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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Garden Tour

Spring has officially sprung.  I love the flowers, the scents, the warm temperatures.  Finding time to work in the yard plus put my 70-80 hours of work in a week is a challenge.  But, even if it's for 15 minutes of an evening, I love digging in the soil.  Many days ago we planted peas, snow peas, three kinds of radishes, spinach, swiss chard and lettuce.  We've got lots more seeds to go in.  And, I'll buy eggplant, tomato and pepper plants when the temperatures are appropriate.  Now, we're enjoying the first taste of spring in the yard. 

When I moved, I dug up 500 starts of various and sundry plants.  Many of those are now at the point that they're ready to be divided.  The first thing we did when we moved into this house was outline garden beds.  Then, the grass was killed and the ground tilled.  We had 20 yards of compost tilled in.  That was followed by dividing and planting the 500 starts.  Over the years, I've added a few plants but mostly I've just added a few bushes.  Like the sensation lilacs and the hydrangea. 

When I get home from the office, we grab a glass of wine and go visit the yard.  We follow the same path almost every evening.  Once in a while, we take the camera along so we've got a reminder of how everything changes.  So, please come along with us.

First stop, the hosta bed.  All of these hosta came from starts from my old yard. 

You can barely see them now but the ones on the north side (top of the photo) get HUGE thanks to their basic size and the light they receive.  They came from a friend's house about 18 years ago.  Talk about scent - holy cow, are they incredible when they bloom.  They totally need to be divided. 

There's a spot down on the south side of the yard under a big old tree that'll get some of those.  The smaller ones will get divided and fill in this bed and a bed under a crabapple in the front yard.  Up at the front of the bed, I've got some Virginia blue bells,

lilies of the valley, some woodland iris and some wild ginger.  I always forget the ginger's there and it's a lovely surprise in the spring!  There are a few ferns in here but not much will grow here thanks to the two fat orange boys (aka Mo and TC the cats) using this area as their private latrine.  That's why the bed is fenced off - keeps Annie from enjoying cat hors d'oeuvres! 

The bed by the fence.  This is a pretty new bed so it's still finding it's way.  It gets part sun and part shade.  I've scattered in a lot of anemone bulbs and they're just now starting to peek out.  For anyone who doesn't believe that purple and yellow go together, here's proof:

There are astilbe, hosta, solomon's seal and hellebores in addition to the hollies in the corner.  The color of the solomon's seal is amazing.  We'll divide this soon.

Rhubarb and spillover garden.  The rhubarb came from a neighbor around 1994.  It's now been divided twice since it's been here. 

I think I'll take a couple of starts this spring and put one in the herb garden and one in the cottage garden along the neighborhood street.  Kind of interesting - we've got a relatively busy thoroughfare south of us, the main street for the neighborhood west of us and the cul de sac north of us.  Yet, it feels very private thanks to our fence and the wooded area to the east.

South wall.  Reblooming yellow iris.  These have been divided umpteen times. 

Yucca.  I can't remember when I got this but it's now triplets :-)  

Red hot pokers.  I divided the one I had at the old house and put in three little starts.  Now, I've got three giant plants that are ready to divide.  A beautiful bee balm.  Hostas and daylilies under this crabapple.  See Annie helping?

See how that's filled out in just a couple of weeks?  Annie's helping again :-)

 I'd carefully put the pots with yellow etc daylilies in one area and the pink etc ones in another.  Then, the guys who helped me move all the plants just kind of picked them up from wherever.  I couldn't wait for them all to bloom to get them in the right places so they're a jumble now.  Probably not the best garden planning but I've grown to really like it. 

Vegetable beds.  I'd love to have pretty ones like my friend Donna's hubby Phil built but these are perfectly servicable.  And, Connie's a wonderful gardener so we wind up with great veggies! 
The strawberry plants are looking great

See the asparagus just starting to pop up?

And, this will be peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach and chard.

They're getting really big!

Back fence.  Golden raspberries.  The best raspberries ever.  This year we've added three trellis' to extend the raspberries into the yard a bit. 

In the corner is what was going to be a moon garden.  I wanted all white plants that'd look great under a full moon but it didn't work out that way.  We dug it out a bit and built two steps down then planted wisteria on the trellis.  This is our favorite spot to sit and enjoy a fire on a cool evening.

