Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Gardening Year

2010 was a great year for our garden! I really enjoyed reading and learning from all of you Great Garden Bloggers out has truely been a pleasure!! I never imagined that I would meet so many nice like minded people.

Happy New Year from our Garden to Yours!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gardening Gifts

"The Italian" did good. He got me some great gardening gifts for Christmas! It seems like I need a new pair of pruners every year. I am really bad about leaving them laying outside and mis-placing them at least once a day! He got me two different types of pruners and a clip-on holder to put them in. I think he is hoping that I won't spend as much time looking for where I layed them down! We will see if you can teach an old gardener new tricks!

I'm not much of a book reader unless it is related to gardening. There were a couple of gardening books that I was interested in from Rodale. The Rodale Institute is about 15 miles from where we live and they have another organic experimental farm about 3 miles from us. They have some pretty good workshops scheduled for next year. I think that I may go to one or two of them.

As you can see, "The Italian Santa" also got me a great jams and preserves book! There are some really interesting recipes in it. I think this means...even more jams and jellies next year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

The Feast of the Seven Fishes also known as La Vigilia, is the traditional Italian meal on Christmas Eve. The tradition began in southern Italy and is now celebrated by Italians all over the world. There are many hypotheses of the significance of the number "7". Some people believe that seven fishes are served because it took God seven days to create the world, while others mention the Seven Hills of Rome. There is also the possibility that the seven fishes symbolize the seven scraments in the Catholic Chruch, along with the seven sins. Another theory is that seven is a number representing perfection: the traditional Biblical number for divinity is three, and for Earth is four, and the combination of these numbers, seven, represents God on Earth, or Jesus Christ.

Last night we celebrated The Feast of the Seven Fishes at "The Italian's" parents home. The meal began with an antipasto.

The table is set with traditional antipasto: cheeses, sopressata, roasted red peppers, fava beans, eggplant caponata, wine & bread

Deep fried smelts, shrimp, calamari, catfish & codfish cakes

Clams in red sauce over spaghetti

and...Lobster tail

The evening ended with lots of homemade cookies and my father in-law's wonderful canollis!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Garden on the First Day of Winter

I decided to venture out in to the garden to take some pictures on the first day of winter. It's pretty cold and windy out today....but, the sun is shining. Boy, I wish we had some snow out there.

The Brussel Sprouts are still hanging in there. I think that I should harvest them soon. I don't know how much longer they will take the cold weather we have been having.

There are about five nice big leeks that will probably be harvested this week. I will leave the other five in the garden for a while and see how they do.

The chard is growing slowly but surely inside the cold frame.

Pak Choi inside the cold frame. I do have some bugs in the cold, I put some diatomaceous earth down...hopefully that will help.

The radishes are also slowly growing in the cold frame. I'm going to have to get "The Italian" outside to help me take some better pictures in the cold frames.

To my surprise, the rosemary is surviving this cold cold weather. I must get it covered soon if it has any chance to make it through the winter.

The sage bush is doing fine as usual...I think that some of the herbs do better when covered with snow. The oregano and thyme don't have much green on them. I usually harvest them all winter from under the snow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Little Garden Helper" making Christmas Cookies

Today my "Little Garden Helper" and "The Italian's" daughter were here making Christmas Cookies. These are the times to remember.

He looks so serious....he would spoon on the decorations and then lick the spoon every time!

Yum....NaNa's strawberry jam!
He said "NaNa you are a Hot Chicken"!!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nanaimo Bars....a decadent recipe

This is one more of our favorite Christmas treats that I wanted to share. I got this recipe from a friend in Canada over 20 years ago. It is absolutely my favorite!!

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer
  • 1/2 Cup Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 5 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Egg Beaten
  • 1 3/4 Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Nuts
  1. Melt Butter on low in saucepan, then add Sugar & Cocoa
  2. Add Egg, stir to cook until thick
  3. Remove from heat and add Graham Cracker Crumbs and Nuts
  4. Press firmly in to 9" x  9" x 2" pan

Middle Layer
  • 1/2 Cup Butter
  • 3 Tbsp. Milk
  • 2 Tbsp. Powdered Vanilla Custard
  • 2 Cups Powdered Sugar
  1. Cream ingredients together until light, like an icing
  2. Spread on top of Bottom layer
Top Layer
  • 4 Squares of Unsweetened Baking Chocolate ( I make my own by using 1 Tbsp. of shortening & 3 Tbsp. of Cocoa Powder, per square)
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  1. Melt ingredients on low
  2. Cool a bit, then spread on top of middle layer
  3. Cut in to small squares....and Enjoy!!
I promise...this is the last recipe for Holiday Goodies....I don't want everyone to gain too much weight!!

