February Vacation & Romaine & Radicchio Caesar Salad

ski_patrol_01Oh my goodness, when we were kids, did we ever love February vacation. Then again, what’s not to love about a week away from school on New Hampshire’s sunny slopes? Although our ski weekends were wonderful, they were much too short. During vacation, we had a whole week to slow down. We could step off the treadmill, breathe a little deeper, sleep a little later (although not much!) and, best of all, ski.

The weather always cooperated. It only snowed at night and the days were always sunny. Of course, that’s not true but it feels like it almost could have been true. I think it did actually happen once, maybe even twice!

Dad usually took at least part of the school vacation week off. When he was around, mornings started early. It wasn’t dark outside but it was hardly the crack of noon when he rousted us out of bed. He tried to soften the blow by making pancakes. There’s nothing like a sugar rush to get you moving in the morning.

Then we were off to ski. A proud New Englander, Dad demanded that we get the biggest bang for our buck. Well, not really our buck, it was his buck. Every November, he bought us each a ski pass. If you can imagine, all he actually needed was one hundred and eight bucks. That was the price for a season ticket for a family of five. Today that might get you a day of skiing, a greasy burger and some fries. If you’re lucky, you might have enough left over for a beer at the end of the day.

Anyway, the bang for Dad’s buck was measured by the number of runs we took. Even on the coldest of days, he would chase us out of the lodge. He hadn’t spent his hard-earned money for us to sit around all day. Luckily, the weather was already starting to change by the time February vacation rolled around. The days were a little longer, the sun was a little higher in the sky and temperatures were not so brutally cold. We were only too happy to be out on the slopes.

We never left the mountain before the last T-bar had come to a stop at four o’clock. Exhausted, we tumbled into the car. However, kids being kids, more often than not, by the time our big blue station wagon had pulled into the driveway, we had a second wind.

At the time, we didn’t have snowshoes but we did have ice skates, sleds and cross country skis. A dry pair of mittens and we were back outside. Some days we trudged up the hill across the street with our sleds. Sledding down that hill was something akin to a kamikaze mission. It wasn’t just steep; from top to bottom, it was strewn with rocks and boulders. Other times, we headed out to cross-country ski across the lake or to the neighborhood pond to skate.

As the sun set and darkness fell, we finally headed home for the night. Starving and really, truly exhausted, we gathered around the table for a family dinner. More often than not, my brother fell asleep and slowly slid under the table. Although a few years older, my sister and I were not far behind.

Have a wonderful winter vacation! Bon appétit!

Romaine & Radicchio Caesar Salad
romaine_radicchio_caesar_03When local farms are under two feet of snow and produce comes from thousands of miles away, this is one of my easy, go-to winter salads. Enjoy!
Serves 6

About 1 heart romaine lettuce, chopped, washed and dried
About 1/2 head radicchio, chopped, washed and dried
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
About 1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
Caesar Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Garnish: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Garlic Croutons (recipe follows)

Put the chopped romaine and radicchio in a bowl, add the scallion and cucumber and toss to combine. Add enough Caesar Vinaigrette to lightly coat and toss again.

Use a vegetable peeler or grater to create thin shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Add the cheese and croutons to the salad, toss and serve.

Garlic Croutons
About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic
About 1/2 loaf ciabatta bread or baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the garlic and oil in a mini food processor and process until smooth.

Put the bread cubes on a baking sheet, drizzle with garlic oil and toss to evenly coat. Spread the bread cubes in an even layer and sprinkle with salt. Bake the bread, stirring once or twice for about 10 minutes or until golden.

If not using immediately, cool the croutons to room temperature and store in an airtight container. Extra croutons will be a delicious garnish on tomorrow night’s soup or salad.

Caesar Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup

1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons mayonnaise *
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
2 cloves garlic
1 (about 1/8-inch thick) slice red onion, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) hot pepper sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup (or to taste) extra virgin olive oil

Put the lemon juice, vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, anchovy paste, garlic, onion, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce in a mini food processor or blender and season with salt and pepper. Process until smooth and the garlic and onion are finely chopped. Add the olive oil and process until thick and creamy. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pulse to combine.

