Birthday Surprise & Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes

Mom_SusieOne of my mother’s many claims to fame is her love of birthdays, especially her own. Perhaps it comes from being an only child. Since Nana and Grandpa only had to worry about one birthday, they did it up big. Then of course, her birthday had a habit of falling on Labor Day weekend and the final days of summer vacation. The long holiday weekend became a celebration of all things Elizabeth.

Friends and family gathered on the Cape to fête my mother and enjoy the last days of summer. Since Nana didn’t bake, the local bakery was kept very busy. Throughout the weekend, every meal, except maybe breakfast, included candles, cake and ice cream.

Since my father loves to tell the story of Mom’s girlhood birthday extravaganza, we grew up hearing about her many parties. By the time we built the little brown house near Pleasant Lake, the endless round had become more finite. If her birthday fell in the middle of the week, she might join her friends for a girls’ night out. Dad arrived on Friday and took her out to dinner. At some point over the weekend, my sister or I baked a cake and we’d celebrate with a family dinner.

Maybe it was Dad’s stories or her own goodwill but one year, Brenda decided to throw our mother a surprise birthday bash. Perhaps it was a way for her to say thank you; she was heading to Colorado in September for college. Everyone assumed it was the big one, Mom’s Four-O. It was actually her forty-first and Mom never suspected a thing. She was delighted with the party and didn’t mind losing a year.

For the most part, the party was all Brenda’s doing. Maybe there was a caterer or two in town back then. If there was, we didn’t know about them. Dad stocked the bar, I baked the birthday cake but Brenda did everything else. Sure Dad paid the tab but my seventeen-year-old sister put it all together. Brenda figured out the menu, filled a couple of carts at Cricenti’s and prepared the food.

She even hired the bar tenders, her then boyfriend and his cousin. Neither knew the first thing about pouring a drink but did their best to intoxicate the guests. If the perfect gin and tonic has a ratio of one gin to three tonic, they flipped it. As I remember, they did fuel a bit of fire. The mood was exuberant, the talk and laughter loud and there was much singing if no dancing. At least one drink was thrown … or maybe that was another night. Luckily, the guests were all close neighbors so the roads stayed safe.

mom_susie_CA_01Mom’s not-really-fortieth became the measure of all future surprise parties. This year marks another milestone for her. She will be eighty-five on Friday. Although there will be cupcakes, I am sad to say there is no big surprise party in the works. Mom still smiles her beautiful smile and brings joy to all who know her but she is in the later stages of Alzheimer ’s disease. We will visit her with gifts and flowers but Brenda’s not-really-fortieth celebration will not be topped. Instead, for the many who love her, Mom’s birthday is a good day to reflect on all that she means to us and to raise a toast in her honor.

Happy birthday Mom and bon appétit!

Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes
The cupcake may be passé in New York and Los Angeles but it is a welcome birthday treat at the Nyes! Enjoy!
Makes about 24 cupcakes

double_frosted_chocolate_cupcakes_043 ounces unsweetened chocolate, choppped
1 stick butter, at room temperature and cut in pieces
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or orange-flavored liqueur
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups less 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate-Orange Ganache (recipe follows)
White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

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

Put the chocolate and butter in a large bowl. Put the orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the orange juice to the chocolate and butter, let everything sit and melt for a few minutes and then whisk to combine.

Stir in the sugar, Grand Marnier and vanilla. Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, combining after each addition. Add the sour cream and whisk to combine.

Put the flour, orange zest, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and combine thoroughly.

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

making_choc_cupcakes_02Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 2/3rd full with batter. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To assemble: spread warm Chocolate-Orange Ganache on the cupcakes. Place the cupcakes in the refrigerator or freezer and cool until the chocolate has set. With a pastry bag and a large tip, add a hefty dollop of White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting.

If making ahead, store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate-Orange Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or orange-flavored liqueur
Pinch salt
About 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut in pieces

In a small saucepan, heat the cream and zest to steaming. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain the cream, add the Grand Marnier and salt and reheat to steaming. Remove the cream from the heat, add the chocolate and butter. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then whisk until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

Let the ganache cool for about 10 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.

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
About 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 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, increase mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until smooth.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese Salad
Two Years Ago – Blueberry Soup with Mascarpone Cream
Three Years Ago – Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Avocado Salsa
Four Years Ago – Crostini with Goat Cheese
Five Years Ago – Corn & Chicken Chowder
Six Years Ago – Joe Nye’s Perfect Lobster
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your birthday party or anytime treat? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going. Click here to leave a comment.

