Friday, January 29, 2016

Sausage and Bean Crockpot Stew

I made an incredible stew in the crockpot yesterday that was not only super easy to make but oh, wow, the flavors were amazing!

 As an added bonus it's healthy, to boot - what's better than that? 

This time, not only did I take photos, I also took note of measurements. 

I hope you will add this to your recipe bucket list - it's worth it for sure!


13 oz Hillshire Farm Sausage, Hardwood Smoked, Chicken, Sliced. 

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 large onion, chopped

bell pepper, chopped

1 cup sliced carrots

4 garlic cloves, minced

2/3 cup celery, chopped

15 oz can Bush's Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed 

2 cups fat free reduced sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 tsp McCormick Mediterranean Herb Seasoning

2 cups chopped greens - I used beet greens that I had chopped and froze at the end of gardening season. You can substitute any greens you prefer, such as Spinach, Kale, Escarole. 

Throw all ingredients except for the chopped greens into the crock pot, set it on low, and go do something else for the day. I went to work. 

When I came home, the house smelled divine! 

I took some cornbread out of the freezer, and the beet greens, and poured a glass of wine. 

When it was time to serve dinner, I threw the beet greens in a few minutes before we ate just to wilt them. 

I topped the soup with freshly grated Parmesan and served with warm cornbread. 

And the rest of my wine. 

It was a very, very good meal. My tummy was happy. 

This made 8 portions, which makes this a very inexpensive meal. 

And if any of you are following Weight Watchers (the current Oprah version) this stew is only 3 points per serving. 

Guess what's for lunch today? 

I can't wait. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

One of My Favorite Books of All Time!

As you can tell by my last few posts I'm getting a little itchy for spring. I'm excited to see what plants survived the winter and to put some more work into my new garden. 

However, I still have a long way to go until it's time. 

One of the things that will tide me over until I can get my fingers in the dirt is reading my gardening magazines and getting ideas. And, of course, browsing around online. 

I just renewed my subscription to Garden Gate Magazine for 2 more years and I can't wait until the next issue arrives!

But as it gets closer and closer to spring the thing that really gets me in the mood to get out there and play in the dirt is reading my favorite book. 

I have to tell you outright, this is not a sponsored post, nor is it an affiliated post. I just truly love this book. 

Out in the Garden - Growing a Beautiful Life
I found Dean Riddle's book quite by accident the first year I moved up to the country from New York City. I was browsing around in a little village called Phoenicia and wandered into a super cute home store called The Tender Land Home.  The book was on display and I snatched up a copy to give it a read. 

And I was completely and totally hooked. 

The author, at the time of writing, was splitting his time between an apartment in NYC and a small rental cottage near Phoenicia. Despite not owning the cottage he put in the most lovely garden that has been featured in many, many publications through the years. 

Dean Riddle's Garden
I was fortunate enough to visit Dean's garden during a garden tour that first summer I lived in the Catskills and I fell instantly in love. I could very easily spend every waking moment in that garden and never grow tired of it. 

Dean's book is about so much more than just gardening. It's very much about the connection between yourself and the environment around you. He has been living simply and mindfully for many years, and inspires me greatly to do the same. He embraces the beauty around him and the quiet simplicity of a country life. 

Dean Riddle's Garden When Dormant
Dean's garden is equally beautiful when at rest, which is the hallmark of a truly talented gardener. 

Dean Riddle's Garden When Flowering

When it's in flower the garden is beyond beautiful. It's a riot of color and texture - I could spend hours examining every plant, every combination of color and form. 

Dean Riddle's Garden
Dean's writing is beautiful and poetic and he weaves stories of his life among stories of his garden and humble home in the Catskills. 

I hope to be able to incorporate even a small portion of Dean's incredible garden style into my new garden. 

And I hope that you give Dean's book a read. 

And that when you turn that final page you put the book down with a sigh and the urge to read it all again from page one. 

I'm very much looking forward to my pre-spring ritual. 

What's yours?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Garden Dreams - Ornamental Trees

I always get 'itchy' for spring around February or so. It's not that bad yet, as our winter came so late this year. 

But it's starting. 

The gardening magazines and seed catalogs are arriving in the mail. 

I'm starting to dream about my garden plans for spring. 

