The Holiday Season is upon us, full of traditions and rich in history, including our plant of the week, “Flores de Noche Buena”, or commonly known as the Poinsettia. This large growing perennial flowering shrub is native to Mexico, and may have remained a regional plant, had it not been for the efforts of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico.
While in Mexico, Poinsett, who was also a botanist, became enchanted by the brilliant red leafed plants he saw during the short days of winter, and sent some back to his home in South Carolina, where he began propagating the plants and sending them to his friends. One thing led to another, and well, thanks to nurseryman Robert Buist, who began selling them right around the holiday season, the Poinsettia became a holiday tradition. And, by an Act of Congress, December 12 was set aside as National Poinsettia Day!
Through the years, plant breeders have taken the traditional red poinsettia, and have developed many different colors to chose, including so many different shades of pinks and reds, marbled, spotted, plum, white, which by the way, through all the plant breeding, there are still no perfect white poinsettias (they’re actually an off white or cream color) but getting very close.
Poinsettias are a day light sensitive plant, meaning that as the days get shorter, their foliage reacts by turning colors. These are called bracts. The actual flower of the poinsettia is in the center of the colorful bracts.
So, what about the folklore that says Poinsettias are deathly poisonous to humans? It’s simply not true, according to research done at The Ohio State University. Yes, the milky sap could cause minor skin irritation, and a very high consumption of these bitter tasting leaves could cause sore throats, and upset stomachs, but that’s it. And again, they are very bitter in taste, and it would take a lot of leaf eating to cause any ‘minor’ problems.
As for their toxicity to cats and dogs, the ASPCA has the following to say:
Toxicity: Toxic to Dogs, Toxic to Cats Toxic
Principles: Irritant Sap (latex)
Clinical Signs: Irritating to the mouth and stomach, sometimes causing vomiting, but generally over-rated in toxicity. If your pet ingested this plant, contact your local veterinarian.
HONEY ROASTED BEER NUTS
2 cups whole almonds, skin left on and toasted ***
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons ea: honey and water 2 teaspoons Canola oil
Mix sugar and salt and set aside. Stir together honey, water and oil in large nonstick skillet or pan and bring to a boil. Immediately stir in nuts and continue to cook and stir until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle sugar mixture over and toss until evenly coated. Pour out onto sprayed cookie sheet. When cool, break up and store airtight at room temperature up to a month.
**To toast nuts: Pour in single layer on cookie sheet. Roast at 350 until fragrant, about 8-12 minutes. Stir from the outside edge into the center a couple of times.
STICKS 15 oz bag of pretzel sticks 1 tablespoon lemon pepper One half a package of dry Ranch dressing mix (the kind you mix with milk and mayo, not the original kind that uses buttermilk) or more to taste 6 oz buttery popcorn oil (I use Orville Redenbacher)
Put the pretzel sticks in a big bowl. Whisk together the lemon pepper, dressing mix and oil – it won’t all dissolve. Pour over sticks and mix well. I used my hands. Let sit 10 minutes. Mix again. Let sit 5 minutes. Mix again. Let sit 5 minutes. Mix again. Pour into a big baggie – you may have a bit of dressing left in the bowl. Leave the bag open a couple of hours, then seal. As the pretzels sit, they will absorb the dressing. Makes about a gallon.
WHITE CHOCOLATE ORANGE SAUCE
2/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
3 tablespoons sugar
6 oz white chocolate, chopped into small pieces (or 3/4 cup white chocolate morsels)
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
Place cream in saucepan. Add butter and sugar and cook on low until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Add chocolate and stir over low until chocolate melts. Stir in liqueur. Store covered in frig.
FIRE & ICE PICKLES
1 quart wavy sliced generic dills, drained (I like Krogers) 2 cups sugar 1/4 teaspoon or more hot red pepper flakes or 1-2 jalapenos, minced 1 garlic clove, smashed
Make a layer of pickles in a large bowl. Sprinkle some sugar over. Keep making layers of pickles and sugar. Sprinkle pepper and garlic on top of the last layer. Stir pickles gently. Let sit at room temperature until sugar dissolves – this can take several hours. Remove garlic clove. Pour into jars with syrup that has formed and store in refrigerator.
2 pounds pork tenderloin, or 2 one pound tenderloins 2-3 teaspoons minced garlic Herbs de Provence (about 1 generous teaspoon for each 1 pound tenderloin) Olive oil Several parsley sprigs, minced (opt) Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Trim tenderloins and set aside. Preheat oven to 425. Mix garlic, herbs and enough olive oil together to make a paste. Stir in parsley.
Rub this paste all over tenderloins, and if you have any left, make tiny slits in tenderloin and insert rest of paste in there. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes or until internal temperature reads 160. Don’t overcook.
RITA’S HERBES DE PROVENCE
(Good with lamb, grains, tomatoes, pork, beef and in seafood recipes) Blend together and store in cool, dry place away from light: 1/4 cup dried thyme leaves, not powdered 2 tablespoons dried marjoram or 1 tablespoon oregano 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, minced 1 tablespoon dried savory leaves, not powdered savory 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers or leaves 1 teaspoon fennel seeds 1 dried bay leaf, crumbled
Photo of Boursin Cheese Spread made into a Belgian Endive Water Lily Appetizer
I was at the grocery the other day and checked out the price of Boursin cheese spread. It was too expensive for my budget, so I decided to check my files for a clone that a reader had shared with me. The homemade version turned out so well that I wanted to “spread the joy” with you. This is the same recipe I shared with Ron Wilson on his radio show.
HOMEMADE BOURSIN CHEESE SPREAD
Whip together in mixer or food processor:
1 clove garlic, minced fine
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon each: dried oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, dill leaves, black pepper
Delicious with fresh vegetables, toasted French bread or crackers. Or make the beautiful Endive Water Lily shown above!
You'll need 3-4 heads Belgian endive. Wash endive and dry very well. Separate endive leaves by cutting root end off. Place herb cheese on round platter. Shape into slightly mounded disk. Insert largest leaves on bottom of mound, working your way around in a circle. The next layer use smaller leaves, inserting them so that petals begin to form. Keep inserting leaves until you get to the top of the mound. Garnish with edible flowers such as pansies, violas, violets, carnations, fushias, mums, roses, day lilies, impatiens, petunias, etc. Or just sprinkle minced parsley or whatever fresh herb you have, minced, on top.
Even easier: Mix 2 cartons purchased herb spread, such as Boursin or Rondale with 1/2 stick butter, 8 oz cream cheese and a handful of fresh chopped parsley. If you like, add a squeeze of lemon juice as well.
BEST DO AHEAD GRAVY FOR THANKSGIVING
Nell’s Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing / Vegetable Dip
In a large bowl, combine the following ingredients:
2 Cups Hellman’s Mayonnaise
½ Cup Sour Cream
¼ Cup White Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic (Heaping)
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 – 1 ½ Cup of Blue Cheese Crumbles
Hand stir to blend ingredients / eat right away, but better after 24 hours!