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A TRIO OF WINTER SOUPS

Image of a cauldron of bubbling soup over a fire.

photo courtesy of Pixabay

From the Kitchen of Engrid Winslow

Maybe you have figured out by now that I have a long-standing love affair with all things Italian? No, well then, here I am giving you a trio of Italian winter soups. The first one hails from Emelia Romagna and the next is from Umbria followed by a traditional Tuscan bean soup. By the way, a great source for traditional Italian foods of all types, including beans, check out www.Gustiamo.com. If you prefer to stay in the USA, www.ranchogordo.com is also a wonderful source for heirloom beans and grains. Both websites have wonderful recipes as well. All of the recipes serve 4-6 people with some leftovers.

 

Sausage and Lentil Soup

  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 3 Tbsp of Tomato Paste
  • 1/3 Cup Chicken stock or water
  • 850 grams (1 large can) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 cups lentils (the tiny Italian ones, called Lenticchini, are preferred)
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian Sausage
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Cooking the Lentils:

Wash the lentils in a strainer. In a large pot (big enough to hold cooked lentils, sausage and sauce), cover the lentils with 1.5 inches or 2 fingers worth of water. Cook the lentils over medium-high heat until the water boils and then decrease flame to low and cover the lentils. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed until the lentils are soft ((about 45 min).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Make the “Soffritto”:

Grate the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Add olive oil to a deep frying pan (big enough to hold the vegetables and sausage) and place over medium-low heat. Add the grated vegetables to the frying pan and let reduce, occasionally stirring until soft (10-15 min).

 

Combine the Ingredients:

While the soffritto is developing, remove the casing from the sausage and mash flat using the back of a spoon or your hands. Once the vegetables have turned a golden hue and the onions are translucent, add the mashed sausage. Once the sausage has browned add the tomato paste, 1/3 cup of water or stock and stir. Puree the whole peeled tomatoes and, after the sausage mixture has cooked for ten minutes, pour in the tomatoes and stir. Allow it to simmer for 25 min, covered on medium-low heat. Add the lentils and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

 

Umbrian Farro Soup

 

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery, medium chop
  • 3/4 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 minced cloves garlic2 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 21/2 cups tomato sauce (canned or homemade)
  • 3 cups cooked farro, cooked al dente
  • 1 quart beef stock (use vegetable stock if desired for a vegetarian version

Directions

  1. Sauté the onions, celery, and carrots until translucent.
  2. Heat 1 cup of the beef stock and add the porcini to reconstitute.
  3. Use an immersion blender or food processor to blend about 3/4 of the vegetables, the garlic, 1 cup of the cooked farro, and all of the porcini and liquid until smooth.
  4. Add back to the pot and add the remaining farro, vegetables and stock. Add 2 1/2 cups of tomato sauce. Season and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
  5. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)

 

Tuscan Bean Soup with Squash and Kale

 (Zuppa Frantoiana)

 

 

  • 1 finely chopped carrot
  • 1 stick finely chopped celery
  • 1 small finely chopped onion
  • 1 14 ounce can (400 grams) of cooked Borlotti (cranberry) beans (you can also use cannellini beans or chickpeas)
  • 1 cup of pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 small bunch of cavolo nero (Also known as Dinosaur or Tuscan) kale (you could use Swiss chard, beet greens, collards or spinach instead)
  • 4 cups of water or vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Gently cook the carrot, celery and onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil and a good pinch of salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on low heat. Let the vegetables sweat, not color, for about 10 minutes or until softened. Add the borlotti beans with about a cup of water (enough to cover) and bring to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes. Blend about half of the mixture to a smooth paste and return to the pot.

In the meantime, prepare the cavolo nero kale by slicing out the long, central stalk of the leaves and discarding and chop just the leaves roughly.

Add the pumpkin, potatoes and cavolo nero (if using silverbeet or spinach hold onto it until a few minutes towards the end of cooking) and top with enough water or stock to cover (up to 4 cups or 1 liter) and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, over an active simmer so that the liquid reduces slightly and the vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning.

Serve with a good grinding of black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

 

Tools to be a Better Gardener

by Sandy Swegel Photo of the bbbseed $25 gift card.

Today I’ve been thinking about how the garden tools I use have made me a better gardener. I have spent a lot of money over the years on tools that break or tools that seemed clever but end up unused. I garden at least twenty hours a week for other people, so my tools need to be effective and efficient as well as durable. 

