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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seed Starting Experiment

Decided to try a little experiment.  I'm always up for a good experiment.  I can't seem to pass the seed display whenever I go to a store.  There's something enticing about it.  Not sure what it is.  Maybe it's the photo on the front in full color of the harvested vegetables or herbs.  Or maybe it's the promise of seedlings that can be transplanted in what seems like a short amount of time, but just the right time for my garden to be ready for them.  Or maybe it's watching a seemingly empty pod of dirt sprout with life in just a few days.  Well whatever it is I succumb to it every Spring.
While at Lowes for a totally unrelated trip I bought several seed starter kits and herbs seeds to give them a try.  I'd like to put the herb in decorative pots on my windowsill so they will be handy for cooking.
I read the directions -- simple enough...just take some warm water and pour it over the pods that came in the windowsill seed starter kit.  I bought these particular ones because they are perfect for the windowsill and after the seedlings are ready the whole peat pod can be transplanted so I can start lettuces as well as herbs and not have to worry about transplanting leafy greens outside.
So after picking out the seeds I wanted to start the first step was to add the warm water to the pods.  This was actually pretty cool (okay I'm easily amused) since you watch the flat pods puff up right before your eyes.

It probably takes a minute or 2.  This would make a great activity for kids, even young ones since it happens relatively quickly.  The next step is to separate the pods and fluff the inside and then add your seeds. Last put on the dome lid and put it in a warm place out of direct sunlight.  This seemed to be the biggest challenge for me, so I decided to put them on the counter hoping that it work.
That's it.  Now you just have to wait to see if the seeds sprout. Seems like an easy and inexpensive way to start seeds.  The windowsill gardens are about $6 and the seeds vary depending on the company and the actual seed you choose.
So it's all done.... but the waiting.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

West Side of Saratoga Coffee Shop- The Fortunate Cup

Since the weather is getting warmer and spring break means more travel and folks might be looking for places to visit while making their summer plans, I decided I'll start blogging about all the great things about Saratoga Springs. 
Saratoga is mostly a summer destination but there are lots of things to do before racing season starts.  Here is my favorite pick for coffee shop.....The Fortunate Cup.



Once you walk into the Fortunate Cup t 120 West Ave, you feel it.  The earth tones, the comfy chairs and the fireplace, the use of the free Wi-Fi, the delicious aromas of fresh brewed coffee and soups cooking.  Owner, operator Doreen Kamen likens it to her home.  It's a place that begs you to sit, sip and relax.  You can grab a quick breakfast or lunch through the drive up window or sit outside with an iced tea and watch the world go by.  And when chilly weather comes back and we all know it will, you can sit in front of the fire or watch the snow falling through the large windows.


I found this shop quite by accident.  I was working down the street and was looking for someplace different for lunch.  I had an hour so I thought I would check it out and have been coming back as often as possible ever since.
The Fortunate Cup doesn't compare to other coffee shops in the area, downtown in particular.  It's been open since September 2008 so everything still feels new.  It's clean, with wood floors, chrome lighting fixtures and over sized chairs. Even the bathrooms are gorgeous with automatic lights, faucet and soap dispenser.
And the food -- excellent.  Doreen developed the menu with a chef friend of hers.  They offer soups,along with a host of gourmet paninis, salads and wraps.  One of her most popular creations is a breakfast panini -- eggs and other ingredients melted together on a belgian waffle. If you are in the mood for something a little more traditional for breakfast they offer muffins, scones and bagels.  My favorite combination is a warm melty chocolate chip muffin and a steamy, creamy mocha latte.  Yes, I'm a chocoholic an proud of it!
The Fortunate Cup brings something much needed on the West Side of Saratoga. A coffee shop with free and ample parking, a warm and inviting atmosphere; and a place where businessmen and women, students or anyone else can come and enjoy a hot coffee beverage (or one of their many popular teas) a sweet or a lunch.  Stop in often and take a look at their specials, try something new like authentic Italian gelato or a biscotti or my absolute favorite, The Woodsman sandwich - a combination of roast beef, bacon with muenster cheese and garlic mayo.
So if you visit Saratoga Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall come to the Fortunate Cup have a bite or linger with a cuppa.  It truly is a hidden gem on the west side.
The Fortunate Cup is located at
120 West Ave
Hours:
Monday- Wednesday 7 am- 7 pm
Thursday- 7 am - 9pm
Friday- 7 am - 7 pm
Saturday and Sunday 8 am - 5 pm
Drive through opens at 6:30 am Monday through Friday and is open from a 7:30 am Saturday and Sunday

They welcome business meetings, club meetings and other gatherings  in their conference room.  If you would like a luncheon served they will be happy to accommodate you for an additional charge.
You can reach Doreen at 518-226-0800

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Making Meal Planning Easier with "Nights"

