Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Deconstructing Boef Bourguignon

I've always loved Boef Bourguignon. My mom made an abbreviated version of it while I was growing up, using 2 different kinds of canned soup. Once I started to cook on my own, I wanted to do it the correct way. I've followed (almost) the recipe of the original celebrity chef, Julia Child, for many years.

If you read this blog, I've written about my love of Julia and all things French several times. Here's my original Boef Bourguignon post from a while back. I still love that recipe, but I decided to tinker around with it a little bit.

Since I love to cook, and it was my birthday, I got to cook and eat what I wanted. That's always been our family tradition: You get to pick your birthday dinner and eat what you want on your special day. My husband can make a great breakfast, and is an excellent sandwich maker, but I pretty much rule at dinnertime. SO, I did exactly what I wanted to do this past weekend: I tinkered around with a recipe and made what I wanted, and what I did was to deconstruct Boef Bourguignon.

What I mean was that instead of using bits of stew beef or the end of a larger roast, I used a whole steak. I got the idea for this watching Ina Garten, my current favorite Food Network chef, making a dinner to deliver to a friend for a dinner party. Ina was a caterer first, so I figured she'd know all about celebratory meals and presentation. I've altered her recipe a bit, eliminating some of the butter and thickening agents she recommended. I used my favorite cut of steak, an inch thick piece of tenderloin. In the original recipe, the beef is summered a long time in rich, wine gravy and then served over something, either noodles, or potatoes, or even rice, as my mom served it. In this version, I seared the steaks, made a delicious sauce and served it with mashed potatoes. This recipe has the advantage of allowing you to serve the steaks RARE, which is the way I really enjoy them. It was a winner! I wrote this recipe for 2, since only my husband and I were at home, but you could easily double it. Using a whole steak per person made it seem like more of a celebratory meal unlike a stew, which while delicious isn't the most elegant meal. This meal has the added bonus of one that is very easily made in advance. You only have to heat the sauce and finish cooking the steaks at meal time.
Deconstructed Boef Bourguignon with Mashed Potatoes


Deconstructed Boef Bourguignon
For 2

2 1" thick pieces of beef tenderloin
2 rashers of bacon
2 T. butter, divided use
1 c. dry red wine
1/2 beef broth, stock or consomme' 
1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
6 - 8 baby carrots, thinly sliced
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 T. tomato paste
12 oz. cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos)
12 pearl onions (frozen is fine, that's what I used)
Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or egg noodles for serving

First and very importantly, dry your steaks by draining them on a paper towel. They won't brown properly unless you do this. I know that the picture is kind of gross, but this is a very important step. 
Dry those steaks! 
While the steak is drying, mince the garlic and clean the mushrooms. Cut them in half or quarters if they are very large. Dry them as well, draining on a paper towel. This is important for the same reason as the beef, they need to be dry to cook properly. NEVER argue with Julia. 

Heat a medium sized frying pan over low heat. Choose a pan at least 3" deep, with a heavy bottom, so that the steaks will brown evenly and not stick. Add the two rashers of bacon and fry them until crisp. 

Remove the bacon to drain on yet another paper towel. Pour off almost all the bacon grease from the pan, leaving just enough to keep the steak from sticking. Turn the heat up to medium and add the steaks. Cook the steaks about 2 minutes per side, turning once. you only want to sear them. 
Sear steaks briefly, only a minute or 2 to brown them.
After searing put the steaks aside on a plate, and add 1 T. butter to the skillet. Scrape up all the browned bits in the bottom. Don't let the butter burn! Add the garlic and sliced carrots to the pan, and keep stirring and scraping for a minute or so. Add the red wine and keep on scraping and stirring. Let it come to a boil and then add the beef broth. Drop the thyme and tomato paste into the sauce. Sprinkle in 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt and a few grindings of fresh black pepper. 
Fresh time and tomato paste going into the sauce. 
Bring this to a boil, cover the pan, turn it down to low heat and let the sauce cook for 20 - 30 minutes, stirring every now and again to make sure nothing is sticking. This will smell heavenly and make everyone in the hungry. While the sauce is cooking, melt 1 T. butter over medium heat, in a small non-stick skillet. When the butter is melted and the foam has subsided (wait for the foam part, or Julia will haunt you), and then add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms until they are lightly browned, stirring them to make sure each surface area is browned. Turn them off while waiting for the sauce to finish cooking. When the carrots are tender, add the mushrooms, crumbled bacon and the pearl onions to the sauce.
We love mushrooms! The pearl onions make it seem special. 

