Planning and Ordering

Getting Ready for the Garden!

This past weekend when the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the 50s and even 60s, my mind started to think of spring. The hardest part of this time of year is the waiting. I know, that’s common for many people dreaming of bathing suit weather and summer, but for me, I just want spring. I want to be cleaning out the garden, raking out the winter mess and cutting back that late season growth. I want to make the changes I’ve been dreaming about all winter. Really, I just want to play in the dirt!🙂

As you may remember, we moved into our new house a year ago. This past year, spring, summer, and fall was all about assessment and clean up. Since we only ever saw the house in the winter, it was fun to watch it come to life. I spent many weekends pulling invasive vines, replanting saplings to better areas, trimming trees, chopping wood, and really bringing back the garden that had been neglected for a long time. After a year, it is great to see the yard take shape, and now we’re ready for the next planting, planting.
Planning the Garden

This winter, I’ve been like a kid in a candy store. Every catalog I get my hands on, I devour. Every book I’ve had on gardening, and ones I’ve been able to borrow, I consume. I’ve been doing a ton of research to make sure I’m ready for this spring, and, boy am I ready! I have some gardens laid out, and I can’t wait to get started. So, while I patiently wait for the weather to be ready, I thought I would share some of my posts over the years about late winter/early spring prep work for the garden.

Garden Planning and Catalogs

Ordering Seeds

Garden Clean Up

Think About Starting a Compost Pile

Even if you’re not as excited as I am, hopefully these posts will give you an idea or two. I just hope the warm weather continues so I can get out there, although something tells me someday soon I’ll be outside in my winter coat and gloves, raking out the beds!🙂 Hurry up spring!

chicken pot pie

Chicken Pot Pie…sort of…

Ah January, the time of year when everyone tries to eat better, exercise, and hit the gym. Those New Year’s resolution guilt us into at least a few weeks of behaving. While I certainly understand the need for some less decadent options for dinner, with the cold weather and hopefully threat of snow, comfort food still seems necessary. One of my favorite comfort foods on a cold night is chicken pot pie.

There is definitely a debate around chicken pot pie. Sure, there is the Marie Callender’s version that I would beg my mom to buy, which never happened by the way, with the delicious pie crust and succulent burning-hot filling. But, perhaps since I’m from Pennsylvania and not far from Amish country, there is another version that I find far superior. The Amish style chicken pot pie is more like a stew with floury, tender noodles in a rich broth, and it’s delicious.

Of course, for chicken pot pie, you need chicken. I already had a stock to use, so I roasted about 2 lbs boneless chicken breasts with just salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and some chopped rosemary. Roast at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes until cooked through. If you don’t have a stock made, you can make stock with bone-in chicken parts then use the cooked chicken in the pot pie.chickencookwsFor this recipe, you want a rich broth. I had turkey stock from my Thanksgiving turkey, but feel free to use any chicken stock you have or make your own. You’ll need 10 cups chicken stock. To start, heat a stock pot over medium heat with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Chop 1 medium onion, 4 stalks celery, and 4 peeled carrots. Cook in the oil for about 10 minutes until they are all softened and beginning to turn brown. Add 1 cup white wine and deglaze the pan, scrapping up any cooked or browned bits from the pot. Boil for a few minutes then add the stock. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. This is what you’ll use to cook the noodles.olive oilonionscelerycarrotswinestockOn a recent trip to the grocery store, I saw these ready-made chicken pot pie squares from San Giorgio and thought I had to try. The end result was not exactly what I was hoping for, more like an egg noodle than dough, but they were easy. Next time, I’ll make the noodles instead. Either way, you’ll want to add the noodles to the boiling stock to cook. The bagged noodles I found cooked for about 10 minutes, but if you want to do it the right way, make the noodles.pot pie squaresStart with 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Add 1 tablespoon shortening or butter, cut up into pieces. Use a fork to combine so you have small pieces of shortening in the flour. Combine 1 egg and 2/3 cup water. Stir into the flour mixture and form a dough. Divide in two and roll half the dough on a floured surface until about 10 inches square. Cut into 2 inch squares. Repeat with the remaining dough. Add to the boiling stock and simmer for about 15 minutes until cooked through and tender.noodles cookedOnce the noodles are cooked, add the cubed chicken. And don’t forget to add all of the juices that are left in the pan from the chicken…delicious! Check the seasoning, and add salt or pepper if needed. Ladle this delicious mixture into big bowls and enjoy! Happy Winter!adding chickenliquid gold

stuffed calamari

Stuffed Calamari for Dinner!

It’s hard to believe that the holidays are already behind us. I feel like the last month just flew by, from Thanksgiving right through Christmas and now waiting for New Years Eve. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday filled with friends, family, and of course, great food!ChristmasAfter we hosted 24 for Thanksgiving, we had a pretty simple Christmas Eve dinner with only 11. Being an Italian family, Christmas Eve always meant seafood. Some of you may be familiar with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian tradition of a big Christmas Eve dinner consisting of, you guessed it, seven fishes. There is some debate as to why seven, but most agree it represents the seven sacraments. Traditionally, dinner included shrimp and white fish, bacala (salted cod) and smelts, and always calamari. Sure, like many, we had fried calamari, but my favorite was always the stuffed calamari. I’ve come to find out that this is a bit unusual, however, both of my grandmothers made it, and they are delicious.

