Happy Valentine’s Day! & Sour Cream Cupcakes with White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting

valentine_roses_03Okay, so maybe it is one of those Hallmark holidays. The newspaper and airwaves are full of ads touting cards, flowers, chocolates and special dinners. But hey, don’t let the commercial side of Valentine’s Day turn you cynical. After all, it has been around in some form or another for centuries. Long before Hallmark, FTD and Godiva Chocolates, February, yes February, was a time for romance.

New Hampshire may be covered with snow but in Rome, warmer days and the first spring flowers turn thoughts to love and romance. To welcome the first signs of spring, ancient Romans honored Juno, the goddess of women and marriage, on February 14th. Celebrations continued on the 15th with Lupercalia, a festival of health and fertility. Later, in early Christian times, a kindly priest named Valentine was beheaded on February 14th. His crime; the tenderhearted priest performed secret wedding ceremonies in defiance of the emperor’s ban on marriage. After his death, he was canonized and became the Patron Saint of engaged couples, happy marriages, love and lovers.

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Will you shower your sweetie with cards, flowers and chocolates or spend some special time together? A day for just the two of you may be the best gift you can give to one another. Turn off the phones, texts, email and any other distractions and give each other the gift of your undivided attention.

Start the day right with breakfast in bed. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate feast. A perfect cup of coffee along with bagels or blinis with smoked salmon are sure to please.

Enjoy the fresh air with a romantic walk by the sea or get your blood pumping with a snowshoe romp in the woods. Or spend a few hours on the slopes; what could be better than a cuddle on the chairlift on a cold day?

When you’re ready for a break, find a sunny spot out of the wind for a winter picnic. If it’s too cold, take your lunch indoors by the fire. Keep it simple and delicious with a wedge of your favorite cheese, a great loaf of bread, some fruit and a glass of wine. To end the meal on a sweet note, bring along some imported or artisanal chocolate to share.

What next? A busy morning and delicious lunch can only lead to one thing – an afternoon nap! Relax, you’ve earned it.

Refreshed and ready to go, you can change into your best finery and head out to dinner. Or maybe you’d prefer to stay home and cook together. Slip on your aprons and stir up some romance along with your favorite dishes. Just be sure to include an aphrodisiac or two. Legendary lover, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova had a particular fondness for oysters but you might prefer asparagus with truffle oil, anything made with chili peppers and, of course, chocolate.

Whether you spend an evening in or enjoy dinner at a romantic restaurant,

Happy Valentine’s Day and bon appétit!

Sour Cream Cupcakes with White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
sour_cream_cupcake_06You can bake the cakes ahead of time and frost them together. Be sure to add a few drops of red food coloring to the frosting for a fun and festive touch! Enjoy.
Makes about 12 muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners

Put the flour, zest, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a bowl and whisk to combine. Reserve.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl until fluffy. Add the eggs, sour cream, Grand Marnier and vanilla and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Fill the muffin tins 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes completely and then generously frost with White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting.

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled

Put the butter, cream cheese and sour cream in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed together until well combined. Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until just combined. Add the Grand Marnier, vanilla and white chocolate and beat on medium-high until smooth.

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One Year Ago – White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis & Fresh Raspberries
Two Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Beets & Lentils
Three Years Ago – Chicken Niçoise
Four Years Ago – Greek Pizza
Five Years Ago – Triple Threat Brownies
Or
Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Feel free to share. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

Next Chapter & Coconut Cupcakes

Kaela_Graduation_02It’s graduation time. Some see it as the end of an era but I prefer the term commencement. Whether it is kindergarten, high school or college, graduation signals a new beginning. A new chapter filled with opportunities and adventures. However, you don’t need a diploma to start anew. All you need is the desire to reinvent and discover the next you. As you dive into that adventure, here are a few simple suggestions to make it the best it can be:

Be yourself. Be good at it. Be proud of your strengths and talents and built on them. Be aware of your weaknesses and find ways to improve or compensate. You don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Embrace the whole you. There is nothing so captivating as confidence.

Be as smart as you can be. Daisy Buchanan was wrong; a beautiful little fool is not the best thing a girl can be in this world. Or a boy for that matter.

Be brave. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the unknown, heights or public speaking; whatever the variety, never let fear get the best of you. Defy it. Overcome it. It’s hard to live a whole life if fear is holding you back.