Doesn't that look good? Cover that pan once again, and let the flavors come together, cooking for at least 10 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding a little more salt and pepper as needed. Be careful here, you may not need any more (I didn't). It depends on how salty your beef broth is, how strong the wine flavor is and how much liquid the mushrooms give off. TASTE! Don't just add. You can remove the thyme stems if they are still whole and visible. The leaves will just fall off. 
At this point, you can refrigerate everything (Separately! Don't put the steak in the sauce until you are ready to reheat it!) and heat everything up later in the day, or even the next day. When you are ready to eat, get the sauce hot again, and add the steaks into it. Cover and let them cook for 4 - 5 minutes for rare steaks, 6 -7 minutes for medium. If you like your meat well done, don't bother with tenderloin, just follow the first, original recipe. No need to spend the extra money on good steaks! 

Serve along side mashed potatoes (our choice) or over baked potatoes or egg noodles. 

I promise, this was YUMMY!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Veal Piccata with Lemon and Mushrooms

Veal Piccata with Lemon and Mushrooms 


There used to be a restaurant in Richmond, back in the '80's, that served the most wonderful veal dishes. We used to go there with a group from my husband's office. No one was more enthusiastic about this restaurant than his boss. The boss LOVED Italian food, and especially the veal, but admittedly, the cost was a little high. Back then, we were the parents of young children, and money was often in short supply. We were comfortable, but we never had a life style, we just had a life. That's not to say it wasn't a good life, and a rich one, but rich in love, fun and family as opposed to the monetary kind.

My husband loved one veal dish in particular -- me too! --  so I figured out how to make it. I dragged out my old Intro to Italian Cooking cook book (ca. 1971), much splattered and stained even back then, and read up on veal. There was no recipe that looked identical to the one we loved, but "Picatta Di Vitello Al Limone" was pretty darn close!  I used that recipe as a template and added fresh mushrooms, cooked it in olive oil instead of the recommended butter and added fresh garlic. It was a winner then, and it's still a winner. I will tell you honestly, this dish is a little trouble and a little costly for everyday fare, but as a special occasion dinner, it's a WOW! Since the amount of veal used is relatively small, it can be called a "little splurge"!

Look for thinly sliced veal scaloppini in the meat department of your grocery store. You'll need only one cutlet for each serving, as this is a pretty rich dish, especially when served with the recommended noodles on the side. Why noodles instead of pasta, you may ask? Well, the first time I made it, all I had on hand were egg noodles, and we liked is, more than the next time when I made it with fettuccine. I think the delicate nature of the egg noodles simply complemented the veal. Next time you want to celebrate, a birthday, a promotion, an anniversary -- or even if you just feel like puttering around in the kitchen -- give this wonderful veal dish a try.

Veal Scaloppine with Lemon and Mushrooms
(4 servings)
3/4 lb. veal (4 pieces veal scaloppine)
1/4 c. all purpose flour
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese 
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt + more for seasoning
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper + more for seasoning
2 T. chopped garlic
12 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced or halved**
1 1/2 c. dry white wine ( I used a pinot grigio from Trader Joe)
1 lemon, washed, thinly sliced and seeds removed. 

First, prepare your veal: Lay the scaloppine out on a piece of parchment or wax paper.
Veal on waxed paper, before pounding.

Cover the veal with another piece of paper. 
 Cover the veal with another piece of paper and pound the cutlets until they are very thin and uniform in thickness. I used the smooth side of the meat mallet so as not to tear the thin slices of veal.
Floured veal, ready to fry.
 Prepare the breading mixture by mixing together the flour, cheese salt and pepper in a shallow dish or on a large plate. Dip each piece of veal into the mixture and press down a bit, so that both sides are covered in the flour/cheese mixture. Set the veal aside while  you prepare the pan to fry the veal.
In a large, heavy, deep frying pan, add enough olive oil to completely cover that bottom of the pan. The oil doesn't have to be more than a 1/4" deep, but it must cover the bottom and be enough to fry the meat. Heat the oil over medium high heat. The oil is ready when a little bit of flour dropped into it immediately begins to sizzle and floats to the top. When the oil is hot enough, add the veal, one piece at a time, being careful not to crowd it. I find it better to cook only 2 pieces at once.

Veal frying in olive oil.

Don't crowd the pan and fry the veal until golden brown, turning once. Then drain it on paper towels.
Drain the veal on paper towels. 


