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Hen of the Woods Season is Here!

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Our son Doug’s oak tree has again put forth a bounty of Hen of the woods nests.  The first dish I made was a chicken and mushroom ragu with grilled Parmesan polenta.

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THAT was yummy!  My husband trimmed the remaining “feathers” and we are freezing them on cookie sheets.  I read that the hen of the woods in particular freezes well without cooking it first.  I have always cooked them before freezing them so this is an experiment.  If any of you have experience on this point, I’d appreciate knowing how freezing without cooking has worked for you.  If it works out we have a nice supply for the winter.  Tonight: mushroom risotto.

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What to do with Overripe Cucumbers

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So you come home from a few days away and find these waiting in your cucumber patch. Should you throw them on the compost pile or is there something you can do with them?  My Danish friend Lisbeth shared this recipe with me a few years ago and I now share my overripe cucumbers with her so we can both make up a batch of delicious pickles.  First you peel and split the cucumbers lengthwise then scoop out the seeds.  I call this the “dugout canoe step.”

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You then put them in a non-reactive pan, salting each layer generously, and let them sit for 24 hours.  After 24 hours they have generated a lot of moisture.  Rinse each one off with fresh water and let them drain (or pat them dry).

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Next mix up a simple sweet and sour pickling liquid of equal parts sugar and white vinegar and add pickling spice.  For these (about 3 pounds) I used 3 C. sugar to 3 C. vinegar and a tbsp. of pickling spice.  Bring the pickling liquid to a boil and slip in as many pieces as will fit loosely.  When the liquid returns to the boil, remove the pieces and pack them loosely in sterilized jars.

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When all the pieces are in the jars, fill the jars with the remaining pickling liquid and add a sprig of fresh dill to each jar.  How you seal the jars depends on how you plan to keep them.  They keep forever in the refrigerator or you can put them through the canning procedure to seal them for storage at room temperature.

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Five to ten minutes in a boiling water bath ensures a good seal.  If you like a bit of “zing” in your pickles you can add a few more red pepper flakes to the pickling liquid.  The Danes add peeled baby onions to the mix.  After two weeks they are ready to eat.  Pull out a “canoe” and slice it as you wish.  The flavor is like a softer watermelon pickle.  Yum!

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Strategy for the Timely Planting of Peas?

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I have always planted my peas on st. Patrick’s Day (a green activity for a green day) but this year, with three Nor’easters in March, one due tomorrow and yet another forecast for next week, the wisdom of this habit seems ill advised.  Peas are a crop that require cool weather to bear well and usually give up when the hot weather arrives here in Connecticut, usually mid-June.  If I wait too long to get them planted I’ll lose out on this lovely vegetable entirely.  I plant snow peas and we’d certainly miss out on the beautiful healthy stir fry dishes we anticipate for spring.  Well, THAT would be terrible so I’m taking a gamble.  I planted them on St. Patrick’s Day in a snow free spot in the garden, watered them and covered them with a portable cold frame a friend found for me at Costco.  The sun has warmed the soil enough to keep the ground from freezing at night.  It remains to be seen if the little cold frame can withstand the weight of 8 to 12″ of snow/”wintery mix” forecast for tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

These are the Valentines I made for our Grandchildren.  I thought I’d try pop-up cards and had such fun with them.  Julia loves Origami so gave her a butterfly for the cover and made her a flight of doves for the inside.  This gave me some ideas for adding color to the background, etc.

 

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Pete’s Tree: Native Plant Success

 

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This Catbird is one of the several species enjoying the early season fruit from the Pagoda Dogwood

I have championed native plants here previously, especially deer resistant bird friendly ones and I now have another success.  My sister-in-law wanted to do something as a memorial to our son Pete after his death from cancer in 2013 and we decided on a Pagoda Dogwood.  In only three years it has borne a bumper crop of fruit and is covered with birds each morning, especially Gray Catbirds, Northern Mocking Birds, American Robins and Cedar Waxwings.  This tree has early season fruit, a much sought after food source for birds.  We planted it near the bird bath where it would have the moist soil it enjoys.  It has so much going for it; early fruit, deer resistance, spring flowers, fall color and it’s native to this area.  I know Pete is enjoying the bird show.

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Here’s what it looks like in the spring.

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Strawberries!!!

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On Friday my husband and I picked 25+ pounds of strawberries at a local farm.  They were daunting when I got them home.  Of course we wanted jam and I like an old recipe from colonial days.  The New England colonists brought with them Sweet Woodruff, an herb native to Europe, where it was a necessary ingredient in their May wine but they also put it in strawberry jam as a flavor enhancer.  I made 12 jars of Strawberry-Sweet Woodruff jam and 14 jars of Strawberry-Pineapple.

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They’re the reddish ones in the middle

The farm gives out free recipe sheets and there was a recipe for a strawberry/pasta/kale salad which intrigued me but when I tried it we found it underwhelming.  I thought it had promise though so I tried it again, making it a whole meal this time using chicken chunks, quinoa, kale, strawberries and roasted sunflower seeds.  We really enjoyed it.  I used a sweet & sour lemony vinaigrette and garnished it with the zest from the lemon.

