Longwood Gardens Christmas 2017

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No holiday is complete without a visit to see the seasonal display extravaganza at Longwood Gardens in Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania.  The crown jewel of the gardens is the conservatory.  This year’s theme is “C’est magnifique!” and the décor is done in a French style reminiscent of Versailles.  The floating display is designed like a French parterre garden with thousands of floating Granny Smith apples, cranberries and walnuts arranged in a deconstructed fleur de lys design.  A Christmas table is set as if in a palace with its adjacent winter wonderland outdoor terrace garden. At every turn, there are surprises that delight every sense.  Trees are decorated with fleur de lys, giant castle keys and mirrored sun ornaments, a nod to Louis XIV, Le roi soleil, who was known for his vanity.  Towering Christmas trees made out of succulents are spectacular creations.  Another tree constructed of 400 fragrant orchids takes the breath away.  Giant pointsettia topiaries are nothing short of stunning as are the towering pointsettia trees. It was difficult to edit my photos for this post, it was all so magical.   Join me for A Longwood Christmas! The enchantment continues to January 7th.  Check the website for details. Continue reading

Dark Chocolate Flourless Torte with Blood Orange Ganache

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This rich chocolate torte is almost too good to believe.  With just 3 ingredients which come together in a few minutes, it is decadent and very satisfying with a texture reminiscent of lush chocolate fudge.  Baking the cake in a water bath helps keep it moist.  There is no added sugar in the recipe and the sweetness comes exclusively from the chocolate you use.   I find dark chocolate sweet enough but if you prefer your dessert sweeter, go with milk chocolate or maybe half milk/half dark.   It is a decadent dessert so cut it in small slices.  It will easily serve a dozen guests.   To change it up from my usual recipe, I added a layer of ganache on the top of this version simply made by melting a Godiva dark chocolate-blood orange chocolate bar right on top of the warm cake.  So easy!  To finish it up, I sprinkled candied orange peel all over the top and served fresh orange slices on the side.  A truly special dessert for holiday entertaining.  Love the chocolate and orange combo of flavor but don’t want to fuss with the chocolate ganache layer and candied orange peel?  Just add the zest of 1 orange to the batter and serve with fresh orange slices.  Did I tell you the cake can be made up to 4 days in advance???

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Curried Cauliflower-Pumpkin-Black Bean Warming Stew

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As we head into the holiday season, here is a recipe to keep you eating nutritiously in between all the excesses of this time of year.  Chock full of veggies and warming spices, this is a thick stew-like soup that will fuel you with loads of antioxidants, protein, vitamins and minerals,  great fiber and wonderful flavor.   It will keep you satisfied and energized throughout the holidays.  It can be frozen in smaller portions. Substantial enough to enjoy as a meal, it is a fragrant bowl of goodness to keep you nourished during this stressful time of year.  Top it off with shredded coconut, pomegranate arils, toasted pumpkin seeds or big dollops of yogurt.

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Stuffing in a Bundt

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“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” John F Kennedy

Although I can roast a gorgeous herb turkey, for me Thanksgiving is all about the sides.  Stuffing and cranberry sauce are personal favorites.  Our family likes stuffing baked inside the bird.  When it comes out, it doesn’t look so pretty.  I saw a picture of stuffing baked inside a Bundt pan and thought I’d try it.  To make it, make your favorite stuffing as usual ( ours was a cornbread, sausage and apple stuffing) and save about 10 cups.  Whisk 4 large eggs in a cup of chicken or turkey broth and mix into your stuffing.  This will be the binder of the ingredients.  If it seems dry, add a little more broth.  Transfer to a generously buttered or oiled Bundt pan and press down with your hands to get a uniform density.  Bake at 350F, middle rack, uncovered,  for 25 minutes.  Invert on a platter and serve cut into slices.  Presentation dilemma solved!  This stuffing will command the attention at your Thanksgiving table, as it should!  This stuffing pleases both sides of the stuffing debate:  it is moist enough to please those who like the stuffing cooked inside the bird yet will appeal to those who swear by stuffing cooked outside the bird.  Great as a leftovers too.

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One section of my stuffing broke off and had to be pieced back in, showcasing the importance of really greasing up the Bundt pan before baking the stuffing.  Sorry for the blurry picture!

I made the stuffing in a Bundt a second time with a leek-pecan-sausage-apple white bread stuffing using Uncle Ben’s stuffing mix. I made it a little drier this time.  It did not stick to the pan and was so beautiful on the Thanksgiving buffet table.

Coming out of the oven.

Inverted on the serving platter.

Show time!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Garlicky Green Bean Bundles with Caramelized Bacon

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For me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides and these green beans are so good, they might steal the show.  Barely cooked green beans are enveloped in a strip of bacon sprinkled with a bit of brown sugar then drizzled with garlic butter.  Do I need to say more?  When I made these in the test kitchen they vanished.  Plan for more than 1 bundle per person as your guests will come back for more.  This is Williams Sonoma’s top reader recipe and there is a reason why!  The original recipe appears here.  When I made them a second time, I used fresh garlic instead of garlic powder in the butter and a generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper on the finished beans.  Even better! To ease the frantic Thanksgiving meal preparation,  you could precook the bacon, have the green beans trimmed and blanched and assembled on the baking sheet until ready to bake.  Sprinkle the brown sugar and the garlic butter just before putting in the oven.  img_1053

Garlicky Green Bean Bundles with Caramelized Bacon

8 thick bacon slices
6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. roasted garlic powder
1 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and blanched
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large nonstick fry pan over medium heat, cook the bacon in batches until the slices are just beginning to brown along the edges but are still very underdone and pliable, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool, then cut each slice in half crosswise.

In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, salt and garlic powder.

Divide the green beans into 16 equal portions, about 6 beans each. Gather each portion into a neat bunch and wrap a half slice of bacon around the center to hold the beans together. Place the bundles on the prepared baking sheet with the loose ends of the bacon underneath. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bundles and drizzle with the butter mixture.

Roast until the bacon is cooked through and browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Let stand for 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the green bean bundles to a serving platter.

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Slow Roasted End of Season Tomatoes

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“The difference between a bland tomato and a great one is immense, much like the difference between a standard, sliced white bread and a crusty, aromatic sourdough.” Yotam Ottolenghi

I always look forward to fall and all its splendour.  But, hélas, it also signals the end of tomato season.  In my garden, I have some tomatoes that are struggling to ripen with the cooler temperatures upon us and many that have become mealy and are just not that good.  Slow cooking these end of season, less than perfect tomatoes, can rescue them and bring out some of their sweetness and improve their texture.  Adding spices boasts their flavor and makes them fragrant additions to autumnal soups, braises and stews.  When the garden gives you mealy tomatoes…..make slow-roasted spiced tomatoes!

To slow-roast them, cut the tomatoes in quarters or halves depending on size.  For every pound of tomatoes, toss with:

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Spread the seasoned tomatoes on a lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake in a 275 F degree oven for 2 hours. You will end up with caramelized, gently spiced tomatoes to use in various recipes and fill your kitchen up with the most heavenly aroma! Be sure to scrape up any cooking juices.    I puréed mine with zucchini and onions into a creamy all vegetable  soup.  So good!

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Growing Moss on Hypertufa and Clay

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“And when thou art weary I’ll find thee a bed, Of  mosses and flowers to pillow thy head.” John Keats

Moss envy! I dreamed of recreating this ancient looking moss in my home garden.

On a tour of English gardens last year,  one of the things I loved the most were stone structures covered in moss.  Some of these gardens were hundreds of years old and the moss looked even more ancient.   Continue reading