Transfer the vinaigrette to a storage container with a tight fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, give the container a good long, vigorous shake to recombine the ingredients.

* A classic Caesar Vinaigrette calls for raw eggs. I’m not comfortable using raw eggs these days so (even though Julia and Martha would be horrified) I substitute the raw egg with a little mayonnaise.

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One Year Ago – Sausages with White Beans
Two Years Ago – Chocolate Panna Cotta
Three Years Ago – Turkey Scaloppini with Prosciutto & Sage
Four Years Ago – Cheese Fondue
Five Years Ago – Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach
Six Years Ago – Tuscan White Bean Soup
Seven Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Risotto
Eight Years Ago – Swimming Pool Jello

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

What about you? Do you have a winter vacation coming up? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Time to Ski – It’s a Long Weekend Special

skiing_w_best_friendWe can all take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. We can all welcome the long Presidents’ Day Weekend. The forecast calls for a mix of sun and clouds; not perfect but we’ll take it. Strap on those snowshoes or skis and enjoy some outdoor fun.

Afterwards, come in out of the cold for a cozy dinner with some of your favorite people. Here are a few suggestions:

Start the evening with a tasty crostini. Try my Mushroom Crostini or Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Crostini. Or let everyone serve themselves with a bowl of Roasted Beet & White Bean Hummus and warm pita.

When it’s time to move over to the table, enjoy a winter salad. Skip the tasteless tomatoes and enjoy my flavor-filled Lemony Kale & Radicchio Salad, Mixed Reds & Greens Salad or Mixed Greens Salad with Gorgonzola & Walnuts.

For the main event think stew, a braise and or your favorite chili. autumn_vegetable_chili_02
My current favorite is the very delicious Pumpkin Chili with Turkey & Black Beans. If it seems like a good time to go vegetarian, try my Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù. (I suppose you might want to skip the kale salad if you go with this option!) Or enjoy something a bit more exotic with Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives & Preserved Lemon.

Stay cozy through dessert. For a quick and easy apple dessert, try my Rustic Apple Tart. Or delight your guests with absolutely wonderful Ginger Crème Brûlée.

Have a great weekend! Bon appétit!

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

How are you spending the long holiday 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! © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Valentine’s Day DOs and DON’Ts & Scrod Florentine

Valentine’s Day is the most wonderful, romantic day of the year.hearts Alright, maybe from where you’re sitting, it’s just another Hallmark holiday … or worse a painful reminder of a relationship gone bad. Whether you are ready to embrace or shrug off the day, here are a few DOs and DON’Ts.

Like it or not, if you are a woman, your enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day is tenfold that of your sweetheart. Yes, there are exceptions but for most women, a big romantic gesture is not going to happen. DON’T go out and buy every vase you can find. Unless you are dating a billionaire (and you’re in a movie), you probably won’t be receiving 200 dozen roses. Same goes for packing a suitcase for a surprise trip to Paris; it’s probably not going to happen.

Even with this reset to your expectations, you can have a lovely Valentine’s Day, romantic even. DO get dressed up, DO enjoy a fabulous meal and DO drink champagne. DO insist that your sweetheart do the same.

By all means, remember Valentine’s Day deserves a special venue. Unless there is some delightfully romantic story involved, DON’T pick up dinner at the drive-thru. At the very least, there should be a candle and flowers on the table and a waiter to take your order.

Or forget the restaurant, cooking together can inspire all sorts of passion. DO know your limits; it’s not the night to make your very first beef wellington. DO choose a menu of foods you both love and can have fun with it. Turn on the music, pour some champagne and cook up some magic.

Think outside the box for your romantic gift. Instead of a dozen red roses or a box of chocolates, DO give her an armful of tulips or give him a dozen of his absolute favorite bagels. DON’T give any grown man or woman a giant teddy bear or a star. You have each other to cuddle, you don’t need a giant stuffed animal. As for the star-thing, sorry but that’s more or less a hoax.

Think outside the box for your amorous celebration. DO go on a hike and share a delicious picnic afterwards … or go ice-skating (preferably in Central Park!) or rent an amazing sports car, channel Grace Kelly and Cary Grant and go for a long drive.