(Keep these in mind if you are trying to figure out a good holiday or birthday gift for a gardener friend or relative!  One of these and a great gift card for seeds is sure to be useful and welcome!)

My Must-Have Garden Tools include:


Good Hand Pruners naturally. Felco pruners are great if you can afford them. A sharp edge is the more important feature of hand pruners and you need a high-end pruner that does have cheapo soft metal that dulls the first time you use it. I like Felcos, but Corona and Fiskars both have high-end pruners that are good. For my use, I need a replaceable blade because no matter how much you sharpen, at some point you need a fresh blade. I have hand pruners in two sizes…a smaller pair for perennial maintenance because they are lighter weight and a larger pair for shrubs, roses and trees. Last year Costco had a great deal on a generic version of Felcos in a two-pack.

A Soil Knife. The original name of this tool was a hori-hori knife and my first one came right from Japan. Now I like the bright orange soil knife from AM Leonard. The plastic resin handle holds up better than wood and the bright orange is easier to find when I lose it. You have to be careful of the extremely sharp edges (one side serrated and one side flat) but this is my combo trowel, weed digger, shovel, a garden tool for dividing perennials, etc.
Fiskars Power Gear Bypass Lopper 15 or 18 inches. I love the Fiskars PowerGear line. They really do give you more power per effort than any other lopper. I use the smaller loppers the most because they are lightweight and because they fit more easily between dense branches.

Black and Decker cordless (18V) sweeper. They don’t call this a vac because it’s not strong enough for big piles of leaves…but it’s the perfect quick cleanup at the end of working in the garden whether you’re “sweeping” a path or blowing debris lightly off of rock mulch. I also use it to sweep my kitchen floor.

Milwaukee Sawzall pruning blade. This vicious jagged blade is one of the secret weapons that let me do the work of your average 20-year-old male landscaper. Perfect for cutting trees or cutting right in the soil through old roots.

Mini Shovel and Mini Mattock Pickaxe. OK, laugh if you want, my friends do….but then they go out and get these mini tools when they see how much work they let me do. They are the same tools the aforementioned 20-year olds use in full-sized versions, but lightweight enough for me to use without ruining my rotator cuff, a common gardening injury. I use both while kneeling in the soil up close and personal to my job. Don’t get a wimpy camping pick or a garden pick made of thin metal…get the real thing in the hardware store.

Those tools and a colorful TubTrug or two, (those bendable colorful garden buckets that are worth every nickel) and you’ll find yourself able to work faster and stronger in the garden without trying too hard.

All About Gourds

by Heather Stone

Photo of mixed gourds.

Photo courtesy of pixabay – Couleur

 

Fall is here and pumpkins and gourds can be found in abundance. From the farm stand to the local grocery store, these colorful and sometimes funny shaped fruits are part of the season. But, did you know that gourds are one of the oldest cultivated plants? Originally grown to make storage vessels and utensils, nowadays we largely use them for decoration. A member of the Cucurbit family along with cucumbers, squash and melon, gourds grow on large, vigorous vines that can be trained along fences or up trellises.

 

Humans around the world have utilized gourds for a very long time for a variety of purposes. Most commonly, gourds were used for storage containers, utensils, dippers and dishes. Gourds were also used for creating musical instruments such as shakers, maracas, drums and various stringed instruments resembling a banjo. Some of the earliest guitars and violins in the United States were made from gourds by African slaves.

 

There are three types of gourds:

  • Cucurbita pepo are the colorful little ornamental gourds that make good decorations.
  • Lagenaria siceraria are the hard-shelled gourds . Varieties include the Speckled swan gourds, bottle gourds, dipper gourds, birdhouse gourds and powderhorn gourds. Hard-shelled gourds have been grown for over five thousand years for use as containers, utensils and drinking vessels.
  • Luffa aegyptiaca is the well-known bath sponge. When dry, the outer shell is scraped off and the inner fiber is used as a sponge.

 

Gourds are easy to grow and come in a wide array of colors, shapes and sizes. Sow the seeds in a sunny location after all chance of frost has passed. Gourds will grow in almost any soil and under most conditions. Ideally, train the vines up a trellis or fence to keep the fruits off the ground while ripening and drying.  Most gourds reach maturity in 90-150 days. Harvest after the shells harden by cutting the fruits from the vines with 1-2 inches of stem attached. Cure them for a week in a warm, dry location with good air circulation.

