Surviving the Gray Days of April & Moussaka

mud_seasonThere is no doubt about it. At least in New Hampshire, April is a crummy month. The ski season ends. Most days the sky is any one of more than fifty shades of gray. The clouds all too frequently open up and dampen more than our spirits with a fine drizzle, torrential rain or even snow. At least in my yard, all but a few spring blooms are hiding under dirty snow banks. Dirt roads are filled with muddy ruts. Paved roads are a roller coaster of pot holes and frost heaves. To add insult to injury, taxes are due.

So how do you lift your spirits when you are surrounded by gray skies, mud and piles of forms and receipts? Here are a few ideas:

1. Put on your rubber boots and slicker and go out anyway. It helps if your rain gear is bright red or yellow, polka dotted or flowered.
2. Find a change of venue. Instead of reading a book in your own cozy living room, grab a comfy chair at the library or coffee shop. Look up periodically; you never know who you might spot to share a cup of tea or coffee and a chat.
3. Do that thing that you’ve been postponing for weeks. It could be a boring piece of paperwork or cleaning out the refrigerator. The dreary weather won’t make it more fun or interesting but you will enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when you are done.
4. Take an afternoon nap.
5. Create a scrapbook for someone special. Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day as well as graduation and wedding season are coming.
6. Read all the Dr. Seuss books. The Cat in the Hat is a good place to start … “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.”
7. Go to the gym. Get your blood pumping with a zumba workout or find serenity with a yoga class.
8. Do a crossword puzzle. And another.
9. Invite your pals over to play poker. Or bridge if you prefer.
10. Rearrange the furniture. You’ll have a brand new room without spending a dime.
11. Buy flowers. They’ll look great in your brand new room! Buy a second bunch and surprise a friend or neighbor.
12. Play with your dog or cat. They’re probably bored too. Make a video of your adorable pet and post it on YouTube. Just don’t let it go to Fido’s head when the video goes viral.
13. Learn something new. Attend a lecture, take a guided tour of an historic landmark or peruse a how-to-fix-anything book and then fix something.
14. Cook one of those dishes that you’ve been avoiding because it takes too long or is too complicated. Fill the house with the warm and wonderful smell of homemade moussaka, simmering soup or braised beef.
15. Invite all your favorite people to dinner to share that dish. We tend to entertain in the summer, on special occasions and holidays so a party for no reason at all in the middle of April will be highly appreciated and memorable.

Before you know it, the ice will be off the lake and the garden will be filled with flowers. Good luck and bon appétit!

Moussaka
Rich and hearty after a dreary day, this Greek dish is great for casual dinner parties. Enjoy!
Serves 12moussaka_04

About 3 pounds (3-4) small eggplants, trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8-10 ounces each ground pork and turkey
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch allspice
2 tablespoons butter and more for the baking dish
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
8 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and pepper and bake until tender and browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the meat sauce. Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the meat and season with salt and pepper. Breaking the meat up into bite-size pieces, sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the crushed tomatoes, herbs, cinnamon and allspice and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

While the meat sauce simmers, make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk, bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, season with salt and pepper and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens about 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep 9×13-inch baking dish.

Put the cheeses in a bowl and toss to combine.

Layer half the eggplant in the bottom on the prepared dish, top with half the meat sauce and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Repeat. Top with béchamel and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses.

Bake for 40 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Let sit for 10 minutes, cut into squares and serve.

* Moussaka can be prepped and assembled in advance. Cover and store in the refrigerator. It will take longer to cook if it goes into the oven cold.

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One Year Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Two Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Three Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Four Years Ago –
Chicken Provençal
Or
Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite way to spend a rainy, gray or otherwise miserable day? 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

Weekend Special – Comfort Food

Main_Street_NL_NHAnother storm has roared up the coast, leaving a foot of snow on the Cape where they neither need nor want it. Further north and inland, we’ve got little more than three, maybe four inches. Oh well, if you are a skier, a little snow is better than no snow.

What are your plans for the weekend? A little skiing or snowshoeing; a lot of shoveling? What about après ski, shoe or shovel? There is nothing like comfort food after a day outside. Here are a few ideas:

Catch your breath and relax by the fire with a glass of wine. Warm up some pita bread and chop a few fresh veggies and serve them with Baba Ganoush, Roasted Red Pepper Dip or White Bean Hummus.