Last spring I was so busy moving into the house and just getting settled that I barely did any gardening. Well, for most people it may seem I did a lot but for me it was minimal!

I also had to live through the garden for a year to see what was already there. 

I added a few perennials and shrubs here and there but nothing crazy. A few shrubs along the edge of the front lawn, some roses and a few clematis, and some various ground covers up the garden steps. 

Oh, and about a million Hostas in varying shades of chartreuse and blue. 

Seriously - this was my Hosta order when it arrived in the mail. I might have gone a little crazy when I placed my order - oops!!

I also planted 240 spring bulbs in the fall...half of which were immediately dug out and eaten by the critters. 

Mommy was NOT happy. 

I think the place I'm going to focus first is on the little circular bed in the center of the front lawn. There's a Dogwood tree there now and it does absolutely nothing in my zone. It doesn't flower, it has no redeeming foliage or form - it's going. 

I'm not saving anything that is planted around it, either. I gave it a season to see what came up and there's nothing worth saving.  

I'd like to find a tree that has 4 seasons of interest and plant some annuals around the base.  

I have always loved an Eastern Redbud - that's a strong contender. 

The form is gorgeous in all seasons and that spring color is one of the best around!

The Malus Prairifire Flowering Crabapple is a lovely option as well. 

My sweetie has these at his house and they look so lovely in spring. Again, the form is rather nice also. 

I also adore a Weeping Cherry Tree. I had one in my marital home, it was a gift from my daughter. 

I absolutely hated to leave that tree behind. 

Another tree I drool over is the Bloodgood Japanese Maple. This tree has red leaves and striking fall color. The form is terrific, and it stays relatively petite. 

I will have such a tough time deciding which to go with but I want to plant it in Spring so it's time to do my homework!

I am open to other suggestions - I'm trying to find something hardy to zone 4 although technically I think I can go to zone 5. 

Do you have an ornamental tree that you absolutely love? 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thinking Ahead to Spring Gardening

I know many of you are in the midst of recovering from a monster snowstorm this past weekend and I hope you and your loved ones are all warm and safe!

I've been involved in a no-spend month since the beginning of January and now that it's coming to an end soon I am doing some research on purchasing a composter for my new house. 

I had a composter in my marital home but unfortunately it didn't make the move with me. I did use it regularly and liked it very much but I'm interested in what else may be out there now, so many years later. 

Mantis ComposT-Twin dual-chamber compost
This is the unit I had previously, although an older model. I love the fact that it has 2 chambers so you are 'cooking' one side while you are using from the other side. 

The drawbacks are that it was HEAVY and bulky. It was even quite heavy to turn the crank. The metal buckled on me one year, I can't recall why. And it was such a challenge to put this thing together - never mind lifting it onto the frame! Oh and one more thing? It's expensive! I don't recall what I paid for it way back when but it's significantly  more now. 

So, I'm in the market for a composter. 

I do not want a stationary composter. I'm not going to be out there with a pitchfork turning compost. 

Lifetime Dual 50 Gallon Composter
I need something that spins or tumbles. 
Yimby Tumbler Composter
I want two chambers. 
Good Ideas CW-2X Compost Wizard Dueling Tumbler
And preferably not as heavy, bulky, or expensive as the Mantis. 

Dual Batch Compost Tumbler 100% Recycled Plastic Outdoor Compost Bin
Any ideas? Any of you gardeners out there have a composter that you absolutely love??

Right now I'm saving all my kitchen scraps and dumping everything into a big pile at the edge of the woods. Which scares me as it will surely draw in the wildlife. 

And if you recall, I don't need any help drawing in the bears!

Although winter is not the best time to start composting I want to dump all the kitchen scraps in a more secure location. So I'm going to bite the bullet and get a composter here asap. 


Monday, January 25, 2016

No Spend Month - Week Three Recap

I can't believe it's been three weeks since I began my first no-spend month! I doubt that there has been another time in my adult life when I went three whole weeks without spending any money (other than on bills, of course!) and it feels amazing that I have made it this far!

The challenges have been few, as apparently I did quite a good job of prepping for my no-spend month. We certainly haven't struggled with food, that's for sure! I've been using up the perishables first, of course, and then going to the freezer to supplement. 