Cooking with Cat Hair or should I say....

trying not to! Right before our wedding a couple of years ago, we did a little work on the kitchen. We decided to take out the old radiator before we installed the new tile floor. Although we wanted to install radiant heat, we didn't get around to it. So, we installed a kick space heater in the island cabinet.

As you can see....this is the favorite spot for the cats to sleep in the winter! A great deal of the time, both the cats are there. This is Alvin, the almost blind great vole catcher.

As you can see, this is the absolute worse place for the cats to sleep....right under your feet while your trying to cook!

Right above the island is the pot, the heat blows on the cats and sends the cat hair flying right on to everything on the pot rack. Yesterday, I took Alvin to the groomer and he got a haircut and a bath. This will help a great deal....since, Alvin has a very thick coat and is the biggest culprit in the cat hair department.

Now, I think he is cold......he has been right there in our way since his haircut yesterday! He does look very content though!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Making Homemade Mustard Update 2...all finished

This is the last update on Making Homemade Mustard. I started making the mustards for Holiday gift giving about 2 weeks ago. You can find that post here. About a week ago, I did an update on two of the mustards that were ready here.

The Spicy Brown Mustard is perfect! The consistency was just right and the flavor is spicy and wonderful! All I had to do with this mustard is put it in the jars, label and refrigerate!

Double Batch yield 1 quart

The Bavarian Whole Seed Mustard is what I would call a full flavored mustard with a hint of sweetness. I guess the beer in this mustard gave it it's unusual & wonderful flavor. The mustard was very  thick, I had to put it in to the food processor and add water.

Double Batch yield 1 quart

I really couldn't be more pleased with making these mustards. They are all absolutely wonderful! 
Now, if I could only figure out how to get my new camera "The Italian" got me for my birthday two weeks ago to do what I want it to!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Cookies - some favorite recipes

Well, it's that time of year...time for baking the Christmas Cookies. As you may have noticed, I am the baker and the canner in the family. Since there's not much gardening to blog about, I thought that I would post a couple of our favorite cookie recipes. Today I will post two recipes that I hope you will enjoy.

Chinese Cookies
  • 6 oz. Butterscotch or Peanut Butter Morsels
  • 6 oz. Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 10 oz. Chow Mein Noodles
  • 1 Cup Chopped Nuts (Walnut or Pecan)
  1. Melt morsels, this can be done in the microwave or in a double boiler
  2. Stir in Nuts & Noodles
  3. Drop on wax paper. Then sprinkle them with a little colored sugar to give some color
  4. Refrigerate (I cool them on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator for about 5-10 minutes and them put them in a bag and return them to the refrigerator)
That's it!!! They are very simple and easy to make. The original recipe I got 30 years ago called for Butterscotch morsels....we think that they taste better with the Peanut Butter though. A few yars ago I accidentially purchased peanut butter morsels instead of butterscotch. I also think that they would be good with Pretzel Sticks instead of the Chow Mein Noodles.

Pecan Squares

Bottom layer:
  • 1/3 Cup Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 1/4 Cup Flour
  1. Beat Butter & Sugar in a bowl with mixer until light and fluffly
  2. Beat in Egg
  3. Stir in flour, mixing well until a soft dough forms
  4. Press evenly into a lightly greased 9"x 9" x 2" pan. (This is a thin layer)
  5. Bake at 375 F, for about 12 minutes or until the dough begins to firm up, but not fully cooked
  6. Remove pan from oven and place on wire rack

Top layer:
  • 1/2 Cup Butter
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. Heavy Cream
  • 6 oz. Chopped Pecans
  • 1/3 Cup Honey
  1. While the bottom layer is cooking: Melt Butter in medium pan
  2. Add Brown Sugar, White Sugar & Honey
  3. Boil rapidly for 2 1/2 minutes
  4. Carefully add Cream and bring back to a boil
  5. Remove from heat and stir in Pecans
  6. Spread the mixture evenly over the cooked dough
  7. Bake at 350 F, for 25 minutes or until pecan mixture is bubbly and begins to set
  8. Remove from oven to wire rack and cool completely
  9. Cut into small squares and Enjoy!

These are "The Italian's" Favorite!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Making Homemade Mustard Update 1

This is an update on the Making Homemade Mustard post I did last week. After one week, two of the four mustards are ready. The beautiful Coarse Ground Mustard w/ red wine and the coarse ground Yellow Mustard.

