Monthly Archives: May 2010

Container Garden, Week 5

Week five and my plants look like they’ve exploded! Per usual, my basil plant was quite full and I was able to pick another big bunch of leaves. Today, I was able to use them to fill out my batch of pesto I made last week (I accidentally used too little basil and too much garlic…whoops!). It turned out to be just the right amount to make the pesto delicious and not overwhelmingly garlicky.

My Serrano pepper plants fell over this week, and so I had to stake them. I didn’t realize I was going to have to do that for these plants, but luckily I had some stakes from last year’s tomato plant. In the picture above, it’s a little hard to tell, but the plants grew up from where they fell over, so all the leaves are pointed in one direction. I’m hoping that they’ll grow back the other way now that they’re up and supported.

My tomato plants are up to almost the top of the cages now! I have started to see some little buds too, and so I’m hoping this means I’ll start getting some flowers and tomatoes soon!

And there’s my little pepper plant – the leaves are huge, but it’s not very tall. I’m looking forward to seeing what this one will do. I think if it doesn’t grow more soon, I might look at repotting it.

I was away for the Memorial Day weekend, and luckily my plants weren’t too dry from the four days. We’re getting plenty of sunshine, and my plants seem very happy.

P.S. I’m a bit jealous of my friend Meredith’s new garden! She’s going to have a ton of great produce and herbs! Makes me want to add some new containers to my garden…

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Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Sometimes, I’ll get an urge to make – specifically, bake – something. I usually cook suppers during the week, but I hold a special place in my heart for baking. There’s something about baking…maybe it’s just wanting to make something self-contained and snackable; I’m not sure. I had made chocolate chip cookies the week before, but I hadn’t baked anything new recently. Because I didn’t have a ton of time, I landed on muffins because they are relatively easy and quick. I was thinking about the Pioneer Woman Orange Mini Muffins with Brown Sugar Glaze (introduced to me by my friend Shawn – they’re seriously good), but since I don’t have a mini muffin tin, I decided against those. But the citrus got me thinking, and lemon poppy seed was it!

They were simple enough that they wouldn’t take a ton of time, but interesting enough that it satisfied my desire to bake something new. And they were definitely worthwhile. For the recipe, I turned to Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking: From My Home to Yours (incidentally, also source of my favorite chocolate chip cookies). I had lemons, I had poppy seeds, I even had sour cream, but I was missing eggs. Garh.

After a quick trip to the grocery store, I gathered all my ingredients – pretty basic ingredients, sour cream, and of course, lemon and poppy seeds. By the way, I had never baked with sour cream before, and I was worried about the flavor coming through too strongly, but you really can’t taste the sour cream.

The first thing I did was zest the lemon, and rub it into the sugar. It smelled great – lemon-y and sweet – and the texture was great – kind of crumbly, a little like brown sugar, and the little bits of lemon zest mixed in was so pretty. To that I added the other dry ingredients.

Then I put melted butter, juice from the zested lemon, sour cream, two eggs, and vanilla in a separate bowl. It looked a little unappetizing, but when I whisked it all together, it became a lovely, thick, creamy mixture.

Then I put the dry ingredients into the wet, added the poppy seeds, and mixed just till combined.

I split the batter evenly between 12 greased muffin tin cups, and they baked up nice and tall and golden.

Then, to bring out the lemon flavor even more, Dorie has a lemon glaze for the muffins. You’re supposed to mix lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar for it, but I didn’t want to cut up another lemon to juice, so I used a bit of water and lemon extract instead. I think lemon juice would be nicer, so I’ll probably use that next time.  I dipped the muffins into the glaze so that it dripped very prettily all down the sides (note to self…next time use parchment or something under the cooling rack. It created quite a mess!).

The resulting muffins were nice and tender, moist, a little crunchy from the poppy seeds, and had a nice lemon flavor – not too strong. I’ll definitely make these again, and they’d be great with coffee. I ended up eating them on my way to work for the next week, and while they were good, they are definitely best on the first day.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Slightly adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan (page 10)

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 lemon – zest and juice, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour cream (light or regular – I used light, and it turned out just as well. I imagine nonfat would work as well.)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (alternatively, you could use about 1/2 tablespoon lemon extract and make up the rest with water)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with the rack in center position.
  2. Grease a 12 cup muffin tin (I used baking spray).
  3. Melt the butter in a medium bowl and set aside to cool. I melted it in the microwave, but on the stove would work too.
  4. Meanwhile, put the sugar in a large bowl and zest the lemon over the sugar into the bowl. Rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers till it’s well mixed and the sugar is moist.  The texture should be a little bit like brown sugar – crumbly and a little bit damp.
  5. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  6. In the bowl with the melted, cooled butter, add the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, and juice from the lemon. Whisk to combine – it will be nice and creamy.
  7. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry, and mix gently just till combined. It’s okay if there are some lumps.
  8. Add the poppy seeds and mix gently.
  9. Divide evenly between the 12 muffin cups – they were almost full for me; a little over 3/4 full.
  10. Bake for 18-20 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Place on a cooling rack and cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes then transfer to the cooling rack.
  12. Meanwhile, for the glaze, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl and mix in about 1.5 tablespoons of the lemon juice (or water/lemon extract mixture) and stir.  It will be quite thick.
  13. Add in more lemon juice, a drop or two at a time, till it’s thin enough to drizzle, but not too runny.
  14. Dip the muffins into the glaze, or drizzle over the tops.
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Container Garden, Week 4

Week four and my plants are really growing.  My serrano pepper plants are growing quite a bit more than the green pepper plant, and so I’m thinking I might have used a too small pot for the green pepper.  I guess we’ll see; I can always re-pot it later.  The basil continues to be prolific, and I’ve picked off another handful of leaves from it for this week.

