Into the Rose Garden

It's that time of year again. The Rose Garden is in full bloom. Just have a look at some of these beauties.

There was no pruning done this year before the rose bushes started to get going. So the bushes were allowed to grow at their whim and put out a wonderful display. Although this created a mess of branches and runners going every-which-way, it made the garden more natural and honestly, just a lovely riot of untamed colour. 

The bushes will be cut back once they have finished their initial blooming, which will most likely cause them to put forth another growth spurt and more blooms later in the summer. Which is not a bad thing. 
First up is our Peace Rose. It's a gorgeous salmon or peach colour that becomes more yellow in the center as it opens up. 

This one starts out dark and then fades to a more delicate pink as it fully opens. It has the most wonderful scent as well.

This is one of the yearly favourites, called "Rio Samba". It has been in the garden for a number of years and each year it puts forth a beautiful display. It doesn't have much of a scent, but it makes up for it in striking patterns and strong stems. And large thorns.

Here is the same "Rio Samba" once it has fully opened. 

This beautifully full rose is a David Austin variety. David Austin roses are known for their fullness, or "double rose" as they often have twice the petal count as other rose types. 

Another David Austin rose; this time in peach (and it the rain). 

This pink stipes-and-speckles rose has the sweetest, almost innocent scent. It has been in the garden for as long as I can remember (which is a fairly long time). We have dubbed it the Candy Cane rose because of it's stripes. It blooms twice; once in late May and then again towards the end of August. It has clusters of flowers that don't last as long as the other roses in the garden, but it makes up for in the number of blooms it puts forth. It's probably one of my favourites in the garden. 

This dark rose is a new addition to the Rose Garden this year. I took Dad to the garden center to pick out a Father's Day gift. He saw this and immediately put it in our shopping cart. It's called "Purple Tiger". It took to it's new home just fine and put out a beautiful display of blooms despite being replanted in mid-June.

This is just a small sample of the roses in bloom this year in the Rose Garden. The weather has been so warm the past week that most of time I am just focusing on staying cool and keeping hydrated. Hope you enjoyed this short trip into the Rose Garden.

Shamrock Sugar Cookies

A couple days ago I was sorting through some loose recipe pages I had in my "Oh!, I want to try making this" pile. You know... the pile of recipes printed from or that sit around for a little while (okay, months maybe) until you get a chance to try them out. Trust me, mine is quite the pile.

There was a new sugar cookie recipe in the stack. I already have a “family favourite” sugar cookie recipe and it's great. It uses sour cream, which gives the cookies a richer flavour. However, I didn't have sour cream and I did really want to try this new recipe. 

Perfect Sugar Cookies (adapted)
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (I use clear vanilla extract)
2 TBSP milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add in the sugar and blend thoroughly. Add the egg and vanilla extract and blend. Add the milk and beat again.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture until combined. Once the dough holds together, wrap the dough in plastic wrap or in a Ziploc bag and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to two days.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Roll dough out on lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake each sheet of cookies for 8 - 10 minutes; until edges are just starting to turn golden. This will give you a cookie with a slightly chewy center. If you like a crisper cookie, then bake them a little longer.

Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and transfer to wire cooling rack to finish cooling. Frost and decorate cookies once completely cool.

So I'm making up the dough and I thought, "Hey, St. Patrick's Day is coming up!" So I grabbed my Wilton's Kelly Green food gel and added just a little dab to the dough. I use Wilton's gels because I like how little I need to use to get great colour. Check out that green!
Once the dough came together, I divided it into two discs and stuck them into Ziploc bags, then put the bags in the refrigerator for a day. I like to give the dough a chance to rest and for the flavours to get all mellow and happy together.

I had picked up a cute shamrock shape cookie cutter from Scoop n' Save in Langley. This place is amazing! It has everything you would ever want to bake and decorate. I also bought some green sanding sugar and some shamrock sprinkles. They offer them in bulk, and you just scoop out how much you need. Hence the name...Scoop n' Save.