The Coarse Ground Mustard w/ red wine is absolutely wonderful tasting a very pretty too! It's a milder mustard with a hint of wine. The mustard was still too thin, so I added mustard powder to it to thicken it up. After adding the powder, the mustard flavor increased a bit. I think that the next time I make it, I will add less liquid in the beginning and cook it a little longer. Then I shouldn't have to add much mustard powder if any.

Double batch yield was 1 quart.

The coarse ground Yellow Mustard is "The Italian's" favorite of these two. This mustard is also a milder tasting mustard. It's a very good yellow mustard, for those who like a basic yellow mustard. The consistency was a little too, I added a little water to it. I guess I didn't need to add as much mustard powder to it in the beginning.

Double batch yield was 1 quart.

When the mustard is ready, place in sterile jars, cap and refrigerate.

The last two mustards are still too strong. Although, they are incredibly tasty!! I will give them another week in the dark cool basement before I taste them again. I have to say, that I am extremely pleased with the flavor of all of the definitely can't buy this flavor in the store!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Growing in a Cold Frame little experiment

Due to the fact that I was unable to get most of the fall and winter crops in the ground at the correct time, I decided to try a little experiment in cold frame growing that I thought might work. Some people may think that this is a bit crazy. But, what gardener wants to go months without growing or eating some fresh veggies from the garden?

First, I started some seeds in the basement on the new germinating table in the beginning of November. By some I mean; carrots, lettuce, radish, spinach, chard & pak choi to name a few. I thought that these veggies had a chance to get going and maybe make it through the cold winter here in the Northeast.

Next, I put rope lights that "The Italian" had on the ground in the cold frame to add a little extra heat & light. The cold frames are an unusual site at night glowing in the dark! After monitoring the temperatures for a while, I observed that the air temperature inside the cold frame was about 10- 20 degrees warmer then the outside air at the coldest time of the morning. The soil temperature was running about 10 degrees warmer in the cold frames.
Our glowing cold frames

At that point, a couple of the veggies had grown big enough to start hardening off in the cold frame. (Note: As the seedlings grew and developed their true leaves, I moved them to a cooler area on the germinating table to acclimate them to cooler temperatures) The night time temperatures have been fluctuating quite a bit here. Some nights it goes down in to the low 20's and other nights it stays in the 40's. I put the seedlings out in the cold frame when the weather is predicted to stay warmer for a few days. After a couple of days and nights in the cold frame, I plant them in the ground.

It was very cold, windy and snowing a bit, making it very difficult to get a good picture.

Yesterday soil temperature inside the cold frame was about 46 degrees and the soil temperature outside the frame was about 31.

So far, everything that I have planted has survived and seems to be growing! Time will tell how well they do and if we will be able to eat any of the veggies during the cold winter months. If not, we will have some early spring veggies next year!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brown Bag Apple Pie

This has got to be the BEST Apple Pie I have ever eaten! I know, everyone says that they have a recipe for "The Best Apple Pie". About 25 years ago, my ex-sister in-law baked this pie for Thanksgiving. I never really liked apple pie until I tasted this one.

It's not only great is easy to make with a no-roll crust!

  • 1 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Milk
  • Mix well with fork and just pat into the pie pan
  • 6-8 Large Apples or 8-10 Small Apples (Granny Smith or another tart apple)
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp Flour
  • Cinnamon to taste (about 1 tsp)
  • Mix well and place in crust
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Butter
  • Mix together until crumbly using a fork or pastry cutter
  • Place on top of pie
Place pie in large brown paper grocery bag. Fold down the end. (I fold it under and staple it).

Don't allow bag to touch heating elements! Bag will not burn.

Bake for 1 hour at 400 degrees F.

There it is...."The BEST Apple Pie"

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Making Sauerkraut - finally finished

One would think that I would be done canning for the season. No, I think that I have been canning all week! I worked on the mustards, then realized that I needed to make some Dutch Apple Pie Jam. When that was finished, "The Italian" informed me that we were out of Strawberry Jam. He has been on a PB&J kick lately. You would think that 12 other varieites of jam & jellies around here would be enough! Pretty soon I will have to grow peanuts to make peanut butter. Hey....that sounds like a good idea :) I just may do that if we get a plot or two at the community gardens., I went down in to the basement to get jars to make the jam. While I was down there, I thought I better check the sauerkraut. It's been down there for almost 6 weeks now. Wouldn't you know was ready to be processed!!

Well, I didn't have to process it that day. I was all out of wide mouth lids!! Yesterday, I went out and bought some lids in order to put up the sauerkraut.

That's one big pot of sauerkraut!!