Be a good person. Even one is one too many bullies so be kind to strangers, considerate to colleagues and loving and loyal to friends and family. What legacy will you leave behind? What could be better than people who were touched by you, care about you, love and admire you?

My brother was born funny. Not all of us are so lucky. You may never become a comic but you can appreciate wit in others and tell the occasional joke or clever story. Cultivate a sense of humor and laugh every day.

If you have an opportunity to travel or, better yet, live abroad; take it. If not, make the opportunity. Not everyone thinks the way you do or lives like you or wants to think and live like you. Getting up close and personal with other cultures will open your eyes, make you think, consider and reconsider your priorities.

It’s okay to fail. Just make sure you spend some time to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Failure is not proof of incompetence or a reason to retreat. It is an occasion to learn and grow.

Assume you’ll get caught. If not this time, then the next time. Or the time after that. If it could land you in jail, get you fired or hurt you or someone else; it’s probably a bad idea.

It’s okay to fumble around a bit. Chances are more than good that you won’t wake up one morning with all the answers. Expect to evolve and grow with new experiences, triumphs and mistakes. Embrace your changing world and changing self. You will have moments, days, even months of uncertainty as you figure out your goals and how best to reach them.

red_sneakersWear red. My mother’s favorite was bright red lipstick. Whether it was in style or out, she wore it every day with pride. I’m partial to shoes – shiny patent leather flats or sneakers are my two favorites. Life is too short (and some days too difficult) to live it without red shoes.

Good luck and bon appétit!

Coconut Cupcakes
Need a festive dessert idea for someone’s (maybe your own) commencement celebration? These coconut cupcakes will make a delicious addition to the party table. Enjoy!
Makes about 18 regular cupcakes or 50 minis

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flourcoconut_cupcake_02
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 egg
Garnish: more coconut, slivered almonds and chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the coconut and whisk again.

Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat on high speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg and beat on high speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients and coconut milk alternately in 2 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing until just combined.

Fill the paper liners 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes for regular cupcakes and 12-15 minutes for minis or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes completely. Generously frost the cupcakes. If you like, toast the coconut and almonds. Garnish the frosted cupcakes with coconut, almonds and chocolate chips.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
About 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
coconut_cupcake_01
Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, add the vanilla extra and beat to combine.

Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until well combined. Increase the mixer speed and continue beating for 2-3 minutes or until the frosting is light and fluffy.

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One Year Ago – Crunchy Slaw with Cilantro, Mint & Peanuts
Two Years Ago – New Potato Salad with Gorgonzola
Three Years Ago – Spicy Hoisin Wings
Four Years Ago – Grilled Steak & Potato Salad
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your best advice to a new graduate? Feel free to share. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013

Gastro-Anthropology & Pumpkin Cheesecake

I love Thanksgiving. Having grown up in Massachusetts, the holiday has special meaning. Every year, from kindergarten on, our teachers gave us special Pilgrim projects. It started with construction paper pilgrim hats and headdresses. Later we studied New World agriculture. My lasting take away was that dead fish were used as fertilizer. Of course we read the famous Longfellow poem about Priscilla Mullins’ romantic entanglements with Miles Standish and John Alden. There must have been more but those are the highlights. Party hats, dead fish and a love triangle.

Except for the big family dinner. My mom always made a big deal about Thanksgiving. For two or three days, she (who never really liked to cook) cooked up a storm. Mom stuck with tradition. Generation after generation, decade after decade, no one but no one had ever dared mess with the menu. There was turkey with gravy and bread stuffing, oyster dressing, butternut squash, turnip, creamed onions and mashed potatoes followed by pies, apple and pumpkin.

And then I moved to Switzerland. The Swiss do not celebrate Thanksgiving and, to add insult to injury, they frequently confuse it with Halloween. Even half a world away, I could not ignore this day of thanks. I decided to invite a dozen or so friends and colleagues for dinner. But not just any dinner, I promised them an authentic, New England Thanksgiving feast.

About a week before the party, I sat down with paper, pencil and the Fanny Farmer Cookbook. As I worked on my shopping list, it hit me. For my first big dinner party in my newly adopted country, I was going to serve a brown, alright make that brown and beige, dinner. Even dessert, apple pie, was brown. Then again, there would be cranberry sauce. So change that. This newbie expatriate (and newbie cook) was going to serve a brown dinner with jam.

But I had promised authentic and, so, I plunged ahead.