While you unwind, let the big pan of mac & cheese se bubble in the oven. Warm and cozy, my the Decadent Mac & Cheese is a delicious end to a busy day. Add a nice crisp salad, Crunchy Salad with Apples & Grapes or Caesar Salad works for me.

For sweet comfort, I’m thinking Bananas Foster might be a good idea. Or for traditional Americana, maybe Peanut Butter Brownies or oh so chocolaty Triple Threat Brownies.

Have a wonderful weekend! Bon appétit!

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

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

© Susan W. Nye, 2013

The Glories of Spring Skiing & Decadent Mac & Cheese

snowy_day_New_London_01My birthday falls in the first few days of March so when we get a big snowstorm in the last week of February, I take it personally. And even more so when the sun returns and shines on all that beautiful new snow. Six inches is lovely, more is wonderful but I don’t complain if it is only an inch or two. Fresh snow and sunshine on my birthday are all the proof I need to know that the snow gods are smiling down upon me. I’m not sure what I’ve done right but I sure hope I continue to do so.

Skiing in New England has always been a bit of catch-as-catch-can; particularly when you compare our slopes to the Alps or the Rockies. We start the season dreaming of a white Christmas. We end it with our fingers crossed and hoping for a white Easter. Sometimes we get both; sometimes, neither. It was even more precarious when I was a kid and few ski areas had snow making equipment.

Imagine my delight when I moved to Switzerland. Skiing in the Alps began well before Christmas in late November or early December. Forget holiday shopping, that’s was airport duty free was for. For many years, my family members were regularly treated to chocolate and SWATCHs under the tree. I don’t think it took them long to figure out why.

But back to skiing in the Alps; even early in the season, unlike New England, the skiing was pretty good. Instead of a measly few trails, a good portion of the mountain was open. Of course, most of the light was gone by two o’clock but you can’t have everything. Then again, I can’t imagine I had too many issues with starting the après ski festivities a little early. On the back end, spring skiing continued until the first of May, sometimes later. I remember one spectacular season when I didn’t hang up my skis until May 16th. How glorious!

For now, I am looking forward to some glorious spring skiing right here in New Hampshire. The days are getting longer. The sun is brighter and higher in the sky. You can leave the heavy parka and hand and toe warmers at home. Maybe (hopefully) even put them away for the season. Fashion-forward skiers will hit the slopes in bright and shiny miracle fiber jackets. As colorful as a bowl of jelly beans, they’ll light up the slopes in tangerine and hot pink. The not-so-fashion-forward will take us back in time and ski retro in ancient Nordic sweaters or faded windbreakers. Sun glasses are mandatory. Hats are not.

Spring skiing is our reward for weathering early winter’s blistering cold days as well as the wet and dreary January thaw. It’s payback for skiing through hurricane force winds and traversing over the sheets of ice which we shrug off as hard-packed-powder.

It’s a joy to be outside and on the mountain. Whether you ski ‘til you drop or spend most of the day working on your tan – enjoy the sunshine, bon ski and bon appétit!

Decadent Mac & Cheese
mac_cheese_01Hungry friends and family will love this rich and cheesy dish. America’s favorite comfort food, mac & cheese is a great après ski dinner for adults and kids alike. Enjoy!
Serves 8-12

Butter
8 ounces grated fontina cheese, shredded
8 ounces mozzarella, shredded

4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
Olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm whole milk or half and half
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon or to taste hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 pound pasta – cavatappi, medium shells, penne or elbow macaroni
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole.

Put the fontina, mozzarella and about 3/4 of the Parmigiano-Reggiano in a bowl, toss to combine and reserve.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and reserve.mac_cheese_02

Put the breadcrumbs and herbs in a bowl, add 1 tablespoon melted butter and toss to combine. Add the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, season with salt and pepper and cooking, whisking, for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.

Put the cream cheese in a large bowl, slowly stir in the warm sauce and continue stirring until smooth. Add the sour cream, hot sauce and nutmeg and stir until smooth. Stir in the onions and garlic. Reserve.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the pasta water.

Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry add a little pasta water. Sprinkle the pasta with the cheese mix and toss again.

Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. (You can make ahead to this point, cover and refrigerate. Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking.) Bake the mac & cheese at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until piping hot and golden.

