Hydrangeas to Dry For

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Hydrangeas are a good flower to dry indoors to enjoy in arrangements all year long.  The simplest way to preserve them is by air drying.  Leave them on the shrub until they start to feel papery dry, then cut them.  This is done before they turn brown or become too brittle to use and long before the first frost.  When gathering your blooms, keep in mind how you plan to use them and cut the stem length accordingly.  I like to cut the stems long and then reduce to the size needed.

imageHydrangeas arborescens(Annabelles, PeeGees,Limelight) are long stemmed plants ideal for cutting.  In the zone 6 climate where I live, the Annabelles seems to be the only hydrangeas that survived last winter’s brutal weather.  They flower on new wood and can be cut with abandon.  After admiring my friend Barb’s lush plants a few weeks ago and pining about not having my hydrangeas bloom this year, she surprised me with a huge dried bouquet of Annabelles on my front porch when I returned from vacation last week! I knew I had to write about the joys of dried hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas macrophylla(Mop Heads, Lacecaps) flower on old wood and tend to have shorter stems.  These should be cut above the first set of buds so as not to affect next season’s flowers.  Many North East gardeners did not have the H. macrophylla shrubs bloom this year, much to their collective chagrin.  I am told they should rebound and return next season.

Once you bring your hydrangeas indoor,  remove all the leaves.  The dried flowers will have a more muted coloration.  White blooms may dry to a creamy yellow or to a greenish brown hue.  Bright pinks may become a deep red when dried. Store them either upright in a container or tie them upside down.  Either way they are ready to use in your arrangements.

In a charming basket, hydrangeas offer a cheerful welcome

In a charming basket, hydrangeas offer a cheerful welcome

 

To create an easy table centerpiece, circle a hurricane with a crown of hydrangeas with the stems cut short.  Iplaced the hurricane in a platter with raised sides then simply rested the hydrangeas all around until the platter was concealed.

To create an easy table centerpiece, circle a hurricane with a crown of hydrangeas with the stems cut short. I placed the hurricane in a platter with raised sides then simply nestled the hydrangeas all around until the platter was concealed.

A trio of stems in a galvanized steel basket is a simple arrangement on a bookcase.  A ribbon adds a punch of color.

A trio of stems in a galvanized steel basket is a simple arrangement on a bookcase. A complimentary ribbon adds a punch of color and a professional finish.

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A big bunch in an earthen vessel creates a magnificent fall arrangement with a few seasonal gourds as an accent.

My favorite project with dired hydrangeas was making a rectangular wreath using an old frame, a glue gun and hanging the wreath with a ribbon. I found it easier to put the glue on the frame first and to stick the flower in the glue than trying to glue the flower first.

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The finished wreath, hanging above my kitchen sink!

The finished wreath, hanging above my kitchen sink!

A mini cluster cut from the larger bloom is perfect as a gift topper.

A mini cluster cut from the larger bloom is perfect as a gift topper.

The dried hydrangeas will last all year and even longer, if kept out of direct sunlight.  With dried hydrangeas, think beyond fall arrangements.  I like to use them in a garden-themed Christmas tree.  They add texture and dimension, are light weight and organic.  I sometimes add a little sparkle with a light spray of gold paint on the tips of the flowers.  At the end of the season, they go out with the tree, no storage needed! image

Dried hydrangeas are versatile and bring long lasting beauty from your garden indoors.  How will you showcase yours?

“A dead hydrangea is as intricate and lovely as one in bloom.”  Toni Morrison

Hydrangeas, 2012

Hydrangeas, 2012, one of my very first oil paintings

Mascarpone Sage and Sundried Tomato-Stuffed Chicken Thighs

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Is it just me or does it not seem like recipes calling for special  ingredients only need some of said ingredient and there is always  a leftover  that just sits in the fridge?  So was the case recently with half a tub of mascarpone cheese, unneeded, unloved. Just coming home from a vacation in foodie Asheville, NC, with no time for grocery shopping, I went looking to create an inspired meal from what I had on hand, my favorite kind of cooking!   Taking that lonely mascarpone, seasoning it with garlic, cutting fresh sage from the garden and adding sundried tomatoes from the pantry to  chicken thighs from the freezer, we had a terrific tasty dinner in about a half hour. Adding  whole wheat rotini and a side of heirloom cherry tomatoes balanced this Italian inspired meal.  It sure wasn’t Asheville, but it was pretty good!

MASCARPONE SAGE and SUNDRIED TOMATO STUFFED CHICKEN THIGHS

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9 boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat, filleted so they lay flat

4 oz of mascarpone cheese

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

9 fresh sage leaves

9 sundried tomatoe halves, not in oil

9 slices of nitrate-free bacon, partially cooked and drained of fat

salt and freshly ground pepper

1)  Preheat oven to 450 F

2)  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Lay down the 9 bacon strips.  I partially cooked the bacon so it would end up crispy on the chicken.  On top of each bacon strip, crosswise, lay the flattened chicken thighs.  Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

3)  In a small bowl mix the mascarpone with the garlic, 1t sea salt and 1/2t pepper.

