A Different Kind of Advent Calendar &A Hint of Asia Cocktail Meatballs

An advent calendar was not an annual thing for the Nye kids. I think my dad’s cousin Ginny sent us one a couple of times but not with any regularity. Since a daily battle erupted over who could open the little doors, I’m guessing Mom didn’t encourage her with effusive thanks. Again, without any regularity and generally a week or two into December, I might have sent a calendar or two to my nieces and nephews when they were little.

From time to time, I bump into a magnificent, handmade advent calendar. That’s figurative bumping rather than literal. Otherwise, I’d have a closet full of broken advent calendars. They are all quite clever, fun and doable. By the time I see them it’s mid-December, so, I put it on the to-do list for next year. And promptly forget about it. Meanwhile, the youngest of the nieces and nephews are in their twenties.

I recently came across a different kind of advent calendar. One that doesn’t require any special paper or quarter-inch finished plywood. You can keep the glue in the junk drawer and the paints and brushes in the craft cupboard. It’s a simple list of nice things to do during the advent season. Instead of a tiny chocolate or peppermint, each square suggests a little act of kindness to offer to family, to friends and, yes, to strangers. In this much too busy season, it even includes acts of self-kindness.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with kindness and bon appétit!

A Hint of Asia Cocktail Meatballs

You can’t get more retro than meatballs for a holiday cocktail party. A little spicy and a little sweet, I promise you’ll like these way-better than the old school version with grape jelly. Enjoy!

Makes about 4 dozen meatballs

  • A Hint of Asia Sauce (recipe follows.)
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 pounds ground turkey or chicken or pork
  • 1 cup water chestnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 cup instant oatmeal
  • Flour, for dusting

Make the Hint of Asia Sauce.

While the sauce simmers, heat a little oil in a skillet over medium high, add the onion and carrot, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté about 3 minutes more. Cool to room temperature.

Put the eggs and vinegar in a bowl and whisk combine. Add the sour cream and whisk again.

Put the vegetables, turkey, water chestnuts and oatmeal in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the turkey. Gently toss and mix to combine. You can use a couple of large spoons but impeccably clean hands work best. Roll the mixture into little bite-sized meatballs.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Dust the meatballs with flour. Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Working in batches if necessary, brown the meatballs on all sides. Transfer the meatballs to a baking dish and add enough sauce to generously coat – if necessary, add a little more chicken stock.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated.

Transfer the meatballs to the oven. Bake uncovered until piping hot, about 15 minutes or longer if they are straight from the refrigerator. Transfer to a platter and serve.

A Hint of Asia Sauce

Makes about 3 cups sauce

  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon or to taste sriracha
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup or more chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

Lightly coat a saucepan with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion and thyme and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté 3 minutes more.

Stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce, honey, sriracha, hoisin, ketchup and chicken stock bring to a simmer and, stirring a few times, continue simmering on very low for about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature, add the sesame oil and process in the blender until smooth.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

Peace & Joy for the Holidays plus Rosemary-Lemon Biscotti

Thanksgiving was late this year. Well, actually, it was on right on time. As always, it was the fourth Thursday of November. However, Turkey Day can fall as early as the twenty-second and as late as the twenty-eighth. This year, it fell on the latter. With fewer days, the Christmas season promises to be hustle-ier and bustle-ier.

In anticipation of a whole lot of running around, I wish you peace this Christmas. I wish you peace of mind, peace of spirit and peace in your heart. And, after what might have been a lively but somewhat contentious Thanksgiving feast, I wish you peace in your family, peace in your home and peace in your friendships.

Christmas is a joyful time. It seems to me that joy should come without strings or pressure. By all means, it’s fine to create a holiday bucket list. However, if that list is suddenly two or three pages long … it’s more than fine to let a few things slide. There is always next year and the year after that. And if you never take your children or grandchildren on one of those Polar Express train rides or make a turducken or build a miniature, snow-covered village … well, that’s okay too.

My mother loved Christmas. She loved everything about it – gathering with family and friends, shopping and decorating. Never an enthusiastic cook, she didn’t seem to begrudge the extra time in the kitchen. Once in a while, the enormity seemed to drive her a little nuts.