While the veal is draining, make the sauce. Turn the heat down to low. Pour off almost all the oil in the frying pan,leaving about 2 T. of oil. Then, add 2 T. all purpose flour to the hot pan.
Add the flour to a little bit of oil in the pan.

 Stir the flour into the remaining oil until all the white is absorbed into the olive oil. Turn the heat up to medium and add the white wine to deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan so that all the browned bits are incorporated into the sauce.
Add the mushrooms to the sauce,
I like a combo of white and brown ones. 
 When the liquid begins to bubble, add the mushrooms, the chopped garlic,
a 1/2 tsp.Kosher salt and a few grindings of fresh black pepper. Stir the mixture gently to coat the mushrooms, turn down the heat a little bit, then cover the pan and let the mushrooms cook for about 5 minutes on a low, gentle bubble. Don't let them start to stick. The liquid shouldn't get too thick -- if it starts to look pasty, add a little water, just a T. at a time.
Put the veal back into the pan, on top of the mushroom mixture. 
The fried veal is laid out over the mushrooms and sauce.
Add the sliced lemon on top of this.

Lay the sliced lemon on top of the veal. Spoon a little of the liquid in the pan over the veal, put the top on and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring now and then to make sure nothing is sticking or getting too thick.

Serve the veal with the sauce next to egg noodles, which have been cooked and drained. While the noodles are draining, melt a T. of butter in the hot noodle pan. Add the noodles back into the butter, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and toss with a little Parmesan cheese. Perfect side dish for your veal! 

**COOKS NOTE: My old cookbooks recommends "the whitest mushrooms you can find" at your supermarket, but I prefer a half and half mixture of white mushrooms and baby Portobello (also called "cremini") mushrooms in this dish.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Creamy Hot Crab DIp


Creamy Crab Dip on Crackers
                                       
OK, this is a "treat" kind of recipe, I know. However, my husband recently had a birthday and I'd saved some crab meat in the freezer from when we'd picked crabs back in July. So it was a given that I make the King some Crab Dip! I can tell you, picking crabs to save the meat is a true labor of love. I had to pick 12 crabs to get 1/2 pound of clean crab meat! We'd picked all the "big" ones while we were eating them, so I was left with the ones that everyone picks up, experimentally weighs by lifting them over the pile and then drops them back on the pile while they search out another heavier one. If you've never had or picked Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs read all about it in my post here from Father's Day 2012.

This crab dip has more than great taste for us, it also holds great memories. I catered our wedding myself (yes I know that is crazy, but I was on a budget) and crab dip featured hugely in the spread we set out. In addition, it's made an appearance at every Christmas party we've ever had, and we've had a few. It's not quite as ubiquitous as my husbands famous Shrimp Dip, but almost. (That shrimp dip is a story for another blog, another time.) Let me also say that the recipe you see here is much lighter than the original one, which included an entire stick of butter, as well as whole fat sour cream and cream cheese. I honestly don't miss the additional fat, it still tastes creamy and rich to me.

Enough talk, here it is, in all it's glory. Fabulous, creamy Crab Dip. I've written the recipe for a whole pound but it's easily halved or doubled. If the picture doesn't look like it's much, it's because I've halved it. I must say, that this recipe will make a little bit of crab meat go a LONG way!

Crab dip saute'ed with butter
Creamy Crab Dip 
1 pound crab meat, picked clean
1 tsp. finely minced garlic
5 T. salted butter
1 T. lemon juice             
1 dash Worcestershire sauce                
8 oz. light cream cheese
8 oz. light sour cream
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 T. dry sherry
1 cup grated Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Have your butter and cream cheese at room temperature. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat and add minced garlic. Saute' the garlic for a few minutes until it begins to soften (not brown!) and add the creab meat, folding it into the butter/garlic mixture until completely combined. Add the lemon juice and stir it in. Next fold in the softened cream cheese. I find it easier to do if you score the block into smaller squares so that they incorporate more evenly. 
Add the cream cheese and stir until the crab and cream cheese are totally mixed together.

Now stir in the sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper and dry sherry, making sure that all ingredients are well combined. Regarding the cayenne, 1/4 tsp will make the dip mildly hot, 1/2 tsp will give it just a little kick. If you don't like things hot at all you can sub Old Bay Seasoning or plain paprika. 