Want more? I’ve got links to 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, 2014

Death of the Cupcake & Almond Macarons with Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache

coconut_cupcake_02About a month ago, the New York Times declared the cupcake dead, gone and all but forgotten. Say it isn’t so! How could America walk away from a sweet little dessert that is both delicious and adorable? And to top it off, imagine the potential for embarrassment! Just as the Big Apple was announcing the end of the birthday party as we know it, I was lining up red, white and blue cupcakes for a Fourth of July bash.

Living in New Hampshire rarely puts you close to the cutting edge of, well, more or less anything. Food trends, technology trends, fashion trends, it’s been a while since northern New England led the groundbreaking way. Of course, the alarm clock was invented in New Hampshire in 1787 and Maine gave us both Bean boots and lobster rolls.

Not that I’m complaining. Living off the edge gives you the sublime freedom to explore and be exactly who you are. However, devotees of the now passé cupcake deserve alternatives. So, all you fancy-pants New York writers … what do you suggest? You can’t shout nay and then walk away.

First on the next or now food fad list is probably kale. While delicious, these hardy greens are hardly birthday material. After working up an appetite with pin the tail on the donkey, most boys and girls are not begging for a tall, cool glass of kale juice.

Then comes quinoa. Nutty, chewy and loaded with protein, quinoa is both tasty and good for you. I even served it at a birthday dinner last spring. But not for dessert. Quinoa may start to pop up on menus from here to eternity but, no, it will not take over where the cupcake left off.

Cronuts? Whoopie pies? Macarons? They’ve all been heralded as the next worth-standing-in-line-for-two-hours treat. Let’s take them one at a time.

With a registered trademark and warning to beware of imitations, the cronut is doing its best to remain a uniquely New York treat. By all accounts, it is worth the trip but it’s been a while since I had cause to visit New York. I’m still not convinced that a donut-croissant hybrid is enough of a reason to jump on the train. Besides, when it comes to standing in line for an hour or more, well, better you than me.

Since they were invented in Maine, whoopie pies are easy to find (at least in New England). They are piled high in sweet pyramids in bakery windows, at farmers’ markets and farm stands. Moreover, they’re not particularly difficult to make and come in a variety of flavors. Unfortunately, in spite of their fun and funny name, they are nowhere near as pretty as a cupcake.

Lavender-Infused-White-Chocolate_Mousse_Macaron_03And finally, the macaron. Born in France and not to be confused with a macaroon, macarons are light and airy meringue cookies. (Macaroons are also tasty but moister, denser and made with coconut.) These French confections are tricky but nowhere near impossible to make and are definitely worth the effort. As long as you don’t bake them on a damp, humid or rainy day, you shouldn’t have any trouble. By themselves or with a luscious dab of mousse and a few berries, macaron are definitely birthday party worthy.

So, while I don’t intend to give up cupcakes anytime soon, a batch of macaron sounds delightful right about now. Bon appétit!

Almond Macarons with Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache
macaron_01These delicate cookies are crisp on the outside, slightly chewy inside. They are worthy of any celebration, be it a birthday dinner or end-of-summer afternoon tea with an old friend. Enjoy!
Makes about 16 cookies

3 ounces whole almonds or 3/4 cup almond flour
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache (recipe follows)

Put the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.

Put the almonds and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

Put the egg whites and salt in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on medium, gradually add the granulated sugar and vanilla. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.

In 2 batches, gently fold the almond mixture into the egg whites until just combined.

Use a pastry bag with a large tip to drop quarter-sized rounds about 1 inch apart onto the prepared pans. Alternatively, use a small (1 1/2-2-teaspoon) scoop to measure out small mounds and place about 2 inches apart on the pans. If necessary, smooth the tops with a wet fingertip. Let the macarons sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before baking.

Bake at 325 degrees, switching and turning the pans halfway through, for 10-15 minutes or until the macarons are puffed and tops appear dry.

Cool the macarons in the pan for 10 minutes before transfering to a rack to cool completely. Spread ganache on half of the cookies, top with the remaining halves to make little sandwiches and gently press together.

If you are not going to eat all the cookies the day you make them, store extras before filling in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

For a razzle-dazzle presentation, tint the macarons pink with gel food coloring. Or use blueberry jam or orange marmalade and Grand Marnier in the ganache and tint the cookies blue or orange. Alternatively, you can fill the cookies with lemon, orange or lime curd, buttercream or jam and tint them to match. The possibilities are endless.

Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
1 teaspoon Framboise
Pinch salt
About 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
About 2 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

While the macarons bake, combine the cream, jam, Framboise and salt in a small heavy saucepan. Add the chocolate and heat on low until the chocolate just starts to melt. Remove from the heat, let sit for a few minutes and then whisk until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

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One Year Ago – Watermelon-Limeade
Two Years Ago – Filet de Sole Meunière
Three Years Ago – Artichoke Leaves with Shrimp
Four Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Chicken
Five Years Ago – Corn & Tomato Salad
Six Years Ago – Summer RollsOr Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your birthday party or anytime treat? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going. Click here to leave a comment.

Want more? I’ve got links to 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, 2014

Ten Things You Will Never Regret Doing – This (and Every) Summer & Strawberry Shortcakes with Cardamom Cream

Pleasant_Lake_SneakersSummer should be filled with fond memories and not regrets. What are three or four, ten or more things you’d like to do this summer? Not should, not could but the things you’d like to do. Why not promise right now, right here to do them! If you need help, here are a few ideas:

1. Sit on a beach and watch the sun come up. Listen to the loons, drink a great cup of coffee and enjoy the beauty and solitude.

2. Make time for your family and friends. There’s no need to fuss and over-plan. Do ordinary things together; take a walk in the woods, build a sand castle or grill burgers. Tell the people you love how much they mean to you and prove it by giving them some undivided attention.

3. Exercise every day. With beautiful weather, there’s no excuse to stay inside. Get out and walk, run, bike, hike, swim, kayak or, or, or … If you don’t know how already, learn to swim. Old or young, passing your raft test will give you a wonderful sense of accomplishment and security.

4. Use sunscreen. The seventies just called and they want their baby oil back. Spend lots of time outside this summer but use your head and lots of sunscreen.

5. Do a good deed. Whether every day or once in a while, look for opportunities to practice small acts of kindness. Hold the door for a stranger at the post office. Run an errand for a neighbor. Or just smile, it’s contagious and makes everyone feel better. While you’re at it, laughter is contagious too so laugh every day.

6. Try something new, even a little adventurous. No, you needn’t climb Mount Kilimanjaro. You can expand your horizons by taking one small step outside your comfort zone. Perhaps you’re nervous about meeting new people. Well then, make a point of introducing yourself to a stranger at the next cookout. Fussy about food; give sushi a try. Small steps will lead to bigger steps and before you know it, you’ll be heading off to tackle your own version of Kilimanjaro!

7. Express your creativity. Find or rediscover the creative endeavor that makes your soul sing. Maybe it’s gardening or drawing or solving complex math problems. Whatever it is, make this the summer you explore and celebrate your imagination.

8. Take a nap in a hammock. If you want, bring a book along and pretend to read. If you don’t have a hammock, a comfortable chair or blanket in the shade will do. Summer is a great time to relax and recharge your battery.

Nye_Family_Cookout_029. Eat dinner as a family, better yet an extended family and even better – eat outside. Family cookouts and picnics are just one of summer’s gifts. While you’re at it, learn to cook a lobster, eat more fresh vegetables and indulge in local fruit. Don’t forget the homemade shortcakes or ice cream for the pick-your-own berries.

10. Watch the full moon rise over the mountain, dance and, go ahead, give a howl. When you need a rest, lie in the grass and count shooting stars.

Enjoy the long days and nights of summer and bon appétit!

Strawberry Shortcakes with Cardamom Creamstrawberry_shortcake_cardamom_cream_01
Strawberry shortcake is a classic summer favorite. Give it a little twist this year with a touch of exotic spice. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 1/2 cups plus 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream, divided
About 1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
1 teaspoon ground cardamom, divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for your work surface
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sour cream
2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

Combine 1 cup cream with 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, cover and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the shortcakes.

Put the flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, remaining cardamom, baking powder and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, pulse until it is fully incorporated and the dry ingredients resemble fine meal. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Combine the remaining vanilla and 1/2 cup cream with the sour cream, add it to the flour mixture and stir until the dough comes together. The dough will be sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, pat into a ball and knead a few times.

Divide the dough into 8 equal portions, pat into rounds, place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with 1-2 tablespoons cream.

Turning the sheet pan at the mid-point, bake the shortcakes in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

To assemble: toss the strawberries with 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar. (If the berries are very fresh and local, you may not need any sugar.)

Beat the sweetened cardamom cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.

Slice each shortcake in half horizontally. Top the bottom halves with strawberries and dollops of whipped cardamom cream. Add the top halves and more strawberries and cream. Serve immediately.