A poultry farm in Arkansas shipped frozen turkeys to Switzerland. I had never cooked a turkey but there were directions on the shrink-wrap. (As well as a warning to remove the gizzards.) My mother’s old standby, Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, was nowhere to be found but fabulous artisanal bread was everywhere. The nearest butternut squash was an ocean away but Cinderella had left a slew of pumpkins. The market had of plenty of potatoes, onions and my favorite Granny Smith apples.

I could do this.

The party was all set for Saturday night. On Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), I left work early and shopped ‘til I dropped. Friday evening, fortified with a glass of wine and Fanny Farmer, I chopped and stirred until well past midnight. The next morning I was up at dawn for more chopping and stirring plus peeling and mashing, stuffing, trussing and basting.

Finally, with the turkey just about done, the doorbell rang. I greeted my guests nervously and explained that our authentic feast would be … in a word … monochromatic. Thankfully, my friends were polite, even curious. Not a disparaging word was heard. Indeed everyone seemed ready to embrace the experience and asked lots of questions. To this day I am convinced they saw the evening as an anthropological adventure.

Sitting down to dinner, we shared joyful toasts of thanks. Before long, the magic kicked in and dinner was less about brown food and more about good conversation, laughter and friendship.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. Bon appétit!

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Although brown, this rich and creamy cheesecake was not served at my first Thanksgiving party. I added it to the menu in the late nineties and it became an instant favorite. Enjoy!
Serves 12-16

30-40 (enough for 2 cups finely ground crumbs) gingersnap cookies
2 tablespoons brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cognac or pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Garnish: whipped cream

Set a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Break the gingersnaps into pieces, put in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the brown sugar and pulse to combine.

Put the cookie crumbs and butter in 10-inch springform pan and mix with a fork until well combined. Firmly press the crumbs into the bottom and about 1/2-inch up the sides of the pan. Tightly wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in two large sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool the pan on a rack. Do not remove the foil.

Meanwhile, put the cream cheese, sugar and spices in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth. Add the pumpkin, cream and cognac and beat until well combined.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the springform pan and carefully place it in a large roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake at 350 degrees until the cheesecake is golden, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Carefully lift the cheesecake from the roasting pan and remove the foil. Cool the cheesecake in the springform pan to room temperarture on a rack. Still in the springform pan, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Using a thin knife, carefully cut around sides of the pan to loosen the cheesecake. Release the springform sides, cut the cheesecake into thin wedges and serve with a small dollop of whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Rustic Apple Croustade
Two Years Ago – Cranberry Sauce
Three Years Ago – Decadent Cheesy Potatoes
Four Years Ago – Broccoli Puree

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you spend Election Night? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

It’s National Chocolate Cupcake Day!

Yes indeed, it’s a special day! National Chocolate Cupcake Day to be exact!
… a favorite holiday for chocolate lovers and anyone with a sweet tooth!

For the best chocolate cupcakes ever, start with my recipe for Death by Chocolate Cake. Then, instead of a springform pan, scoop the batter into muffin tins lined with paper cupcake liners. (Fill the liners about two-thirds full.)

Bake the cupcakes in a preheated 350 degree oven for 18-22 degrees, less if you make minis, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes completely and top with my Chocolate Ganache Frosting. Sprinkles and other decorations are optional!

Enjoy the cupcakes and bon appétit!

More Tips, Tricks & Tools

How will you celebrate the summer solstice? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

About My Dad & Blueberry Crumb Cake

My father has never met a stranger he didn’t like. He can’t help himself. If you are in line with him at the supermarket, seated next to him on an airplane or sipping a drink at a crowded cocktail party, he’ll start a conversation. He can’t keep it to a simple smile and polite hello. Within minutes he’ll ferret out some information or connection. He’ll find out where you work or go to school or what you do for fun. Chances are good he knows someone who knows someone who knows you. Forget Kevin Bacon, we should all start a game of Six Degrees of Joe Nye.

When I was little, I just accepted it. Or maybe I didn’t notice; I was a bit of a flaky kid. When I was a teenager I was mortified. How could he just jump in and talk to strangers and near-strangers?

Buying the Sunday paper was a great example. He always got us up too early on winter weekend mornings to ski. Most teenagers were still warm and cozy in their beds when we, groggy, cranky and full of pancakes, piled into the car with boots and skis. On the way to the hill he’d stop to buy the newspaper. Promising that he’d only be a minute, he disappeared into Mr. Lovely’s drug store.