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And then there were the other uses:

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On cereal

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Strawberries and cream with a sprinkling of sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strawberries give me a chance to use my beloved old Royal Doulton berry plate that I found at a flea market with my brother. The bowl is perforated on the bottom so the berries don’t get soggy.

I also made a fresh strawberry pie, too sloppy to show you.  It’s been very rainy here and I should have used more cornstarch as it’s more like a thick sauce and spreads all over the plate (but still tasty).

 

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Lady Jane is Always the First to Bloom

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I always summer my Amaryllis bulbs in the garden and rest them for a couple of months in the fall.  I bring them up into the sunlight in late January to have some beauty in the cold days of winter.  I’ve had Lady Jane at least 20 years.  Happy Spring!!  [Click here for a link for full instructions that I posted earlier.]

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Happy Pi Day!!

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In celebration of Pi Day, 3/14, I made this raspberry pie from berries we picked last fall.  Yum!!

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Lemon-Ginger Rhubarb: A Pie for Summer

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In spring strawberry/rhubarb pie is one of my all time favorites but once hot weather sets in, the strawberries have gone by.  I still have lots of rhubarb and decided to make this pie which I’ve adapted from a friend’s recipe.  It requires an oven but I can bake in my toaster oven so it doesn’t heat up the house too much.  The lemon and ginger give it a refreshing flavor, nice with a tall glass of iced tea on a hot afternoon.

Lemon-Ginger Rhubarb Pie

  • Pastry for 2-9″ pie crusts [I use Pillsbury roll outs but don’t tell anyone!]
  • 3 1/2 C diced rhubarb
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. AP flour
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger root (or ginger paste), or to taste
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 425º.  Spread diced rhubarb evenly in a pastry lined 9″ pie pan.  Using a double boiler (or being extremely cautious using a regular saucepan), blend sugar and flour then stir in the remaining ingredients, stirring constantly over low heat until smooth and somewhat thickened.  Pour over the rhubarb and cover with top crust.  I like to make a lattice crust and sprinkle crystallized sugar on it for this one.  Bake 30 minutes.  Protect edges if they brown too soon.

 

 

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Garden Update and a Recipe

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I found this post on my computer just now from about 5 weeks ago, so I’m posting it now.  I apologize for the lateness and promise to try and do better.  Between four trips and getting the garden caught up. I have not been diligent about my postings!

The Sugar Snap peas are ripe and we’ve had our first stir fry of the season.  The first fawn of the year was born in the yard a couple of days ago.  The long cold spring is over and I’m finally finishing up my spring planting and transplanting.  This year I am trying a few grafted tomato plants after hearing a friend rave about them.  I picked tried and true varieties:  Brandywine, Early Girl, Cherokee Purple, Goliath, Big Beef and Delicious.  They were a third the size of the ones I had grown under lights so I found my old “Walls of Water” and used them for the grafted plants.  This worked quite well and they are catching up to the others.

The broccoli raab (true to form) matured quickly, provided us with several meals and is now going to seed, all in less than 8 weeks.  My favorite way to use it is sauteed and used as a pasta sauce with sausage and orecchietti, a dish I learned long ago in Italy.  The customary pasta shape for this dish is the orecchietti (little ears) as the shape cradles the thin sauce so it doesn’t puddle on the plate.  When I made it a couple of days ago I found I had run out of orecchietti and used linguine instead.  To be sure the pasta is flavorful I cook it just short of al dente and added it to the pan with the sausage, raab and sauce (for which I just use a big splash of dry vermouth and a bit of pasta water).  I turned the ingredients over and over until some of the sauce was absorbed and served it with grated Romano cheese.  Delicious!

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Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Linguini

Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Orecchietti (for 2)

  • 1 pound (or less) loose hot Italian sausage (you can also get the links and remove the casings) If the hot is too hot get the sweet and add red pepper flakes to taste.
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • About 4 cups packed broccoli raab (tender stems, tops and leaves)
  • 2 large cloves garlic chopped (or chop up a garlic scape)
  • About 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound orecchietti (or other pasta, something with a cup to catch the sauce preferred but not required)
  • Grated Romano cheese

Bring pasta water to boil, salt it and blanch the raab leaves in it.  Remove the raab as soon as it turns bright green, drain well and chop it coarsely.  Saute sausage in olive oil, breaking it up as it cooks.  If the sausage throws off a lot of fat, drain it before proceeding to the next step. Add garlic, pepper flakes and chopped raab and saute while the pasta cooks (in the same water you used to blanch the raab), adding more oil if needed.  Add vermouth and about 1/4 C. pasta water and stir, turning the sausage & raab in it until the pasta is done.  Drain the pasta, add it to the pan and continue to turn it gently until the sauce is nearly absorbed, adding salt & pepper to taste.  Grate on Romano cheese generously and mix it in.

Serve with additional Romano.

Added Note:  A reader named Judy asked for information about “Walls of Water.”  I answered in the comments and add a photo below.

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“Walls of Water” around a tomato seedling. In back you can see the kale from last year going to seed. I let it go for the bees.  They love it and there isn’t a lot around for them at this time of year.  The plants between the tomatoes are volunteer potatoes.  I never know where they’ll turn up!

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