Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tea for Twelve


My mother and I have been hosting our annual cookie exchange for longer than I can remember. I tend to be a entertaining over-achiever when it comes to menu planning, while my mother tries to reel me back from the abyss of excess. She isn't generally very successful, and even less so this year when I decided we should have a high tea theme. I was lucky to pick up two 3-tiered Food Network stands at Kohl's at a bargain price on black Friday, so I felt compelled to fill them with treats. Smoked salmon, curried egg salad, and tarragon chicken salad sandwiches; bacon and cheese mini quiches; black-pepper cheddar and cranberry-tangerine scones; chocolate chip banana mini muffins and cheesecake brownie bites as well as the traditional clotted cream, jam and not-so-traditional passionfruit curd.


We had several different types of teas brewing, throughout the party, including seasonal favorites and a rooibos blend.


I made pecan bars (center) from the Fine Cooking Cookie cookbook and they were soo good! The hint of cinnamon in the shortcrust pastry, the thin layer of chocolate that added another dimension, I think they were my most successful cookie offering yet.


I personally feel that open-faced smoked salmon sandwiches are compulsory at any tea. Ours were on pumpernickel bread with dilled goat cheese and cucumber.


Then you also have to have both sweet and savory scones, so I chose cranberry-tangerine and black pepper-cheddar. I had planned to make the earth-shatteringly delicious passionfruit curd from Dutch Monkey Doughnuts, which Arpana was so kind as to share with me, but in the end ran out of time, so was lucky enough to be able to buy a bit of theirs instead. It was the perfect compliment to the tangerine zest in the sweet scones.


We also had banana chocolate chip mini muffins from my grandmother's recipe and cheesecake brownie bites, another great find in the Fine Cooking Cookie cookbook.


When I saw that foodbuzz was doing a Top 9 Tea Party Takeover to help raise money for Ovarian Cancer Research, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. By putting up this post, foodbuzz will donate $50 to Ovarian Cancer Research, but you can help too. Electrolux has teamed up with Kelly Ripa to donate even more money. If you help Kelly create the perfect tea party outfit here, they will donate another $1 to the cause.

As you may have already noticed, I am a big fan of Fine Cooking and frequently use their website as a resource for recipes or just browsing for inspiration. I also like the easy searchability and reliable recipes of Epicurious, which is where I found my Black Pepper-Cheddar scone recipe. I made a few changes to the recipe - I did the whole thing in the food processor until I added the liquid, which took way more than 3/4 c of buttermilk, it was closer to 1 1/4 cups in all. To save on clean-up, I just dumped the dough straight onto my cookie sheet, patted it into shape and cut it there, moving the pieces apart so they weren't touching. I also wasn't gentle while mixing. The resulting scones were such a hit, I had several people asking for the recipe and I was happy to direct them to Epicurious.

Cheddar and Pepper Scones Epicurious | 1999

Edited by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin
The Best American Recipes 1999

The King Arthur Flours, its catalog (1-800-827-6836) and web site
(www. are, in our opinion, a baker's best friend.
The staff of exemplary Vermonters is unfailingly courteous and helpful
should you have a baking problem or question. They appear to be
serious at-home bakers too — many of the recipes on the web site and
in the catalog are contributed by employees.

These cheddar and pepper scones from the web site are really part
angel biscuit, part scone — not the usual dry, crumbly, heavy scone,
but rich and extraordinarily light. The black pepper is a powerful
ingredient, by the way — timid palates should use less.
Yield: Makes 15 large scones or 40 small ones
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, or to taste
3/4-1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

Milk for glazing

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt
into a large bowl. Cut in the butter and cheese. Stir in the pepper.

Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F and set a rack on the upper-middle level.
Grease a heavy baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

Gently stir enough buttermilk or yogurt into the flour mixture to make
a soft, sticky dough. Gather the dough into a ball with your hands. On
a well-floured surface, roll or pat the dough into an 12-x-8-inch
rectangle approximately 3/4 inch thick. Try not to handle the dough
too much, and don't worry if it looks rough.

Using a large spatula or a couple of spatulas, transfer the dough to
the baking sheet. Use a dough scraper or knife to cut the dough into
40 squares, each 1 1/2 inches. Separate the squares slightly on the
baking sheet. Brush each square with a little milk. (Or cut circles
out of the dough with the rim of a glass or a biscuit cutter and
transfer them to the baking sheet.)

Bake the scones for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are brown on the
bottom and very lightly brown on top. Don't overbake; break one open
to test for doneness. Transfer to cooling racks to cool briefly and
then serve as soon as possible.

To serve: The scones are still good when cool, but they are best when
just out of the oven. Butter and scrambled eggs are appropriate

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza

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Carmen Johnston, Rick Schoellhorn, Walter Reeves, me

When I first heard of Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza, it was, appropriately enough, on twitter. I was actually trying to win $100 of Proven Winners plants from Helen Yoest, of Gardening with Confidence, and one of the entries was to tweet the contest. When I did that, Proven Winners sent me a link to the event, and the second I saw it, I knew I wanted to go, even more than I wanted to win the plant giveaway. You can imagine how thrilled I was when they invited me to attend.