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One Year Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Two Years Ago – Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Three Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Four Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your plans for Oscar night? 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

It’s a Stay Warm Weekend Special

iciclesChill winds have been blowing through New Hampshire for almost a week now. It looks like this cold weather will continue through the weekend. Not sure what to cook during a deep freeze? Well, my best advice is to think comfort food. And maybe a bit of fiery spice as well.

Here are a few ideas!

Come in out of the cold and relax by the fire. Bring friends together and enjoy a glass of wine. Add a small bowl of Tapenade and a few crackers or raw vegetables to nibble.

Baby it’s cold outside … so why not ask everyone to stay for dinner? Start with a salad. For both easy and elegant, my Red & Green Salad is a great choice for a winter salad.

You can’t beat chili for warm and cozy. My Red Bean Chili with Pork & Butternut Squash is perfect on a cold night. If you like add a piece of cornbread or a spoonful of rice to this one dish supper. Or maybe you’d like a hearty bowl of Harira. This flavorful Middle Eastern soup is loaded with chicken, veggies, chickpeas and lentils.

And for dessert? I’m thinking warm and wonderful … something like like Bananas Foster or maybe Warm Chocolate Pudding.

Enjoy a cozy dinner and bon appétit!

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

What are you cooking this weekend? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012/em>
For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!!

Be Prepared! & Red Bean Chili with Pork and Butternut Squash

snow_plowThe January Thaw has come and gone so it seems like as good a time as any to talk about power outages. After all it is snow season and at least one big nor’easter is bound to tear through New England at some point this winter. Maybe two. Or more. As a skier, I will always hope.

I’m thinking that we can improve our chances for an outage-free winter if we prepare early and often. Think of it as an extension of the bring-your-umbrella-and-it-won’t-rain hypothesis. So here goes …

Get a good head start on the inevitable,
1. Test your generator to make sure it works before the power goes out. If you don’t have a generator, think about buying one.
2. If you have an electric stove, switch to gas. If you like to cook, you’ll be glad you made the change. Otherwise, think about a camp stove. Before you decide not to bother, remember your morning coffee.
3. So what do you do if you can’t face the day without coffee and your fancy machine needs electricity? Buy the old-fashioned version which best fits your taste – be it a simple drip cone, French press or my favorite Italian stovetop espresso maker.
4. Unless you have a smart phone, invest in a battery operated radio for storm updates (and music).
5. Be prepared for longer outages, the ones which lasts more than a day or two, with a cell phone charger for the car.
6. Stock up on candles and flashlights. A headlight, the kind for your head not the car, is great for reading as well as wandering around the house or yard in the dark. An oil lamp is also good. Don’t forget to stock up on extra wicks and plenty of oil.
7. And if you want the radio and flashlights to work, don’t forget batteries.

As soon as the weather people begin to talk excitedly of an impending storm,
8. Dig out the shovels and check the snow blower. Make sure you have plenty of gas and oil for the snow blower. It might be a good idea to have sand or de-icer or kitty litter to throw down after shoveling.
9. Fill the car with gas and look under all the seats for the snow brush and scraper. If you can’t find it buy a new one while you’re at the gas station.
10. Check your cell phone, I-pod, laptop and whatever toys and tools you can’t live without. Make sure they are fully charged.
11. If you have well water, fill any and all pitchers, carafes, jugs, empty soda bottles and large containers, including the bath tub, with water.
12. Make soup or better yet chili, something hearty and lots of it.
13. Stop by the library and/or bookstore and stock up on all those books you’ve been dying to read.
14. Depending on your inclination, check your supply of wine and/or chocolate and stock up as needed. Don’t skimp, you never know how long you might be left in the dark.

In case you are wondering about my preparations. Well I figure just talking and writing about it must be worth something!

Stay warm and bon appétit!

Pork Chili with Red Beans and Butternut Squash
Invite the neighbors in after shoveling – everyone appreciates a bowl or mug of chili on a snowy day. Add more or less spice to taste and enjoy!
Serves 8-10

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-2 inch cubes
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large onions, choppedRed_Bean_Chili_Pork_Butternut_Squash_03
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon (or to taste) chili powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon (or to taste) chipotle chilies in adobo, mashed to a paste
1 tablespoon (or to taste) finely chopped jalapeno
4 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 cups small red beans, cooked, rinsed and drained
4 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1-2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound frozen spinach
Sour cream (optional)
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
Toasted pumpkin seeds
Chopped cilantro

Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Pat the pork dry and season with salt and pepper. Brown the pork in batches, remove from the casserole and reserve.