Photo of dried gourds made into baskets.

photo courtesy of pixabay – mikegoad

To fully dry your gourds for crafting:

 

  • Place gourds in a warm, dark spot.
  • Regularly turn your gourds so air reaches all sides.
  • When you can hear the seeds rattle inside your gourd, it is fully dry and ready for use.
  • This drying period can take several weeks depending on the variety and size of the gourd.

 

You can create a number of things from your homegrown gourds.

 

Here’s the how-to for turning that birdhouse gourd into a birdhouse.

Want to make a bowl or two? Here’s a great tutorial.

Sources: http://indianagourdsociety.org/education/Gourds_In_American_History_2010.pdf

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/decorative-gourds-57941.html

https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening/garden-journal/gourds-types-gourds-growing-gourds-curing-gourds

Pruning for Holiday Decorations

by Sandy Swegel

I’m a big fan of multi-tasking so it’s natural that whenever there’s a garden chore to be done, I think about whether it might solve some other task that needs doing. In the Spring I schedule perennial weed digging so the roots can be thrown to the chickens for yummy spring greens.  In Summer I arrange to cut grass when I need the clippings to mulch the vegetable beds.  In Fall I pick up leaves when I need to insulate rose bushes and perennials.  One of the tasks I still want to do this year is “rejuvenation pruning” on shrubs or simple pruning on shrubs and trees that are poking me in the eye when I walk by or blocking the sidewalk.

Rejuvenation pruning is a great way to keep all your shrubs looking great.  Every year you simply cut back to the ground 1/4th to 1/3rd of the oldest branches in your bushes.  The shrub will put out new growth next spring to fill in and you’ll always have a self-rejuvenating plant.

So the multi-tasking solution here is to do some needed pruning on plants that happen to also look good, when cut, to use the pruning for holiday decorations.  Some of the plants I’ll be pruning for Thanksgiving or Christmas are:

Branches with Berries: Pyracantha (orange berries) or Hawthorn (red berries)…be careful about thorns Cotoneaster with red berries Coral berry or porcelain berry

Branches with an interesting structure: Harry Lauder or curly willow both make nice twisty branches.  Birch stems can have interesting bark.  Yellow and redtwig dogwoods add great color.  Even simple wild plum branches can be put in the center of a flower arrangement to hold the flowers up

Evergreens: Early winter is a great time to prune those Mugo pines or spruce trees that block the driveway. Juniper and cedar trimmings offer great aroma as well as evergreen color.

So once again, twice the work in half the time or something like that.  The bushes have old wood removed, the shrubs and trees have a better shape, and the house is decorated for free with dramatic gifts from nature, brought indoors.

Photo Credit: http://liveatvillages.com/blog/?p=334http://ikebanalessons.blogspot.com/2012/10/ikebana-class-1052012.html

Thanksgiving Decorations from the Garden

by Sandy Swegel

One reason I first started gardening was so I could cut flowers to bring into the house or to bring as a gift to friends.  Almost all the flowers are finished in Colorado so it’s time to be more creative. There’s still lots to do to bring nature beautifully indoors and get thanksgiving decorations from the garden.

Decorate with Leaves. This one is obvious.  We had great color this year with our leaves.  Warm weather in September and October turned our trees and gardens very lush and colors are extra intense.  A Google search for decorating with leaves brought a zillion images of leaf mobiles and wreaths and candle holders and art cards. At our house, a neighbor’s seven-year-old came in and just put the big maple leaves she liked in a row down the table….a perfect fall runner.

A bowl of Jack Be Little Pumpkins

photo courtesy of Becky Hansen

Display the vegetables. It takes a long time to grow winter squash. Don’t just eat it.  Put it on display for a couple of weeks. In anticipation of Thanksgiving, I get out the big platters and artfully store those big bulky squash in plain view on the counter.  Instant art.

Use your prunings.  Cut spruce branches, pyracantha berries and other colorful or weirdly shaped stems make great decorations for your outdoor pots.

Make everything into candle holders.  Hollowed out squash and apples or overgrown beets.  Everything looks festive with a tea light!

Enjoy the color and bring the beauty indoors!

Photo credits:

 http://www.preen.com/articles/pots-for-fall-and-winter

http://organizeyourstuffnow.com/wordpress/6-fast-and-easy-ways-to-decorate-with-leaves

http://www.diy-enthusiasts.com/decorating-ideas/nature-fall-decorating-ideas-easy-diy/