When making sauerkraut, I use the method in the Ball Blue Book of preserving. It is the same recipe that is in my oldest book dating back to the 1930's. After the sauerkraut is finished fermenting and tastes the way you like it, I clean off any nasty looking cabbage on the top. This year it looked really good and there was hardly any to take off and throw out.

Next the sauerkraut is put in to a big pot and brought to a simmer. I thought that it didn't have enough brine, so I made a little extra and added it to the pot.

Once the sauerkraut is simmering, it is packed in to hot jars and processed in a boiling bath for 15 -20 minutes.

I think this batch of sauerkraut tastes better then the last batch I made. I do believe that there will be plenty to last us and our family a year!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Making Homemade Mustard Part 1

Most of the gifts we give for Christmas are homemade jellies, jams and other delicious treats. This year I wanted to make something a little different to add in to their basket of goodies. I decided to make different varieties of mustard. After looking long and hard on the internet for mustard seed in bulk, we decided to take a little day trip to Philadelphia. There is a great spice shop with good prices in the Italian Market. There are also a couple of good Italian cheese shops....and we always need some good cheese for the holidays to serve with my jams and jellies!!

It took me some time to find recipes and then decide which ones I wanted to make. I finally narrowed it down to four different mustards.....which will probably turn in to five! Making mustard takes takes some time. I didn't realize that it needs to sit in a cool dark place for 2 days to 8 weeks, depending on the recipe, to age before it reaches the desired pungency level. Mustard is very strong when it is first made. I picked recipes that required about a 2 weeks maximum time to age.

The first mustard is a coarse ground Yellow Mustard. This recipe required soaking the seeds in vinegar and water for two days before processing.
  • 1/2 Cup Yellow Mustard Seeds, 3/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar & 1/3 Cup Water: soak mustard seeds in vinegar and water for 2 days.
  • Add 1 1/2 tsp. Sugar & spices if desired. I added the suggested 1 tsp each of Tumeric and Ground Allspice.
  • I also added 1/4 Cup Mustard Powder to make it a little thicker.
  • Blend in food processor or blender. Then store in a glass jar in a cool dark place to age.
This recipe can also be made into a Honey Mustard by combining 1-1 ratio of mustard and local honey after the mustard has been aged. I may make half of it into honey mustard after it is ready, depending on the taste.

The second mustard is a Bavarian Whole Seed Mustard. This mustard recipe is made with a combination of yellow and black mustard seeds soaked in beer overnight.
  • 1/4 Cup Yellow Mustard Seed, 1/4 Cup Black Mustard Seed & 1/2 Cup Beer. Soak mustard seeds in beer overnight.
  • Add 1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar, 4 tsp. Brown Sugar, 3 Tbsp. Mustard Powder & 1/2 tsp. Salt (recipe called for 1 tsp)
  • I also added a little water while blending, it was a little too thick
  • Blend in food processor or blender. Then store in a glass jar in a cool dark place to age.

The third mustard is another Coarse Ground Mustard w/Red Wine. Here is the original recipe . I changed it quite a bit.
  • 1/2 Cup Yellow Mustard Seeds-  soak in 1/2 Cup Red Wine and 2/3 Cup Red Wine Vinegar for 4 hours.
  • I then added 1/2 Cup Water and 2 tsp Honey, 1/4 tsp Ground Allspice, 1/4 tsp of my Garlic Powder and 1 tsp. Salt
  • Next you are supposed to put all of the ingredients in the food processor or blender and process briefly. It was too watery, so I strained it and then processed it to grind the seeds a bit.
  • The mixture is then placed over simmering water in a double broiler for 10 minutes or until it starts to thicken.
  • The recipe then said to place in hot canning jars and refrigerate. Due to the fact that all of the other recipes I had read said to let the mustard sit in a cool dark place until it reaches desired pungency level, I let mine cool and placed it in the basement with the others. I will check it every couple of days to see how it tastes before I can it.
  • This mustard seems a little thin, I may add some Mustard Powder to it, depending on how it ages.

The fourth mustard is a Spicy Brown Mustard. This recipe was the quickest to make.
  • 1/4 Cup Black Mustard Seed, grind in a spice or coffee grinder
  • 3/4 Cup Yellow Mustard Powder
  • 3/8 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • 2 tsp. Brown Sugar, 1/2 tsp. Salt (recipe called for 1 tsp) dash of Cayenne Pepper, Ground Allspice & Ground Cloves
  • Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and mix. The mixture is put in a glass jar and stored in a cool dark place to age. (at least 2 weeks)

This is a double batch of each variety

When all of the mustards are finished and put in to smaller jars. I will do a Part 2 post on their taste and any additional adjustments that were made to the original recipes.