Yesterday the weather was terrible. So much wind, so much rain. A good day to stay inside and bake. I was a little worried the power would go out before I'd had a chance to bake all the cookies, so I made quick work of getting the dough rolled out and the shapes cut and into the oven. Luckily, the power stayed on and all the shamrocks came out fine.

Today my mom and I spent some time decorating the cookies with royal icing using Wilton's Meringue Powder. I use this in my royal icing to get it to harden faster. I only add in about a teaspoon to the mix; just kinda sprinkle it in. So we had to be quick about getting them iced and dipped into the sanding sugar before the icing started to set.

We opted for a random pattern zig-zag over the cookies. These cookies are going to my Oma's homecare center, so we didn't want to ice the whole cookie but still wanted them to be whimsical. We left some with plain icing, some with just sanding sugar and some with both shamrock sprinkles and sanding sugar. Here they are all in a box ready to go.

And then I did some research. It turns out that while all shamrocks are clover, not all clover are shamrocks. And while even botanists do not always agree on what makes a shamrock, most Irishmen (and women) do. Irish legend claims that St. Patrick used the tri-lobed leaf to illustrate Christianity's holy trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Four leaf clovers are a genetic mutation of the three leaf clovers. Although four leaves are considered lucky, they are not considered to be shamrocks by those passionate about their Irish traditions and legends.

So ultimately, my "shamrocks" are not shamrocks and are simply four-leaved clovers. And while they may not be particularly Irish, they taste delicious.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Lazy Rainy Day

Today is a rainy Tuesday.
I can hear the rain coming down outside.
I have warm hand knitted socks.
I have a hot cup of tea.
Today was meant to stay inside
Warm, in a bed like this.

Pumpkin Pie meets Cheesecake

A few days ago we celebrated Thanksgiving. Mom put together a fine feast with help from Dad. Because of work and scheduling, I took a very minor role in this year's celebration: I was on taxi duty to pick up my brother and his girlfriend from the ferry terminal. This meant that I couldn't be at the house to help with the preparations.

Usually each year we have a big feast with all the fixings. And when it comes to dessert, we usually offer not only pumpkin pie but also an apple pie. However, this year time only permitted for one pie; a pumpkin pie. It was delicious; not too sweet, not too heavy. Mom whipped up some cream with Bailey's and it was perfect. The drawback was that there was no leftover pie, not even enough for a second piece.

Which leaves me still craving pumpkin pie a few days later. So today I thought I would combine two classic desserts that I enjoy making: pumpkin pie and cheesecake. I didn't want to make one big dessert, so I opted to make tarts instead. And to be honest, I cheated a little. I had a box of Kirkland brand tart shells from Cosco in the freezer, and I thought, "Well, why not? I gotta use them up sometime."

The tart shells completed, I started with the filling. I just more or less added things into the mixer and gave it a whirl until it looked about the right consistency.

2 pkg cream cheese, softened
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
3 eggs
4 tbsp SpiceBox Whiskey
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground ginger
dash ground cloves

Oh yes! Did I forget to mention the SpiceBox Whiskey? I love this stuff for fall baking. It gives pumpkin pies an ADULT flare. I also like adding it to brown butter frosting. Or pecan cookies. But those recipes are for another day.

Anyhow, everything into the mixer starting with the cream cheese. Once that was smooth and creamy, I just added everything else in and let 'er spin until well blended. Then I poured the mixture through a funnel into a couple empty ketchup bottles (the large ones) that I've kept for this purpose. They are so handy for filling tart shells or muffin tins or anything where you need to control the pour of the batter from one place to another. I digress.

I separated the frozen tarts shells onto a rimmed baking sheet. I decided not to let the tart shells thaw out because I knew the baking time for the pumpkin mixture would take about 20 minutes and I didn't want the pastry to over bake while the filling was still firming up. Once the tart shells were each filled 3/4 full, I popped the tray into the center of the 350 degree oven and let them bake for about 20 minutes. When the center filling was firm and slightly domed with small cracks and no jiggle, and the pastry shells were a nice golden brown, it was time to take them out and set them on a cooling rack. 