My daughter also picked up a few bits of fresh produce when she was at Trader Joe's so that helped. 

As you can see, my produce tower still looks pretty well stocked. Take note of the bananas and avocados in the second tier - my daughter bought those and they are still there because I happen to be allergic to both bananas and avocados! Otherwise they would have been all gone by now. 

I'm on my last bag of sweet onions. My potatoes are starting to grow eyes so I'm using them up these days. The sweet potatoes will need to be used in the next couple of days as well. I generally just wrap them in foil and pop them in the crock pot on low - they are cooked perfectly when I get home. Just remember to line the crock pot with foil as well - sweet potatoes leave an awful mess when they 'leak' out of the foil wrappers!

I'm starting to work my way through the fall produce now - I left it until later in the challenge as it lasts so much longer than things like fresh green beans, spinach, etc. 

See that monster green squash? I grew that baby in my little veggie garden - I had no idea what it was until my dear friend Maureen identified it for me! 

Apparently it's a Hubbard Squash - it seems the squash plant I purchased at the nursery was mislabeled as Acorn Squash. I still don't know what I'm going to do with it but at least now I know what it is. 

I still have that beautiful pumpkin also that I bought ages ago at the farmers' market - I had no idea what I would do with it but after that absolutely incredible Pumpkin Lasagna I made over the weekend I am definitely going to do the same with this pumpkin!

I'm completely out of fresh fruit and have been resorting to frozen fruit on my Greek yogurt in the mornings. I was also out of Greek yogurt but my sweetie picked up some when he was at the market - thanks, Sweetie! I just pop the frozen berries in the microwave for about 30 seconds before dumping them on my yogurt and it works like a charm. 

My grocery list is growing and growing....

....I have no doubt that next Monday when my challenge has ended I will need to hit the market on the way home from work!

My gas tank is a little over 1/4 full. I'm not sure I'll make it through to the end but we'll see. 

My wine supply is dwindling.....I'll have to re-stock after the challenge. Of course, I am still waiting for my daughters to replace all the wine they drank....ahem. 

I'm still puttering around the house, doing this and that, but not spending any money on the updates. 

My recent post on the lack of a proper entry in my house prompted me to finally hang some hooks by the kitchen door. 

I bought a few of these hooks back when I was moving into this house - there's one on the back of the other door that leads to the deck, also. And one in my daughter's room, by her door. I think I have one more, possibly two, in my utility room, just waiting for the right spot. You can't have enough hooks in my opinion!

Over the weekend I moved my Fiddleleaf Fig into the dining room so it can get some more sun. It seems to be kind of naked on one side, probably because I had it over next to the fireplace. Hopefully it will start to fill out now. 

And then I read Sarah's post about her Fiddleleaf Figs and how she makes the leaves shine - guess what I did last night while dinner was cooking?  It works like a charm - thanks, Sarah!

After dinner, when I went out to let the pups out, the moon was incredible and the sky so beautiful I had to run back in for the camera. 

And yes, I am still putting on my holiday lights every evening. I haven't unplugged the lights around the eaves yet....that will happen soon. The lights on the deck railing will stay - I use them all season when I sit out on the deck in the evenings. 

Seriously, just look at that sky! Gorgeous!

I'm thinking the full moon last night must have had something to do with the beautiful sky this morning as well. 

I feel so blessed. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pumpkin Lasagna - No, Really!!

I know what you're probably thinking....Really? Pumpkin Lasagna? 

I know. If I had seen it on a menu I would have kept on going. Not a chance would I order it. I honestly am NOT a pumpkin person. Does nothing for me. 

And I did not start out my day with any thought in my head of making pumpkin lasagna, that's for sure!

Nevertheless, that's exactly what happened. 

And it was so incredibly fabulous I had to share it with all of you!

It all started because I have all this fall produce that is still around. I cannot waste food . So, although I had no idea what I was going to do with this pumpkin I bought at the farmer's market, I simply knew that someday I would cook it up and give it a go!

Well, that someday was yesterday. It was time. The pumpkin needed to be cooked....even though I had no clue what I would do with it. 

I started with a tip from a dear reader - thanks, Pat! 

Pat suggested when she read my post on My Favorite Butternut Squash Soup that, in the future, I should put the whole butternut squash into the crockpot and cook it that way, no peeling required. 

