What’s Blooming Now

We’re getting back into loads of flowers in the garden so I thought I’d give you a few shots of what’s blooming now in my little world.

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I love my hellebores.  They’re really getting their feet in this year.  I’ve ordered a few online, I’ve taken some from the gardens of friends and family, and I’ve even gotten some from the grocery store.  They’re so amazing and so hardy.  And those leathery leaves are evergreen in many zones too.

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Narcissi are just getting going.

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And sweet little scilla blooming away.  I also have these scattered throughout the lawn but in those locations they’re  just starting to pop their heads up.  This patch is tucked in a warm little corner and are much further along than their brethren.

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And a white peach that just went in the ground is blooming away.  Obviously very early because it was in a pot, but still beautiful.

And the flowers below are just about done blooming.  It’s hard to believe some blossoms have already had their moment in the sun and now we’ll have to wait an entire year to see them again!  Spring is so fleeting…

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I confess my children and the dogs hastened the end of the crocus.  What the dogs didn’t trample, the boys picked for me.  Cute but very frustrating.

IMG_6663I only had a handful of eranthis that returned this year.  I’m wondering if all the salt applied to the driveway was toxic for them.  Probably.

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Ahh, snowdrops…

So what’s growing in your garden?  Let me know!  There’s always room for one more plant…

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Short Ribs in Red Wine

Short Ribs in Red Wine

My newest food love is Short Ribs in Red Wine!  I know, it’s not like a version of it is not on most restaurant menus, and it’s not like they haven’t been staring up at me from my grocery store for ages but for some reason I just never tried them.  I’m shocked it took me this long.

Generally, I love anything that you can pop in the oven and walkaway from for a bit (roast chicken, pot roast, beef stew etc.) and my recent revelation is that short ribs are in that category.  You can quickly brown them, throw in a few veggies, top with something alcoholic or acidic – and away you go.  It also makes the house smell amazing!  I serve it with the same wine I cook it in – Beaujolais, but it holds it’s own with bigger wines too.  Serve it with a loaf of French bread and an amazing little salad on the side.  Yum! (And don’t forget the cheese course too!)

Short Ribs in Red Wine

Short Ribs in Red Wine

Ingredients

  • 5 or 6 lbs short ribs (will feed 4 people with leftovers)
  • butter & or olive oil (I use both)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 or 3 medium garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/4lb pancetta or bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 tspn dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves (Mine are fresh from a tree I have, but I don't think it makes any difference if they're fresh or dried)
  • red wine (I use beaujolais, just make sure you would drink it. Don't use junk.)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • .

Directions

Preheat your oven to 325…
Melt your butter and/or heat your oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan, over a medium flame. (I use both the oil and butter with the theory that butter helps to brown the meat.) Brown your short ribs in batches until they have a nice, brown crust on the exterior. Set them aside and drain any fat that may have accumulated in the bottom of the pan.
Start sautéing your pancetta or bacon until it's a bit crisp. Remove from the pan so the pieces don't burn but leave the fat behind.
Add your carrots, onion, celery and bay leaf to the pan. After a couple minutes toss the garlic in as well. Stir them all around a bit until they're cooked a bit. Browning is ok. Burning is bad.
Add the ribs and bacon back into the pan. Add the thyme and a bit of salt. Cover the contents with red wine (once again I use beaujolais that I've saved - it's rarely a fresh bottle). Put a tight fitting lid on the pan and place in your pre-heated oven. Let it cook away for at least 3 hours, I usually head more towards the 4 range. Check occasionally to see if you need to add a bit of water.
When everything is nice and tender, remove the pot from the oven. You have two options at this point in regard to your cooking liquid. You can remove all of the meat and vegetables from the pot and skim fat from the liquid, or you can skip it and just dive in. The choice is yours. Oh, and if you make it a day ahead, you can chill it and remove any fat since it will solidify.

Short Ribs in Red Wine

The days are warming up and the odds are I’ll only make this once or twice again this season, but it will definitely be in my rotation for years to come.

Thanks for reading EG!  Enjoy the recipe!