My tomato plants in particular are really sprouting!  They’re up to the second bar on the cages, and have grown much fuller.

Incidentally, when I took these pictures it was downpouring rain.  The entire week was rainy, capped off with a weekend filled with crazy thunderstorms and off and on rain.  It was the type of storm where the thunder and rain would be really intense, and then, suddenly, it would stop and the sun would come out.  But, boy, when it rained, it RAINED.  I’m not sure if you can see in this picture, but the courtyard outside my apartment is totally flooded:

There’s just a lake of water over the grass.  My parking lot was gushing floods of water, but as soon as it stopped raining, it cleared right up.  But, we definitely needed the rain, so hopefully we won’t have any droughts this year!  And I didn’t have to water my plants almost at all for the entire week.

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Container Garden, Week 3

This is a little bit late, but I took these photos on Sunday. My plants are really growing now – much leafier and green.

It’s amazing seeing the growth week to week.

My little green pepper plant is looking quite gorgeous: deep green, shiny leaves.

My tomato plants are also growing quickly, but I’m pretty impatient and can’t wait till they start growing vegetables! But luckily, my basil plant is quite prolific.

I’ve already picked off a handful of big leaves and already it’s filled out with even more big leaves. I’m loving having fresh basil on hand again!

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Lemon Orzo Primavera

This is definitely one of my go-to summer dishes – it’s a perfect blend of warm weather flavors: summer vegetables, white wine, lemon, light pasta.  I love risottos, but they can be a little heavy for summer.  This is a similar style dish, but it’s made with orzo pasta instead, and it’s super adaptable: you can use whatever veggies you like best, and you can make it more pasta heavy if you prefer.  I will add fresh herbs if I have them on hand, but it’s fine without.  It can be vegetarian, or you can add chopped chicken breast.  Usually I’ll just cook two chicken breasts with some salt and pepper, maybe herbs & lemon zest, in the same pan I will use for the pasta – that way I will get those yummy flavors in the dish when I cook the orzo.  Then, I’ll chop it up and throw it in near the end of the cook time.

This time around, I used bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, and asparagus. I almost always use carrots and zucchini and mix and match from there till I get about 6 cups of chopped veggies.  For a more pasta-y dish, use about 4 cups of veggies.

It’s cooked sort of risotto-style, but much lower maintenance.  You cook the orzo a little bit with some olive oil, till it gets nice and toasty, then pour in some white wine and cook till that’s absorbed.  Then you add in the onion, garlic, and veggies that will take longer to cook (like broccoli, peppers, carrots).  I’ve found that if I throw in the zucchini now, it will be a mushy mess by the time everything else is finished.

Then you add in the quicker cooking vegetables (like asparagus, zucchini, squash), broth, herbs, and lemon zest and cook that around for about 10 minutes till the pasta absorbs all that broth.

You can also throw in some cooked, diced chicken.  Yum – the pasta is nice and firm, the veggies are cooked through but still should have a nice bite to them.  The last thing is to stir in some salt & pepper to taste, lemon juice and fresh grated parmesan.

Sprinkle a little bit of parmesan on top, too, and the end result is really nice and savory, fresh, lemony, yummy.

Lemon Orzo Primavera

Adapted from this recipe.

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 cup Uncooked Orzo Pasta
1/4 cup White Wine (optional)
2 cloves Garlic, Minced
1 whole Onion, Diced
1 cup Carrots, Diced (about 2-3 whole)
1.5 cups Zucchini, Diced (about 1 whole)
1 cup Asparagus, cut into thirds
2 cups Bell Peppers, Diced (about 2 whole)
1-3/4 cups Chicken Broth
1 whole Lemon (zest Of The Whole Lemon, Juice Of Half Of The Lemon, Divided Use)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (like Thyme, Basil, Rosemary)
2 whole Chicken Breasts, Cooked & Diced
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
Salt & Pepper


  1. Heat oil in a large saute or frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Add orzo and cook approximately 2 minutes until golden.
  3. Add white wine if using and cook till absorbed. I usually use Sauvignon Blanc, but any nice white will do.
  4. Add garlic, onion, and carrots, broccoli, bell peppers (any veggies that will take longer to cook) and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Cook about 2 minutes.
  6. Next, add zucchini and asparagus (any of the quicker cooking veggies).
  7. Cook about 1-2 minutes.
  8. Add chicken broth, lemon zest, and herbs, and bring to a boil.
  9. Reduce heat and let simmer till broth is absorbed and the orzo is cooked (about 10 minutes).
  10. Near end of cook time, add diced, cooked chicken and heat through
  11. Once it’s all cooked, add salt & pepper to taste, stir in parmesan cheese, and squeeze juice of half the lemon over top (more to taste), and serve.

*You could make this vegetarian by using vegetable broth and no chicken.
*For veggies, use whatever you like – zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, bell peppers, asparagus, and broccoli are all great.  I try to aim for about 5-6 cups of chopped veggies total.  Just make sure they’re all chopped to about the same size, and add them to the pan in order of cook time so that everything cooks to a similar consistency and nothing is overcooked.

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