Avant Gardening

Avant Gardening & Landscaping

Archive: January 2015

Enjoy an Avant Favorite: Comfort Food to Warm You this Winter

Check your calendar. It’s hard to believe Groundhog Day, 2015 is upon us!

And while the Avant Gardening and Landscaping team doesn’t know which groundhog will predict what – there’s the world-famous Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, and Jimmy the Groundhog in Sun Prairie – we do know many of us may still end up hunkering down for a few more months of winter. This can be the perfect time to treat yourself, and your loved ones, to some warm comfort food. One of our favorites is a variation on Beef Stew. We’ve adapted a wonderful recipe found in Gourmet Magazine, but this one may help you use up some of the root vegetables you still have in storage.


Braised Beef Stew with Potatoes and Carrots (Serves 12)


For braised beef:

  • 5 pounds boneless beef chuck (not lean), cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 carrots, quartered
  • 3 celery ribs, quartered
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine (Cabernet or Zinfandel works well)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 3 cups water

For potatoes and carrots:

  • 2 1/2 pounds small white boiling potatoes
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots


Braise beef:  Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Pat beef dry and season with 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Heat oil in pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, Brown meat without crowding, in 3 batches, turning about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter.

Reduce heat to medium, then add carrots, celery, onions, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 12-minutes, until well browned.

Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to cleared area and cook paste, stirring for 2 minutes. Now stir paste together with vegetables.

Add vinegar and cook; stirring for 2 minutes.

Stir in wine, bay leaves, and thyme. Boil until wine is reduced by about two thirds, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add broth to pot, along with water, beef, and any juices from platter. Bring mixture to a simmer. Cover and braise in oven, about 2 1/2 hours, until meat is very tender.

Set a large colander into a large bowl. Pour stew into colander. Return pieces of meat to pot. Discard remaining solids. Let cooking liquid stand for 10 minutes.

Cook potatoes and carrots:  Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges. Slice carrots diagonally (1-inch), while beef is braising.

Add potatoes and carrots to stew (make sure to submerge both) and simmer while uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes, until potatoes and carrots are tender.

Dish up, and we hope you enjoy your warm comfort stew as much as we do!


Think Spring: The Basics on Forcing Bulbs to Grow Indoors

The warmer temperatures during the past few days, may have many of us day-dreaming about spring. Did you know forcing bulbs can be a wonderful way to get a jump on the season, and add a touch of fresh flowers to your home. Hyacinths, Crocus, Daffodils, Tulips, Amaryllis, and Paper Whites are all excellent candidates for forcing, and will almost certainly help chase your winter blues away. Here’s our quick list for chilling, and blooming times:

  • Daffodils: 12-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
  • Tulips: 10-16 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
  • Crocus: 8-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
  • Grape hyacinth (Muscari): 8-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
  • Iris reticulata: 13-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
  • Snowdrop (Galanthus): 15 weeks of chilling; 2 weeks to bloom after chilling.
  • Hyacinth: 12-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.


And once you’ve purchased your bulbs, our team has these simple steps to get your bulbs ready for forcing:

  • Fill a pot (clay or plastic with drainage holes, both work well) with dirt, and within 3-4 inches of the rim. Make a large hole, and place a couple of bulbs into the dirt (too many bulbs in the same pot will struggle to bloom).  Fill the container with soil around the bulbs to the top of the container. The very tips of the bulbs should poke through the top.
  • Place the potted bulbs in any cool (40–50F), dark spot for 10 to 16 weeks. The soil should be kept slightly damp. Some varieties take longer than others.
  • After the initial forcing period (as noted above), inspect the drainage holes at the bottom of the pots for any roots growing out through the holes. If you don’t see roots, put the potted bulbs back in the cool, dark spot until roots are poking through the holes. You can move the potted bulbs to the next stage after this happens.
  • Now move your pots to a cool, bright spot (around 60F) for a few weeks. Continue to keep the soil lightly moist. Turning the pots a quarter turn every day helps keep the stem from leaning toward the light.
  • The bulbs should bloom in about three to four weeks. The blossoms will last longer if you move the bulbs to a spot that’s cool and bright, but not in direct sunlight. Take care of them as you would any other houseplant with continual watering.
  • Enjoy!