Dry Sherry, be SURE to buy DRY Sherry! 
Lastly, fold in most of the cheddar, saving a little to sprinkle on top. Transfer the dip into a baking dish that has been sprayed lightly with cooking spray. OR if you plan to make this for a big group, and need to keep the dip hot for a longer time,  put the dip into the serving vessel of your chafing dish. That's the way I serve this special dish when I am having a lot of different appetizers for a holiday party (or a wedding reception!). Sprinkle the reserved cheddar over the top of the crab. At this point, you can bake it immediately for 30 minutes at 350 degrees or refrigerate it (covered) for up to two days and then bake it when you  need it (be sure to bring it to room temperature by setting the casserole out on the counter for at least 20 minutes before putting into a hot over.)

Hot baked Crab Dip! 
Serve with assorted crackers or toast points.We like a combination of crackers, like Triscuits, Club and Whole Wheat. Toast points are good as well, but a little more trouble. No matter how you do it, it's delicious! 

Makes at least 10 appetizer servings. Now, go and find something to celebrate! 
CELEBRATE!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Zucchini Gratin



Zucchini Gratin, inspired by Ina Garten

Our celebration for July 4th involved a cookout with a few friends, very low key this year. Ribs were prepared, and we each brought a side dish, easy on me, easy on the hostess. My contribution to the meal was a zucchini gratin. The reason for the zucchini dish is simple -- we have been the recipients of LOTS of zucchini. I'd made a huge pot of ratatouille ( You can find my recipe here.) earlier in the week, and we still had those leftovers in the refrigerator.

I decided to make a different casserole to take along. I found the original gratin recipe HERE on the Food Network website, by Ina Garten. I love her take on most recipes, but sometimes I  find them to be very rich, and they often include some rather expensive ingredients. This recipe for Zucchini Gratin included Gruyere cheese. I looked for it at my big box store, hoping for a bargain, but no such luck. I think they had every kind of cheese, except Gruyere. I then went to our least expensive grocery store, and they had it, cut into 7 oz. chunks, for $9.99. Yes, that is correct, less than 1/2 a lb. for $9.99. I hightailed it over to the domestic cheese refrigerated case and purchased a humble block of Swiss cheese for around $4 per pound. I also used less butter than Ina and I used 1% lowfat milk, instead of the full fat she favors. In addition, I was too lazy to make fresh bread crumbs, so I used plain ones from the pantry. AND GUESS WHAT? It was delicious.

So, I can honestly say, thanks, Ina, for the wonderful inspiration. The flavor was very delicate and had a slightly sweet taste, probably a combination of the onions and fresh ground nutmeg. Don't omit the nutmeg, and use freshly grated if you possibly can, it makes a huge difference! And if you want to spring for the Gruyere cheese, go for it! This dish looked great, tasted delicious, and wasn't that bad for us. It also cooked up quickly, after a fairly easy morning prep.

Will I make it again? Absolutely. And the 6 eaters at the party ate almost every bit of it, the truest test of all: Crowd approval. There was a little bit of a small serving leftover, but that didn't last long.....just sayin'.

Zucchini and onions in the pan,
milk poured over, thickening. 
 Zucchini Gratin

4 T. butter, divided use
2 lbs. zucchini, washed and cut into 1/8" rounds
3 large yellow onions, halved and sliced into half moons
3 T. flour
1/4 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup low fat milk
1 cup grated Swiss Cheese
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Butter or spray with cooking spray a 13 X 9" casserole. 

In a large, heavy skillet, melt 3 T. butter and add the onion. Saute' the onion for 10 - 15 minutes over medium to low heat, until soft and just starting to caramelize. Add the zucchini and stir until combined with the onion. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add the salt and pepper and sprinkle the zucchini with the flour. Gently stir the flour into the vegetables until the flour is absorbed, with no white, dry flour showing. Add the milk and turn the heat up. Continue to stir gently, so you don't break up the zucchini. Bring the mixture to a boil, while it makes a sauce and thickens. As soon as it thickens, turn off the heat. 

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. 

Pour the zucchini/onion mixture to the prepared casserole, spreading it in an even layer. Mix the grated Swiss cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle evenly over the top of the vegetables. Dot the topping with the remaining 1 T. butter, cut into small pieces. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, until brown and bubbly. Serves 6 - 8. 