If there is no Mr. Wonderful in your life right now, DON’T go and get all depressed. DON’T go and eat a pound of chocolate all by yourself. Instead, DO indulge with your girlfriends. DO girly things like spa treatments, mani-pedis or a chick flick marathon … and DO drink champagne.

However, DON’T drink too much champagne. It’s not a night to drive by an ex’s house six or seven time. DON’T stalk him on Facebook, text him incessantly or call him – even if you hang up before he answers. Remember, he has caller ID; everyone has caller ID so don’t call his new girlfriend either.

If you go out on the town with your girlfriends, DON’T reserve a table at the most romantic bistro in town. DON’T surround yourselves with cooing lovebirds. Instead of one lone sobbing and/or cursing woman at home, you’ll have with a tableful of sobbing and/or cursing women. Although I think I’d prefer karaoke, a sports bar might work. You might even find a new Mr. Wonderful.

Have a happy Valentine’s Day! Bon appétit!

Baked Scrod Florentine
Baked Scrod Florentine is one of those wonderfully flexible dishes – you can make it for two or for a dozen or more. Enjoy!scrod_florentine_04

Butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Dry white wine

Per portion:
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
About 4 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1-2 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
1-2 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Pinch thyme
5-6 ounces fresh scrod

Garnish: lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Depending on how many portions you are preparing, butter a baking dish, ovenproof skillet or baking sheet.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium, add the onion and sauté until translucent. Remove from the heat, add the spinach, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Put the breadcrumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a bowl, season with thyme, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add a little olive oil, enough to lightly coat the breadcrumbs,and toss again.

Season the fish with salt and pepper and place the portions in the prepared pan. Drizzle with a little white wine. Top each piece of fish with spinach and sprinkle with the cheesy breadcrumbs.

Bake the scrod at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through. The fish should be flaky but not dry.

Remove from oven, transfer to a platter or individual plates and serve immediately with a lemon wedge.

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One Year Ago – Lemon Risotto with Spinach & Herbs
Two Years Ago – Black Bean & Beef Chili
Three Years Ago – Coq au Vin
Four Years Ago – Crostini with Beef Tenderloin & Stilton
Five Years Ago – Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach
Six Years Ago – Lemon Cheesecake
Seven Years Ago – Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms
Eight Years Ago – Raviolis in Broth with Meatballs & Escarole
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

There’s Nothing Like a Snow Day & Spaghetti with Mushrooms & Bacon

snowy_day_New_London_02Say what you will, nothing but nothing compares to a snow day. It’s like a gift from the snow gods. Instead of another crazy day, you get to relax, hang out in your PJs and watch the snow fall. If you’re particularly lucky, the snow will stop around 10:30 and you can go play in it. Find your snowshoes and bushwhack through the woods, tour the neighborhood on your cross-country skis or build a snowman. At least that was what it was like when we were kids. No school. No after-school activities. No homework. Of course, there was no internet, so there were no emails sending new assignments our way.

So what’s it like now. Now, that we’re no longer kids with a surprise holiday? Well, the internet came along so we can stay connected. Then, telecommuting was invented to make sure we are always connected and always working. That suggests that there’s no rest for the wicked even if it is a snow day. I suppose for me it doesn’t really matter. I do most of my work from home anyway. So, you’d think that a snow day was no big deal. You’d be wrong.

Don’t ask me why, I can’t explain it. Life just slows down when the snow flies and piles up high on the doorstep. There are fewer cars on the road. Sounds seem muffled. Except for the rumbling of the snowplow that periodically breaks the calm, there is this wonderful quiet. The phone doesn’t ring. Email doesn’t ping. People are too busy shoveling their walks or playing endless card games to bother with you.

Suddenly, you can work on that project, the one that requires at least a little quiet and concentration. The one you never seem to get to because … well, you probably know why. Anyway, all cozy in your jammies with a mug of really good coffee, today is the day. Your brain is prepped and ready to solve one of those big, gnarly problems. Of course, your solution will be nothing short of spectacular.