This year, with the small crowd, we decided to have a smaller menu. We didn’t come close to the seven fishes, but the meal was great. We started with a shrimp butter and mussels for an appetizer, and for the main course, spaghetti and crabs, and, yes, the stuffed calamari. As always, they were a huge hit, and I keep getting requests for the recipe, so here goes.

To make the calamari, you need about 3 pounds cleaned calamari. You want a bulk of it to be the whole tubes, however, the tentacles work great in the stuffing. To make the stuffing, saute 1 medium onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft and golden in color. To the onions, add about 1 cup chopped tentacles. Cook for a few minutes until cooked through. Remove from heat and allow to cool then add about 1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, and 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir to combine.sauteed onionstentacleschoppedcookedbreadcrumbsparsleyaddedcheeseTo complete the dish, you also need about 4 cups tomato sauce, toothpicks, and a casserole dish. For the sauce, I used the sauce from the spaghetti and crabs before I added the crab meat. It’s just a simple marinara with basil. sauceYou want to use the largest tubes you have to stuff. Hold them in your hand while you carefully spoon the filling in. Push the filling down so you make room for more. Once full, use a toothpick to seal the edges. Add 2 cups sauce to the casserole dish. Set the stuffed, sealed calamari in the dish in neat rows. Once you’ve stuffed them all, cover the calamari with the remaining sauce. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes until bubbling and cooked through.tubestuffingsealedcompleteready for the ovenI know some are a little nervous when it comes to calamari, but they really are delicious. If you’re willing to try, you won’t be disappointed. We finished off the Christmas Eve meal with another one of my favorites, chocolate chip bread pudding. Even if you’re hesitant with the calamari, you please make the bread pudding.🙂

Enjoy the rest of the holidays, and a very Happy New Year to you! Here’s to 2016!

caramel apple spice cake

Caramel Apple Spice Cake…Perfect for Fall!

Now that November has hit, I’m in full fall force! Halloween was great, filled with costumes, candy, and actual trick-or-treaters this year (in past years, we never had anyone).  The trees have been putting on a show for weeks, continually dropping lovely crunching leaves in the yard. And the weather, well, it hasn’t really cooperated for fall, but I’m hopeful it will get cold soon. So, thankfully, with fall comes fall food. My favorite, despite the overabundance of everything pumpkin, are the apples! A few weeks ago to celebrate some important family birthdays, I made a delicious caramel apple spice cake with brown sugar Swiss meringue buttercream, and yes, it was as good as it sounds!

This recipe was features in Martha Stewart Living many years ago, and as soon as I heard the title and saw the picture, I knew I had to have it. The cake is a dense spiced cake, perfect for fall, and the icing is amazing!

To start, heat 1/2 stick butter in a large saute pan over medium heat until lightly browned. Add to the butter 4 cups Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and grated (about 2 lbs apples), 1/2 cup apple cider, and 1 cup sugar. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 10 more minutes. Allow to cool.butterpeeled and coredgratedadd applescidersugargolden caramel applescoolingWhisk together 3 3/4 cups flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. Set aside.flour and spicesmore spicesall combined

Beat 2 sticks butter that has been softened to room temperature. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar, and beat at medium high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed and add 4 eggs, 1 at a time. Beat after each addition. Add 1/4 cup flour mixture to the cooled apple mixture. With the mixer on low, add the remaining flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with 1/2 cup sour cream.  Fold in the apple mixture.more butterbeatingsugarbrown sugarcombinedeggsfloursour creammore flourapples

Divide the batter between 2 8×2 inch round cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.batterready for the ovenbakedTo make the buttercream, whisk 5 egg whites, 1 2/3 cups brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat and whisk the mixture for about 5 minutes until it reached 160 degrees. Remove from heat and beat the egg mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium low and add 4 sticks room temperature butter (yes, I said 4 sticks), 2 tablespoons at a time. Beat for about 3-5 minutes after all butter has been added to make the frosting smooth. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to harden then beat the frosting to a spreadable consistency.seperating eggsready for the double-boiler160ready to be whippedwhippedeven more butterall addedfrostingfirst layersecond layer

The cake is delicious and the frosting is absolutely amazing. I know it has a lot of butter, but it’s a great splurge dessert! Happy fall!done


Beautiful Fall Foliage

It’s amazing how quickly fall changes the landscape from beautiful shades of green to an autumn rainbow. The leaves have been changing here, and being in a new house, I’m amazed at all of the fall color we have. Every day seems like a new surprise, so I thought I’d take you on a virtual tour.rhododendrunIt’s hard to believe but some of the rhododendron are reblooming.dogwoodThe dogwood has great color.firewoodReady for some warm fires in the fireplace.tulip treeOur tulip tree is huge!beautiful skyBeautiful sky.pinecones everywherePine cones everywhere.pine treesPine trees showing some golden color.mapleThe maple tree is putting on a show!leavesLots of fallen leaves.flowersSome flowers are still blooming!

