Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dinner of the Week: Easter Ham, Rosemary Twice-Baked Potatoes, and Orange Glazed String Beans

We had a quiet Easter this year, with just the two of us.  Due to that, we decided to be a little adventurous with dinner by winging it.  We had a small ham, russet potatoes, and string beans on hand, so we made up the recipes for the main course and the side dishes as we went along.  It turned out fantastic, and we had a lot of fun, too!

Easter Ham, Rosemary Twice-Baked Potatoes, and Orange Glazed String Beans
Courtesy of Kirsten and Evan

Ingredients for Easter Ham:
- 1 small ham, pre-cooked
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1/2 cup apricot preserves
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup dijon mustard
- 1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. chili powder
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. cumin

Ingredients for Twice-Baked Potatoes:
- 4 medium-sized russet potatoes
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup fat free sour cream
- 1/2 stick butter or margarine
- 3 tbs. crushed rosemary
- 2 tbs. garlic powder
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Olive oil

Ingredients for Orange Glazed String Beans:
- 1/2 lbs. string beans
- 1 ripe orange
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 1/3 cup Italian dressing
- Freshly ground pepper

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Take the ham out of the refrigerator, remove the wrapping, and use a knife to make crisscrossing slits into it.  Let the ham rest on the counter to bring it to room temperature.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the apricot preserves, applesauce, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, cinnamon, smoked paprika, nutmeg, and cumin. Blend until smooth.

Instead of pouring water at the bottom of the casserole dish or roasting pan, trying using fresh orange juice instead!

Then baste the ham and pop it into the oven, uncovered.

Meanwhile, wash and scrub the potatoes.  Pierce them all over with a fork.

Spritz olive oil over each potato, then douse them with freshly ground pepper and Kosher salt.  Add more olive oil if the salt doesn't stick.

Set the potatoes on a microwaveable plate and cook them on high for 15 minutes.  Once done, let them cool for a few minutes before handling.

Place the potatoes on a large cutting board and slice them in half lengthwise.

Then, carefully remove the potato from the skins, and place it in a bowl.  It's all right if you tear the skins a bit, but try not to ruin them entirely.

In a large mixing bowl, add the sour cream, mozzarella cheese, butter, rosemary, and garlic powder.  

Blend well with either a Kitchenaid or a hand mixer.  Add more sour cream or skim milk if the mashed potatoes are a bit chunky.  You may also add salt and pepper to taste.  The mashed potatoes are done when they're light and fluffy.

Carefully scoop the mashed potatoes back into the skins.  The potatoes will help hold any of the skins that were torn from before.  

Dab each potato with a blot of butter, and place all of them into a greased casserole dish.  Bake them in the oven along with the ham for approximately 15-20 minutes.

While you're at it, baste the ham again and cover it with aluminum foil so the crust won't burn.  Put it back into the oven.

Wash and pat dry the string beans.  Clean them up by either snapping or slicing off the ends.

Also, peel the orange and take it apart by individual slices.

Heat a large skillet on the stove over medium heat.  Add the string beans, orange slices, Italian dressing, orange juice, and ground pepper.

Once the orange juice and Italian dressing begins to bubble, reduce the heat to low and cover.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for approximately 10-15 minutes.

By the time the string beans are ready, the ham should be finished, too.  Remove it from the oven and baste it one more time.  Let it rest on a large cutting board for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, open the oven door and set it on broil so that the tops of the twice-baked potatoes can become crispy.

Carve the ham into slices.

Once done, remove the twice-baked potatoes from the oven, and you're ready to eat!


This ham was perfectly juicy and had a great flavor to it.  You can definitely taste the sugary-sweetness of the brown sugar, apricot preserves, and orange juice, while getting a bit of a kick from the smoked paprika and chili powder.

These string beans, too, were amazing.  The combination of the Italian dressing and orange juice created a nice glaze over them.  The fresh orange slices dissolved well into the string beans, creating an interesting flavor and texture.

I don't have to rave about these twice-baked potatoes.  Let's just say that they disappeared fast.

Even though this meal was prepared for Easter, I can definitely see it as a nice weekend dinner, as well!  It took about an hour to cook and was well worth the preparation and cleanup.  We'll definitely be making this again!

Hope you'll give it a try, too!