While trying to decide what to make for dinner I thought it would be easier to have “nights”.  What I mean by that is that each night would be a different theme, like Monday is pizza night, Tuesday is ground beef night, Wednesday night is international night, Thursday is chicken night, Friday is seafood or pasta night, Saturday is sandwich with soup or salad night and Sunday would be old fashioned Sunday dinner.
This is our second week doing this and it’s working out really well.  It makes it a lot easier to plan and I’m actually looking forward to cooking what I’ve picked out to make.
Here is a sample of our last two weeks menus:

Cheddar Burger (L),Blue Cheese Burger (m) American
Cheeseburger (R), Cheddar Burger (front)

Week One:
Monday—pizza (which I wrote about in a previous blog) pepperoni on one and sausage and onions on the other
Tuesday – Knife and Fork Burgers with Stew Vegetable Gravy (from Rachael Ray’s latest cookbook Look n Cook)
Wednesday—Pork Egg Foo Young (which I made with some leftover pork tenderloin I had from the Sunday before)
Thursday – Chicken and Waffles (Buttermilk Waffles made from scratch with chicken nuggets also from scratch with a spicy fried coating –Yum!)

Chicken and Waffles

Friday – Crab cakes with Parmesan Polenta (polenta is something that I’ve been making a lot of lately.  So Good!)
Saturday – Sandwiches (We had to get some lunchmeat for the week so we went to our favorite meat shop—The Meathouse- a blog on that coming later --  got the lunchmeat and sandwiches for dinner)
Sunday—Sunday dinner didn’t work out the way I planned because the turkey wasn’t thawed so it was on to plan “B” – Spaghetti and meat balls.
Monday – Pizza bread, made with pepperoni from the Meathouse and bread from the grocery store – Italian bread on sale!
Tuesday Night-(My favorite night so far) Burger Night.  On burger night everyone can get whatever burger they like best-- American Cheeseburger, Blue Cheeseburger or my favorite Green Chili Cheeseburger.



Green Chili Cheeseburger
Tomorrow night (International Night) is going to be a real experiment for me.  I’m going to try Coq au Vin.  That’s right – French food.  Can’t wait to see how that turns out.
Since the turkey wasn’t thawed and I planned most of the week for leftover turkey I had to redo most of my menus, but that’s the fun of it.  It’s still easier than not having any idea at all.  So by going through the sale ads I can make menus based on my “nights”.  There’s enough variety for everyone and I still keep my grocery bill manageable.  Actually I think I spent less than I have in the past.
So that’s my strategy for meal planning.  Do you have a strategy that you’d like to share?  Leave a comment and let me know.




Friday, March 18, 2011

A cute Etsy Store

I always have to hand it to someone when they take the bull by the horns, when they try to carve their own path, when they try a new endeavor, especially when they are new mom with a full time job.  My niece Liz is doing all those things.  She recently had a baby-  beautiful Alaina, she works a full time job as a teacher and now she has started her own business.

Her online business is called Smilestone Stickies.  Not sure if you can tell from the name but these adorable little stickers go onto your child's clothing so you can photograph them and document a milestone .. like 1 month, 2 months etc.  They make every milestone a photo op!
As a mother of grown kids I think these would have come in handy.  After our recent move we found a lot of photo albums of the kids when they were little.  It would have been nice to have some record to see how much they change from month to month.
The stickers can be used to document changes in pregnancy pictures and for older children too.
If you would like to see the stickers and maybe make a purchase you can go to her Etsy store at
www.etsy.com/shop/Clevelandcreations12
If you don't see anything you like, Liz welcomes custom orders and is coming up with new designs all the time.
So if you have a baby or know someone having a baby and need a shower gift then Smilestone Stickies might be the answer!  If you order now and use the coupon code "friend" you will receive a 10% discount!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Most Perfect Food -- Pizza

Pizza is the most perfect food.  I'm not saying that the pizza I make is perfect oh no far from it.  What I'm saying is that as a food pizza is versatile, inexpensive to make and really, really good tasting.  To make meal planning easier my family and I decided we would have "nights".  You know Monday Pizza night, Tuesday Burger night, Wednesday International night.  You get the picture.
So last night was out first Pizza night so I decided to do an experiment.  No not a scientific experiment but more of a money saving experiment.  I went to the store and I thought I would buy ready-made pizza dough but they only had wheat and they were $1.19 a piece so I thought I would look for an alternative since I wasn't sure my family would eat wheat pizza.
I headed over the baking aisle to see if they had boxes of pizza dough mix, the kind that you just add water to, but they didn't.  So I thought I would try the tomato aisle -- where the canned sauces are and there they were -- 2 different kinds.  Here is where the experiment comes in:  the small bag of pizza crust mix was $1.19 and makes 1 crust, the Pizza Maker by Chef Boyardee was $3.99 and made 2 crusts plus had the sauce and grated cheese with it.  I also read on the box that the purchase of one of these kits would purchase one meal to help Feeding America, (there is a code number you enter on their website -- easy!) which I saw as an added bonus.
I bought 2 packages of the small crust mix and one box of the Pizza Maker.  If you were going to have cheese pizza alone then of course the Pizza Maker is the way to go -- its complete-- at least pretty much.  If you're using just the pizza crust mix then you have to buy sauce and all the cheese and any toppings separately.  We like lots of stuff on our pizza so I was on my way through the store to get the rest of the ingredients.  First of all pepperoni.... I'm not a pepperoni connoisseur by any means but I saw some that was thick sliced and thought that it would be good.  Not really, since it was thick sliced there weren't as many slices as some of the other packages so it didn't go as far.  Next I was off to the dairy aisle.  We like provolone cheese as well as mozzarella on our pizzas so I got both.  The provolone was already sliced and not cheap but on sale and I think it goes pretty far.  The mozzarella was already shredded and also on sale.
So what was the outcome.....?
The total cost for all the ingredients was $16.76 which works out to $4.19 for a family of 4 with leftovers.  Not a bad deal.