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4)  In the center of each thigh, place a teaspoon of the seasoned cheese, 1 sage leaf and one sundried tomato half.  Starting at one end, roll the chicken into a bundle with the bacon on the outside.  Secure with a toothpick and place seam down on the prepared baking sheet. Season with additional salt and pepper.

5)  Roast on the lower rack of the oven for 20 minutes.

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Add a side of pasta and a fresh tomatoe salad and you have a quick dinner good enough for company!

Buon appetito!

Pumpkin, Sage and Sausage Rigatoni

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Enticingly aromatic when served straight from the oven,  with a golden au-gratin top, this pumpkin, sage and sausage rigatoni is a wonderful rustic fall dinner dish.   Pumpkin is one of those super foods boosting our immunity and this casserole serves up a big dose.   The rigatoni is enveloped in  a creamy, velvety custard made from the pumpkin purée, milk, mascarpone, egg yolk and grated cheeses seasoned with fall spices.  Simple, make-ahead but oh so good!

PUMPKIN, SAGE and SAUSAGE RIGATONI  serves 8

14 oz uncooked Italian  sausage, hot or sweet; I used a broccoli rabe sausage

1 T chopped fresh sage leaves

1 29 oz can of pumpkin purée

1 1/2 c  milk

4 oz mascarpone cheese

2 egg yolks

1 c plus 3 T grated Quattro Formaggi cheese mix(asiago, fontina, parmesan and provolone) or any combination you prefer

1/4 t nutmeg

1 t pumpkin pie spice

1/2 t salt

fresh ground pepper

1/3 c of panko bread crumbs

1-  Preheat oven to 350 F. Bring a pot of water to a boil to cook the pasta adding the salt.

2-  Remove sausage from casing and brown in a large pot, over medium heat, until cooked, breaking up any clumps.  Drain off fat.  Add chopped sage and reserve.

3-  Cook rigatoni as per package directions, minus one minute.

4-  While pasta is cooking, make custard.  Using the same pot as the sausage was cooked in, whisk together the pumpkin, spices, milk, egg yolks, mascarpone and 1 cup of the grated cheese.  Cook over medium heat, stirring while cooking, until cheeses are melted and custard is bubbling.

5-  Drain pasta and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.  Return to pot, add sausage and the pumpkin custard and gently mix to combine.

6-  Pour into a 13 X 9  X 2 dish or in 8 individual oven-safe gratin dishes.  Sprinkle with the panko bread crumbs, some fresh ground pepper and finish with the reserved 3 T of grated cheese.

7-  Bake at 325 F for 20 minutes, uncovered, on the middle rack, until golden brown. Increase heat to broil and place under broiler for 1 minute.

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This is the first of many pumpkin inspired dishes I will be featuring throughout fall.  I looove pumpkin and it is so good for us!  I hope you do too!

” I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet cushion.”  Henry David Thoreau

 

 

Spiced Chocolate Maple Leaf Cookies

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When I started blogging, my friend Lynne gave me a handmade cookie cutter in the shape of a maple leaf to celebrate the blog and my Canadian heritage.  I have been waiting for fall to create something with the cookie … Continue reading

Roasted Butternut Squash Couscous Salad with Apricots and Mint

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Settle into sweater weather with a scrumptious grain salad bursting with complex layers of flavor and chock full of fantastic texture. It was inspired from the master of interesting  combinations of foods,  Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu who is the author of 3 interesting cookbooks and has one of the hottest restaurants in London bearing his name. Although it will seem like the seasonings are odd together and too numerous, trust me on this one.  Ottolenghi knows what he is doing.  Thiis delicious salad will become a favorite.  If you will serve it as a side grain, you can omit the arugula.  Variations would include changing the nuts to hazelnuts, adding pomegranate seeds or toasted sunflower seeds.

“The kitchen is a country in which there are always discoveries to be made.” Grimod de la Reynière

COUSCOUS with DRIED APRICOTS and ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH

1 large (red) onion, thinly sliced

6 tbs olive oil

50g dried apricots – (1/2 cup)

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch dice

250g couscous (1 1/2 cups)