Zucchini Gratin, hot and browned from the oven.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Pork Chile Verde

Chile Verde Soft Tacos with Jalapeno Slaw
Can you take another Mexican-style slow cooker recipe? I feel like I can never have too many of them. Not only are they generally easy to make and very budget friendly, they are also pretty healthy and taste delicious! I spotted some good looking tomatillos in the grocery store this week, and had some leftover pork roast, and this is what I came up with: Chile Verde.  For those of you who've read my blog and know that I like to cook and experiment around the kitchen, let me say right up front, THIS DISH IS A WINNER! The flavors were so darn good, it was hard to believe it started out with leftovers! Give this I try, I promise you WON'T be disappointed!

I got the original recipe from a cousin and made it once, as she suggested, with beef chuck roast. I served it at one of my Halloween chili nights, but honestly, I felt like it needed something. I loved the shredded meat texture, and so did all the folks at the chili fest. I thought,  "Next time, I'll try it with pork and change it up a little."  The best addition was, I believe, "Chipotle en Adobo" chilies. They are readily available in cans, you shouldn't have any problem finding them, If you are not familiar with them, they are smoked jalapenos in a spicy tomato sauce. Freeze the remaining peppers and sauce for later, they are great in chili, any spicy dish or sauce. Also, I think I skimped on the fresh cilantro the first time around. I was a little hesitant to add quite so much, but not this time. The cilantro made the dish really special!

First, I started with a pork roast. Here's how I make mine. Make sure to buy one big enough so that you'll have approximately 2 lbs. of pork leftover. I made my roast on Monday and threw the leftovers into the slow cooker on Friday. Here's my leftover piece of roast so you can judge the size you'll need:

Leftover pork roast, about 2 lbs. 
If you've never purchased a tomatillo, here's what you are looking for -- they look like tomatoes, but with a papery hull on the outside. They feel a little sticky when you remove the outer layer and stem, so wash them well. They should be firm, but not rock hard.
Tomatillos - 2 with hulls still on, 2 with hulls removed


Now, on the to the recipe!

Slow Cooker Pork Chile Verde
2 lb.s cooked pork, cut into chunks                                                           
Vegetable prep, onion, chilies and garlic
1 small can chopped green chilies
2 chipotle en adobo chilies, chopped and 2 tsp. of the sauce from the can
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
6 tomatillos, papery hull removed, washed and chopped ( I used my food processor)
1 heaping Tablespoon dry oregano
2 tsp. cumin
2 Tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 c. packed chopped fresh cilantro 
2 tsp. kosher salt 

For Serving:
Spicy Jalapeno Slaw (recipe here )
Shredded Cheddar or Jack Cheese
Soft Flour or Corn Tortillas
a few fresh cilantro leaves for topping the tacos

Chop everything up and throw it into your slow cooker. No need to mince it all carefully, the slow cooker does the work for you. You can see I left my onions kind of big. Didn't matter, the texture was great. I set my slow cooker on auto-shift, which means it started out on high and then switched over to lower heat. 
Chile Verde in the crock pot. It already smelled and looked yummy! 

I cooked the chile verde for 6 hours, stirred it vigorously to break up any large chunks of meat and then let it heat through again and served it. We ate ours like soft tacos, draining off a little of the juice and putting the mixture into soft flour tortillas. We topped it with some shredded cheddar cheese and spicy jalapeno slaw (recipe in this post ). It would be great served over corn chips or you could add 2 cans of beans and make it into more of a chili type stew. The flavor was SO darn good, you're going to want to make it again, I promise! Hhhmmmm....next time, I think I'll add those beans AND serve it over chips.......

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Feeding the Birds


WBU Small Tube Feeder
A few years ago, I began working for Wild Birds Unlimited of Richmond, VA. I do book work and office work, and help I them with their Facebook page (Find us on Facebook HERE). It's a nice place to work, close to home and they've got great stuff. I've always been a gardener and there are lots of garden goodies to look over. A side benefit of the job has proven to be that my husband and I have developed a hobby we both enjoy: Bird feeding and backyard bird watching. First I am going to share what I've learned over the years -  the seed at WBU is really fresh -- it comes in every week, and the birds LOVE it. One of my friends said that when she put seed from WBU in her feeder, as opposed to seed from the grocery store, it was like she was having a fancy dinner party. All the really "good" birds showed up! This comment has made me laugh for years -- I keep picturing birds arriving in limos and dressed in top hats. 