Adding more oil if necessary, put the onion, carrot, celery, spices and herbs in the casserole, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 7-8 minutes. Add the chipotle, jalapeno and garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes more.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.Red_Bean_Chili_Pork_Butternut_Squash_02

Add the pork, beans, crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, wine and bay leaf to the vegetables and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the butternut squash for a few minutes or until lightly caramelized but still firm. Add the squash to the chili and continue simmering for 10-15 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes more.

Serve the chili garnished with sour cream, cheddar, pumpkin seeds and cilantro.

The chili can be made one day ahead. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. Reheat on medium or in a 350 degree oven, stirring several times, until bubbly.

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One Year Ago – Piri Piri Prawns
One Year Ago – French Lentil Soup
Two Years Ago – Spicy Chicken (or Turkey) Noodle Soup
Three Years Ago – My Favorite Chili
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are you cooking this winter? 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

On Being Happy & Old Fashioned Pot Roast

Have you made your New Year’s resolutions? Have you vowed to exercise more and eat less? Watch less television and read more? Give up smoking or (say it’s not so) chocolate? Learn Italian or how to knit? Get organized, clean your closets and throw out all the old junk? Get out of debt? Work your butt off and do what it takes for that next promotion? Spend more time with family and friends?

How about keeping your New Year’s resolutions simple? Christmas_Presents_02Simple is good, right? Stick to just one resolution, live a happy life. Does that sound selfish or self-indulgent? It shouldn’t. Remember the old saying, “if mama ain’t happy; ain’t nobody happy.” Well, it applies to papa, the kids and everyone out there. Unhappy people have a horrible habit of dragging the rest of us down with them. Likewise happiness is catching. Your smile, your joy can lift everyone around you. Think of happiness as the highest common denominator.

When the temperature is hovering around -3 and you’re facing a mountain of bills from Christmas, happiness may sound easier said than done. Here are three presents to get you started:

Stay in the present. How many times have you thought or heard someone say something like, “I’ll be happy when…” It could be a promotion, getting married or buying a luxurious sports car. Or maybe you’re stuck in the past, remembering your glory days on the high school football team or how great life was when the kids were small.

Whatever it is; stop dwelling or pining or both. By all means, enjoy your memories. Just don’t live in the past. Work and plan for the future but embrace and make the most of life today. Love your friends and family. Love what you do. Not everything is or ever will be perfect. Focus on the good things in life. Make changes where you can. Fix what you can. And let go of or find a new perspective on the bothersome stuff that you can’t change or control.

Be present. We are ever so proud of our ability to multitask. We don’t just fix dinner. Along with stirring and chopping, we supervise homework, pay the bills, answer emails and attend a meeting via conference call. During the call we make a couple of absolutely brilliant comments.

But dinner is overcooked; the permission slip for the field trip ends up in the envelope for the Visa payment and vice versa. Those emails and brilliant comments? Better not to go there. And finally, the family? Well, they’d really like to know what you look like without the phone glued to your ear. Whether it’s your child, significant other, friend, colleague, boss or customer, relationships are important. If the conversation is worth having, be it by email, telephone or face-to-face, it deserves your focused attention.

Give presents. Maybe it will surprise you, or maybe not, but giving brings more happiness than receiving. Gifts needn’t be expensive or saved for special occasions. They just need to come from the heart. A kind word, your undivided attention or a quart of chicken soup for a sick friend will bring a bit of happiness to both you and the recipient. And don’t forget volunteering and donations to organizations that are important you. Meaningful charitable gifts are much more than a tax deduction; they’ll brighten your day and the days to come.

Happy 2013 and bon appétit!

Old Fashioned Pot Roast
When the cold winds blow there is nothing like the smell of a pot roast in the oven. Bring friends and family around the table for old fashioned food and good conversation. Enjoy!
Serves 8Pot_Roast_02

Olive oil
About 3 pounds chuck roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon paprika
4 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 cups dry red wine
3-4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons cognac (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy casserole over medium-high. Generously season the beef on all sides with salt and pepper and brown each side for about 3 minutes. Remove the beef from the pot and reserve.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, carrots and celery, sprinkle with herbs and paprika, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Put the beef back into the casserole. Add the wine, chicken broth, cognac and bay leaf. The vegetables and liquid should come about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pot roast. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. When it’s bubbling, cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees, turning the roast 2 or 3 times, for 1 hour.

Sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms to the pot roast.

Put the sour cream in a small bowl. A few spoonfuls at time, add about 1 cup of hot braising liquid to the sour cream, stirring after each addition. Add the sour cream to the pot and gently stir to combine. Return the casserole to the oven and continue cooking, covered, until beef is very tender about 1 hour more. Add more wine and/or broth if the pot roast gets too dry.

Remove the meat from the casserole, cut across the grain in thick slices and serve with a generous spoonful of vegetables and sauce.

This dish can be made 2 or 3 days ahead. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove and then transfer to a 350 degree oven and cook until the meat is warmed through.

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One Year Ago – Pasta from the Pantry
Two Year Ago – Tartiflette – An Alpine Casserole with Cheese & Potatoes
Three Years Ago – Four Cheese Lasagna Bolognese with Spinach
Four Years Ago – Curried Chicken and Lentil Soup
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? 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

Twenty-Six Acts & Pasta e Fagioli & a Whole Lot More

December 14th was like a lot of other Fridays. I was on deadline, focused and ignoring the Siren song of social media. There was no time to check the headlines on my favorite internet sites, Facebook or Twitter. When I was almost done, I took a walk to clear my head.

Back at my desk for one final proofread, I couldn’t help myself. While waiting for my story to print, I took a peak at Facebook. That’s how I learned of the horrible news from Connecticut. With tears in my eyes, I made it through that final proofread, pushed send and called it a day. Like many people, I felt a terrible sadness. Over the weekend, I remembered first grade at Fiske School and my teacher Miss Adams. I thought of the retired teachers in my memoir writing group and some of the stories have written. Their heartfelt care for their students is etched in their words.cupcakes_frosted_01

And I wondered what I could do. As is often the case, sadness and a sense of helplessness drove me to act, to DO something. This time, I baked. No, I didn’t pull out all the stops with a Christmas cookie marathon. Instead I made cupcakes for the teachers at the elementary school. Why? To let them know I was thinking of them and appreciated their dedication to the children in our town.

I soon learned that I was not alone. People across the country were committing small acts of kindness. A man in Los Angeles bought 100 cups of coffee for the people of Newtown. A woman in Massachusetts gave several police officers Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards. A woman in Illinois filled two gift bags and gave them to a homeless man. One bag was for him to keep. The other was for him to give away so that he would have the joy of giving as well as receiving.

Ann Curry of NBC News helped send the idea into overdrive when she took to the airwaves asking, “Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for each precious life lost. An act of kindness big or small. Are you in?” If you like the idea and wonder what you can do, here are a few thoughts:

  • Drop off a bag of groceries at the food bank.
  • Give a copy of your favorite childhood book to the school library.
  • Shovel your neighbor’s walk.
  • Put a quarter in a meter that is about to expire.
  • Give blood or sign up to be an organ donor.
  • Donate some of your frequent flier miles to Make-a-Wish
  • Next time you make soup, double the batch and give some to a friend who hates to cook.
  • Pick up a stranger’s check at a restaurant. Leave the waitress a hefty tip.
  • Help out a friend or neighbor with an afternoon or evening of free babysitting or respite care.
  • Volunteer at a nursing home, school, homeless shelter, soup kitchen or animal shelter.
  • Thank a police officer, a firefighter or EMT.
  • Compliment a stranger. Compliment friends and family too.
  • Help someone load their heavy groceries in the car.
  • Hug family and friends.
  • Share the remote.
  • Invite that new neighbor to dinner.
  • Hold the door or help someone up the steps.
  • Donate $26 to a children’s charity.
  • Bring a bag along on your next walk and pick up trash.
  • Be the designated driver.
  • Call your mom, dad and/or grandparents.
  • Inspire laughter with a joke or by doing something silly or sharing a funny story.
  • Visit or call someone who is housebound.
  • Clean out your closet and donate the things you no longer wear to a thrift shop or homeless shelter.
  • Send a thank you note to a teacher who positively influenced your life.
  • Compliment a parent on their well-behaved, smart, talented and/or beautiful offspring.