As a child, I never really noticed. It wasn’t until later when I was a teenager, or maybe it wasn’t until I reached my twenties. Although, she was quite fussy about her tree; it was never about the decorations. She rolled with any and all punches when it came to holiday feasts. No, her biggest worry was that she’d miss someone or come up short on a gift.

Even in the days before internet shopping, Mom seemed to find the time to get it all together. Of course, on top of loving Christmas, she liked to shop. Still, there were days, make that middle of the nights, when she was convinced that she’d forgotten something or someone. You know the feeling. It’s 3 a.m., two days before Christmas and you’re suddenly bolt upright in bed realizing that there is no present for Aunt Bess. Or maybe it’s Uncle Henry you forgot or, worst, your father-in-law.

Anyway, time is always at a premium but particularly during the holidays. You have a choice, go crazy, develop coping strategies or set priorities. Let’s avoid crazy and …

Take a moment to breathe and enjoy the wonder and beauty around us. Instead of cursing the snow, admire how it frosts the evergreens. Let nature heal any stress.

Make lists. Check them twice and, then, cut them in half. It’s okay to roll back the madness. Clear eyed and calm beats frazzled and crazed any holiday.

Remember being present is the greatest gift. Hug the people you love and tell them what they mean to you.

Wishing you a peaceful and joyful holiday and bon appétit!

Rosemary-Lemon Biscotti

A not-so-sweet cookie to enjoy with mid-morning coffee or afternoon tea. Celebrate the holidays with friends and family by sharing a simple treat and a good long chin wag. Enjoy!

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

  • 2 3/4 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

Put the flour, nuts, lemon zest, rosemary, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs, lemon juice and vanilla and beat until well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until a soft dough forms.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Dust your hands with a little flour, pat the dough into 2 logs about 12-inches long and set the dough on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten the logs to form loaves about 2-inches wide.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool for about 20 minutes. While still warm, cut 1/2-inch slices on the bias with a serrated knife.

Lay the biscotti on baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Flip and bake 5-6 minutes more. Transfer the biscotti to a rack to cool completely before serving or storing.

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Twenty-Seven Reasons to be Thankful & Turkey Tetrazzini

Forget Disneyland, Finland is the happiest place on earth. Yes, Finland. It seems the United Nations researches a bunch of countries every year and ranks them on happiness. One might assume that warm, sunny countries are the happiest. One would be wrong. During the dark days of December, Finland averages less than six hours of sun. In fact, every one of the top five – Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and The Netherlands – are all well north of the equator.

Happiness is a lot about attitude. Winter days may be short but Finland can thank its lucky stars and hard work for many things. Starting with a healthy life expectancy, the Finns enjoy decent incomes along with a country and culture built on freedom, trust, social support and generosity.

Okay then, we might not be Finland but there is still a whole heap of stuff that can make us happy and fill us with gratitude.

Let hear it for …

  1. An average of nine hours of sun in December.
  2. Indoor plumbing.
  3. Electricity.
  4. Zippers.
  5. Yoga pants.
  6. A warm winter jacket.
  7. Snow boots.
  8. Warm socks.
  9. Finding a ten dollar bill in your back pocket.
  10. An internet connection and the hours of joy-filled procrastination it brings checking out Facebook and watching laughing baby videos.
  11. The vote.
  12. A warm bed.
  13. A funny story.
  14. Fresh air.
  15. Clean water.
  16. An education.
  17. A good hair day.
  18. A little black dress.
  19. A great book, even a good book.
  20. A great movie, even a good movie.
  21. The sense of accomplishment you get from fixing something – anything … a drippy faucet, a gnarly stain in a favorite shirt, a formatting glitch in a document …
  22. Finding a great anything on sale.
  23. Toothbrushes.
  24. A snow day.
  25. A delicious dinner with people you love.
  26. Friends.
  27. Even when they drive you crazy, family around the Thanksgiving table.

And that’s just for starters … Happy Thanksgiving and bon appétit!

Turkey Tetrazzini

Perhaps I should have added Thanksgiving leftovers to the list. Most tetrazzini has peas, I prefer spinach and, so, make the swap. Feel free to swap back. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
  • About 4 ounces (2 cups) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups bite sized pieces cooked turkey
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 12-16 ounces spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

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

Make the Béchamel Sauce. (Recipe follows.) Whisking frequently, cool the sauce in the pan for 10-15 minutes.

