Monthly Archives: February 2015

Witch-Hazel for Weary Winter Weather!

Right now, the temperature is 11 degree! It’s scheduled to drop to 4 degrees tonight! Yes, 4 degrees! Today we had wind chills of -15 degrees, and we’re expecting another 4 inches of snow tomorrow. Winter just keeps chugging along. As it does, I keep dreaming about the spring, and gardens, and blooms. This is definitely the time to start planning for the spring. It’s also a great time to start ordering seeds and bulbs. But the best way to get into the gardening mood and satisfy that craving is to see beautiful blooms in your garden, coming through the snow. With witch-hazel, that is possible.

I have to admit, until this past summer, I haven’t had much exposure to witch-hazel. Sure, I’ve heard of it, but I was never inspired to plant it until I read David Culp‘s book, The Layered Garden, about extending the season and adding interest all year-long. I was inspired. This summer, when I joined David and others on a nursery tour, I decided I had to have one of these amazing plants.witch-hazelWitch-hazel is a small, deciduous tree, growing to anywhere from 9 feet to 25 feet. It has a beautiful spread, with a lot of interest. The image above is thanks to Indiana Public Media to give you a sense of what the blooms look like. Unfortunately, mine isn’t anywhere near this big yet…yet! As you can see, the best part about this great tree is the bloom. In winter, sometimes as early as January or February, they are covered with these wispy, beautiful blooms in striking colors of yellow, orange, and even red.

As the buds develop, they are just round clusters that seem to grow and grow, not very large, but full of beautiful blooms. Below are some images of the trees at my work. They are farther along than mine at home, and you can see the color starting to shine through.progressingseed podsThis summer, I found a great variety of witch-hazel at RareFind Nursery in New Jersey. The plant I bought back in June has done well this summer and fall, and the blooms are just starting to appear. I can’t wait till it’s covered in amazing bright orange color. Witch HazelThankfully, it did well in the summer!winter witch-hazelAnd it continues to do well. Now just waiting for those blooms to open!close upIf you’re looking to extend your garden season or just an interesting addition, consider witch-hazel. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the garden, and a very interesting tree to have. It also can help take care of that gardening itch in the dead of winter. Also, with a name like witch-hazel, I’m sure it would help with any potions you’re trying to brew too! 🙂

Valentine’s Day Cookies…Give Your Heart!

finished cookiesValentine’s Day is an interesting holiday. Sure it can be a wonderful day celebrating the love you have for your significant other. That’s usually how I like to celebrate it. However, if you watch any TV show in early February, you’ll see an incredibly stressful day full of forgotten gifts, mistaken dinner reservations, and horrible cards. Hopefully yours ends up being a wonderful day, and these cute cookies can help you celebrate. Not only are they great for the love of your life, but they’re perfect for kids too.

butterFor this recipe, you can really use any sugar cookie recipe you like. I used my go to sugar cookie recipe from The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It’s pretty straight forward and makes an easy to use dough. The dough cuts perfectly with a cookie cutter.

To start, cream 2 sticks butter, at room temperature, with 1 3/4 cups sugar, until light and fluffy. Add 2 eggs, and beat until fully combined. Next, whisk 4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. In a measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup milk with 1 teaspoon vanilla. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until well combine, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.adding eggscreamedflour mixtureready to combinecombinedready for fridgeDivide the dough into quarters. Flour your work surface, and roll out until about 1/8 inch thick. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut the dough. Place them on a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes until golden.dividedrolled doughcuttingbaked

Now comes the hard part. One of the hardest things about making heart-shaped Valentine’s cowrong color chocolate icingokies is getting the royal icing red. Once again, I used Alton Brown’s recipe for royal icing that I wrote about in September. It’s easy to make, however, the hard part is getting a deep red color. I tried a few different versions. I tried adding cocoa powder, but it never became the right color, even though the chocolate tasted great. I also gave up and tried buying Wilton’s Red Cookie Icing which was a huge fail. It was way too runny and never solidified on the cookies. Finally, I tried Wilton’s Red Red gel icing coloring. It took a lot of gel to do it, but finally, I had red.

Add the icing to a pastry bag with a small round heartstip. Ice the outline first, then fill in with the icing. The consistency of this icing allows you to drag it to cover the cookie using the tip of the pastry bag. Allow them to dry for a few minutes. They also dry pretty smooth, which looks great.

I hope your Valentine’s Day is filled with chocolates, hearts, and most of all, love. Oh, and be careful with these cookies. If you drop one, you’ll have a broken heart! 🙂

Easy and Delicious Pot Roast for those Cold Nights!

olive oilOne of the best things about the winter months is making big, hearty meals that warm your body and your soul. Those comforting meals do wonders in the cold, dreary months. It’s been cold here, and somewhat dreary. While I’m still waiting for a big snow storm, we’ve had lots of little ones! So, this week, it was the perfect week to make a simple and delicious pot roast.

To start, you need a 3 lb chuck roast. I look for one that has good marbling but isn’t too fatty. In a dutch oven that’s heated over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sear the roast on all sides, about 5 minutes on each side until nicely browned. Then set the roast on a plate to rest while you continue with the vegetables.chuck roastseared chuck roastIn the same pot, brown 3 medium onions, chopped. I like to use sweet onions, but whatever you like, or have on hand, is fine. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until brown and soft. Next, add 4 celery stalks, chopped, 8 small carrots (4 large, although I keep getting small ones at the store), peeled and chopped, and 6 cloves garlic, minced. Cook all of the vegetables together for about 5 minutes.onionscooked onionscarrots and celerychoppedgarliccookingOnce the vegetables are ready, add the roast back to the pan, on top of the vegetables, along with 1 cup red wine, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, and 2-3 cups beef broth. You want the liquid to just cover the meat. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot, and set in a 375 degree oven for about 2 1/2-3 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when the meat can be pulled apart with a fork.tomato pasteready for ovenWhile the pot roast is cooking, quarter 24 oz button mushrooms. You’ll also need 4 tablespoons butter. Add 1 tablespoon butter to a saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook 1/4 of the mushrooms in the butter until brown. Continue with the rest of the butter and mushrooms, cooking in 4 batches.mushroomsquarteredbuttersauteing mushroomssauteed mushroomsWhen the pot roast is done, remove from the oven. Take out the meat and shred with two forks. Be careful to remove any large pieces of fat. Add the meat back to the pot along with the mushrooms.shreddingbeefIt’s warm, rich, meaty, and delicious! I hope it keeps you warm on these cold winter nights!