishes, and succulent slices on their own. For this pie, we used “Red Globe.” These peach varieties stay firm and have a marvelous blend of peachy tartness and natural sweetness. If you ever have the chance to pick peaches right from the tree, I recommend braving the heat for this delectable treat! Here are a few of this Farmer’s favorite peach varieties for cooking and eating in general, whether right off the tree or from your favorite farmer’s market!

  • Gold Prince
  • June Prince
  • July Prince***The Prince series are super peaches…tasting just like a peach!
  • Red Globe***Sweet and Tart…great for baking and slicing
  • Elberta***A Southern Staple…yellow fleshed with red flashes…sweet too!
  • White Lady*** UNBELIEVABLY GOOD!!!
  • Southern Pearl ***Marvelous white flesh peach…champagne colored and sweet
  • Harvester ***Often a good “backyard orchard” tree…free stone and yellow fleshed – yum!

Any of these peaches make a fabulous pie, and speaking of the latter; here is the “how to” on Mimi’s Peach Pie…easy and elegant! Enjoy!

Mimi’s Peach Pie

**Cooks note…use my Peach Tart Dough recipe for your crust and topper…yummo!

  • About a dozen or so peaches, peeled a personal preference.
  • 3 ½ tablespoons of minute Tapioca
  • Tablespoon of Cinnamon
  • A scant cup of sugar…depends on cook’s palette and sweetness of the peaches.
  • 3 Tablespoons of melted butter…for topper.
  • 1/8 cup of vanilla sugar…for topping. Sugar infused with a vanilla bean pod.
  • Tablespoon of Cinnamon…for topping.
  • 1 deep dish pie pan and 1 baking sheet…use this underneath the pie in case it bubbles over.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the pie crust, lining the dough into the pie pan. Reserve the second crust for the topper…cut out leaf shapes if you’re feeling crafty!

Mix together Peaches, tapioca, sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside.

Add Peach mixture to the pie pan and then start your leaf topper…I began with the center and worked my way outwards…covering and layering the leaves in rough concentric rings. If not using “leaves,” just cover the pie and press down the edges with a “finger” design or fork.

See apple pie post for leaf configuration.

Glaze the leaves with the Drawn butter and then sprinkle the leaves with sugar and cinnamon…if not using leaves, just glaze the topper…cut a couple slits for ventilation.

Bake at 350 until golden and bubble…about an hour. if you want it “pretty” for serving, let It rest. If not, dig right in! Peach mush tastes just fine!

Serve warm with good vanilla ice cream…a la mode is French for “in style,” so don’t be out of style without your ice cream! Homemade crème fresh isn’t too shabby either!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Veggie Salsa…a Great Dip Too!

Can you believe how many tomatoes and peppers a small plot of earth and few plants can produce? Wowza!

If your garden is like mine and those of my neighbors and friends, you are finding that those four little tomato plants you planted last spring are now producing on the vine way too many tomatoes for you to eat by yourself! Just how many banana peppers can one family consume, anyways? With a plethora of produce at our green thumbs (or farmer’s market) disposal, a salsa is an easy way to stay ahead, preserve, and split the bounty coming in by the bushels!

Share and share alike with this garden amalgamation of the freshest ingredients and flavors…trust this Farmer, you’ll want to keep a batch of this recipe on hand as a salad dressing, marinade, and relish for grilled chicken and pork. The versatility and flexibility of this dish is one of the best attributes, aside from the fantastic flavor. If you have peaches on hand, throw some in for a fruitier feel…if you have watermelon and mint a plenty, make a salsa from them! Master the basics of salsa - fresh fruits and veggies, delicious herbs, and a dash seasoning – and you’ll be dancing the salsa as well as eating it! Here is the basis of this Farmer’s Garden Salsa.

    • Tomatoes! Right off the vine! Green and red mixed together gives this recipe a super balance of texture and flavor. Try some heirloom varieties for amazing depth of flavor and visual delight. Each ingredient plays off the other, making this salsa a classic combo to be cherished for years to come.
    • Tomatoes and onions, tomatoes and basil, tomatoes and peppers…like any of those combos? Or all the above? Then you’ll love this salsa. Combine a fresh Vidalia, some banana peppers (or the pepper of your choice or your garden’s offering), and some fresh basil and the base of your salsa is set…now on to the zip and zap that makes this salsa really dance!
    • Rice wine vinegar…I love the touch of Asian flavor from this wonderful vinegar…red wine and apple cider work well too. This Farmer’s favorite, white balsamic, would be all too apropos as well. Add the vinegar to your salsa base and continue to season with some fresh cracked pepper, salt, and a pinch of cumin. The sweet, tangy, and smoky moves of the salsa dance are now becoming evident in your dish!
    • To highlight the freshness of the ingredients, the juice and zest of a lime and lemon add a citrus floral note and keep our salsa kickin’! Last but not least is garlic…minced fresh garlic…need I say more?
    • Once you’ve combined all your veggies, herbs, and seasonings, bring it to a slight boil, add a dash of sugar, and then chill or serve warm! I’m telling you, you and yours will adore this dish any way you choose to serve it. Jar or can it and share with friends and family and preserve some for a winter day when you need a reminder of the summer garden! From this Farmer’s garden and table, Ole!

Farmer’s Garden Salsa

  • 6 small fresh tomatoes or four medium…size depending on what you have
  • 1 Large Vidalia Onion
  • 2-4 Large banana peppers…I like more Banana peppers so I use 4
  • 4-5 peaches pitted, peeled, and chopped…add these for a fruity twist…delicious with or without!
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup of seasoned Nakano rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin…or to taste…more smoky flavor add more
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar….to taste…if peaches and tomatoes are sweet then less
  • 4 teaspoons of minced garlic
  • Garnish with julienned strips of basil or cilantro***

***for a sweeter salsa, use basil instead of cumin…for a more savory, use cumin and cilantro

Pulse and blend everything together except sugar.

Bring to a quick boil and add sugar…stir so sugar dissolves

Allow to cool and serve…how easy is that!? Enjoy!

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