If you’re not careful, you might start to think you’re a genius. You’re not. You just have time to breathe and think things through – logically, creatively, thoughtfully. Your brain hums. You get another cup of really good coffee. You might even find a muffin in the freezer to warm up. Another piece falls into place. The snowplow passes again and then peace and calm. A few more pieces fall into place.

Eventually the snow stops and wonder of wonders the sun comes out. You grab a shovel and clear the walk. The air is fresh and clean and a few more ideas hit you. Back at the keyboard or drawing board or whatever board, still a few more pieces fit into the puzzle. You’re really humming along.

With the sun high in a blue sky, you better grab those snowshoes and go for a hike, ramble down to the beaver dam on your cross-country skis or build a snowman. If anyone asks, it’s important to clear your head periodically. You’ll be brilliant when you get back to that project.

All that work and play will build an appetite. Brilliance in the kitchen should not be problem. Even if you didn’t have a chance to get to the store, you can create a beautiful supper with whatever’s on hand. Pasta from the pantry always works. Add some sundried tomatoes, olives and capers or toss that spaghetti with a few veggies and sprinkle with cheese. Maybe you are a genius!

Have a happy snow day! Bon appétit!

Spaghetti with Mushrooms & Baconspaghetti_mushrooms_bacon_06
I always have a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the refrigerator. The last time it snowed, I also found some bacon, a few mushrooms and cream. Dinner was ready in about 20 minutes. Enjoy!
Serves 2

2-4 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
About 1/2 teaspoon thyme
About 1/3 onion, cut in thin wedges
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-6 ounces whole mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cognac
4-6 ounces spaghetti
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Put the bacon in a skillet and place over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, cook until the bacon releases some fat and starts to brown. Add the onion, sprinkle with thyme, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushroom and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half.

Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and cognac. Place the mushrooms over very low heat to keep warm and stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to directions less 1-2 minutes.

Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the spaghetti, add it to the mushrooms with a little pasta water and toss to combine. (If you have it, feel free to add a handful of baby spinach!) Cover and cook on low for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to shallow bowls, sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

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One Year Ago – Oven Braised Chicken with Mushrooms, Onions & Garlic
Two Years Ago – Capellini with Lobster & Caviar
Three Years Ago – Sour Cream Cupcakes with White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
Four Years Ago – White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis & Fresh Raspberries
Five Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Beets & Lentils
Six Years Ago – Chicken Niçoise
Seven Years Ago – Greek Pizza
Eight Years Ago – Triple Threat Brownies

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

What about you? What’s the change you want to make this Groundhog Day? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

It’s a Patriots Super Bowl Weekend Special

New England is ecstatic. Tom Brady and the boys are in Houston for Super Bowl 51! Whether you’ve invited the entire neighborhood over or need to bring a dish to someone else’s party … here are a few delicious ideas.new_england_patriotsThe almighty apps … As in appetizers, not software for your smart phone. Here are a few favorites:

If it the Super Bowl, you gotta have a great dip. Try any or all of the following!
Roasted Beet & White Bean Hummus
Artichoke Pesto
Barba Ganoush
Roasted Red Pepper Dip
Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts

Don’t forget the wings! Roast them in the oven or get out the grill:
Spicy Tequila Chicken Wings
Hoisin Chicken Wings

Next, comes that football favorite … chili!  I’ve got something for everyone – carnivores to vegetarian:
Pumpkin Chili with Turkey & Black Beans
Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde
Red Bean & Pork Chili
Chicken, Black Beans & Corn
Chili Con Carne
White Bean & Veggie Chili

Add something green. Add a little crunch with a great salad or slaw.
Crunchy Slaw with Cilantro, Mint and Peanuts
Jicama Slaw
Spicy Cucumber & Radish Salad
Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons

Finish it off with something sweet.
Chocolate Hazelnut Bars
Peanutbutter Brownies
Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies

Have a great weekend and bon appétit!

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

What’s up with you this weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Groundhog Day & Oven Braised Chicken Cacciatore

punxsutawney_philGroundhog Day, we’ve all seen it or at least part of it. No, I don’t mean the annual folderol in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I mean the movie with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. You know the one where they take a road trip to Punxsutawney. Their mission is to report on the auspicious occasion of a groundhog leaving his burrow to check the weather. Sure, it’s kind of silly but it’s also brilliant, classic Bill Murray. Who can resist?