I’m in. Are you? Share your kind acts with the people around you; not to brag but to inspire others to get involved.

Wishing you a Happy New Year and bon appétit!

Pasta e Fagioli and a Whole Lot More
Pasta_e_Fagioli_More_02Try this rich and hearty soup on a cold night. It will warm your body and your soul. Enjoy!
Serves 8-10

Olive oil
About 1 pound hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
About 1 pound boneless chicken thighs or breasts
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch dried chili flakes
1 cup dry white wine
12 or more cups chicken stock (add more or less depending on how thick you like your soup)
3-4 sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
3 cups cooked small white beans
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)
4-6 ounces orzo pasta
About 12 ounces spinach (frozen is okay) or 1 head escarole, chopped
Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)

Heat a little olive oil in a large soup kettle over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, break the meat up into small pieces and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage from the pot and reserve.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the pot and sauté each side for 2-3 minutes. Remove the chicken and reserve.

Add the onion, carrots and celery to the pot, season with chili flakes, salt and pepper, and, stirring frequently, cook over medium heat for about10 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes more.

Add the white wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Return the sausage and chicken to the pot and add the chicken stock, herbs, beans and Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the soup to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.

Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside to cool. Cool the soup to room temperature. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut or tear it into bite-sized pieces and add it back to the soup. Store the soup in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Return the soup to the stove and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

While the soup heats up, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orzo for 5-6 minutes. Drain and rinse the pasta under cold water. Drain again. (For thicker soup, skip this step and add the orzo directly to the soup and cook until al dente.)

Add the par-cooked orzo to the simmering soup and cook, stirring a few times, for 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach in handfuls and continue to simmer until the pasta is al dente and the spinach has wilted, about 3 minutes more. Serve with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

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One Year Ago – Artichoke Crostini
Two Years Ago – Hot White Chocolate
Three Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Soup
Four Years Ago – Penne Gratin

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

Are you in? 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

Oh Christmas Tree & Braised Short Ribs

For many the first weekend of December can only mean one thing. It’s time to deck the halls and put up the tree. Many families will spend next Saturday afternoon wandering through the snow, saw in hand, looking for the perfect specimen to hang their baubles and bows.

The Nye’s were never one of those families. Yes, we did have a tree. Yes, we did spend a wonderful Sunday afternoon decorating it. But we didn’t trudge through the woods or a tree farm with a saw. We took (what should have been) the easy route. We bought our tree at the local garden shop.

One year was particularly memorable. Staying at home with my-then baby brother, my mother sent my dad, my sister Brenda and I to buy the tree. It was not without some trepidation. Convinced that Dad would just grab the first tree he saw, she put her two little girls in charge. As we tumbled into the backseat of the station wagon, she rattled off a list of instructions. We should buy a Douglas fir. Or was it a Blue spruce? Make sure it’s not too tall or too short. It should be plump and full and fit in the bay window in the living room. Mom’s instructions went in one ear and out the other. I was only seven. Brenda could handle it. After all she was in the fifth grade.

Most years we arrived at the garden shop just as the winter sun was fading and the temperature dropping. This one was no exception. We wandered through the rows of trees. Dad pulled out a likely candidate for our inspection. We checked for bare spots and tried to guess if it would pass Mom’s critical eye. Tree after tree was rejected, until finally the most perfect evergreen was found. Or maybe we were just chilled to the bone and ready for our warm house and a cup of hot chocolate.

Our beautiful new Christmas tree was quickly purchased and tied to the roof of the car. Before the motor was turned off, Mom was out the door and in the driveway to inspect our purchase. Hugging her sweater for warmth, she watched it come off the car. In seconds she’d sized up all of the tree’s flaws. First there was the big bare spot half way up one side. Then there was crooked trunk that would make the tree lean like the Tower of Pisa. Plus it was too tall to fit in the living room. Or maybe it was too small. I’m not really sure except that it was proclaimed far from perfect.

The tree was returned to the roof of the car and back we went to Diehl’s. By now, it was probably 4:30, a lot colder and dark. A few bare bulbs feebly lit the stacks of trees. Again, we wandered around, inspecting and rejecting until finally, we were sure. Yes indeed, this time we had really, truly found the perfect tree. Either that or we were really, truly freezing and really, truly in need of a hot chocolate.