400ml chicken or vegetable stock (1 1/2 cups)

a pinch of saffron strands

3 tbs roughly chopped tarragon

3 tbs roughly chopped mint

3 tbs roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

coarse sea salt and black pepper

1/2 c  shelled and toasted pistachios

2 cups of arugula

3 fresh apricots, optional, pitted and cut in 6 segments, as garnish

Preheat the oven to 400F
Place onion in a large frying pan with 2 T oil and a pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes, until translucent and a golden, caramalized brown. Set aside.
Pour hot water from the tap over the apricots just to cover them. Soak for 5 mins then drain and cut them into small dice.
Coat the diced squash in 1-2 T olive oil and spread out on a baking tray to roast. Place in oven for 40 mins, until  soft, stirring to prevent sticking, half way through.
While waiting for the butternut squash to roasting, cook the couscous. Bring the stock to boiling, add the saffron. Place the couscous in a large heatproof bowl and pour the boiling stock over it, plus the remaining olive oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave for about 10 mins for all of the liquid to be absorbed. When done, fluff with up with a fork. Then add the onions, squash, apricots, herbs, cinnamon and lemon zest and juice. Mix well with hands.
Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve warmish or cold over a bed of arugula.  Top with the toasted pistachios and fresh apricots, if using.

Delicious Autumn!

For more interesting recipes, check out Ottolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi’s cookbooks.

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imageIf you’ve ever dined at one of Ottolenghi’s restaurants, let me know how it was in the comments so I can live vicariously through you until I get there myself!  :)

Pomegranate Molasses and Mustard Grilled Pork Tenderloin

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Grilling pork tenderloin gives it a nice crusty outer layer and leaves the inside moist and succulent.  This marinade introduces great flavoring with fall accents and is transformed into a flavorful glaze by simply reducing it for a few minutes.  Add some rice and a vegetable side and it transforms into a company-worthy meal in no time at all.

POMEGRANATE MOLASSES and MUSTARD  GRILLED PORK TENDERLOIN

1/4 c molasses

2 T pomegranate molasses

2 T apple cider vinegar

2 T Dijon mustard

2  T grainy mustard

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

fresh ground pepper

1 1/2 to 2 lbs of pork tenderloin

Dry your tenderloin with paper towels and pepper liberally with freshly ground pepper.  Whisk together the molasses, mustards, vinegar, garlic to create the marinade.  Using a zip lock gallon bag or a marinading dish, cover the tenderloin with the marinade and set in your refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours, turning once.  Remove pork from the marinade and transfer the marinade to a small saucepan.

Preheat your grill.  Start grilling the tenderloin on high heat to sear the outside of the meat.  Reduce the heat, and grill covered for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally until pork is cooked through.  Remove from the grill and tent in foil for 5-10 minutes.  Cut on the diagonal, across the grain, into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Bring the marinade to a boil then lower the heat and reduce the marinade until is is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour over the sliced pork and serve extra on the side.  We served our pork with a side of Uncle Ben’s  brown, red and black rice medley to which I added pomegranate seeds and fresh chives and a side of sautéed baby kale.  A delicious and simple fall meal ready in 30 minutes.

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Fall Window Box

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Fall is my favorite season to decorate.  The rich colors in nature and the bountiful pumpkins, gourds, mums and kales available everywhere just make it so easy to bring fall’s flourishes into your home décor.  When temperatures start to dip a bit, it’s time to start entertaining outside again.  Near our patio table we have a window box that is filled with annuals all summer.  By now the flowers are spent and ready for a refresh.  A no-maintenace window box bursting with fall’s bounty is what I set out to create.    No mums, grasses or kale were used to avoid having to water or deadhead.  I foraged dried seed heads and bark,  right in the yard;  got a bag of mixed gourds at the supermarket; gathered various rattan spheres,  silk fall branches, some waxed artichokes and moss from my craft supplies, and set to work.  To bring interest to window boxes think of adding an element of surprise.  I created 3 looks for the same window box with a lantern, a rattan pumpkin and a acorn sculpture. Here is how it all came together:

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I left trailing sedums from the summer to create a base layer.

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My first look was with the apple shaped lantern. I just started playing around with the fresh gourds and spheres.

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For height, I inserted a bundle of pheasant feathers and some silk branches and a cone made out of birch bark that I filled with moss.

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A silk bird in autumn colors is perched on the lantern, I hung a fall wreath on the window above the window box and added the seed pods and moss. Layering is what helps create a lush arangement with lots of interest for the eye to discover.

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Substituting the lantern with a rattan pumpkin creates a different look.

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A cozy nook to read during still beautiful fall afternoons.

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These shutters are a salvage find and were added to make this back window a focal point near our outdoor dining table.

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3 rd look: adding a giant acorn sculpture which I lay on a piece of oak bark. Although the gourds are stacked, there is no glue necessary. This planter is in a sheltered area. If your box will be more exposed to the elements, especially wind, you might want to use some hot glue.

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This was the same window box last fall. If you want to read about it, please search for French-Themed Fall Luncheon In the Garden

Which look do you like best?  I like the lantern one myself!  A simple stunning fall display which was created for $9 in a few minutes.  And the best part, no maintemance needed and the gourds can be composted and won’t require storage.  Happy fall!