I figured if it will work for a butternut squash it will work for a pumpkin!

So, in it went while I puttered around doing a bunch of chores. I figured once it was cooked I would figure out what to do with it. 

But while I was puttering around I kept thinking about it. I felt like making some sort of pasta dish and I remembered some pumpkin ravioli I tried many years ago - I recall being very surprised at how much I liked those ravioli!

Now the wheels were turning. I looked online to see if anyone else had the same idea and I saw a few recipes out there. But none were quite what I was looking for, so I did what I normally do in that case - take a little of each recipe, add them to what's whirling around in my head, and create my own concoction. 

And here it is for you. Because it was beyond amazing! This dish absolutely blew me away! 

I confess, I did not write down precise measurements however I did photograph the steps involved as I went on. 

Here is my photographic journey of the creation of my very first Pumpkin Lasagna. 

I can tell you for sure it will not be my last!

I started in the morning by cutting the top of a small pumpkin and putting it in the crockpot with about a half cup of water in the bottom of the crockpot. I did not use any seasonings at this point but just put the lid on and went about my day. 

I put the crockpot on high for the first hour and then set it to low for the next 5 hours. I cooked the pumpkin for 6 hours total. 

When it was time to cook dinner I removed it with tongs to a cutting board and scraped out the seeds. 

I then took a large spoon and scraped the cooked pumpkin flesh away from the skin and discarded the skins. Well - not quite discarded but rather into the compost bucket. 

The pumpkin flesh went into a bowl - I would guess I had about 2 cups pumpkin total. 

I mashed it up with a half stick of butter, some freshly ground sea salt and pepper, and about a 1/4 tsp nutmeg. I then added some chopped flatleaf parsley (1/3 cup) and a handful of sage leaves, which I also chopped. 

I had frozen both the parsley and sage at the end of the gardening season so I have fresh herbs for cooking all winter long. The parsley was chopped prior to freezing but the sage was frozen in whole leaves, which I pulled off the stems prior to freezing. Look how wonderful they still look all these months later!

The beautiful herbed pumpkin puree is ready to go. 

While I was preparing that, I was also sauteeing two sliced onions in a little olive oil. 

When the onions were nicely caramelized I made a hole in the center, dropped in a tablespoon of butter and sauteed a half a head of garlic, minced. 

I added a half bag of spinach once the garlic was fragrant and put the lid on the pan for a few minutes. 

Gorgeous! Wilted fragrant spinach. A sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and salt at this point and this layer was ready. 

I grabbed a glass lasagna pan and got busy layering. In the bottom of the pan I poured about a cup of fat free milk. 

Into the milk went two no-bake lasagna noodles. The milk will give them the layer of moisture they need to cook properly. 

On top of the noodles I sprinkled about  1/4 cup grated Romano cheese, 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella, and some salt and pepper. 

Two more noodles went on top of this mixture, and the spinach mixture on top of those noodles. 

Two more noodles on top of the spinach layer, and then came the herbed pumpkin layer. 

More noodles on top of that, with a layer of Mozzarella and Romano cheeses. 

Another layer of noodles and then the final layer of Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Romano cheese. 

I poured a little half & half over the top to make sure all the noodles would have enough moisture for cooking, gave it a good sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, and covered it with foil. 

Into a 375 oven for about an hour or so. I took the foil off for the last few minutes and turned the oven to low broil to brown the top - and when I took it out it looked like this:

Isn't that just gorgeous?

I let it 'set' for a good 10 minutes before serving. 

A sprinkle of freshly shaved Parmesan cheese set off the final dish beautifully. 

I think it's fair to say we were all absolutely delighted with my latest experiment!

The creamy cheesy layers complemented the pumpkin herb layer so beautifully!

The sage and nutmeg were just enough to set the dish apart from my usual veggie lasagna but they were subtle enough that they just blended beautifully with all the other flavors. 

The spinach, onion, and garlic layer added enough savory to complement the sweet of the pumpkin. Amazing, seriously!

All in all, I am so incredibly pleased with my experiment and I only regret I didn't make another for the freezer. 

But that's ok....there's another pumpkin that needs to be used before long. 

And I know just what to do with it now!


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