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One Year Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Two Years Ago – Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet
Three Years Ago – Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons
Four Years Ago – The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen
Five Years Ago – Asian Slaw
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s on your list? What would you like to do this summer? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to 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, 2014

Time for Play & Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

sprinkler_tag_02If you’ve spent the winter hibernating, it’s time to get out and play. If you’ve spent the winter on skis or snowshoes, it’s still time to play. Grab your clubs or a racket, a Frisbee or a ball and bat. Find a swing set or a trampoline. Explore the woods behind your house or a neighborhood pond in a kayak. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do it.

How long has it been since you felt the simple joy of a day with nothing to do but play? Let’s hope, you are not one of those grownups. You know the type; they’re much too serious for play. Of course, they make an exception when it’s more business than game. We’ve all heard stories of multi-million dollar deals won on the golf course. Call me a skeptic but I’m guessing most of them are more urban myth than reality.

If it helps, play is actually good for you. It sparks imagination and creativity, improves health and mood and reduces stress. You’ll feel better and think better. If you play with children or grandchildren, they’ll think and feel better too. What’s not to like about that? If for no other reason, consider all the time and money you’ll save on doctors, therapists and prescriptions.

Before you start backpedaling or arguing, don’t bother. I pretty sure I’ve got everything covered!

You say you can’t afford clubs or a racket or a spiffy new kayak. We didn’t need all that stuff when we were kids so we hardly need it now. How about a game of kick-the-can? All you need is an old coffee can to kick around the backyard. It will cost you nothing and both you and the kids will have a grand time. If you don’t have a coffee can lying around, don’t worry. I take after my grandfather and have a bunch in my garage. They’re full of nails and screwdrivers and other junk but I’ll empty one out for you.

Or put together a game of hide and seek or sardines. Grab a piece of chalk and map out a game of hopscotch or find a piece of rope to jump. Think back to the fourth grade and the possibilities become endless.

If you’re having trouble remembering fourth grade, nothing will clear your head better or put a smile on your face faster than a nice walk in the woods. Take a nature hike and discover a new favorite spot. The exercise will do you a world of good. Collect pinecones and other natural treasures while you wander. The fun will continue at home when you assemble those treasures into a fantastic centerpiece or help the kids build fairy houses.

Or you could go fly a kite. Far from sedentary, kite flying requires a fair amount of running. As kids, we ran like crazy to launch our kites. Then, since the wind rarely cooperated, we ran back again to keep them afloat. At some point, a tree would snatch a kite or two. Although the poor kites rarely survived the crash, it didn’t stop us from climbing to their rescue.

Reward yourselves with a tea party. Some might think of baking as work. If you have kids or grandkids around, it can be lots of fun. Think of it as a new adventure and opportunity to share stories about cooking with your mom, nana or auntie. Besides, you’ll be hungry after that rousing game of kick-the-can. Don’t stay inside for too long. Take your just-baked sweets outside for a festive tea party on the back porch. Nothing says delicious like still-warm treats in the sunshine.

Have fun and bon appétit!

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
rhubarb_upside_down_cake_03It’s rhubarb season and if you are like me, you never quite know what to do with it. Why not gather the kids together and whip up this yummy cake? Problem solved. Enjoy!

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons room temperature butter plus more for the pan
3/4 cup brown sugar
6 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
Grated zest of 1 orange
Garnish: whipped cream or vanilla or ginger ice cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch spring form pan, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and generously butter the paper.Wrap the pan in two layers of aluminum foil.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet and remove from the heat. Add the rhubarb and 1/4 cup brown sugar and toss to combine. Evenly distribute the rhubarb in the bottom of the springform pan and set aside.

Put the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and orange zest in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat 1/2 cup butter with the remaining brown sugar and granulated sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add the sour cream and beat again until well combined.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined.

Carefully spoon the batter over the rhubarb in an even layer. Bake the cake in the middle of the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees and continue baking until golden and a cake tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for about 20 minutes.rhubarb_upside_down_cake_07

Run a thin knife around edge of pan, invert the cake onto a plate and release the collar of the springform pan. Carefully remove the collar and bottom on the pan and parchment paper. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.

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One Year Ago – New Potato Salad Dijon
Two Years Ago – Asparagus Crostini with Sunddired Tomato Pesto & Goat Cheese
Three Years Ago – Wheat Berry Salad
Four Years Ago – Not Your Ordinary Burger
Five Years Ago – Strawberry Rhubarb SoupOr Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite summer game? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to 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, 2014

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