Put the sour cream, white wine and 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian herbs in a large bowl and whisk to combine. A little at a time, whisk the Béchamel Sauce into the sour cream. Add 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and whisk to combine.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a skillet with olive oil, add the onion and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes more.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute, and drain.

Add the turkey, sautéed vegetables, spinach and pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. Transfer everything to the prepared baking dish.

Put the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Drizzle with a little olive oil and whisk again. Sprinkle the casserole with the cheesy breadcrumbs.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake the casserole at 375 degrees until piping hot and golden, about 45 minutes. If it browns too quickly, lightly cover with aluminum foil.

Béchamel Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

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The Ten Days of Thanksgiving & Stuffed Winter Squash

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Thanksgiving is marathon; not a sprint. I love surrounding my table with family and friends on Thanksgiving. However, this annual gastronomic extravaganza only works because I pace myself. As of this minute, there are ten days until Thanksgiving. For anyone who’s cooking this year, here are ten tips to get you from here to there in one piece.

On the FIRST day of Thanksgiving – that’s today – finalize your guest list but assume there could be last-minute additions or changes. While you’re at it, find out about food allergies or issues. If you haven’t done it yet, order the turkey

To anyone alone this Thanksgiving: let friends and neighbors know. Assuming you are a decent sort, one or more will be delighted to invite you … but they can’t if they don’t know of your predicament.

On the SECOND day of Thanksgiving – finalize your menu. If you’re having trouble deciding how to cook the spuds or whether to bother with creamed onions, stop dithering. Now is also a good time to decide how you want to handle those food allergies and issues.

 

My attitude – except for real allergies, true health issues and deeply held beliefs, don’t worry about it. Twenty years ago, the Atkins diet was all the rage. Trend followers then demanded gluten-free everything before moving on paleo eating and keto. Omnivore, carnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan – it’s one dinner. There’ll be loads of delicious food to pick and choose. Relax, no one will starve.

On the THIRD day of Thanksgiving – create your detailed shopping list; actually, two detailed lists. The first list includes anything with a week to ten-day or longer shelf life. The second covers everything else, including the turkey.

On the FOURTH day of Thanksgiving – shop for everything on list number one.

On the FIFTH day of Thanksgiving – make soup. Try one of my Thanksgiving favorites; butternut squash or mushroom. Both soups freeze beautifully. Spend the afternoon making as many quarts as you can stuff into your freezer. Enjoy some on Thanksgiving and the rest on a cold winter night.

On the SIXTH day of Thanksgiving – track down all your serving dishes and set the table. Make and freeze pie dough.

On the SEVENTH day of Thanksgiving – make the cranberry sauce. Yes, it IS much better than the canned stuff and takes very little time and effort. Due for a change? Try cranberry chutney.

On the EIGHTH day of Thanksgiving – pick up the turkey and everything else on list number two.

On the NINTH day of Thanksgiving – take the day off from work and anything else. Tomorrow’s the big day; it’s time to get cooking. Prep the stuffing, make the side dishes and bake pies.

On the TENTH day of Thanksgiving – Make or finish any of the side dishes and desserts that didn’t get done on Wednesday. Stuff the turkey and pop it in the oven. Take a long walk and relax.

Happy Turkey Day and bon appétit!

Stuffed Winter Squash

Delicious as a side for omnivores or a festive Thanksgiving main dish for vegetarians. Enjoy!

Serves 6 as a main and 12 as a side dish

  • 3 (12-16 ounce) delicata, sweet dumpling or acorn squash
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup brown rice
  • 1/4 cup wild rice
  • 1/4 cup quinoa
  • 1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 12-16 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (optional)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. If serving as a side dish, cut the halves in half. Brush the flesh side of the squash with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the squash cut side down at 375 degrees until tender, 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Put the rice in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well under cold water. Put 1 3/4 cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook for 30 minutes.

Put the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well under cold water. Add the quinoa to the rice and cook 10-15 minutes more or until the grains are tender. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat on medium. Add the mushrooms, onion, carrots and celery, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon thyme, the sage and smoked paprika, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add the spinach and toss until wilted. Remove from the heat.

Add the grains and nuts to the vegetables and toss to combine. Cool to room temperature, add the cheddar and toss to combine. Arrange the squash in a lightly oiled baking dish and spoon the vegetable mixture into the squash cavities.