Cottage garden.  Here we've got a persimmon tree and a sour cherry tree.  I'd love to lose the two big white pines on the south and put in several more fruit trees but that's not in the budget right now!  So, I chose my two favorites and put them in here.  These beds are a total mish mash.  We've got yarrow, peonies, tomatillos, red-veined sorrel, cactus, zinnias, marigolds, bachelor's buttons, daylilies, garlic, tomatoes, hollyhocks, daisies and probably a dozen more perennials and annuals.  The big bed under this crabapple tree was just laid last year.  Lots of layers of newspaper and mulch on top of the grass.  This year it was easy to plant.  We've divided hosta and daylilies thus far.  And, I've put in several packets of annuals like bachelor's buttons and poppies. 

South side of the fence.  Someday this will be a mass of daffodils. 

We'll keep dividing and adding.  I know I'm supposed to wait til fall but I can't ever find the bulbs in the fall so I'll probably divide a dozen clumps of daffodils and add 100 to this area this year.  The flags are all there so we can dig out a channel to the ditch that runs under the street.  This area is swampy so channeling the water away should lessen the mosquito danger.

Front of the house.  This bed gets mostly shade - even though it doesn't look it from the photo.  It's got columbine, meadow rue, bleeding hearts, heuchera and some boxwoods.

Front of the garage.  Wasteland.  It gets really mucky from all the rainwater draining into this bed.  The roses weren't amused so they're moving. I think I'm going to try some more pots here. 

The front yard.  This is the bed that totally stops folks in their tracks. In the spring it's a mass of daffodils and hyacinths. 

Then, the daylilies start.  There are roses, sensation lilacs, butterfly bushes, siberian iris, peonies, iris, sedum, daisies, coneflowers...  When I moved, I took one siberian iris and divided it into 25 plants.  Now, those plants are huge and I divide one a year and give the starts away to friends. We just added more daylilies along the walk - which is in the process of being cleaned up...  Thank goodness for the young man who's helped me with the heavy stuff for the last six or so years.  Weekly weeding like I used to have done hasnt' been in the budget but he still comes a couple of times a year and really cleans up.

See the garage on the far right of the photo?  Our wonderful neighbor tells us that when he's taking a break from working on his yard he pulls a chair up in the garage door and sits there and looks over at the little slice of heaven in our front yard :-)

The herb garden.  The bones are in place for this. 

Now, I've got to collect more rocks and plant creeping thyme on the rock garden.  And, I've got to fill in with more herbs.  I just put in some arugula and some more cilantro.  The sage, chives, mint, sorrel, tarragon, horseradish and cat mint are doing really well. The parsley, marjoram, oregano and thyme are slowly coming back.  There's another stand of oregano by the screened porch that I'll divide and add to the herb garden this year.  I'm also going to add some edible flowers here. 

So, there you have it.  Our goal is to have so little grass that we can cut it with a push mower so as to lower our carbon footprint.  We're not there yet but will be in a few years. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wolfgang Puck's Chicken Pot Pie

My favorite Wolfgang Puck recipe has always been his butternut squash soup.  Actually, there are three butternut squash soup recipes I've found on the internet that are attributed to him.  The one I crave is the one they serve in the Wolfgang Puck restaurants in airports.   I think I've now found a Wolfgang Puck recipe that's equally good.  This was published in the Indianapolis Star.  I clipped it and it wound up in a big pile of recipes to try (no surprise there, eh?)  Finally, I sorted through the recipes and identified the top 20 to try.  This was one of them.  I was particularly entranced by the pastry crust - chives and cheddar cheese.

I escaped the office really late and quite frankly shouldn't have come home and tried to cook.  It wasn't a pleasant day and I was stressed to the max.  Suffice to say that one person's greed is negatively impacting my life and I don't appreciate it.  My emails piled up all day as did my to-do list.  I had trouble focusing on my work at the office and got home and didn't want to cook.  I just wanted to curl up in a chair and read something fun.  But, I'd bought a rotisserie chicken and didn't want to waste it.  So, into the kitchen I went.  As I started prepping, I managed to cut my finger on the tip of the knife I was using to cut the butter.  But, then, magic happened.  I started to relax.  Making the pastry crust brought back wonderful memories of Mom teaching me to make pie crust.  Of using my grandmother's crockery bowls.  Just the rhythm of stirring the sauce calmed me.  By the time I put dinner on the table at 9:50 pm, I felt pretty good.  Pretty darned tired, but good.