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The event was held at McElreath Hall at the Atlanta History Center on a cool, gray day in early March, the perfect time to start daydreaming about gardening. My attention was immediately caught by the stunning ColorBlaze Alligator Tears, a new coleus hybrid from Proven Winners, that turned out to not only be decoration for the check-in table, but also was one of many prizes given away during the day. As I was a little early, it was nice to be able to have a cup of coffee and peruse the "gift store", where I quickly found a few more plants that I had to add to my collection, including the new Supertunia Pretty Much Picasso.

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Before I spent all my money, they called us in to begin the program. First up was the charming Dr. Rick Schoellhorn, Director of New Products for Proven Winners. There wasn't a person in that room that wouldn't have given their eyeteeth to have his job. He first told us what it means to be a Proven Winners plant, to qualify a plant must be unsurpassed in terms of flowering, growth habit, disease resistance & garden performance. He then walked us through the process of trialing plants. Proven Winners is so committed to providing plants that meet their stringent criteria that while they trial 3,000 plants a year, less than 20 actually survive the intensive 2 or 3 year process, to be released as Proven Winners. Then he introduced us to the 2010-2011 new releases, including Angelface Blue Improved, which smells like grape soda, and Goldilocks Rocks, among others. By the time he finished up, I have to admit I was feeling sorry for the next speaker because Rick was as funny as he was knowledgeable, the consummate speaker.


Luckily, Rebecca Bull Reed, Associate Garden Editor for Southern Living Magazine, was more than up for the task. I think we were all hooked when she said "Herbs are the gateway drug to vegetable gardening, and container gardening is the gateway drug to happiness" She shared lots of great tips about gardening in general (insider joke, no rainbow watering y'all) and about integrating edible plants into container gardening. She also shared with us a quote from the late, great Dan Franklin "You should have no more garden than you can take care of in two cocktails" I know that I am exceeding that right now, but it's certainly something to strive for. Then we moved onto the liquid refreshments section of her presentation. Naturally, when she called for volunteers, my hand was first in the air. Her Basil Julep was as delicious as it was easy to make. Just pour 1 tbs. basil simple syrup over ice, top with a shot of Woodford Reserve, muddle with a few basil leaves, drink and enjoy.


Thank goodness lunch was up next as I needed some food to soak up the bourbon. We had a fun blogger table where I finally got to meet twitter friends @IndigoGardens, @tinkhanson, @rainforestgardn, and @CowlickCottage.

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Lynn Felici-Gallant, Walter Reeves, Christa Hanson, Steve Asbell, Carolyn Binder

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After lunch, we headed back in for a fun session on getting kids involved in the garden, presented by Carmen Johnston of Nectar and Company. She kept us in stitches with her videos of kids answering questions about gardening. One of my favorites was the little girl who said "Water is a chemical that grown-ups put on plants to make them grow". Her garden parties for kids were so clever, I have already recommended them to several friends with little ones. Another of her fun ideas is to take your child to the "sad sad plant cart" at your local garden center, you know the one, where they put the plants that need some TLC, and have your child "adopt" one and keep a journal about how the plant does.


Our last, but certainly not least, speaker of the day was our hometown gardening guru, Walter Reeves. He spoke about how to be Sherlock Holmes in your garden, although, this was such an expert crowd full of Master Gardeners from as far away as Minnesota, he was only able to stump us with his plant pathology one or two times. He advised us to be CSI in the garden and look for Critters, Spots and Insects. In the two slides below, the left shows what happens when you spray Roundup on your Bermuda grass (fyi, Bermuda grass is never dormant) and the right shows frost damage to Bermuda grass. My gardening IQ must have gone up 20 points with all this new information.

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Then to top off an already amazing day, no one went home empty handed. We all got fantastic goodie bags filled with all the things gardeners love, including a trowel from Corona tools, seeds, fertilizers, soaps and more. We also got one of the new Superbells Coralberry Punch. I was even more fortunate to score a container garden and a tee shirt for having a smart mouth, I mean having the correct answers to some of the trivia questions asked by the presenters.

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Even if you missed this event, lucky readers near Seattle or Toronto can still buy tickets for the events being held on March 18 and April 15 respectively. There will also be one in Milwaukee, but it has already sold out, so don't wait, get your tickets for Seattle and Toronto today.

Disclaimer: Proven Winners invited me to attend, but all opinions expressed are my own. Also, the headshots above are courtesy of their respective websites.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Outdoor Living Extravaganza Preview

If you want to learn how to turn your patio into this, then you need to buy a ticket to the
Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza. This year Proven Winners is bringing this enjoyable and educational gardening seminar to Atlanta for the very first time. You'll learn from experts like Walter Reeves creative new ways to use color, the easiest ways to grow plant varieties, how to put together exceptional containers, and much more.

Your ticket includes a fabulous goody bag of exciting gifts-including a Proven Winners plant; you'll enjoy a delicious catered luncheon, beverages, and snacks. There will also be plenty of chances to win great prizes! Even if you aren't a hard-core gardener, you will enjoy this relaxed and entertaining look at what’s new in outdoor decor.

The event will be held Friday, March 4 from 8:30AM-4:00PM at the Atlanta History Center. There are still tickets available to purchase here.

I hope I'll see you there!

Images courtesy of Proven Winners.