I hope you enjoy the fall color. It will be gone before you know it!

beef strogranoff

Fall Weather and Beef Stroganoff…the Perfect Saturday!

Today was downright cold. Since it was a beautiful morning with leaves slowly falling and the sun shining, I decided to enjoy my breakfast on the deck. It was perfect, except, after a few minutes, I was freezing. Summer is definitely over. But, the cold temperatures made me think of what else…food…and not just any food…comfort food. Yes, not only is fall perfect with falling leaves, warm blankets, and amazing pumpkins, but it’s also the perfect excuse for warm, cozy comfort food like beef stroganoff!falling leaves

To start, cut 2 1/2 lbs. steak into chunks. I used sirloin, but feel free to use whatever cut you like. You want the pieces to be bite size. Salt and pepper the steak. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. If you’re like me, you may not have a pan big enough, so feel free to use a stock pot. Once the oil is hot, cook the steak until brown and mostly cooked through, a few minutes on each side. With this large amount, you want to cook the steak in batches, probably about three. Otherwise, the pan will be too full, and the meat will just steam, not brown. As the meat cooks, remove to a bowl.beefolive oilcookingbrowningcookedIn the same pan, add more olive oil if there isn’t any remaining. You want about a tablespoon total. Add 1 large onion, chopped. Cook for about 5 minutes until brown, then add 3 garlic cloves, minced. Cook for another minute, then remove to a bowl.onionsgarliconionsbrowningAdd 2 tablespoons butter to the pan. Once hot, add 1 lb. mushrooms, chopped. Again, you will want to do this in batches so the mushrooms brown. I cooked them in two batches.mushroomscookingalmostdoneOnce the mushrooms are all cooked, add the onions, garlic, and rest of the mushrooms back to the pan. Add 1/2 cup red wine, and deglaze the pan. Boil for a minute while scraping the bottom of the pan. Add 4 tablespoons flour, stir, and cook for another minute. Slowly add 4 cups beef broth, stirring to combine. The mixture will be thick as you start adding the broth. Add 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes to combine.wineflourcookingthickeningDijonBefore serving, add 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and 1 cup sour cream. Stir to combine. Boil egg noodles according to package directions, and serve the stroganoff over the noodles.parsleyaddedsour creamdoneI hope you enjoy this comforting meal as much as I did. I can’t wait for more as the fall keep coming!

more cookbooks

Cookbooks, Cookbooks, Everywhere!

As we approach the holiday weekend, most people are thinking about heading to the shore, or barbecues with friends, or maybe even some “getting ready for fall” shopping. But, for those who have a long list of projects to do at home, it’s a little different. There is a list…a dreaded list…of things that need to be accomplished this weekend, so I’ll be staying in. First up tomorrow is digging up the flagstone walkway and laying rocks and sand for drainage. Sounds like fun, I know, but it is great to continue to see improvements at the house.

One of the things we recently did was purchase new bookshelves for the living room. I love the way they look, and it was exciting to finally unpack the books that I stored away so long ago. The most exciting for me was going through the cookbooks.cookbooks

As I may have mentioned before, I’m a bit addicted to cookbooks. I love to read through, learn, and get new ideas. I flag pages, stick in post-it notes, and even write notes in some. As I’ve been reminiscing through my cookbooks, I thought I’d share some with you.

The first cookbook I ever used, my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook. I think I “borrowed” it many years ago, but it still somehow managed to survive the move! I still use this recipe for a fruit crisp topping.
Betty Crockerapple crisp

A few of my favorites appear on this shelf. I got the Gourmet Today cookbook a few years ago, and I love it. The recipes are so creative and different. Of course, no collection would be complete without Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Who doesn’t love Julia Childs? You can see all of my “notes” sticking out of the top. And, of course, Joy of Cooking. It was a must when I was starting out!Gourmet, Mastering, and Joy

I’m a huge Martha Stewart fan. Can you tell? They are some of my favorites, especially her The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It’s a great reference book.Martha Stewart

When we travel, my favorite souvenir is a cookbook, especially if we’re somewhere where the food is different from home. Last summer we were in Greece. It took some searching, but I found a great cookbook, that also happened to be in English. Two summers ago we were in Italy and lucky enough to attend a cooking class in Tuscany. I took copious notes at that one…it was phenomenal!Greek and ItalianMy Notes

My prized possessions, my Mommom Phil’s cookbook and recipe cards. I love that the cookbook is so battered and used, and that the recipes are in her handwriting. Sure, most of them don’t have quantities, and you have to guess at some ingredients, but it’s great to see what she loved. And, bonus, she wrote other recipes all over the cookbook!Mommom's RecipesInside Notes

Of course those were only the cookbooks you saw downstairs. I haven’t even unpacked all of the boxes of magazines filled with recipes!🙂 I guess that’s why they call it labor day! Happy Labor Day everyone!