Put the Parmigiano-Reggiano, breadcrumbs and remaining thyme in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Drizzle with a little olive oil and toss again. Sprinkle the tops of stuffed squash with the cheesy breadcrumbs.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake uncovered at 375 degrees until piping hot and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates and serve.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

Getting Ready to Give Thanks & Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes

There is a light at the end of the Blahvember tunnel. Dull or shining, that light is Thanksgiving and it will be here in just a few short weeks. Nothing beats Thanksgiving for inspiring both gratitude and conflict. Think about it. What other holiday inspires joy in some while unleashing fear or dread in others? Host or guest, it doesn’t matter – contrary feelings persist around tables across America.

Thanksgiving fans embrace the day. A good many of them love to cook. For those that prefer life outside the kitchen, they have workarounds like potlucks and restaurants. No matter the circumstance or place, Thanksgiving fans are absolutely delighted to spend the holiday with a tableful of friends and family.

To both borrow and mangle a line from W.C. Fields, Thanksgiving detractors would rather be in Philadelphia. For them, Thanksgiving is a highly combustible gathering of gripes and grumbles. Siblings, cousins, ex-s and in-laws, these relationships can be fraught with rivalry, disdain or both. Add a few too many glasses of wine and an explosion of one kind or another is more or less guaranteed.

Now, it’s upon us. Whether you meant to or not, you raised your hand over Labor Day weekend and agreed to host Turkey Day. That means, it’s time to get organized. And no, you can’t go back and pretend you were kidding or swatting a nonexistent mosquito.

Start by letting everyone know that Thanksgiving is still on and you’re still hosting. Give them an arrival time and turn a deaf ear to complaints. It’s an age-old fact, no matter what time you choose, afternoon – early or late – or wait until evening, some big football game will kick off at just the wrong minute. Ignore the complaints, cue the DVR and have a lovely dinner. By the way, it’s always nice to encourage your guests to bring along any Thanksgiving orphans.

Invitations done; the menu is next. Unless of course, you have one of those families. You know the type. They insist on the same menu every year. A few might even admit that they don’t really like great-grandma Annabel’s stuffing or great-great-aunt Betty’s yams. They just like the sense of tradition that a decades old menu brings.

My family is one of those types. If it wasn’t on Nana’s Thanksgiving table, they don’t particularly want it on theirs. Except for me. Makes you wonder; was I somehow switched at birth? Anyway, I haven’t exactly ignored them – just reinvented an old dish or three. Okay, maybe I have ignored them but I like to think of it as gently nudging my nearest and dearest out of an antiquated food rut.

My reinventions are not all that dramatic. Instead of boiling, I roast the vegetables and have amped up the decadence on the smashed potatoes. No one but no one is complaining about the spuds. That said, although he loves my Roasted Butternut Soup, my brother is still accusing me of heresy for dropping Mom’s stuffing. On a more positive note, everyone seems delighted that pumpkin cheesecake has replaced pie.

If you’ve hesitated to change things up, stop worrying. While they may threaten, your family won’t disown you over a few Brussels sprouts.

Happy planning, happy cooking and bon appétit!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes

Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes were not part of my childhood Thanksgiving. However, I like them as does about half of my family. So, last year, I added them to our Thanksgiving table. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 12 ounces thick cut bacon, cut in small pieces*
  • About 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
  • About 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • About 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a skillet with over medium, add the bacon and cook until it starts to brown. Remove from the pan and reserve. Reserve the rendered bacon fat as well.

Put the Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and onion in a roasting pan, drizzle with enough equal parts bacon fat and vinegar to lightly coat and toss to combine. Sprinkle with thyme and sage, season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Tossing at the midpoint, roast the vegetables at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Add the bacon, garlic and chicken broth, toss to combine and roast for 15 minutes. Give the vegetables another toss and continue roasting until tender, another 10-15 minutes

Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and serve.

*  If you have a few vegetarians at your table, you may want to skip the bacon. Instead of bacon fat, toss the veggies in olive oil. Along with the toasted walnuts, sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve.

