It’s a Spring Weekend Special

crocusThe weather news is promising a typical spring weekend. Typical New Hampshire that is. There will be some clouds, some rain and some sun. A topsy-turvy mix, all promising to lead to May flowers.

After ducking the raindrops and reveling in the sunshine, why not get together with a few friends. If you are lucky, some of that sunshine might come at the end of the day. Who knows, you might be able to enjoy the first of the season cocktails-on-the-deck! Wouldn’t that be nice.

Keep it casual. After all, it is mud season. Let jeans and sneakers rule the evening. Start with a few quick and easy appetizers to nibble with a glass of wine or beer. For quick and easy you can’t beat Smoked Salmon Mousse. Unless you can raid your refrigerator and find some Savory Fig Jam. Serve the jam with a piece of cheese – brie is nice – on artisanal crackers. Add a few nuts, Roasted Almonds sound good, and the hors d’oeuvres are done.

So what’s for dinner? How about Calzones with Marinara Sauce. Piping hot from the oven, they are better than any takeout. Round out your main course with Rainbow Salad and Black Olive Vinaigrette. Sounds good to me!

And for a sweet finish? If dinner is Italian, then dessert should be too. Panna Cotta with Strawberries or Chocolate Panna Cotta sound delicious.

Have a lovely weekend and bon appétit!

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

© Susan W. Nye, 2015

Tax Day & Calzones with Marinara Sauce

taxes_01“…If you previously made or are making the simplified limitation election, skip Part I and enter on the AMT Form 1116, line 17, the same amount you entered on that line for the regular tax. If you did not complete Form 1116 for the regular tax and you previously made or are making the simplified limitation election, complete Part I and lines 15 through 17 of the AMT Form 1116 using regular tax amounts. …” (Instructions from IRS Form 6251

Is there anything worse than income tax day? Well, maybe a root canal without anesthesia or rain on the 4th of July. That said, with good dental hygiene you have a pretty good chance of avoiding major dental work. And if it rains on Independence Day, well, with a bit of luck you will be surprised with a great fireworks display sometime later in the summer.

Benjamin Franklin warned us, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” As wise as he was, Ben missed a few sure things. For instance, there is little if any doubt that the black flies will be back soon. It’s also a sure bet that given even the remotest chance of getting lost on the way to anywhere, I will. Plus, I don’t know about you but an endless string of bad hair days is a definite sure thing for me from late June until Labor Day. However, a few mishaps, unpleasantries and curls-gone-wild are minor hiccups when compared with the grief brought and wrought by Tax Day.

It may be tempting, but don’t even think of skipping the misery of doing your taxes. The IRS is relentless and tough as nails. Look at Al Capone. The FBI, led by that terribly handsome Kevin Costner and handsomer Sean Connery, chased him all over Chicago and half the country but couldn’t pin him to any crime. Instead, a humble accountant nailed him for tax evasion and off he went to Alcatraz.

You can’t even escape the IRS by leaving the country. I lived in Switzerland for almost two decades and I still had to file my taxes every year. Living overseas only adds to the complexity with exchange rates, a few extra forms and the special treat of the dreaded alternative minimum tax. Wading through the instructions for the AMT was almost comical until I had to write a check to my Uncle Sam.

Putting on my optimist hat, I can make happy talk and insist that I don’t mind paying taxes. After all, it means I have an income to tax. Even if my glass is half-full, there is still that worrisome empty part. No matter how optimistic I pretend to be or how happy I talk, there is still a mountain of forms to navigate.

The government must have scoured the country, looking high and low, to find people to design and write these forms. They must be terribly heartless men and women. It seems like their one and only mission is to make our lives absolutely miserable by twisting and turning the English language into an incomprehensible jumble.

I wish you good luck as you struggle through your calculations. Once you finish, take some time to enjoy life. You deserve it. If you get one, celebrate your refund. If not, navigating all those forms with your sanity still intact is reason enough to celebrate. Grab a few beers, some good food and good friends, let out a big sigh of relief and relax, it’s over.

… at least for this year. Bon appétit!

