Friday, December 22, 2017

Last Minute Holiday Side - Creamed Spinach Gratin

I was going to make this for Thanksgiving, but then it seemed too complicated to "serve immediately" when I was across town and driving it to my parents. So I stuck to my tried and true recipe for Brussels sprouts (that post is from so long ago #babyblogger) and left the ingredients to this in the fridge. When I actually got around to trying it out I realized I could probably follow the recipe right up until sprinkling the breadcrumbs and putting it in the oven ahead of time so I could travel with it and bake it there. The plan is to test this theory this Monday for Christmas dinner.

Until then, try it! I ended up having it for a solid vegetarian dinner. The recipe is in the December 2017 issue of Martha Stewart Living.
Because there are quite a few steps, it's best to be prepared.

Butter melting.

Breadcrumbs toasting. I didn't have any Panko, so I made some out of regular bread and dried it out a bit in the warm pan before adding the butter.
The spinach I cooked and chopped ahead of time.
Adding the flout to the shallots and butter.
And then adding the milk and whisking, and whisking, and whisking until it thickens.

My little Guernsey pottery ramekins were the only thing I bought at the Elephant's Trunk Flea Market when I was staying in New Milford back in October. They are perfect for mise en place.

Added the butter to the breadcrumbs and let them get toasty after turning off the heat.

Sauce is thickened.

Now I honestly could have eaten this mixture right here after the spinach went in. I held back, however.

I ended up short on breadcrumbs, so I added grated Parmesan to the top.

Absolutely delicious. It totally deserves a place on your Holiday table!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Repurpose Those Pumpkins!

It's always hard to resist the small pie pumpkins at the grocery store. This year I had five of them to decorate the apartment, as well as assorted gourds and squash (the squash are still awaiting a use). Last week as the switch to Christmas was beginning, I grabbed the pumpkins and, as I usually do every year (OK, sometimes I just toss them into the garden for the squirrels), roasted them in the oven for pumpkin puree.
The pumpkins and some florist mums and gourds decorated the top of the bookshelves in my living room.

With the stems snapped off, the pumpkins were sliced in half and the seeds and "guts" were scooped out while the oven was preheating to 400 degrees.

In they went for an hour or so.

Honestly they were in for about an hour and fifteen minutes. They collapsed after I took them out, which was great, because once they were cooled the skin just peeled right off.

Ready for the Cuisinart!

Sometimes you have to pulse, open to push the pumpkin down, and pulse again.

This was after I switched out bowls halfway through when I realized I would need a larger one.

Next step - place in a cheesecloth lined colander to drain overnight or up to four days. You can see how wet and almost fluffy it is in this picture.
Four days later and it is much more dry and condensed.
I am always surprised at how much water drains out of the puree. Make sure you only use pie or sugar or other smallish pumpkins to make puree. The big Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins are too watery and thin fleshed.
Part of the packaged puree for the freezer, and more that didn't fit the first time draining in the fresh cheesecloth lined colander.

 Now the only question now is what to make with all of the puree?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Moving The Tropical Plants Inside for the Winter

Before I left for vacation last week I made sure all of the citrus, avocado, and papaya trees were safely indoors. Checking the weather I knew everything else would be fine while I was gone. Once I returned, however, it was time to get busy moving everyone in. Fall temperatures have finally arrived, and with it our first chance at a freeze.

Yesterday I was busy pulling, potting, and moving. Although not as big of a production as it is at Martha's, it is still a lot of work. I almost managed to get everyone indoors, and dreamed of a greenhouse all my own the entire time.

My upright elephant ear grew so well this year. I planted him directly into the pot rather than keeping him in the plastic pot he winters over in. This has caused him to grow a major root system that I needed to trim quite a bit. I also think we might be able to split this plant into at least two plants in the spring.

The Stingray Alocasia was planted a bit later in the season, but also grew an ridiculously massive root system. It also grew quite a bit taller that I expected.
My "birthday" elephant ears also grew quite large. These were just tubers Contractor gave me when I planted them, and they really took off.

Here you can see better the large, central stalk, as well as the younger stalks emerging from the sides. In the spring I will hose off all of the soil and see how it can be split.

The elephant ears waiting to be potted up.
The lightweight plastic pots make it easy to move and store the plants for the winter.
Here are all of the bananas, jasmine, palms, and smaller elephant ears. These all moved into one of two rooms in the house. I really feel like if I push it enough my dad will build a hoop house. Or at least glass in the patio.

I gathered all of the figs up, as well. They are already going dormant, and will move into the garage for most of the winter.
I really was torn about saving these ferns.
I decided to put them into the garage as well. Here they are with the figs and the gardenia (which will probably not survive, but it was $5 and I thought I would try to keep it alive in the garage).
The elephant ears were all a bit taller than expected.

And the "Winter Garden" (or the tiny bedroom that belonged to the youngest child at the time) is jam packed. The top shelf will hold the rest of the agave. And the angel trumpet has moved into this space as well.
I managed to move the large agave in the foreground, as well as one of the Blue Flame (bottom right of the group) before I found all of the pill bugs (or armadillo bugs) hiding from the cold in all of the rest of the pots. Sunday I will make sure these little guys are gone and move the agave inside.
In the meantime, they will spend a few nights under an old sheet.
Everything looks so empty now.

All of these terracotta pots will be cleaned up and moved into the garage for the winter to protect them from cracking.
And just when I'm thinking the growing season is winding down, I look at the ground and see some of the primroses blooming away.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Who is Going Where?

October has arrived with a dip into the 30's, causing me, of course, to worry. There are so many tropical plants that need to find their winter spots before too much longer. 

The two Meyer lemons are full of lemons, and I am really worried about an easy transition from outdoors to in with minimal leaf loss or fruit dropping. My collection of elephant ears has grown by at least five, and they need to be dug and transplanted to plastic pots before moving inside. The collection of agave have grown by at least six. Then there are the random sale plants I found, as well as the Bird of Paradise, the angel's trumpet, and all of the fig and, oh, now THREE banana trees.

What was I thinking?

One of the large pots that will soon need to be deconstructed. This upright elephant ear is one I brought back from Charleston, South Carolina so many years ago. This pot sits at the north entrance to the garden along the Hydrangea Border.
Across from that pot, settled in the hydrangeas themselves, is the tall fishtail palm that I believe will be moving to South Calhoun with me for the winter.

Stopping to admire the single bloom sent up by my Empress Wu hosta. She's getting too big for her spot, but I would like to wait to move her for a few more years so I can divide the whole clump.
A late blooming of an Autumn Clematis in what we are still calling the White Garden. So much works needs to be done here.

Another pot in the Shade Garden with my "Stingray" elephant ear.

One of my birthday elephant ears from Contractor. They did exceptionally well planted directly in the ground, but will be potted up into plastic pots before the first frost.

The Bird of Paradise did great in the Shade Garden.
The elephant ear "Megalodon" (Alocasia portei) has also grown considerably since it arrived in a 4" pot from Logee's. It can eventually grow 5'-8', with 3'-4' leaves.
This is one of two giant ferns that I really don't know what to do with. They are plentiful at the garden centers in the spring, and rather inexpensive. They both have just done so well I really want to try to save them.

The smaller citrus plants are ready to move after a good spray down of organic insecticidal soap. In fact all of the plants get a good bath and spray down a day or two before they come inside.

The avocado tree I brought home when we visited Logee's last April. I'm pretty sure I will be going back next week!

The largest Meyer lemon I own is covered in fruit. I believe there are over 40 on this one tree.

I am so worried about losing the harvest, but I think I have a plan. I just hope it works.