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Blahvember & Curried Cauliflower Soup

Oh my, it’s that time of year again. It’s one of my two least favorite months – November. (The other is April by the way.) Also known as Blahvember because, well, look outside. All those brightly colored leaves, the ones that bring fame and tourists to northern New England, they’re lying in soggy piles on the side of the road. Day in and day out, it’s one gray, drizzly day after another. Hmph, I feel like one of those hapless kids stuck in a Dr. Seuss tale.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole heck of a lot to do or even look forward to. Halloween is in the rearview mirror and Thanksgiving doesn’t come until the very end of the month. To top it off, if you missed the time change, well, for the past few days, you’ve been early to work or the gym or wherever you spend your mornings. Think of it; just when we need it most, we’re no longer saving daylight. Then again, once bedtime and waketime rearrange themselves, the change doesn’t seem so bad. Afterall, it’s light or almost light when the alarm goes off.

As an early morning walker, I appreciate the earlier sunrise. Then something happens. Once a week, twice a week, I wake to a deluge or have an early morning appointment. No big deal. These little inconveniences can’t keep me from my daily tour of the lake. I simply postpone until afternoon. That’s when, heading into the homestretch, it becomes miserably apparent that it’s dark at 4:30. Yes … dark, as in dark as night … at 4:30 … in the afternoon. Ugh!

So, what can you do about it? There’s always sulking or a Hallmark Channel movie marathon. Then again, how about that list of chores that never seem to get done? If your list is anything like mine, it’s not very motivating.

It might be more productive, make that more fun, to get a jump on holidays. You know, get out the knitting needles or your favorite crafty supplies and make stuff. An afternoon in the kitchen is always a pleasure or at least it is for me. Stir up a pot of soup or marinara sauce. Speaking of holidays, my butternut squash soup is perfect for Thanksgiving and freezes beautifully. Or you could bake some Christmas cookies and tuck them into the freezer. Cooking is a lot more fun than cleaning the garage; warmer too.

Skiers, snowshoers and other outdoor types can bring it in and out of the rain. Think about signing up for one of those super-duper fitness classes. It will help you get your abs, gluts and quads in shape. (If that sounds like I know what I’m talking about, don’t be fooled.) Oh, and by the way, signing up is fine but to make it work; you actually have to go to the class and participate.

Alternatively, November might be a good time to take up tai chi or yoga. While not as hardcore as boot camp or whatever those high-powered conditioning classes are called, both will build flexibility, strength and balance. Keeping your balance on an icy sidewalk is always a good thing. An added bonus, meditative exercise is a great stress reliever.

Wishing you a happy and boredom-free November. Bon appétit!

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Cold, gray, drizzly November, is the perfect time to stir up a kettle of soup – or two. Get an early start on Thanksgiving preparations with my Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and/or try something new with a little spice. Either way or both – enjoy!

Makes about 4 quarts

  • 1/2 cup or to taste curry paste (recipe follows or use your favorite store bought)
  • 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2-3 pounds cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
  • 1-2 Yukon gold potatoes, about 8 ounces, peeled and quartered
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 large onion, cut in eighths
  • About 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock or broth
  • About 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Cilantro-Lime Chutney (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the curry paste in a small bowl, add the vinegar and oil and whisk with a fork to combine. Put the vegetables in a large roasting pan, add with the curry paste mixture and toss to coat.

Stirring and tossing once or twice, roast the vegetables at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. Add 4 cups of stock, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and return to the oven for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the vegetables with a little stock and/or coconut milk in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Put the cauliflower puree into a soup pot, add the remaining stock and coconut milk and the bay leaf and place on the stovetop. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

If you have the time, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Reheat on medium low.

To serve: ladle the soup into bowls or mugs, swirl a dollop of Cilantro-Lime Chutney into the soup and serve.

Curry Paste

Makes about 1 cup

  • 4 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons coriander
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon or to taste chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • About 1/4 cup olive oil

Put the spices in a small food processor and pulse to combine. Add the garlic and ginger and pulse to chop and combine. Add the olive oil and process until the mixture forms a smooth paste.

Can be made ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator.

Cover and store leftover curry paste in the refrigerator.

Cilantro-Lime Chutney

Makes about 1 cup

  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 scallion, sliced
  • 1/2 or to taste jalapeno pepper
  • 2-3 cups roughly chopped cilantro – leaves and tender stems
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup or to taste extra-virgin olive oil

Put the vinegar and lime zest and juice in the bowl of a small food processor, add the scallions, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro, season with salt and pepper and pulse to chop and combine. Add the olive oil and process until smooth.