Al Capone Calzone with Marinara Sauce
Al Capone avoided the police and feds for years … only to be nabbed by the taxman. If this year’s filing has left you feeling spent (literally and figuratively), invite a few friends over to commiserate with beer and calzones. Enjoy!
Serves 8

About 12 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
Olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 cup ricotta
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
6 ounces Fontina cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Your favorite homemade or store bought pizza dough – enough for 2 large pizzas
Flour
Marinara Sauce (recipe follows)

If you have a baking stone, place it in the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Squeeze any excess liquid from the spinach and place it in a bowl.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet, over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper flakes and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more. Add the onion to the spinach, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Put a little more oil in the skillet, add the mushrooms and sauté until golden. Add the mushrooms to the spinach and onions and cool to room temperature.

Add the cheeses and egg to the vegetables and toss again until well combined.

Divide the pizza dough into 8 pieces. Dust a clean work surface with flour. Flatten and roll the dough until each piece is about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick and oval shaped.

Place a large dollop of spinach filling on each piece of dough, fold to form half-moons and seal the edges. Cut a few vents in the top of each calzone. Place the calzones on the hot baking stone or on a baking sheet and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Serve with Marinara Sauce.

Marinara Sauce
Olive Oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1/4 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (optional)

Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot, season with the herbs, pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Stir in the tomatoes and wine and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and, stirring often, simmer for 30 minutes. Add the fresh basil and serve.

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

I’m happy to report I finished my taxes over the weekend. What about you?

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

It’s a Tapas Weekend Special

Pleasant_Lake_Thaw_02For the past few days, we’ve been enjoying (!?!) a typical New Hampshire spring? Snow. Drizzle. Gray skies. Blech! Well, cheer up – sun is promised for the weekend!

Celebrate those clear skies with the help for a few friends. If you’re feeling giddy, break out a bottle of champagne. Add some tasty tapas and enjoy a long and relaxed evening of sips and nibbles. (By the way, no one said you have to do all the cooking yourself. Chances are pretty good that one and all will volunteer to bring along a plate of tasty little treats or a bottle of wine.)

What to cook? By all means you’ll want to try crostini with my Artichoke Pesto. Everyone likes artichokes and, for those of us living in the country, you can always find a jar of oil-packed artichokes in the supermarket. I much prefer the oil-pack artichokes in the jar to those in the can. Canned artichokes always seem to taste tinny. Add some Zucchini Pancakes to your feast.Instead of a salad, try some Roasted Cauliflower (did I mention that you should put out some small plates and forks for the tapas/) If you don’t mind a bit of work, how about Keftedes with Tzatziki. These lovely little meatballs with cucumber-yogurt sauce are delicious. If you are missing the mountains, how about a few Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux. These little tarts with alpine cheese, sausage and leaks are yummy. If you don’t have time for meatballs or tarts, a cheese and sausage board is a great idea.

Now, what else? If you’ve got some in the freezer, nothing could be easier than a mug of soup. I’ve finished off the White Bean Soup with Sweet Potato and Wilted Greens but I think I have a quart or two of Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. What about you?

And for a sweet finish? Given the season, how about New Hampshire Mud Pie or Maple Mousse with Apple Compote? Both are in season and delicious.

Have a lovely weekend and bon appétit!

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

© Susan W. Nye, 2015

Spring in the Land of Mud & Artichoke Pesto

end_ski_season_01It’s over. The ski season that is and I am bereft. It’s Mud Season but don’t bother moping. It won’t do any good. We’re stuck with it; sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. We might as well do what we can to enjoy it. Okay, I get it; I should probably change that to endure it.

So what can we do to both grin and bear mud season?

Go to the movies. It’s the cheapest vacation going. For ten bucks or less, you can spend a couple hours in London, Vienna, India or even a galaxy far, far from here. To soften the return to reality, go for dinner afterwards. Something from a warmer, sunnier clime, maybe Thai or Mexican.

Do the biannual closet migration. Instead of waiting until Halloween, run the parkas, ski pants, hats and gloves through the wash. Weed out the ratty-tatty turtlenecks from the pack and put them in the rag bin. (You’ll need them when it comes time to wash all the mud and salt off your car.) Get those heavy sweaters into plastic bins and up into the attic. It’s time to get out the t-shirts, capris and pastel flats. (You might want to keep a pair of jeans and boots handy for the inevitable spring snowstorm.)

Get your running shoes and bicycle out. Unless you really like mud, most trails are too sticky for a hike. Living in a college town, I am already starting to see herds of young runners. The cyclists are never far behind. If you are out and about, you will want to beware of potholes. A few are deep enough to swallow a Mini Cooper.

Go to the library or dust off that pile of books you got for Christmas. Especially on rainy days, there’s nothing better than a good book. And let’s face it, that rhyme about April showers is based on fact not myth.