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Homemade Tomato Soup

Homemade Tomato Soup

My Homemade Tomato Soup is a recipe my Mother used to make for us as children (so minor technicality – it’s her recipe – hi Mom!).  Now I make it for my kids and they absolutely love it.  It’s simple, and there isn’t a thing in there you wouldn’t want them to have.  I use home canned tomatoes, but you can use a high quality, store bought one as well.

Homemade Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 Jar Home Canned Tomatoes
  • 1/4 Tspn Baking Soda
  • Pinch Sugar ((optional))
  • Dried Celery Leaves
  • Cream or Whole Milk

Directions

Empty your jar of tomatoes into a medium saucepan and place on a lowish heat.
Bring to a simmer and stir in your baking soda. It will foam up - keep stirring. You're neutralizing the acid.
Add the crushed celery leaf, cream or milk and the pinch of sugar if you're using it. Stir and never let it boil. That's it. Simple and amazing.

And don’t add salt.  There will be plenty from the baking soda.

About a 1/4 tspn of baking soda for theHomemade Tomato Soup

Canned tomatoes for Homemade Tomato Soup

Sometimes simple, easy food is just what you need and this soup doesn’t disappoint.  Thanks for reading EG!

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Seed Starting

So better late than never, I finally started some seeds today!  Hurrah!

Seed StartingUsually I don’t start too much at home since I love to comb through garden centers when the season hits, but there are some things they just won’t have and that I have to start on my own.

Seed Starting

I’m not a great recycler, but I do save cell packs from the prior year and re-use them.

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If you try this, make sure to give them a dip in a water/bleach solution.  A small splash will be all you need.  This will kill all the little critters who still might be hanging around from last year.  They could wreak havoc on your little seedlings otherwise.

Seed StartingI use an organic seed starting mix.  It’s fluffy – that’s a technical term, and sterile…  and I love reflecting on how easy it is for us today to garden at home.  My Grandmother used to take soil from the garden, sterilize it in her wood fired oven (apparently it made the house smell horrible) and then add additional ingredients to get the texture and drainage she wanted.  All I have to do is go to the local store.

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So what did I actually start?  Three tomatoes, one I bought, one I was given (a small currant type) and one I found growing in a pot of canna’s that were given to me.  It was so crazy sweet I had to save it.  I also planted some piracicaba broccoli  - it’s cut and come again which is a huge bonus, savoy cabbage, a couple types of kale – one edible and one ornamental, Carmencita castor beans (ornamental and destined for some very large pots with the ornamental kale) and a few perennial flowers for the borders that I need in mass quantities.  And that’s just about it.  I’m trying a couple other things, but they’re fairly common and I’m experimenting more with tweaking my seasons – trying to achieve a longer growth period on both sides of the calendar.

And I’d love to hear what you’ve planted so far?  Anything new and exciting?  I know many of you are south of my zone 6a, jealous!

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Transplanting Forced Bulbs to the Garden

Maybe you’ve been given a pot of hyacinths for a gift, or maybe you just couldn’t resist purchasing those tulips or muscari at the greenhouse, after all it’s been a horrible winter and we’ve all needed an early bit of spring.  But now that they have finished blooming – what do you do with them?  Transplant them to the garden of course!

Transplanting Forced Bulbs to the Garden

Hyacinth

I take a scissor or my secateurs and snip the dead flowers off (same thing you do when they’ve finished flowering in the garden).  If the ground is too damp or just generally unworkable, I stick the entire pot outside to let them harden off a bit and also for the stronger sun.  Indoor light is weak at best.

Transplanting Forced Bulbs to the Garden

Tulips

When the ground is ready, dig the hole (maybe a bit deeper than the soil level they’ve been planted at – the rule of thumb is plant two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall), sprinkle a little 5-5-5 fertilizer and a little compost in the general vicinity, work it onto the loose soil too, pop the bulgy root mass out, plop it in the prepared spot and backfill – that’s it.  Be cautious not to snap stems or leaves – they still need to photosynthasize as long as possible to build up energy for next year, but most bulbs are quite resilient and will produce displays again and again.  The only caveat to that statement would be tulips.  I always replant mine and I’ll usually have flowers the next year, but after that they’re pretty much done. Occasionally you’ll have some that will last, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Transplanting Forced Bulbs to the Garden

Transplanting Forced Bulbs to the Garden

I’ve planted out hyacinths, tulips, muscari, Easter lilies, lily-of-the-valley pips, reticulated iris and this year I’ll be planting out allium I forced.  It’s always fun to keep trying new things!