Again, Mom heard the car pull up and was out the door in a flash. In less than a minute she was back in the house to grab her coat and bundle the baby into his snowsuit. Dad tied the second tree back onto the car.

Back at Diehl’s we watched the master as she carefully inspected and rejected tree after tree. Too skinny. Too short. Too prickly. Oops, too expensive. Too who-knows-what. Christmas is her favorite of all the holidays and Mom was filled with purpose. The Nye’s would have a beautiful tree. A perfect tree.

And of course, in spite of the cold and the flickering twenty watt bulbs, she found it.

Wishing you and yours a joyful holiday season, filled with wonderful family memories. Bon appétit!

Braised Short Ribs
Whether you spend the afternoon cutting your own or wandering through the garden shop in search of the perfect Christmas tree, these hearty ribs will warm you up! Enjoy!
Serves 6

2 ounces slab or thick cut bacon, roughly chopped
4-5 pounds beef short ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
Garnish: fresh chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the bacon in a heavy casserole over medium heat until crisp and brown. Remove the bacon and reserve. Pour off any excess bacon fat, leaving just enough to lightly coat the pan and reserve.

Season the beef with salt and pepper and, working in batches, brown the beef over medium-high heat. Remove the beef and add to the reserved bacon.

Reduce the heat to medium. Drain any excess fat from the pan, leaving just enough to lightly coat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with paprika, salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Stir the vinegar, mustard and tomatoes into the vegetables. Slowly add the wine and chicken stock, stirring to combine. Raise the heat to high, bring to a simmer and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add the herbs, return the beef and bacon to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until the beef is tender. Add more wine and/or stock if needed.

Carefully transfer the beef to a deep serving platter. If necessary, bring the sauce to a boil over high heat to reduce. Ladle the sauce over the beef, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

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One Year Ago – Mushroom Crostini
Two Years Ago – Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels
Three Years Ago – Braised Beef with Root Vegetables
Four Years Ago – Macadamia Nut Shortbread

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

Where do you get your annual tree? In the woods? A tree farm? Or garden shop? 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

Another Weekend Special – Blue Sky Is Back!

Blue sky is peaking through the trees. Sunshine is a welcome relief after Sandy’s rain, wind and more rain. We escaped with only a brief power outage and life is now back to what passes for normal.

If you have friends or family without power, now is a great time to invite them over for dinner … and a hot shower!

From start to finish – think comfort food. It’s been a crazy week. No need to rush. Relax in front of the fire with a glass of wine. And for nibbles … toasty Mushroom Crostini or cups of cozy Butternut Squash Soup will help get you started.

When it’s time to move to the table … My Chicken in Every Pot will be warm and welcoming. Serve the chicken with lightly homemade buttered noodles (it’s okay if you can’t do homemade – I won’t tell) and Roasted Green Beans.

For a comforting dessert, you can’t beat Apple Crisp or Apple Bread Pudding. Then again, last weekend, one thing after another interrupted my cupcake baking… so maybe I’ll finally get to it!?!

Have a great weekend. Bon appétit!

What are your plans for this weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

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

I invite you to take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

Rain, Rain Go Away … But If You Stay … & Tagliatelle alla Carbonara

As I tap away it’s a bone-chilling, rainy morning. It’s just one in a seemingly endless string of always chilly, sometimes rainy, sometimes only gray and dreary but rarely sunny days. It’s already starting to get old and the forecast calls for plenty more of the same. It’s bad enough that the rain and drizzle put a damper on outdoor fun but the frigid humidity has prolonged the bad hair season.

So short of climbing under the covers and staying there until ski season starts … what can you do to pass the time on these endless dark days? Here are a few ideas:

Bake cookies. Eat one, okay two, and pack up the rest for the unsung or under-sung heroes in town. Drop some off at the police station and firehouse. Leave batches at the nurses’ station and emergency room at the hospital. Don’t forget the nurses and aids at the VNA and nursing home.

Organize a film festival. Invite your pals over for an all-afternoon or evening marathon of your favorite films. Snacks are easy. A big bowl of popcorn and champagne or a fun and fruity martini sound pretty good.

Host a tea party. Take a tip from the English. After all, who knows more about rain and tea? Whether your party is plain or fancy, life always looks better after a nice cuppa.

Take a zumba class. Or yoga if you prefer. Go bowling; find a climbing wall or an indoor track. Yes, you can stay active in miserable weather.

