Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall Colours

The fall colours have peaked and the wind and rain will soon leave the trees bare and skeletal, but I did manage to capture some of the beauty of the autumnal splendour.

Front garden - Sedum, Black-eyed Susans, Asters
Red Sumac, Yellow Redbud leaves
View out front
View out back
Potting Shed - Lime-green Geraniums, red Virginia Creeper
A pair of dazzlers

STOP, and admire the leaves
I pray for a mild winter


A few weeks ago, CC and I ventured out to one of our favourite spots to harvest Bittersweet for dried flower arrangements and we were not disappointed!  We got there early enough to beat the old ladies, who, like us, think it's ridiculous to pay a florist $20 a branch for something that grows wild.  There are two species of the vine in the genus Celastrus - American bittersweet (C. scandens) and Oriental bittersweet (C. orbiculatus).  The former has larger, orange berries, and the latter has smaller, yellowish berries and is considered invasive.

American bittersweet
Oriental bittersweet
10 minutes work = $300 worth of bittersweet!
Once we got it home, we brought all the branches into the back yard and proceeded to remove all of the leaves, untwine the branches, prune off any unwanted bits and organize the branches into the two types.

CC then arranged the various branches in different pots and urns.  No water is required, and the arranging needs to be done before the berries open up, which is triggered by heat and dryness.

Table centrepiece
Large arrangement
Small arrangement with Honesty and Lavender
Open berries
Open berries

Food, glorious Food!

It's cool and damp out there at this time of year, so it's perfect weather for having the oven on. Thanksgiving has come and gone (can you believe it?!), so it's time to get a little more creative in the kitchen.  Below are some examples of things I have made or tasted recently.

1) Pumpernickel Bread - this is something I have been making since I was a teenager, and I'm now 50, so you do the math!  The recipe came from a bread book that was part of a series of cookbooks, that have long since been lost to me.  Fortunately, I copied this recipe out.

>>>In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 3 packages of active dry yeast and 1-2 tablespoons caraway seeds.  Mix 1 1/2 cups warm water (115-120'), 1/2 cup molasses and 2 tablespoons cooking oil, then add to the flour mixture. Beat with a wooden spoon until well mixed. Stir in 2 cups rye flour and another cup or so all-purpose flour. Knead, shape into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once, then cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours.  Punch down the dough, divide in two, cover and let rest a further 10 minutes.  Shape into two loaves, place on a greased baking sheet and flatten to a 6-7 inches diameter.  Cover and let rise for 30-45 minutes. Bake in a 350' oven for 40 minutes until well browned. As you can see above, I also tried making one loaf in an oiled cast-iron skillet, to a crispier crust on the bottom.

2) Squash - Acorn, Spaghetti, Butternut (pictured above), etc. Who doesn't love the smell and taste of these babies? They are colourful, versatile and delicious. I even love the look of them sitting on the counter.  My favourite way to prepare them is to cut one in half, remove the seeds and bake at 350' for an hour. Once it has cooled, the flesh comes out very easily with a large, metal spoon.

Then, let your imagination run wild.  If you don't have time, just cover and refrigerate until you're ready. It's great in soup or risotto, but recently, I added it to mac and cheese, which turned out wonderfully!

3) Puff Pastry - I'm no Martha Stewart, so I would never try to make my own, unless I was a kept man, or had time to kill.  Sadly, neither applies to me at this point. However, puff pastry is now sold in packages of two frozen, pre-rolled sheets.  I used to buy the frozen blocks of puff pastry which never rolled into straight-edged pastry, so there was always lots of waste.  Now I just thaw the package in the fridge overnight, unroll the sheets and get creative.

A few weekends ago, I had some vegetarian friends over for lunch and wanted to make something a little special, so I surfed the net, and quickly discovered some recipes for Mushroom Wellington.

>>>Basically, you sauté a bunch of mushrooms with a scallion until all the liquid evaporates, add a splash of brandy or port and season with salt and pepper. Once it has cooled, mix it with bread crumbs and chopped Brie (I used a goat's cheese Brie) or any other cheese you'd care to try. Cut a good inch from the long side of the thawed, unrolled puff pastry sheets and brush the edges of one sheet with egg wash (one egg mixed with a tablespoon of water). Arrange the strips of cut puff pastry along the edges to create a border, and brush these with more egg wash. Place your mushroom mixture in the centre of the pastry, patting it down firmly, and carefully place the other puff pastry sheet on top. Score the edges if you like and brush the entire surface with egg wash.  You can add some decorative bits with leftover pastry but be sure to brush these with egg wash as well.  Use scissors to cut some air vents all along the surface, bake at 400'F for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375'F and continue baking for another 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.  Let cool for 10 minutes, then cut into slices and serve.  Recently, I made this as a side dish and used baked squash mixed with some parmesan and a little egg on the bottom layer with the sautéed mushrooms on top. Instead off Brie, I added some grated smoked Gruyere to the mushroom mixture.

4) Cranberry Blue Cheese Tart with a Walnut Crust - my sister-in-law, who is a fabulous cook, made this as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, and although I don't have the recipe, I wanted to share what it looked like, because it was absolutely delicious!  I'm going to try and find the recipe online and make it myself some time, although I'm not a great pastry maker (my hands are too hot, and I don't have the delicate touch needed for pastry-making).
See my friend's pastry recipe here for help: http://danibp.blogspot.ca