Get out there and start gardening!  And thanks as always for reading EG!

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Cod in White Wine

This recipe, Cod in White Wine, came together with extra cod that wasn’t used in fish fingers the evening before.  I should admit I took inspiration from this months Saveur magazine.  I swapped the fish, reduced the butter, nixed the shrimp & mushrooms, added more wine and generally tweaked it.  Next time around I’ll probably throw in some tomato and onion to punch up the sauce even more.  (I should put the fish finger recipe up one day too- one of my children loves fish and the other not so much, but they both hoover it.  I think if you add the word ‘finger’ to any children’s food they’ll eat it with gusto!).

Cod in White Wine

Cod in White Wine

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. cod (per person)
  • 12 little neck clams (per person)
  • 1/2 lb. mussels (per person)
  • 4 tbspns butter
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup parsly (chopped)
  • S&P (to taste)
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Directions

In a decent sized cast iron pan, melt about half your butter and sauté the bread crumbs until they turn golden. Transfer them to a small bowl and set aside.
Melt the rest of your butter in the same pan and slide in your cod. Flip when it's cooked about halfway through. When it's finished cooking, and this will depend on the thickness of your fish, transfer to a large platter and set in a warm oven.
Turn the heat up a bit on your pan and add the littleneck clams. I start them first since they take a bit longer than the mussels. Pour in the wine and let them cook for a couple minutes and when you add the mussels, cover the pan. Keep peeking and when everyone is popped open and that translucent quality is gone, they're done. Take them off the fire and pour them, juice and all, over the warm fish.
Mix your chopped parsley with your bread crumbs and sprinkle with abandon over the platter. Serve to applause.

Mussels in Cod with White Wine

Clams in Cod with White WineDon’t let buying shell fish freak you out.  Make sure all the critters are closed tight.  If you’re not certain they’re alive, tap the animal inside the shell with a fork or knife, if it closes they’re alive, if not – toss it.  Also, cleaning them – clams tend to be gritty even if the shells look really clean.  Give them a scrub just to get any residual grit off.  Farm raised mussels are almost perfect.  Just rinse them.  If you’re using wild mussels have fun scraping the beards and the barnacles (and I hope you got them from someplace where the water is clean and free of red tide). They’re delicious but a whole lot of work.

And on a gardening note, I was able to use parsley from a container I overwintered indoors.  Great experiment and fun to be able to use your own produce this early in the season.

Enjoy and thanks for reading EG!

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Basic Risotto

My husband is obsessed with risotto.  The spark for his passion was kindled with a mushroom risotto at a restaurant in Venice, Italy called Da Fiore.  If he could have licked the plate that first night he would have.  All of their food is swoon worthy and we’ve been back several times over the years.

Stirring basic risotto

One of my favorite restaurant/cooking experiences happened at Da Fiore as well.  Mara, owner and chef extraordinaire, let me into her kitchen to watch as she prepared a plate of mushroom risotto.  There was no cheating here – she didn’t pull out rice that had been cooked prior to serving, it was all scratch.   This is why their food is so amazing.

So what did I glean from this event?  Don’t tamper with the method!  I know everyone dreads risotto because of the standing and stirring, but there is a reason that it’s been done this way for centuries and it does work (I like to have my glass of wine handy while I stir).

The theory is that the constant scuffing against each other slowly releases the starch into the liquid, creating it’s own sauce.  Also, pick the correct type of rice (arborio is easiest to find but I like bomba which is used in paella as well), and use lightly salted stock that’s (hopefully) homemade and already simmering on the stovetop.  I use vegetable stock made from kitchen scraps, but you can do a fish stock or chicken too.  The reason this part is so crucial is that you’re concentrating the flavors of that stock in the rice through evaporation – so it better be good.  And don’t forget to use good wine for that first liquid addition.  If you wouldn’t want to drink it – why would you cook with it?