Grumpy from our pre-dawn wake-up call we waited for him to return. And waited. And waited. And waited … until he triumphantly returned with both the paper and a new friend. It could be the brother-in-law of the man who took his sister to the senior prom or maybe the neighbor of the cousin of one of his favorite customers. If they were skiers, they were cajoled into joining us for lunch. After one too many long waits in the parking lot, my sister and I finally rebelled. We insisted he stay in the car and one of us went in to get the paper.

Eventually I went from mortification to benign acceptance. When I lived in Europe, my parents flew over for several visits. We took road trips to some of my favorite spots in Switzerland and France and rendezvoused in Florence. On all of these trips, I smiled and watched Dad carry on cheerful, one-way conversation with strangers. When I suggested that the woman in the elevator or the man in the lobby didn’t understand a word he said, he protested. After all they’d smiled and returned his wish for a good morning. I reminded him that I could say hello (plus good bye, please, thank you, cheers and take me to the airport) in at least ten languages. He didn’t buy it. Still with his cheerful demeanor and my mother’s beautiful smile, they never came away as ugly Americans.

And finally, acceptance turned to emulation. I’m not sure if it is frightening or comforting but over the years I’ve picked up more than a few of both my mother’s and my father’s habits. Among them is my dad’s propensity to talk to strangers. It didn’t come naturally, I was awkward at first. Even after a lot of practice, I am a pale facsimile of the master.

Thanks Dad, Happy Father’s Day and Bon appétit!

Blueberry Crumb Cake
My dad loves everything blueberry so this cake is a great choice for Father’s Day. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
Grated zest of 1 lime or lemon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 generous cup (about 4 ounces) fresh or frozen blueberries
Crumbly Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan or deep dish pie plate. If using a springform pan, line it with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust the pan or plate with flour and tap out any excess.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, spices and lime zest together in a bowl.

Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in the egg and vanilla until combined.

Add the dry ingredients and sour cream alternately in 2 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing until just smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Evenly spread the blueberries on top of the batter and sprinkle with Crumbly Topping.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking until the cake is golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 45-50 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan. If using a springform pan, remove the collar and slide the cake off of the pan and onto a platter. If using a pie plate, leave it in the plate. Either way, serve at room temperature.

The cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Crumbly Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/3 cup oatmeal

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and spices in a small food processor; pulse to combine. Add the butter, pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add the oatmeal; pulse until the topping comes together in large lumps.

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One Year Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Saucet
Two Years Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Three Years Ago – Asparagus Soup Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are the first words that comes to mind when you think about your dad? Chatty like mine or ??? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

Rainy Day Project – Making Cupcakes

Next week is vacation week  in New Hampshire. After a week of warm sunshine, rain is in the forecast. Soooooooooooooo – what to do with kids or grandkids? There’s the museum and the planetarium. The mall if you are desperate.

Or you can have some fun in the kitchen. Cupcakes are just the thing!

I was down in Manchester earlier this week to tape a cupcake segment with Sean McDonald on ABC Affiliate/WMUR. The segment airs Saturday morning (4/21/12). Check out the clip on YouTube for tips and tricks.

Why not whip up a batch of cupcakes with your kids? Whether you make my favorite, Carrot Cupcakes or go for Chocolate, Chocolate Chip,Coconut or Lemon, your kids can help you mix and measure.

When you are ready to fill the muffin tins, an ice cream scoop works great. You can make regular cupcakes or minis or a mix of the two.

Now the fun begins! When the cupcakes are cool, frost and decorate them. I like cream cheese frosting and have a few variations to try. A piping bag makes quick and easy work of frosting and is lots of fun. Next, let the children go to town decorating the cupcakes with dried fruits, nuts or candies.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and beat until well combined.

Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well blended. Increase mixer speed and continue mixing for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
7 ounces milk or dark chocolate, chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon espresso powder
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar

Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Zap the chocolate in the microwave on 50% power for 1 minute. Check and continue to microwave in 10-15 second intervals until the chocolate is almost melted. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes to melt completely. Whisk until smooth.

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the chocolate, vanilla extra and espresso powder and beat until well combined.

Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well blended. Increase mixer speed and continue mixing for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and peanut butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and beat until well combined.

Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well blended. Increase mixer speed and continue mixing for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Have a wonderful time with your kids! Bon appétit!

Want more? Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Will you be cooking with kids this week? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button.

And if you’ve got a minute … many thanks for taking a look at my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. Why not join me at the next Eat Well-Do Good dinner?