So, what did we think?  This was probably the best chicken pot pie I've ever made.  Not the best I've ever had but the best I've made.  It's pretty time consuming to prepare but is worth the time.  The calorie count is undoubtedly off the charts so this is something that I'd make every few years.  I made it in a deeper casserole dish so I could cut the pastry in half.  The recipe below reflects the original measurements for the pastry.

Wolfgang Puck's Classic Chicken Pot Pie

Serves 6


for the pastry:
2 c flour
2 T snipped fresh chives
6 oz. unsalted butter
1 c shredded cheddar cheese
2 large egg yolks
6 T heavy cream

for the chicken and vegetables:
2 T unsalted butter
1 T vegetable oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1" cubes
2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2" slices
1 large stalk celery cut into 1/2" slices
1/2 lb cremini or shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 10 oz pkg pearl onions, thawed
3/4 c frozen petit peas

for the sauce:
6 T unsalted butter
1/4 c flour
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1/2 c heavy cream
1 t minced fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1 egg yolk beaten with water


for the pastry:  Pour the flour into a medium sized bowl.  Add the chives. 

Cut the butter in small pieces then cut it in until it is the size of small peas.  You basically pinch off little pieces and incorporate the flour while doing so.  Don't overwork it or the pastry will be tough. 

Add the cheddar and mix well. 

Whisk the eggs yolks with 5T of the cream. 

Pour that in and mix well.  If the dough comes together well, you don't need the balance of the cream.  If it doesn't, add the cream a bit at a time.   Wrap the pastry in plastic and refrigerate it until you need it.

for the chicken and vegetables:  If you're using rotisserie chicken, cut it into 1" cubes and set it aside.  You won't need 1 T of the butter and the vegetable oil.  If you're using uncooked chicken breasts, cut them into 1" cubes and saute them in 1T of the butter and the vegetable oil.  You don't want to cook these all the way through.  Set them aside in a bowl when they're lightly browned.  When I made this, I followed the instructions and found the carrots to be slightly undercooked, so I would recommend a minute in the microwave or a couple of minutes in some rolling water.  Then, saute the carrots, celery

and mushrooms in 1 T of the butter. 

Be sure to use only the caps if you're using shitakes.  The stems are pretty darned tough! 

Set those aside in the bowl with the chicken and add the onions and peas to the mix. 

for the sauce:  Melt the butter in the skillet you used to saute the vegetables.  Whisk in the flour.  Allow it to cook, stirring constantly, for about two minutes.  Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and the thyme. 

Once the mixture is thickened, slowly add the cream. 

Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.  Combine the sauce with the chicken and vegetables.

Putting it all together:  Preheat the oven to 400.  Roll the pastry crust out into an 11" diameter disk. 

Make sure you do so on a lightly floured surface or it'll stick like crazy.  Pour the chicken mixture into a 10" diameter deep pie plate.  Cover the chicken mixture with the pastry crust.  I took the leftover crust and made a rope and put an edge on the  crust. 

The original recipe calls for tucking the crust under but I thought it'd look prettier with a trim...

adapted from the Wolfgang Puck via the Indianapolis Star

Monday, April 25, 2011

Clean up the Kitchen for Three Salmon Salad

My brother-in-law Tom is visiting from Chicago.  I had appointments all day on Saturday and Connie had to process all my paperwork from Friday's marathon in my Columbus, IN office so Tom came to the office with us.  A tub of baby spinach was already at the office.  And, I'd taken in the leftover salmon and sweet potato I'd cooked Wednesday evening along with some orange marmalade.  You see, we really didn't like the mojito glaze for the salmon so my intent was to scrape that off then mix the marmalade with a little dijon mustard and make a new glaze.  I also had a bag of pecans because I'd made Lana's chicken salad from some leftover rotisserie chicken.  And, there were half a dozen tangerines in the fridge.  Sounded like the makings of a really good salad...  It was.  I'm writing down the recipe really quickly so I'll remember what I did and be able to recreate it!  Otherwise, in a month or so I'll look at the photo and think, "That was really good.  Wonder how I made it."  Getting old and losing my memory is not my favorite thing!!