Before you shout, “I can!” (By the way, that’s my inclination too.) Let’s consider the pros and cons:

First, there’s a definite plus, especially for those of us with unruly hair. Let’s face it; we’d all like nothing more than to wake up one day and look like Andie MacDowell. Who knows, after Green Card, some of us might even want to be her. Anyway, like our beloved Mary Richards (aka Mary Tyler Moore), Andie works in a newsroom as a producer. Like Mary, she is smart, charming, funny and beautiful. Okay, she is a bit of a goody-goody but she had one heck of a curly mane.

Next, there’s the mixed pros and cons of Bill Murray. He’s the egomaniacal weatherman sent to Punxsutawney to cover the groundhog festivities. Funny, yes, Bill Murray is funny but he is also painfully obnoxious. He takes petty, peevish and petulant to new levels. Feigning self-assurance, he flirts with the lovely Andie and bullies the cameraman. He is scornful of the Punxsutawnians who just want to have their fun and celebrate their world famous groundhog.

Looking back, it’s pretty clear, in spite of being Bill Murray and famous and funny, he was everything we didn’t want to date. After all, the film came out in the nineties. From coast to coast and around the globe, we single women were convinced that we could do better. Of course, Andie agreed with us.

And finally, here’s where Groundhog Day (the movie not the sort of holiday) comes out on top. The movie is all about change and redemption. As most people know, the movie tells the story of this dreadful man who finds himself living the same day over and over and over again. As the movie progresses, a new twist develops. We figure out that Bill Murray’s character is not only insufferable; he is miserable.

Let’s face it; we’ve all had those times when nothing but nothing is going right. Unfortunately, although we hate to admit it, some of our difficulties are of our own making. Even worse, we’ve all been known to misbehave when things aren’t going our way. Who hasn’t gone off on a ridiculous tirade, done something petty or spent a good part of a day whinging or snapping at any and every one? Like a groundhog in a maze of underground tunnels, we get lost in our foolishness, pride or plain stupidity. Not every day, mind you, but at least occasionally we lose sight of our best selves. It’s okay to admit it; we’ve all done it … well, maybe not Saint Theresa.

As the snarky weatherman relives February 2nd again and again, he slowly but surely begins to figure things out. He begins to learn and change. If we let it, this little piece of cinema shows us that even at our most dreadful and depressed we are still redeemable. Even if our unhappiness turns us into a despicable bully, there is hope. Just like Bill Murray, we can change and grow. We can find love and happiness.

Have a happy Groundhog Day! Bon appétit!

Thank you Anthony Quintano for the photo of Punxsutawney Phil provided under a Creative Commons License.

Oven Braised Chicken Cacciatore
Whether the groundhog comes out on Thursday or not, winter is here for the duration. This chicken_cacciatore_05comforting chicken dish is perfect for a cold winter night. Enjoy!
Serves 4

4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
About 1 teaspoon Italian herbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup or more chicken broth
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup or more dry white wine
4 ounces fresh (peeled and trimmed) or frozen pearl onions
3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, trimmed, peeled and left whole
8 ounces whole mushrooms, trimmed and halved or quartered

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a skillet large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer in the oven for 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the chicken with half of the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken, skin-side down in the hot skillet. Return the pan to the oven and roast the chicken at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.

While the chicken roasts, put the chicken broth, tomatoes and wine in a measuring cup or small bowl. Add the remaining herbs, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Remove the skillet from the oven. Turn the chicken, scatter the onions, carrots and garlic around the chicken and add the liquid ingredients. Return the pan to the oven and continue cooking at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

While the chicken and vegetables bubble, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Scatter the mushrooms over the top of the chicken and veggies. Adding more broth and/or wine if necessary, cook for an additional 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and nicely browned and the vegetables are tender and caramelized.

Serve the chicken thighs with a spoonful of mushrooms, onion and garlic.