Let the chutney sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Can be made ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

Cover and store leftover chutney in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

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All Hallows Eve & Vegetable & Rice (or Noodle) Bowls

There are holidays and, then, there are HOLIDAYS. Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to top the charts but Halloween has to be an ever-so-close runner up. So, why does Halloween beat all the other movers and shakers? Think about it, kids get the day off from school on Columbus Day – in spite of a ton of controversy. On the other hand, All Hallows Eve, is loads of fun but no one gets the day off.

Then again, Halloween is not without controversy. Over the past several of years, some Halloween costumes have found themselves in the news. Instead of fun fantasy or scary spookdom, some disguises are nothing short of offensive. So, here’s some simple advice, when it comes to Halloween, don’t be a yahoo.

In case you are wondering, what’s a yahoo? Say the word a few times, out loud with enthusiasm. Now, think about the kind of person who might fit that description and you’ll get the picture. If you’re still not sure; it all boils down to this – don’t choose an offensive costume. Traditional or inventive, have fun with it but show some common sense. Show some common courtesy.

As I understand it; there are some politicians, pundits and their fans out there who are getting tired of political correctness. With or without air quotes, politically correct has somehow or other become an insult. But wait a minute there; back up the train. Accusing someone of political correctness is like accusing them of common courtesy. How or why would anyone suggest that being polite is a bad thing?

I don’t know about your mom but Mrs. Nye didn’t raise her kids to be rude. She didn’t raise them to be bullies or to offend people that didn’t look, act or talk the way they did. No, Mrs. Nye raised her kids to be pumpkins and fairy princesses, clowns and super heroes, witches, vampires, ghosts and goblins.

Which brings us back to the initial question, why does Halloween beat all those other holidays in the top of the pops charts? Easy – it’s the costumes. It’s fun to dress up. It’s fun to pretend you are someone or something else. It’s fun to give your imagination free rein and come up with an amazing costume. It’s fun to show how clever you are. Dress up is part of being a kid and being a kid again.

So have a ball. Throw caution to the wind; let your imagination run wild. Be silly, be scary, be surprising. One of my favorite costumes of all time was a group effort. Three or four friends dressed up as a construction site. One put on a yellow slicker, reflective vest and hardhat while the others dressed up as traffic cones, complete with flashing lights. At least for me, it was clever, funny and memorable because – how in the world do you come up with such an idea? To be a traffic cone, a TRAFFIC CONE, for Halloween?

This year and every year, forget stereotypes. Black face and Nazis are more outdated than your great-grandfather’s fedora. However, a fedora could be the start of something interesting. Or maybe a bowler? Anyway, if you are unsure about a costume, ask yourself, “What would my kids or grandkids or future kids or grandkids think?” Would they laugh? Or, would they squirm uncomfortably and, then, shrug, sigh and admit that, as much as they love you; you’re a yahoo.

Happy Halloween and bon appétit!

Vegetable & Rice (or Noodle) Bowls

Everyone likes a cozy dish on a chilly night. These spicy vegetable bowls are quick and easy at the end of a busy day – or after trick or treating! If you like, add tofu or shrimp or slices of leftover chicken or pork. Enjoy!

Serves 4

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound broccoli, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced or chopped
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons or to taste sriracha
  • 2 tablespoons tahini or smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 12-16 ounces tofu or leftover chicken or pork (optional)
  • 1 cup rice or 8 ounces Chinese or udon noodles
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, toasted and finely chopped or toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

Lightly coat a large wok or skillet with vegetable oil and heat over medium-high. Add the broccoli, mushrooms, onion and carrots and tossing frequently, cook until the onion is translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and, tossing frequently, cook for 2 minutes more.

Stir in the sriracha, tahini, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar and toss to combine. Stir in the chicken stock. If using, add the tofu, chicken or pork, toss to combine. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer until the broccoli is tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles or rice according to package directions.

Transfer the noodles or rice to a large platter or individual bowls. Stir the sesame oil to the vegetables. Top the noodles or rice with vegetables, sprinkle with peanuts, scallions and cilantro and serve immediately.

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What’s your favorite Halloween costume? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019