Category Archives: Tips

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…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

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

Delicious Peanut Butter Brownies

Last Sunday, we had dinner at a friend’s house. As is often the case, I was in charge of bringing the dessert. It was a busy weekend, so when Sunday came around, I knew exactly what I would make. They’re portable. They’re easy. And they’re absolutely delicious…peanut butter brownies.

You may remember, a while back I wrote about candy bar brownies, which are amazing. This is a little twist, taking them even further! For the peanut butter brownies, you need a batch of brownie batter. Feel free to make your own from scratch, or use a store-bought brownie mix. Either way, they’re so doctored up, they’ll be delicious.

To the brownie batter, fold in a 12 oz bag Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup miniatures, chopped. And I know, it may seem like a lot, but trust me, you want the whole bag! Pour the batter into a greased 13×9 inch pan and bake as you normally would. While the brownies are baking, we’re going to take the next step to put these over the top.Reese'schoppedready to foldbatterbakedThree words…peanut – butter – frosting! Yes, it’s amazing, and the perfect addition to these brownies. Beat 1 stick softened butter until creamy and smooth. Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter and thoroughly combine. Add 2 cups powdered sugar and mix until combined. If the frosting is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons milk until the desired consistency is reached.butterpeanut butterpowdered sugarreadyOnce the brownies are cooked and cooled, cut into squares. Pipe each square with a big dollop of frosting. I just used a plastic bag with the corner cut, but feel free to be fancy.browniescutready for frostingdoneNeedless to say, these brownies are always a huge hit. They are perfect for the peanut butter addict, or, really, whoever had taste buds! 🙂 Enjoy!

Steak House Salad for Summer

It seems like summer’s been here for a while already. Even though Memorial Day weekend started off cool, we had quite the heat wave last week with high temperatures and humidity. With the high temperatures, no one really wants to spend hours in the kitchen preparing dinner. That’s why salads are my go to dinner option in the summer. If you’re looking for a hearty and delicious salad, give this steak house salad a try.

To start, cut 1 onion in half then thinly slice. I like to use a sweet onion like Vidalia, but any will do. Cook the onion in 2 tablespoons over medium high heat until soft and brown, probably 5-10 minutes.onionsfried onionsWhile the onions are cooking, chop 1 head romaine lettuce into bite size pieces, then add to a large bowl. Add 1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half. lettucegrape tomatoeslettuce and tomatoWhen the onions are cooked, pour them over the lettuce and tomatoes. Heat a grill pan, or the pan you just used for the onions if you don’t want to dirty too many dishes, or better yet the grill, over medium high heat. Season a few steaks (I used 3) with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook just a few minutes on each side until cooked on the outside but still pink in the center. I used New York strip, but feel free to use your favorite cut of steak. Once cooked, set them on a cutting board to rest.with onionssteakrestingMake the dressing. Start with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and whisk to combine. Next add 3 tablespoons olive oil, and whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.DijonbalsamicdressingPour the dressing over the salad, then top with 4 oz crumbled blue cheese. Mix to combine. To serve, slice the steak. Serve the salad in large bowls and top with slices of steak.adding dressingblue cheesemixedslicedIf you’re looking for a summer salad that’s also filling and flavorful, this is the one. The combinations of fried onions and steak are perfect together. Combine the blue cheese, and it’s just perfect. And, to top it all off, with a good amount of protein, you won’t be craving a snack in an hour, I promise! 🙂

Hitting the Garden Hard!

It seems like out of nowhere, summer arrived. It’s hot, humid, and wonderful out. With the warm weather, the garden has been bursting. It’s been a ton of work to clean out the garden, trim back trees, and weed, but it’s been amazing to see so many beautiful flowers and plant come to life. Before the dog days of summer really get here, I thought I’d take you for a little tour of the garden.huge rhododendronThis amazing rhododendron is my favorite plant. There are tons of white blooms bursting all over, and it’s HUGE.

 

white rhododendronDetail of the beautiful white rhododendron.

 

red rhododendronIn addition to the huge white rhododendron, there are several deep red ones. The blooms are a striking color.

 

hostasAlthough it’s a bit hard to tell, this is a pretty steep hill. I was thrilled to see hostas growing along the hill. I’m going to add a few other perennials to the hill, but this is a great start.

 

variegated hostasIn the front yard, there is this variegated hosta, which provides great contrast.

 

fernsThere have been ferns popping up everywhere. These are in a shady area under a pine tree. I may add some ostrich ferns to the mix, just to add some height, and maybe some Japanese painted ferns for some color.

 

azaleaIn the front yard, there are at least 10 azaleas. Some of them haven’t been cared for too well, but they all bloomed this year. This one was one of the show stoppers, even though early in the spring it was being attacked by a woody vine. It’s a beautiful coral color.

 

more azaleasAnother azalea that’s doing well in the front is this lovely lavender one.

 

treesThese are some of the trees providing lots of shade in the front yard. Thankfully it’s a mix of types of trees, including several red maples, adding a mix of color.

 

creeping phloxThis creeping phlox is not doing so well in the shady front yard. Hopefully it will take off when I move it to a sunnier spot.

 

vincaOn the side of the house, there is a spot under the pine trees that’s covered with vinca. It’s hard to see, but there are beautiful purple flowers all over the vines.

I hope you’re enjoying your time in the yard as much as I am. It’s been a lot of work cleaning out a new space, but it’s great to see some payoffs already!

A Sweet Treat…Kentucky Derby Pie!

The first Saturday in May means horse racing. At least that’s what I’ve come to find out. It’s the Kentucky Derby. While I’m not a big follower of horse racing, I do have an event to attend tonight to celebrate the race. So, if you’re going to bring something to a Kentucky Derby party, it might as well be Kentucky Derby pie!

Kentucky Derby Pie is essentially pecan pie with chocolate chips. With the addition of bourbon, it’s a sweet pie with a kick. I found this recipe in Southern Living. It’s an easy pie and bakes up beautifully.

This pie calls for a single pie crust. I used my standard pie crust recipe to make a 9 inch pie crust. Line a pie plate, with the crust, crimp the edges, and then scatter 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans and 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips on the unbaked crust.pie crustrolled outmeasuringpie crust readyadding pecansadding chocolate chipsPour 1 cup dark corn syrup, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, and 1/4 cup bourbon in a large saucepan. If you don’t have bourbon, you can just use any whiskey you might have on hand. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir constantly and boil for 3 minutes. Be careful, the mixture will bubble up a bit, but a large pan will hold everything. After 3 minutes, the sugars will be dissolved, then remove from heat and set aside.corn syrupsugarbrown sugarbourbonbeginning to boilIn a medium bowl, whisk 4 eggs. Add 2 teaspoons cornmeal, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 cup melted butter. Whisk everything to combine, then slowly add about 1/4 of the sugar mixture, whisking thoroughly so you don’t cook the eggs. Continue to add the rest of the mixture and whisk to combine. Carefully pour the filling over the nuts and chocolate chips. I do this right next to the oven, with the pie already on a sheet pan so it’s ready for the oven. Bake at 325 for 55 minutes, until set.eggscornmealvanillabuttercombiningcombinedready for the ovenTonight, grab your big straw hat, a mint julep, and this dessert, and enjoy the Derby!