Indulge yourself. Take a long, luxurious bubble bath.

Give yourself a facial or a mani-pedi or both. Better yet, invite your buddies around for an at-home spa party.

Knit scarves or hats for all your friends and relatives. Knitting not your thing? Then build birdhouses or something equally crafty. Before you know it, your holiday gift list will be complete.

Tackle the ten (twenty, thirty or more) years of photographs which are piled willy-nilly in drawers, closets and bins. Organize them into beautiful scrapbooks for your family. Sound daunting? Just sort the photographs into boxes for your kids and grandkids and let them make the scrapbooks.

Get out your pasta machine and roll out miles and miles of tagliarini or tagliatelle. Invite the neighbors around for a simple supper of Carbonara or Alfredo. The company will do you good.

Don’t have a pasta machine? Make soup instead. Gallons and gallons of soup … some for now and some for the freezer. You’ll be happy you did. The house will smell wonderful and your well-stocked freezer will come in handy at the end of a too busy day.

Cuddle up on the couch with your favorite author. It’s up to you but I’ll keep it light and indulge in a guilty pleasure. For me that would be a mystery or crime novel. One rainy Sunday I read half a dozen Agatha Christie books.

And when all else fails, take a nap. But please, do get up before the snow flies.

Stay warm and dry and bon appétit!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara
Homemade pasta is easy to make and has a wonderful, delicate flavor and texture. Give it a try on the next rainy day. Enjoy!
Serves 6

Olive oil
About 4 ounces pancetta or thick-cut bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch hot pepper flakes
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
About 12 ounces homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought fresh tagliatelle or fettuccine
Garnish: chopped walnuts, toasted

Heat a little olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add the pancetta and cook until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to small bowl and reserve. Drain off excess fat, leaving just enough to lightly coat the pan, add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Set the pan aside and keep warm.

Put the eggs and egg yolks together in a bowl, add the sage and thyme, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Reserve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook uncovered, until al dente, 1 to 2 minutes. Reserving some pasta water, drain the tagliatelle.

Put the tagliatelle in the skillet with the garlic and toss to coat and combine. Whisking continually, slowly add 1/4 cup hot pasta water to the eggs. Pour the eggs over the pasta and toss to combine. Add the pancetta and sprinkle with half of the grated cheeses and toss again. Cook on low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring in a little more pasta water if needed until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.

Serve immediately with a sprinkle of chopped walnuts and pass the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano.

Homemade Pasta
Makes about 12 ounces

2 cups (plus more for dusting) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cornmeal for dusting (optional)

Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Start the motor on low and mix to combine. Gradually increase the mixer speed to medium while adding the eggs, one at a time. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix until the dough comes together in a ball.

If you don’t have a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt on a flat work surface, form a mound and make a well in the center. Put the eggs and 1 tablespoon olive oil in the well and lightly beat with a fork. Gradually mix the flour in with the eggs, incorporating all the flour and stirring to combine.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Put the remaining olive oil in a large bowl. Roll the dough in the oil to coat evenly. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.

The dough can be made ahead to this point, covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before continuing.

Cut the dough ball into 6 pieces. Set all but one piece of dough aside and cover with a clean, kitchen towel. Dust your work surface and the first piece of dough with a little flour. Using your palm or a rolling pin, flatten the dough.

Roll the dough through a pasta machine 2-3 times on the widest setting. Fold the dough into thirds and pass it through 2-3 more times. Reduce the setting and crank the dough through 2-3 times. Dusting the dough with more flour as needed, continue rolling and tightening until the machine is at the narrowest setting. The pasta sheet should about 1/8-inch thick.

Cut the sheet into wide (tagliatelle), very wide (pappardelle) or thin (tagliolini) ribbons by hand or attach the ribbon cutter to the pasta machine and roll the dough through. Toss the pasta ribbons with a little cornmeal or flour and gather them into a loose pile or two. Let the pasta sit uncovered for about 30 minutes before cooking to dry slightly.

Continue with the remaining dough.

The pasta can be made up to 8 hours ahead, covered and refrigerated after drying.

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One Year Ago – Carbonnade á la Flamande – Beer Braised Beef & Onions
Two Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon
Three Years Ago – Pumpkin Cupcakes
Four Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How do you keep yourself sane during a long stretch of rainy weather? 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