Salmon Salad

fresh baby spinach
cooked salmon
cooked and cubed sweet potato
tangerine or orange wedges
orange marmalade
dijon mustard
Trader Joe's Soyaki Sauce (or another teriyaki-like sauce)
olive oil
red wine vinegar


Toast the pecans.  While they're toasting, mound some spinach in the middle of a plate.  Crumble the salmon over it.  Scatter the orange segments and sweet potato chunks around the salmon.  Make a dressing with the marmalade, mustard, teriyaki sauce, olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Drizzle the salad with dressing.  Top with toasted pecans.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sewing Extravaganza and Shagbark Hickory Butter

Sew?  Me?  Connie's been convinced ever since he met me that I can't sew.  He's thought the sewing maching was merely taking up space in the small guest room.  He's done his own mending because I never got around to it.  Until today. 

You see, we've got stalkers.  I won't go into it in detail because I think I know who's behind this.  But, we've had people ringing our doorbell asking for phone numbers.  And, stopping their car in the street while we're in our yard.  That rather bothers me, which I'm sure is the intent of the person responsible.  Now, I've been saying since I moved into this house that I'd like to put sheers on a couple of windows - one on the side garage door and the other on the back door.  I decided today was the day.  Since some maintenance we're having done is pretty expensive, buying curtains or sheers wasn't exactly in the budget.  But, I do have a big plastic storage container of fabric upstairs in a closet.  Time to haul that out and see what I could whip up. 

Thanks to my Other Mother for all the sewing lessons when I was a kid!!!   She still makes most of her own clothes and looks like a million bucks.  Well, she'd look like a million bucks in sackcloth - she's a gorgeous lady.  So, I channeled Babs and started in.  Found two remnants of fabric that'd work and got the edges even then whipped up some curtains.  About halfway through, Connie comes upstairs just to check things out.  He was a little uncertain how the sewing machine even worked - and plenty surprised that I knew how to work it.  It is a bit old.  Mom and Dad gave it to me as my high school graduation present.  It was used back then.  Does that mean it qualifies as an antique?  Probably!  But, it still works just fine.  And, yes, dear it works via electricity not just a foot pedal...

Now, I've got two more sets of curtains to make for the kitchen and for the dining room.  Old sheets will work just fine until the curtains are done.  And, it may actually be less expensive to order them from old faithful - Country Curtains.  I've got to measure and cipher :-)

Now the good news is that I've got a brother who's a retired cop and a cousin who's a retired state trooper.  They're both on the job and will make sure that we're safe and sound.  Plus we've got an alarm system, a big dog and neighbors who've all been filled in on what's going on.  At this point all I can do is feel sorry for the very sad person who's done this. 

Well, on to some cheerier news.  We got a wonderful loaf of bread in our CSA share this week.  Honey wheat.  Really dense and really flavorful.  I was debating whether to toast it and how to serve it when I had one of those ah ha moments.  Shagbark hickory syrup butter.  This was so easy to make and SO good.  I've been hungry for leftovers all day.  But, my guess is that the leftovers were a midnight snack for my hubby.  Oh, well, I can always make more. 

Here's what you do:  Soften butter.  Either leave it out on the counter or nuke it on very low power for about 30-40 seconds.  Pour in some syrup - shagbark hickory or maple.  Whisk until it's combined.  My guess would be that I had about 4 T of butter to 1 T of the syrup.  I'm going to find things to use this on.  Starting with my finger - lol. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Dinner

My friend Liz at That Skinny Chick Can Bake tagged me today.  She was a sweetheart and left me a note letting me know it was ok if I didn't respond.  She knows how incredibly busy I've been.  But, two things have happened.  One, reading Liz's blog about what she'd fix for her perfect Easter dinner got my creative juices going.  And, two, the Boston Bruins are in the playoffs.  One would have to sleep in the office to avoid the noise emanating from my husband.  That's AT the office - like three miles from my house.  So, here I am well beyond my bed time thinking about Easter dinner...  By the way, if you've not found Liz yet, please go visit her.  That skinny chick can not only bake but she can COOK.  And, she's a delightful human being!!  

Here's the deal.  Each blogger tagged is invited to post 5-10 Easter (or any other festivity if you don't celebrate Easter) menu suggestions from previous blog posts...with photos and links back to the recipes. Include appetizers, entrees, desserts...whatever you'd like. Then invite 10 more bloggers to do the same...sharing links to their blogs.  I know it's really late for them to post their dinners but I'm going to tag them anyway.  The toughest part of all of this - narrowing the field to ten.  I know I'm leaving about 30 more wonderful bloggers out of this!