My husband has embraced our new hobby, and is quite good at identifying different birds. He's really gotten into it. This was brought home over the weekend when, early Saturday, the man himself  went out to fill our "main" bird feeder and found that the squirrels who frequent our back yard and torment our dogs had finally done what they seem driven to do -- they had broken off the 2 seed portals with perches so they could have easy and unlimited access to the seed blend we fill it with. He took the feeder off the pole but could only find one of the portal/perches. The devils must have absconded with the other one, carrying it off to their nest as a trophy. Or, whatever. The portal was gone.

"Look what the squirrels did!" he said in a hurt tone of voice. "The poor birds don't have any food and the feeder is ruined." The man was distressed. After spreading a few handfuls of bird seed on the ground, he was still upset. He kept muttering, "Poor birds!" and glaring at me like I'd broken the feeder.

"Don't worry" I told him. "I'll take it to work on Tuesday and get it fixed or get a new one." I felt OK with that. He didn't.

Round glass feeder from Wild BIrds Unlimited.
I put Bugberry Nuggets with Calcium in it.Apparently, he didn't.

Keep in mind that there are 2 other feeders in my years. They are more ornamental, but they are bird feeders! 

Treat Feeder from "Painted Seasons".
You can find them on Etsy. and HERE















By Sunday afternoon, I could take it no more. I hopped in my car and took the broken and now clean feeder up to the store . Two of my nice colleagues were watching the shop and more than happy to help me, because that's the way they are (really). The feeder was fixed in about 5 minutes and ready to return home.



"Is it free to me because I work here, or is it free to everyone?" I asked incredulously.

Yes, it is.  Free.  They'll fix it free (see limitations below).

If you purchase certain Wild Birds Unlimited branded feeders, they have a limited lifetime guarantee, for normal wear and tear. Now, if a deranged/enraged child, or, uh, husband, throws the feeder to the ground in a fit of anger,  and stomps it, that is not covered. However, under normal use, the feeder is covered for repairs. HERE'S a link that tells you exactly which feeders are covered, etc. I was so happy to find this out that I went and celebrated by purchasing more plants for my patio. What? WHAT? (That's what my husband said when he spied a box full of plants coming out of the back of my car.)

Now, what else do I need to plant out back? Maybe a few more pots filled with flowers? Perennials? Another hanging basket? Hhhhmmmmm......
Visit Wild Birds Unlimited of Richmond, VA HERE 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Spending Time in My Garden

If there is another household pastime I that enjoy as much as cooking, it's got to be spending time in my garden. I've got a nice patio with a somewhat cultivated strip of flowers and herbs around it. We put out lots of hanging baskets and potted plants and there's a border that runs around the back yard, that I am slowly filling with flowering bushes and perennial plants.
Here's one end of my patio. We like to sit out in the evening and if it's chilly, we can light the chiminea. That makes it almost year round here in central VA! I enjoy making the baskets. No cushions out today, because there is a chance of a quick storm. We had a doozy yesterday! 
Asian Lilies (pink), Golden Cosmos, Brown Eyed Susan, Cleomes and Daisies
This is my flower bed that runs along the other side of the patio, near the dining table. Over the years, I've planted so many different things and dumped bags and bags of cow manure on and now it kind of takes care of itself. I didn't plant any seeds in it this year and so far I've gotten native "Brown-eyed" Susans (as opposed to the cultivated "Black eyed Susan" you see in nurseries), daisies, golden cosmos, cleomes or spider lilies, Asian Lilies, daffodills, pink hollyhocks, lavender and ageratum. The Brown Eyed Susans simply appeared on their own, delivered no doubt by an accommodating bird!  
Ageratum, with it's fuzzy purple flowers. 
When the lilies finish and the Brown Eyed Susan dies back, during the heat of July and August, the ageratum fills in next to the golden cosmos.


Double Day-Lilies
I absolutely love day-lilies, and I've got them all over my back and front yards These are double orange ones, which never fail to bloom and delight me. I've got some golden ones too.
Yellow Day-Lilies

What do you grow in your garden? I've got a few herbs as well, by my little fountain. The birds love the fountain and so do we! It's so soothing to listen to! 
Herbs by the fountain
In this picture you can see my thyme, to the left, and the poor garlic chives that the recent storm flattened (but they'll perk back up). I've also got basil, flat leaf parsley, and lavender, just out of the shot. The hollyhocks (tall and pink spires) and cosmos come up wherever they want, I can't -- and don't want to -- control them! 
And here's one of the very best reasons to make a flower garden, bouquets of flowers in the house! 
Late Summer Bouquet from 2013 -- I didn't plant zinnias this year.....hmmm...maybe I should...