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Veggie Garden, Part I: Planting Seedlings

I've never had a veggie garden before.  I've never even seen one in person.  So when Evan and I decided to build raised flagstone garden beds a few weeks ago, I became nervous that we were biting off a whole lot more than we could chew.

But that's how you learn, right?  Let's hope!

All of the sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, and a few herbs that we had picked out need to be started indoors.  To do this, I bought a good handful of Burpee seed starter cartons.  These ones are pretty neat because they're biodegradable.  Therefore, when it comes around to planting the seedlings in the garden beds, I can cut these cartons apart and plant them directly in the soil.  

To get started, I filled up each carton halfway with vegetable garden soil.

I placed the seeds into each cell, and then covered them with more soil. 

One down, several more to go!  I made sure to only plant one type of vegetable into each carton so that I can remember what they are later.

Once all of the seeds were planted, I watered them well and scoured the house to see where I could find a place for these puppies.

Thankfully, we have a lot of deep window sills in our house.  Every window has one or more of these cartons in it.  Pretty sure any visitors are going to think I'm a weirdo.

Since I'm a newbie at this, I can't help but worry that I'm over-watering these guys, or didn't use the right type of soil, or placed too many seeds into each carton.  Fingers crossed that everything goes well!

Can't wait for the spring!  More progress photos will follow.  :)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Raised Flagstone Vegetable Garden Beds

We have a perfect spot in our side yard for raised garden beds -- this area receives full sun throughout the day and in comparison with the rest of our downward-sloping yard, it is the most level.  The only downside to this spot is that it is visible from the road.  I debated building raised garden beds out of cedar or another durable wood, but worried that they wouldn't have the best curb appeal.  

That's when we realized, why not make them out of stone?  Sure, they'd be more expensive than garden beds made out of wood frames, but these would last a lifetime.

Therefore, we visited Lowe's and bought two pallet's worth of flagstones.  Three hundred and eighty four stones, to be exact.  We have a lot of red brick accents around the yard, so we chose these stones to coordinate with the rest.

These stones are 1' long and 4" tall.  Our plans were to build two raised garden beds, each approximately 10' long and 4' wide and layered with six rows of stones.

To begin, Evan and I decided where we wanted to position each garden bed in the side yard, and placed down the stones in a rectangle.

We used a right angle ruler to help us make sure our corners were square.

Once everything was set, we hammered a few scrap pieces of wood in place so once it came down to digging, we'd know where all four corners were located.

There is a slight downward slope in our side yard, so we used a long piece of scrap wood and a level to determine how many inches we'd need to dig to make the garden bed completely level.

With one row of stones on one side and two on the other, only a few inches of dirt needed to be removed from the higher 10' side of the bed to make it level.  Seeing the stones lopsided like this was a complete optical illusion at first.

Then, we dug a gradual descent on each of the 4' sides of the garden bed to ensure that the whole bed will be level.  As we dug, we moved the level down the trench to make sure that we were digging up the correct amount.

Once the first row was in place and everything was level, then it was time to stack the stones!

No mortar was necessary for these flagstones.  They were simply dry-stacked on top of one another, and we made sure to alternate the stones for each layer in a brick-like fashion to increase the wall's stability.

Once all of the stones were in place, we draped each garden bed with landscaping fabric.  I wanted to make sure no pesky weeds were going to emerge.

To fill each garden bed, we used a mixture of peat moss, peat humus, fertilizer, and vegetable garden soil.  We opted to buy it all in bags so we wouldn't have to break our backs shoveling several yards' worth of soil from our truck bed.  Let's just say it was a lot of bags.

Filling up these beds was the fun part.  Once we got near the top, I trimmed the excess landscaping fabric, and then covered the rest with a few more bags of soil.

And there you go!  Two raised vegetable garden beds, made out of stone.

I am impressed by how strong these garden beds are.  They are completely rock solid.

We may be a little overeager for first-time veggie gardeners, but we're going to try growing zucchini, squash, string beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots, corn, herbs, and (just for me) a slew of hot peppers in both of these garden beds.

We'll begin growing our veggies indoors within the next few weeks, and I can't wait to transplant them into these garden beds in the spring!  More pictures will follow to document our process.

Building these two beds was definitely a full weekend project, but we couldn't be any happier with the results.  They look even more beautiful from the road and, if anything, they boost our curb appeal.  

What do you think?

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