Thursday, April 24, 2014

Making Peeps With My Peeps!

I was hoping to post this before Easter, but time got away from me. With the glorious weather we've been having I've been doing much more weeding and digging than I have blogging. It was such a fun night with two of my best gals, however, I wanted to make sure I posted it. 

Last Thursday I headed over to my friend Opal's apartment for a confectionery adventure of sorts with she and her sister Ruby. Several weeks before we decided we would make homemade "Peeps" for Easter. I had run across a recipe that looked easy enough, and we were eager to go to town making marshmallow bunnies and chicks. 

The results? Well, they tasted better than they looked. 

It was Thirsty Thursday at the Tincaps game, so we took part in our own way.

Opal is quite the entertainer. She always has some elegant snack prepared for us!

OK. On to the marshmallows. We had the envelope of gelatin softening in the bowl of the Kitchenaid.

While the gelatin was softening we started cooking the sugar and water to softball stage on the candy thermometer.

The sugar cooks down pretty fast. We did have a candy thermometer, it just didn't make it into any photos.

After adding the sugar to the gelatin mix and stirring it by hand for a bit to cool it down, we turned to the trusty old stand mixer to do the real grunt work.

In no time at all we had soft peaks and we were ready to pipe! Also at this point we considered just dumping in rice krispies. They really would have been perfect.

So, um, yeah. About those bunnies...

Ruby was pretty successful making a bunny. Opal made some really nice nests and a cross.

This was my best attempt. They tasted wonderful. Like the freshest marshmallow ever. I found the videos explaining how to do it afterward. These would have been helpful, especially the ingenious way of piping into the bowl of sugar!

Miss Kaci was less than impressed.

Hopefully my bringing them Easter baskets made up for my poor execution and explaining of piping peeps. I really should have listened closer to Martha. We do, however, have other plans for this recipe. Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pantry Dinner - Bucatini Piccata with Tuna and Dill

Pantry dinners of course vary from house to house, but aside from the fresh dill (leftover from matzo ball soup) everything for this quick meal I had on hand. Two nights before I had enjoyed perch piccata at Paula's on Main, my favorite local seafood restaurant. I could not get the capery, buttery, lemony flavors out of my head, so I replicated the flavors in an entirely different dish.

Butter, capers, a bit of salt and pepper.

I zested the lemon first and added the zest to the butter and capers. The dill and lemon juice was added after mixing the pasta with the tuna and caper/butter mixture.

Added some grated Parmesan and voila! Fresh, salty, bright flavors in about ten minutes (once the pasta water boils). This is my favorite way to cook once I begin to get busier and busier outdoors. A few fresh ingredients can make all the difference in an otherwise completely "pantry" dinner.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hoping For The Best

Last night while finishing up at a lovely birthday dinner, we were all met with an unlovely sight. Snow. Blowing, heavy, wet snow. It had been forecast. We knew it was coming. It was still hard to handle.

This morning I was pretty anxious to get to the garden to see what damage might have been done. Several years ago we had a very late freeze and several hydrangeas were irreparably damaged, among other plants that had thought it was safe to leaf out. In the garden right now teeny delphiniums, columbines, lady's mantle, poppies, and peonies are all pushing up, but I think they will be OK. What I'm most concerned about are all of the daffodils that were already blooming turning to mush after freezing and thawing. Everything I picked today in an attempt to salvage some beauty have all fared well, so I am hoping for the best.
On Sunday everything looked glorious.

Today everything looked awful. I wish I would have just picked all of those white and yellow daffodils before the snow and the worry. The problem is the water in the stems freezing and thawing. The flowers sometimes can't handle that, and the stem will just turn limp and won't support the flower head which will quickly rot. Ugh! Even with all the other daffodils that I am quite certain will be fine, I will hate the loss of so many blooms.

I was so excited about all the buds on the little primulas. I've never had much success with primroses, and their surviving this winter had me excited. Once again, hope for the best!

This clump of mini tete-a-tete daffodils seemed perfectly fine, the snow around them having already melted.

Another primrose trampled.

One of the earliest of tulips weighed down with wet snow.

A clump of one of several varieties of pink cupped daffodils that line the path through the Shade Garden.

Please make it, hyacinths!

Pretty, pretty please!

One last look at the worst of the daffodils.

I picked the purple and pink hyacinths in the Berry Patch today, and they seem fine. I know bulbs are tough little mothers, but tonight it will be even colder, with temperatures ranging from 27-30 for about 10 hours before we are once again above freezing. I'm sure everything will be fine, it just makes me nervous. I really can't wait to stroll through again tomorrow.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Meatless Monday Passover Edition: Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup

It has been years since I last made matzo balls, and even longer since I've had real New York matzo ball soup. Last week, when I realized Passover began today, I thought matzo ball soup might make a good post for the blog. And then I found this vegetarian recipe and realized it must have been meant to be. Meatless Monday matzo balls for the start of Passover.