Put on your decorating hat. In the fall, you are too busy hiking and having fun. In the winter, you are too busy skiing and having fun. In the summer, you are too busy having fun at the beach. Mud Season is the perfect time to paint your bedroom or sew some pillows for the family room. Get your Martha on and go for it.

flower_flip-flopsCan’t wait for May flowers. Keep channeling Martha and get creative. Decorate a wreath with dried or silk blooms or spruce up a pair of flip-flops with fabric flowers and ribbon. While you’re at it, start seedlings in a sunny window. Better yet, get out of the house and take a flower-arranging workshop. What could be more Martha than that?

Watch the ice-out. It has already started on Pleasant Lake. On quiet mornings, you can hear the gurgle of water under the thinning ice. Pools and ribbons of open water are starting to appear. Before you know it, you’ll be out in your kayak.

Celebrate with a party. It’s the ultimate way to defy the mud and gloom. Whether you are the host or a guest, there is nothing like party to cheer you up. Take the initiative to bring friends together for a festive evening. Go all out with multiple courses and extravagant ingredients or share the effort with a potluck. Experiment with new recipes or stick with the tried and true. Whatever you do, your friends will thank you. Profusely. We’re all in this mud season together.

This too shall pass. Bon appétit!

Artichoke Pesto
This versatile pesto is great on crostini for a quick appetizer. Serve it with grilled chicken or fish or toss it with pasta for dinner. Enjoy!
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Artichoke_Olive_Pesto_01Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 tablespoons capers, well drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8-10 ounces oil-packed artichoke hearts, well drained and roughly chopped
8-12 large brine-cured green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 ounces (about 1/2 cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or a mix of Parm and Pecorino Romano

Heat a little olive oil in a small skillet, add the onion and anchovy paste and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes more. Cool to room temperature.

Put the onion and garlic in a food processor, add the lemon zest and juice, parsley, walnuts and capers, season with salt and pepper and process until finely chopped. Add the artichokes and olives and pulse to chop and combine. With the machine running, add enough olive oil to reach your desired consistency and process until well combined.

Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.

For crostini: spread on toasted baguette slices, serve at room temperature or warm in a 350-dgree oven for about 5 minutes.

For pasta: cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving a little of the pasta water before draining. Return the pasta to the pot, add enough pesto to generously coat and toss. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water and toss again.

For grilled chicken or fish: top each serving with a dollop of room temperature pesto or let everyone help themselves.

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One Year Ago – Quinoa with Sweet Potato & Spinach
Two Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with
Three Years Ago – Bananas Foster
Four Years Ago – Tapenade
Five Year Ago – Lavender Infused White Chocolate Crème
Six Years Ago – Lemon Tart
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you survive Mud Season? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

It’s an Easter Dinner Weekend Special

Easter_Bunnies_Think_SpringAre you hosting Easter dinner this year? Think it’s time to try something new for this early spring feast. Perhaps you’d like to bring a taste of Italy to your table. What could be better than a wonderful Italian dinner?

If you need a little help, here are a few suggestions for a festive Easter dinner:

How to start? If you’re cooking Italian, then there is no better way to start than artichokes. If you can find big, beautiful artichokes in your supermarket, whip up a batch of my Artichoke Leaves with Shrimp. If you can’t find artichokes (or they are looking a little tired), go with a jar of oil-packed artichokes and make my tasty Artichoke Crostini. Round out the hors d’oeuvres with a bowl or two of Roasted Almonds and Spicy Olives.

What about dinner? To keep it simple, enjoy a salad for your first course. Radicchio, Fennel, and Arugula Salad is delicious.

Then it’s on to the main event. Since you’re going Italian style, skip the ham and go with lamb. Roll the grill out of the garage and try my Grilled Boneless, Butterflied Lamb. Unless you’d rather go with lamb chops. You might want to give my Grilled Lamb Chops with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce a try. Even if the local crop is a few months away, as far as I’m concerned, asparagus is an Easter staple. You can’t go wrong with my Asparagus Risotto. It is delicious with grilled lamb.

And for dessert? Nothing says Italian like Tiramisu.That said, most Italians love chocolate. Who doesn’t? Perhaps you’d like to give my Chocolate-Orange Tart a try. it is delicious.

Have a lovely weekend and a Happy Easter! Bon appétit!