© Susan W. Nye, 2012

Falling Leaves & Apple Crumb Cake

In spite of the warm weather, both the lovely sunny days and the not so lovely almost-tropical showers, it’s beginning to look a lot like fall. Splotches of red and yellow are becoming more pronounced on the hills surrounding Pleasant Lake. Leaves have begun to ever-so-gently fall from the trees. They float like tiny boats along the lake’s edge and skitter across the beach in the afternoon breeze. It’s lovely, tranquil, with just the right touch of poetry and romance. Until I happen to glance out my window. Those lovely autumn leaves have been making a beeline to my yard.

Then again, all those leaves remind me of Saturday afternoons on Jackson Road. I remember the cool air, the warm, golden sunlight and my dad, rake in hand. Before the lunch dishes were even cleared, Dad was out in the garage grabbing his rake. He’d spend the entire afternoon raking and piling up the endless supply of crackling, dry leaves that always found their way into our yard. Unless we were quick and disappeared, he always recruited, make that drafted, my sister Brenda and me to help. I seem to remember that my sister was much better than I at disappearing. While I was lazily dreaming up ways to spend the afternoon, my sister was quick out the door to a friend’s house or a Girl Scout meeting.

Dad would grab his big rake and a cute little one for me (and Brenda if she hadn’t managed to give him the slip). More toy than tool, I wielded my rake with courage and determination. Well, not exactly. Throughout the long afternoon, I divided my time between pretending to rake, complaining and, the best part, jumping into the enormous piles of leaves which Dad created.

As soon as the sun began to set, the air shifted from cool to downright chilly. Dad and every other father on the street made quick work of their hours of raking. Within minutes the leafy piles were reduced to small mounds of ash and the wonderful smell of burning leaves filled the neighborhood.

The ashes cooled quickly as dusk fell. We put our rakes away and hurried inside. If we’d turned to inspect the freshly raked yard, we would have seen that a late afternoon breeze had brought in a thick, new covering of leaves. But there was always another day and Mom had dinner on the stove and warm water running for a tub.

It’s been a few decades since most communities allowed it but I don’t know a single person over forty who doesn’t miss the sweet smell of burning leaves. Without the promise of that smoky perfume, our motivation to flex our muscles and get out the rake is gone. Instead we rev up the leaf blower or lawn mower. I know my grass needs to be cut at least one more time before the snow flies so why not combine two jobs in one?

These noisy power tools are a lot less enchanting than the picture of dad and daughter with rakes in hand. Their noisy roar plays havoc with the tranquility of a golden afternoon but the work is done in an hour or two not four or five. Instead of ash and smoky perfume, the great leafy piles will be turned into compost. And maybe, just maybe, some will feed a father-daughter vegetable patch or stand of sunflowers next summer.

Bon appétit!

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Apple Crumb Cake
While the smell of burning leaves on an October afternoon is nothing more than a distant memory, the warm and wonderful aroma of apples and spice can fill your kitchen today. Enjoy!

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6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
Grated zest of 1/2 orange
Pinch nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
Crumbly Topping (recipe follows)
Apple Cider Crème Anglaise (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan or deep dish pie plate.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, spices and orange peel together in a small bowl.

In a larger bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and sour cream and beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients, a little at a time, mixing until just smooth. Fold the chopped apple and dried cranberries into the batter. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the Crumbly Topping.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake the cake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Remove the springform collar and continue to cool. Serve the cake at room temperature with a spoonful of cold Apple Cider Crème Anglaise.

Crumbly Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/3 cup oatmeal

Put the flour, sugar, salt and spices in a small food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add the oatmeal and pulse until the topping starts to come together in small lumps.

Apple Cider Crème Anglaise
3 cups apple cider
6 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3-4 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch salt
Grated zest of 1/2 orange
2-3 tablespoons Calvados or Apple Jack (optional)

Put the cider in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 1/2 cup.

Set a small bowl in a large one. Surround the small bowl with ice water and set aside.

Put the eggs, cream, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt in a blender and process until smooth. With the motor running, very slowly add the reduced cider and process until smooth.

Transfer the sauce to a small pot, add the orange zest and cook over low heat, stirring almost constantly until the sauce reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir in the Calvados. Pour the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl in the ice bath. Stirring frequently, cool the crème to room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator until cold.

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One Year Ago – Ginger Scones
Two Years Ago – Curried Eggplant Soup
Three Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon

Do you have a favorite apple recipe? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new stories and recipes.