Basic Risotto

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Arborio or Bomba rice
  • At least 5 cups Stock (Vegetable, fish, chicken)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • dash olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
  • 1 glassful white wine (and more to refill your glass)

Directions

In a large, flat bottomed pan melt your butter and add your glug of olive oil on a medium flame.
Add your rice and toast away for a minute or two.
Add the glass of white wine and start stirring your rice. Stir until it's absorbed and then start adding a ladle full of stock. Allow each ladle full to absorb before you add the next. Add until there's just a bit of toothiness left in the rice.
Turn the flame off and add your cheese. That's it. You'll be stirring for about 20 minutes. Not bad really.

Remember this is the base.  You can add virtually anything to risotto.  I generally do vegetarian additions such as mushrooms, peas & asparagus or tomato but I’ve also been branching in to shrimp.  It’s all great and generally fast.

Basic Risotto Prep

My tips to streamline your process is to do the prep ahead of time.  Have your stock already warmed and ready to go.  Have the ladle ready.  Grate your cheese and have it waiting on the side.  If you’re adding vegetables have them chopped and ready to go.  Set the table and light the candle.  It makes dinner so much easier and the process of standing and stirring enjoyable.

I hope you try this recipe and add it to your dinner rotation.  Thanks as always for reading EG!  Happy weekend!

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Coldframes

Coldframe

I just completed one of my Spring ‘to-do’ list items – building a small cold frame. I had been planning on assembling one from wood and old windows or doors, but I realized that it would be way too heavy to move once the cooler months have passed, and it would take up valuable veggie garden space if I left it in place, so off to Home Depot I went (actually I sat on my couch and surfed the internet, but that’s just between us, ok?).  The model I found is lightweight and will break down for easy summer storage.

I’ve said before that I am not a person who should be using power tools – and this was mercifully free of their need.  This was more like assembling one of my son’s Lego’s.  I followed instructions and everything just snapped together.  It’s not the sturdiest thing I’ve ever seen, but it will serve it’s purpose – initially housing salad greens and a few early flowers that I never seem to get a jump on before the scorching summer temps hit.

Coldframe assembly underway

Coldframe assembly underway

Coldframe assembly underway

The general purpose of cold frames is like a greenhouse – creating a micro climate where non-cold hardy plants will thrive.  My general goal is to extend my growing season into late winter/early spring and late fall/early winter.  I still need to sink the walls into the soil a bit and then angle it for the best sun exposure (south face).  The soil needs to dry out a bit more, but I’m planning on starting some spinach, claytonia and arugala this weekend.  As we approach April I’ll pop in some radishes and see how they fare.  Come fall, I’m planning on trying carrots, mache and a final planting of swiss chard.  I’ll definitely need to experiment with what veggies can take the cold, but it’s going to be a fun experiment!

Have any of you built your own cold frames?  Or even Greenhouses? I’d love to hear how they worked for you and what vegetables you had success with.  My ultimate dream would be an attached greenhouse with a dirt floor.  How cool would that be!

Happy Gardening everyone!

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Homemade Croutons

This goes down as one of my most trivial posts, but I had an epiphany the other day – homemade croutons…  I always buy loaves of French bread and invariably they are stale since we never finish them in time.  Sick of throwing the bread out for the deer (though I think it sustained them through this winter), I decided to try croutons since it seemed so easy and everyone RAVES about homemade.

Homemade Croutons

Well they were right!  Wow they’re good, and crazy easy to make.

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First pre-heat your  oven to 325.  Then cube your bread (if the loaf is as hard as a hockey puck, do as I do, and give it to the deer).  Make the pieces bite size so they’re easy to munch.

Spices for Homemade CroutonsIn a large bowl add a tablespoon of salt, oregano and garlic, then pour olive oil in to make a liquidy paste.  Throw the cubed bread in and swirl them around in the oil mix until coated (clean hands are the easiest way).  Put them all on a cookie sheet and bake for about a half an hour or until they’re golden brown.

Homemade Croutons

Allow them to cool and they’re ready for your salads.  I have no clue how long they’ll last since each time I’ve made them they’re inhaled in a day.  My guess would be a week.

Hope you enjoy them too!

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Spring is Finally Here!

Spring Daffodils

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Sensitive Plant”

Happy Spring Everyone!  It had to get here at some point!

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