We added more toppings to our pizza like onions and sausage and flavored oil that we already had on hand.  But I don't know of anywhere you can feed a family of 4 with left overs for a little over $15.
So a successful experiment on pizza preparation.  Next week it will be Pizza Bread, another yummy experiment and a different take on the perfect food!

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Favorite Salad

I know that salads can be creative.  I realize that some people like to make a salad out of whatever is in the fridge but I have one favorite salad that I LOVE and can't get enough of.

Its an Italian salad that goes great with almost any Italian dinner but also is great by itself.  Its super simple and absolutely delicious.
Here's the recipe:

Hearts of Romaine lettuce and only romaine lettuce
1 jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 jar of pimentos or roasted red peppers
1/2 small red onion
grated parmesan cheese
and this is the most important part --
Italian dressing.... the dressing I like best comes from an Italian restaurant that I love in St. Louis-- The Pasta House
Co.


Whenever someone visits me Upstate I always ask that they bring me many, many bottles of it.  But if you can't get their dressing then here is the next best thing:
red wine vinegar (which I think is key)
olive oil
and dried Italian seasoning
The proportions are 3 to 1 oil to vinegar and then add the seasoning to taste but be careful because some Italian seasonings can be very strong.
That's it!  My absolute favorite salad!
Although it seems similar to say Olive Garden its so much better!  Simple and good.  Wonder if I can get The Pasta House to send me some bottles of dressing....hmmm.  I sure would hate to run out!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

From My Corner of Saratoga:Insights,Opinions, Tips: Waiting (Impatiently) for Spring

From My Corner of Saratoga:Insights,Opinions, Tips: Waiting (Impatiently) for Spring: "Not sure about most of you but I'm anxious for Spring to come. I'm really tired of seeing snow, shoveling snow and hearing about more ..."

Waiting (Impatiently) for Spring

Not sure about most of you but I'm anxious for Spring to come.  I'm really tired of seeing snow, shoveling snow and hearing about more snow coming.  The main reason that I'm anxious for Spring is that I'm looking forward to starting my new garden in my new yard.  When I lived in the Midwest I started my seeds in February but here in Upstate NY it seems like I have some time to wait.  That's where my secret weapon comes in....

... the Aerogarden, a hydroponic system that comes complete right out of the box with the motor, the grow light and the water reservoir.   You basically take it out of the box, fill it with water and plug it in. The Aeogarden comes in different sizes --6, 7 and the 3 pod shown at the left.  Its great for growing herbs and also for growing lettuces.  They offer pods that allow you to grow not only herbs and lettuces but also tomatoes, peppers and even flowers.
I can only tell you about what I have done with the Aerogarden so far and from personal experience -- I LOVE IT!  I love it so much that I bought 2 of them.

I especially like it for growing herbs.  They grow quickly and the varieties that they offer are wide although not exotic.  With a 6 or 7 pod you can start the  tried and true like Basil (which comes in 6 varieties), Oregano and Parsley and then if you are more adventurous you could try Savory, Sorrell or Chervil by using their customized seed kits.








There really is nothing like cooking with fresh herbs, even if its just some fresh flat leaf parsley thrown in at the end of dish or some fresh basil torn up into a pasta sauce or salad.







 If you'd rather buy a kit that is already packaged and ready to go (no decisions necessary) then you can pick one of their herb seed kits which also come in different varieties like Pesto Basil, Gourmet, Italian herb or even Catnip.  The seed kits come with the pods that will allow you to harvest herbs for up to 5 months and you can start harvesting in about 3 weeks!  This system is simple -- a no-brainer and it even looks nice.  They fit perfectly in my bay window (although I don't have one now I think they will still fit on my window sill) and they are fairly quiet and long lasting.  I did have to replace the motor on one of my units but getting the part was easy.  The website has replacement parts and accessories, cookbooks and other supplies you might need like nutrients and grow lights. Or if you rather you can request a catalog.
Check it out at www.aerogarden.com
I like growing herbs and lettuces in my aerogardens but what I want to try it for is starting seeds.  Since we are going to be starting raised bed gardens I would like to start with transplants, and since these are started in water I think they are going to have a strong root system.
So come one Spring!  I'll be ready with the help of my aerogardens!