Want more? Feel free to visit my photoblog Susan Nye 365 or click here for more recipes and magazine articles or here to watch me cook!I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2011

Five Things to Do During Black Fly Season & Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

You expect to find lists of activities and boredom busters for rainy days. Fortunately, except for that time with the ark, rain doesn’t stick around for forty days and nights. Unfortunately, that’s just what the black flies do. They arrive in time for Mothers’ Day and disappear around Fathers’ Day. Forty days with a few extra for good measure.

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After all those April showers, we’re past due for some May flowers and sunshine. If you’re like me you’d like nothing better than to head outside. As bad luck would have it, before you can start the lawnmower or settle into the hammock, a swarm of flies are buzzing around your head and nipping at your ankles.

So what can you do about it? Well, you could …
1. Pout,
2. Stamp your foot,
3. Complain,
4. Mope,
5. Flee the State.

As tempting as it sounds, forty days of sulking could get old pretty fast and a long trip may not be in your budget. Before you sink into the doldrums or book a flight you can’t afford, here are a few ideas to help you stay sane if not happy during black fly season:

1. Go to the movies. Get your best pals together and make an afternoon of it. Add lunch before or an early dinner or drinks afterwards. Think of it as a field trip without the field. Alternatively, you could host a movie party at home. Most of this year’s Oscar winners are out on DVD so you can catch any you missed while hibernating during the long winter.

2. Bake cupcakes. It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re making cupcakes, particularly the decorating part. Top your little gems with creamy icing tinted in a variety of sweet pastel colors. They’ll be a huge hit when you …

3. Host a game marathon. Whether it’s Scrabble, Mah Jongg or Monotony Monopoly, enjoy a rousing competition. If it’s warm and sunny, hold the party in the screened-in porch. That’s assuming you have one. If you don’t have a screened-in porch, think about adding one.

4. If you aren’t feeling social, grab the latest book by your favorite author and relax in that same screened-in porch. Ignore the weeds that are sprouting in the garden and the grass which is almost a foot high. Fathers’ Day will be here in a few weeks.

5. If you are really desperate, do all the stuff you postponed for the past three or four months. This one doesn’t exactly quality as fun. Let’s face it, if any of the stuff on your To-Do list was fun, you’d have done it already. However, checking items off your list will give you a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Clean the closets, basement or garage. Sort out your computer files, delete what you don’t need and backup what you do. Organize five generations of family photos and make scrapbooks for everyone. Stain the trim on the screened-in porch. The list is endless and now is as good a time as any to make a dent in it.

Better yet, come to my house. I’d be happy to have you do any of the above for me. I promise to reward you with a nice dinner or at least a cupcake when you’re done.

Have fun and bon appétit!

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Who can resist a sweet little cupcake? Enjoy!
Makes about 16 regular cupcakes or 40 minis

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) softened butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated peel of 1 orange
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line regular or mini muffin tins with paper liners.

With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on high speed until smooth.

Sift 1 3/4 cup flour, the baking powder and salt together, whisk in the grated orange peel.

With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl in 2 parts, alternating with the milk and scraping down the sides of bowl with each addition. Mix until incorporated but do not overbeat.

Toss the chocolate chips in the remaining tablespoon of flour and fold into batter. Fill the paper liners 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes for regular cupcakes and 10-12 minutes for minis. Let cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
About 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
Food coloring

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, add the vanilla and combine.

Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well blended. Increase mixer speed and continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

One drop at a time, whisk in food coloring until you reach the desired tint. If you like, divide the frosting into a few bowls and tint each with a different color for a rainbow of cupcakes.

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One Year Ago – Rhubarb Crisp
Two Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Steak

How do you cope with Black Fly Season? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2011

Tax Breaks & Death by Chocolate Cake

April has got to be the worst month of the year. Ski season ends. It usually rains a lot. And if that’s not enough misery, we have at least kzillion unintelligible forms to plow through and fill out. It’s time to file our taxes. It makes me dizzy thinking about it. No wonder Americans made 10,554,735 math errors on their returns last year. As far as I can figure, a root canal is probably the only thing less bearable than doing taxes. Then again, I’ve never had a root canal. When and if I do, I’ll confirm.

It may be last minute but I’m thinking I should be lobbying for a few special deductions and credits for writers. Why, you ask? Well, without writers there’d be no books. And for those of you that don’t like to read (shame on you), a lot of your favorite movies are based on books. Like The Social Network, Slumdog Millionaire and Forest Gump.