This family recipe is from author Jonathan Safran Foer, and he and his grandmother shared it in a video with Martha. No matter how, or if, you celebrate Pesach, go ahead and try the soup. There really is nothing better than a pot of soup simmering away on the stove. You can even get a head start on the Four Cups and have a glass. Alright, you really shouldn't get a head start, but you can have a glass of wine while waiting for things to simmer and chill and boil. Just make sure it's Manischewitz!
I love recipes that require chopping and mincing. Just standing at the counter, vegetables already peeled and prepped, using the big cutting board, arranging things in piles. Heaven on earth.

Into the oil the veggies go! I put most of the vegetables back in the soup, or ate them before they went back in the soup. I bet you could purée the really mushy ones, or even purée them and thin them out with veg stock or water for an entirely different soup. Two soups out of one! 

I need to replenish my bay leaves, but the thyme is fresh out of the garden!

Simmering away. After 45 minutes I removed the vegetables with a spider before the soup was poured through a sieve and separated from the solids.

Making the matzo balls should have been the first thing posted, since you want them to chill while you make the soup, but I actually made the soup the day before. 

Eating chametz, or food made with leavened grain, is forbidden during Passover as a remembrance of the Israelites escape from Egypt. They fled from Pharoah in such haste that their bread dough didn't have time to rise.

Boiling away. I didn't know, until reading this recipe, that you can freeze matzo balls. You just do everything up to the point of dropping them in the water, put them on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet to freeze in the freezer until solid, and then into containers they go. Much like freezing berries.

Seasoned with salt and pepper, and the dill thrown in at the end, the soup is fresh and tasty. The matzo balls are the perfect comfort food for Passover, or when the temperature is dropping and snow is on the way. Yes, that, too, is happening on this first night of Passover. At least these hyacinths I picked yesterday are still around to remind me that it IS Spring.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

At Last, Spring Has Sprung

Just in time to divert my attention from another day of discovering losses from this awful winter, such as the tree peony that was heaved and snapped at the base from the heavy snow (I'm guessing), or the complete disregard by the rabbits for the life of any living plant, Spring arrived.

Time to take a breath, enjoy, and really get to work.

Out front, under the dappled shade of the rather large ornamental cherry's branches, the Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) has really spread out nicely. There are so many new plants this year, and they are just barely beginning to open.
From a clump of about twenty or thirty bulbs dug from behind my old apartment just down the street from the Penthouse, there are now hundreds (thousands?) of plants in two locations. This year is looking like it will be one of the best years for them yet.

I love the delicate purple veining on this crocus.

Daffodil Season is right around the corner! I always say I am going to actually count and identify the varieties and mark them with their names to make it easier to plant more in the fall. Maybe this year I actually will. I would like to know how many different daffodils we have.

The Iris reticulata was just beginning to open on Sunday.

I'm not really sure what is happening here, but some of the Asiatic lilies have formed stem bulblets on the stem above the ground rather than under. I guess I'll just dig them in and see what happens. These are the smallest. A few looked almost as big as what you would buy in the store. It doesn't look like anything had heaved out of the ground, though that is probably the case. They all look pretty healthy.
Most of the peonies are sending their shoots skyward.

All of the allium are looking great. I swear several that we just planted last Fall multiplied over the Winter.

Oh look! An old rabbit nest. Time to buy some rubber snakes. Or maybe some poison carrots. This grassy corner of the Berry Patch needs cleaned up immediately. We started in the back corner on Sunday, but didn't make it this far. So many little poppies are growing here that weeding is delicate business.

Junior really was no help at all on Sunday. But, then, who can blame him? There was swinging to be done!

Some old hyacinths are popping up in the Vegetable Garden. Planted years ago strictly for cutting, they have weakened a bit the past few seasons. The addition of compost last year might have given them a little boost.

Both of the hellebores are looking good. The old leaves should be trimmed back soon.

The snowdrops have really been a happy addition this Spring. I can't believe it took me this long to plant some!

Such interesting, seemingly delicate, little flowers.

So close to open! I'm sure we will have blooms by the weekend.
I'm very excited (I really say that too often, but I am) about the primroses. All three little plants, bought on the clearance rack, are growing well and covered in buds!

Every year we scatter the columbine seeds after they have dried on the stem. And every year we are rewarded with more and more new plants popping up.

A bad shot of a beautiful muscari 'Azureum' near the Boxwood Border. The rain is still falling outdoors, which will help with the weeding, but hurt the planting. We haven't been able to get a load of compost yet since the piles are mostly mud, but hopefully soon things will dry out and we can really get going. Right now I'm just happy to be outside working, mud or not!