When the tarts had cooled down, the domes had flattened back down and the cracks sealed up. Because the filling is more dense than a fruit pie, pumpkin pie sweats a little as it cools. This causes the top of each tart to become slightly glossy and caramelized, almost a bit of a brulee effect. Perfect for topping with a little dollop of that Bailey's whipped cream. 

Honey Crisp Apple Sauce

It was a beautiful crisp fall day today. The sun was shining bright, but there was a definite chill to the air. Over the weekend, my mom and I went to Ralph's Produce on Fraser Hwy and picked up a 20lb box of Honey Crisp apples to make applesauce. Even though the boxes were labeled "seconds", the apples were perfect for chopping up and simmering down to a delicious sauce.

Honey Crisp apples are fairly sweet, so they make wonderful applesauce apples. We find we don't need to add a lot sugar to the apples. This year (maybe because of all the warm sunshine through the summer) we found we didn't need to add anything to the apples. Which means each jar is 100% pure apple yumminess.

We start with washing all the apples. A little bit of bruising here and there is okay. No worm holes or rough scale spots to cut away this time, so we are good to go. Next the apples are quartered and then cored, and the seeds are removed. We don't peel the skins off the apples; they boil down with the apple pulp. Then it's into the big stew pot on the stove over medium-low heat.

Basically, the apples turn mushy and soft, and then we take a potato masher and squish them down into a warm, yummy pulp. It's really super technical. Once it's at the consistency we like, Mom (or sometimes Dad) ladle scoops of the mush into the food processor. Couple spins and the skins and apple pulp become one. Then it's into the hot sterilized jars, put on the lids, screw on the rings and into the hot water bath cooker to seal them.

From a 20lb box of apples, we made 23 pint jars of applesauce. We could have made an even 2 dozen jars, but we wanted to keep one open for tasting.

Applesauce is perfect with a number of different dishes, so it is always great to have it on hand in the pantry. Classic pairings include pork chops or pork tenderloin, or fried chicken. A number of muffin and coffee cake recipes call for applesauce. But one of my favourite ways to have applesauce is warm over ice cream with a little cinnamon. The other is chilled and stirred into plain Greek yogurt.

Applesauce is also the last thing we preserve for the winter months and so it marks the end of canning season. Time to put away the canning equipment and start going through those Christmas baking books.......

Patio Fare Featuring Pesto and Focaccia

Sundays are definitely meant for relaxing; and today was no exception. The day started with a cup of hot tea and watering my patio plants. Then it was in the car and off to Oma's house for coffee (well, she and my mom had coffee; I had more tea). After a nice visit, I drove to my parents' place and wandered around the garden with them; smelling the roses and looking at all the things coming up in the vegetable and flower beds.

Mom and I both had a bit of a nap, and then around 2pm we woke up and decided we better do something productive with our day. So we decided to make lunch. (I know, extremely productive of us.)

My mom has been on a bit of a bread baking binge. She had made some sun dried tomato focaccia bread the day before, and I knew there were some tomatoes and a container of burrata in the refrigerator. We also keep cubes of pesto in the freezer. So it only seemed natural to make a Toasted Focaccia with Fresh Tomato, Burrata and Pesto Mayo sandwich.

First, we took the focaccia bread and sliced it in half horizontally. Next, we thawed the pesto cube and mixed it with a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise. This was spread over the open faced focaccia. Then came slices of ripe tomatoes, followed by bits of burrata. Little bit of ground pepper, sprinkling of Kosher salt and a a bit of dried oregano over the top. Here it is ready for the oven.

We baked the loaded bread for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees; just long enough to heat the bread and tomatoes without melting all of that beautiful burrata.

Once out of the oven, we drizzled it with some rosemary balsamic reduction. Man oh man, was it good! The three of us (mom, dad and myself) enjoyed this quick and easy lunch with a fresh green salad with shredded cold chicken and crumbled corn tortilla chips.

A nice internationally festive lunch on a lazy Sunday in May.