Then there are the humbler writers, those of us who write for newspapers, magazines and blogs. Without us, dentists’ and doctors’ waiting rooms would be pretty boring, wouldn’t they? Plus our blogs provide an enormous service. We help office workers around the world procrastinate and waste hours of what might be an otherwise productive day. Between bloggers and Facebook, desk jockeys can kiss an entire day goodbye with little if any effort. I’m guessing that Facebook has a whole passel of accountants ferreting out all sorts of deductions and credits.

So here goes.

First and foremost, writers should be allowed to deduct their pajamas and slippers. Bus drivers and postal carriers can deduct their uniforms; even strippers can deduct their g-strings. Why not us? It’s the least that Uncle Sam can do. By the way, I don’t work in my pajamas every day. Although I was comfortable ensconced yesterday, as I write this I am properly attired in jeans and a turtleneck. Which leads me to wonder, how come the politicians and religious posses only stop by when I’m in my PJs?

But back to business. How about giving us one of those special deductions, a because-you-write-deduction? Teachers get one. If it wasn’t for writers, teachers would have a hard time teaching. Or at the very least, the school day would be a lot shorter. Kids would be home by 11:00 in the morning. What would you do with them then? The special deduction for educators is $250 per year. I’m not greedy, 250 is okay by me.

Speaking of children, writers should get child credits for their work. That could be a big one, $1,000 a pop. I’d be willing to work on a sliding scale, say $1,000 for a novel down to 50 or 100 for a short story and maybe 10 bucks for one of those quickie magazine pieces.

Our stories are our babies. We create them and nurture them. Sometimes they drive us to distraction and make us want to pull our hair out. Other times they make us laugh and fill our hearts with pure joy. When our work is done, when we’ve edited for the umpteenth time, proofread until we can’t see straight, dotted the last i and crossed the last t, we send them out into the world. Sounds like childrearing to me.

Let me know if you come with any more. I’m off to sharpen my pencil, sort through piles of receipts and navigate the maze. Good luck to you and me!

Bon appétit!


Death by Chocolate Cake
Since nothing is certain except death and taxes, chase the filing blues away with my Death by Chocolate Cake. Keep the recipe on hand; it’s the perfect birthday cake for chocolate lovers. Enjoy!
Serves 12

1 cup hot espresso or strong coffee
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, choppped
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
1 7/8 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate Ganache Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch spring form pan.

Put the chocolate and butter into a large bowl and add the hot espresso. Let stand until the butter and chocolate melts. Stir in the sugar and vanilla. Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Whisk the sour cream into the chocolate mixture

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and combine.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the batter. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn it out onto a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
2 tablespoons butter
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch salt
About 1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or 1 teaspoon espresso powder

Put the butter, chocolate, cream and salt in a heavy sauce pan and melt over low heat; whisk until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar; whisk until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla and coffee liqueur.

Spread the warm ganache on the cake.

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One Year Ago – Fennel & Feta Salad
Two Years Ago – Dandelion Salad with Grilled Steak, Asparagus & Potatoes

This post is written for entertainment purposes only and in no way constitutes advice of any kind. For that I suggest you contact a tax lawyer or accountant.

Chocolate Cake Photo credit: Creative Kitchen on flickr.

What clever tax deductions or credits would you like to take? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2011

Today Is My Birthday & Carrot Cake

It’s been a busy morning …

I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts to write about Mardi Gras, ice cream, The Prouty and The Fells

… but I keep getting the most delightful interruptions. Phone calls and the pings of emails and Facebook greetings keep breaking my concentration. It’s my birthday!

No, it’s not one of the big ones … not one that ends with a big-0 … or even a sort’a big-5. And while I won’t be baking today, I thought it would be fun to share my favorite cake recipe with you.

Enjoy the day!

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Julie’s Carrot Cake
Carrot cake is my favorite and my friend Julie has generously made this delicious cake for me many times over the years. Enjoy!
Makes a 9×13-inch cake or about 24 cup cakes

2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking dish or line muffin pans with paper liners.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat the eggs, oil and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the carrots, walnuts and raisins.

Pour batter into prepared pan or fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake the cake for about 45-60 minutes (cupcakes for 35-45 minutes) or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Generously spread with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, add the vanilla extra and combine. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well blended. Increase mixer speed and continue mixing for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

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What is your favorite birthday cake? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2011