Easter this year will be low key for us.  My husband's brother is coming down from Chicago for the weekend.  I've got appointments most of Saturday.  Connie's favorite short ribs are for dinner Saturday night.  I found them on sale at the grocery this week.  They've been browned and are ready to head for some low and slow cooking.  Sunday one of our favorite restaurants has a very reasonably priced brunch.  We'll run up to my brother's house and spend a bit of time at their Easter open house.  Then, it's time for more work for me and yard time for Connie.  I'm hoping to get enough of a dent made that I can head out to the yard later in the day and spend some time dividing some of the surprise lilies, crocus, daffodils and daylilies.  I know, it's the wrong time of year for the bulbs but I can find them now!  So, that's the plan.  Well, then again, we may all be slugs and sleep late and decide to fix brunch at home.  You never know how plans will turn out!

Easter Dinner

We'd have to start with my favorite cocktail:  The Boss Tweed.  It's a Scotch drink that Scotch haters will probably like!  I love, love, love it!  And, Connie makes it perfectly!

While we sipped our cocktails, we'd have two of our favorite appetizers.  This, by the way was the toughest call.  I have SO many appetizers I love.  The Rosemary Baked Goat Cheese is like that served at the restaurant where we had our first date.  Yeah, it's not only one of my favorites but puts a big grin on my face because it brings back wonderful memories. 

The second is a relatively new one to us.  I found it in a cookbook I bought on one of our adventures.  It's so different and so good it pretty much muscled its way to the top.  Bloody Mary Grape Tomatoes.  Did I mention that I love tomatoes too?

For dinner, I'd have to go with lamb.  Lamb chops are kind of like salmon for us.  What, you say?  They're nothing alike.  Ah, not in taste, but in preparation.  In both cases we've found THE recipe.  We on occasion try another and shrug our shoulders and say, Gosh, I wish I'd had the rosemary lamb or the marmalade and dijon smoked salmon.  I keep threatening to just never make another lamb chop recipe and probably should follow through.  This is so good.  And, did I mention its easy?  Now, the bad part...  I've not yet posted the recipe.  Darn, means I'll need to make them again :-)

Side dishes.  No question on the salad.  Casa d'Angelo Salad.  My lifetime favorite.  Seriously. For the last 33 years this has been my favorite salad.  It's the family salad now.  I make it for about any event.  It shows up at my brother's house all the time.  And, my niece who cannot even handle opening the tin of anchovies, craves this. 

Potatoes.  Not that Connie would ever choose potatoes over rice or noodles.  But, I can almost guarantee that if I offered him the individual potato gratins he'd choose those over rice or noodles.  Well, maybe not Jane's Rice.  Me?  There's no question.  These are my favorites.

Vegetable.  This was the other tough call.  Roasted broccoli?  Roasted cauliflower?  Asparagus candy?  Melissa's carrots?  Gads but I love vegetables.  Thank you, Mom!!!  She's the one who insisted that we TRY everything.  Even though I didn't like green peppers I had to eat some.  Now, I love almost every vegetable.  In the end, Asparagus Candy won out because it's different and a bit elegant just like the lamb and potato gratins.

Rolls.  No contest.  Pumpkin Yeast Rolls.  With apologies to my cousin, Bernard Clayton.  The pumpkin rolls from the Tate's Bakeshop cookbook.  OMG.  I don't crave bread, but I crave these.  Seriously crave these.  Next time, I'm doubling the recipe and freezing some.


Dessert.  Again, no contest.  Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Bread pudding with Rum Sauce.  I love pie, as does Connie.  But when our friend Doris made this bread pudding we both fell in love with it.  I've never seen Connie eat leftovers of any other dessert except pie - until this came along.  It's good.  No, it's beyond good.  My jaw hurts right now!

There you have it.  Easter dinner in 3000 calories or less - lol.  Now, here are ten of my favorite bloggers who I'm going to tag:

Dennis at More than a Mount Full
Drick at Drick's Rambling Cafe
Gina at SPCookie Queen
Judy at Tastemonials
Kath at In The Kitchen with Kath
Kate at Diethood
Pam at Sticks, Forks, FingersSommer at A Spicy Perspective
Susi from Susi's Kochen und Baken Adventures
The Mom Chef