A great dish for a party, double or triple the recipe and use a large roasting pan. This recipe is very forgiving. If dinner is delayed, add more broth and wine, reduce the oven temperature and let it bubble for an additional 30, even 45, minutes. It can also be made ahead and reheated.

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One Year Ago – Poverty Casserole
Two Years Ago – Roasted Cauliflower
Three Years Ago – Savory Blinis
Four Years Ago – Lettuce Cups with Shrimp & Noodles
Five Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Six Years Ago – Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower & Bacon
Seven Years Ago – Chocolate Mousse
EIght Years Ago – Shrimp & Feta

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

What about you? What’s the change you want to make this Groundhog Day? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

What’s your Brand? & Chocolate-Hazelnut Bars

fabAlmost fifty years ago, Joe McGinnis wrote a book on the marketing and selling of Richard Nixon. At the time, the whole idea of branding a politician like a tube of toothpaste or a fast-food burger was revolutionary. It seemed more than a little strange. After all, we went to the polls to elect a president, not buy a can of soup.

For better or worse, we’ve come a long way. Throughout 2016, the pundits and newscasters talked a lot about the candidates’ brands. It didn’t shock or even surprise us. In fact, these branding discussions made sense. While a politician’s brand may be a simplistic measure, it gave us instant insight into his or her stance on a number of issues. Love him or hate him or something in between, our new president presented a brand that combined business success with brash, tell-it-like-it-is populism. Not everyone believed him but about sixty-three million voters bought into his brand.

But enough about politics; what about you? What’s your brand? And if you don’t know, how do you figure it out. (And, if you don’t like what you got; can you change it?)

Your personal brand combines what you do with how you do it. You’re not just a grandmother (among other things); you’re a fun loving and kind Nanna. You’re not just a plumber; you’re a trusted advisor when it comes to my pipes. Plus, you’re wicked cool and play a mean bass.

So, the first part is probably pretty easy. You know if you are a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. You’re probably a bunch of other things as well, Mom or Dad, golfer, gourmet cook, poet, painter or volunteer. Next, and more difficult, is to figure out the how. Are you thoroughly dependable, happy-go-lucky, creative or analytical?

This last part, the dependable or creative part; it stays with you at work and play. It doesn’t matter if you are working with colleagues and customers or hanging out with friends and family, your brand will shine through. Of course, you will tone it down or amp it up based on the circumstances but you is what you is. If you’re a nasty son-of-a-gun at the office, you’re probably just as nasty on the golf course.

So now you may be wondering, “Is this brand thing set in stone?” Is it possible that you could be stuck – forever – playing the nasty son-of-a-gun, class clown or prim miss. I’m optimistic. I think anyone can change. Just so long as you realize, when it comes to your personal brand, you have to change from the inside out. If you want to become a tough guy; you have to earn it. As I understand it, the tough guy brand requires, among other things, wearing shorts in the middle of winter, never being wrong and lifting weights.

A few weeks ago, I suggested kindness might be a good 2017 resolution. Maybe you’re willing to go so far as to adopt a new kinder brand. You need to beware, the kindness brand requires more than a few nice words. You actually have to become a nice person. Otherwise, people will see right through you. But don’t worry it’s not that difficult. After all, you don’t need to wear shorts in a blizzard or spend hours at the gym. Be positive, smile and, when in doubt, assume the best about people.

That should get you started. Bon appétit!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Bars
Every baker needs a few brownies and bars. Perhaps you’ll add this one to your repertoire. Enjoy!
Makes 24 bars

Shortbread Base
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, cut in small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13 inch baking pan.

Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and process until small lumps form. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and firmly press into the bottom of the pan.

Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven until golden, 15-20 minutes.

While shortbread is baking, prepare the topping.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Topping
1 egg
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1 cup (6 ounces) roughly chopped hazelnuts
12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Put the egg, bourbon, vanilla and cream in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the brown sugar, honey and salt and whisk again until smooth. Stir in the hazelnuts.

Pour the nut mixture over the hot shortbread. Return the pan to the oven and bake until set, 15-20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle chopped chocolate evenly over the top. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute. Spread the melted chocolate over the top. Cool in the pan and cut into bars.

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