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

© Susan W. Nye, 2015

La Dolce Vita & Tiramisu

spanish_steps_romeEaster is this coming weekend. Anyone who lives in northern New England knows that spring comes in two parts: Mud Season and Black Fly Season. Easter falls firmly in the former. Which means that, more often than not, Easter is windy, wet and wild. When we were little girls, my dad’s cousin Ginny or my grandmother bought fancy dresses for my sister and me for Easter. Regardless of the weather, we wore those light and frothy dresses to church and Easter dinner. While we were truly adorable, our outfits were hardly appropriate for the icy rain and whipping winds of a typical early spring day in New England.

That’s not the case in Italy. Fast forward a few decades … to the long Easter weekend I spent in and around Rome. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. I was living in Geneva at the time and dating an Italian. We had four days off and he decided it was time to take me home to meet the family.

Unlike New England or even Geneva, spring had arrived in central Italy. Daffodils bobbed in the warm breezes and the sun gave everything a soft, golden glow. Now, I don’t want to disappoint you but if you are conjuring up visions of a sporty little convertible zipping through the Italian countryside and streets of Rome … well, stop. In spite of his roots, my beau drove a very practical sedan of some sort. I think it was German.

Anyway, we traveled light with no heavy coats or muddy boots to weigh us down. With sweaters casually draped over our shoulders, we wandered through the ancient streets of Rome. We sipped espresso in Piazza Navono, visited the Spanish Steps and Saint Peter’s square. It had been rainy and cool when we left Geneva and we reveled in the sweet life of the Italian spring. Ahhhh, la dolce vita.

Early Sunday morning we headed up into the nearby Apennine Mountains to meet the family. We spent a delightful day in a picturesque medieval village. It was the kind of village you see in the travel books or on picture post cards. Thick stonewalls protected the entire village. Narrow three- and four- story houses were jammed together. We meandered through the winding, cobblestone streets, past my friend’s boyhood home, his grandparents’ old house and the houses of numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and school chums. Along the way, he entertained me with stories of his family, a young boy’s mischief-making and, of course, soccer games played here there and everywhere. It was a wonderful glimpse of what it was like to grow up in a tiny village in central Italy.

Around noon, we found ourselves in the village square with its ancient church. The ringing bells announced the end of mass. Within minutes, people, shouts and laughter filled the square. It was like a scene out of a movie. Widows were dressed in black from head to toe. Men played Bocce. Extended families and friends came together to celebrate. Hugs and kisses were exchanged. New babies were admired. Foreign girlfriends were eyed and not so surreptitiously.

Next, our walk took us out of the protective walls and into the surrounding hills. It was time to stop strolling and work up an appetite for the feast to come. Several hours later, showered and changed, we settled down to an enormous family dinner. The food was perfect and, in a word, abbondanza. We were treated to delicious springtime delicacies – beautiful artichokes, delicious lamb and bright spring greens. Everything was fresh from farms in the nearby valley. Everyone was full of good cheer, the conversation was animated and laughter flowed like good wine.

Have a wonderful Easter with your friends and family. Buon appetito!

Tiramisu
London to New York to Tokyo and everywhere in between, Tiramisu gained worldwide popularity during the 1990’s. For many, it is still the quintessential Italian dessert. Enjoy!
Serves 12

12 egg large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups Marsala
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1 cup very cold heavy cream
About 30 crispy ladyfingers
About 1 1/2 cups freshly brewed espresso or strong coffee
4-6 ounces dark or milk chocolate, grated

Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with water and ice. Set a medium bowl in the ice water and have a fine mesh sieve handy.

Put the yolks, 1 1/4 cups sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a heavy saucepan and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly add 1 1/4 cups Marsala and whisk until smooth. Set over medium-low heat, and stirring constantly, cook until the mixture is thick and reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Immediately remove the pan from heat and pass the custard through the fine mesh sieve into the bowl sitting in the ice water. Add the vanilla and, stirring frequently, let the custard stand until cool.

While the custard cools, put the espresso and remaining sugar in a small bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the Marsala and stir to combine.

When the custard has cooled, put the mascarpone and cream in a bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the custard into the whipped mascarpone and cream.

Cover the bottom of a deep 9×13-inch glass or ceramic dish with a single layer of ladyfingers and drizzle the cookies with half the espresso mixture. Let the ladyfingers sit for a minute to absorb the espresso. Top the ladyfingers with half of the custard-mascarpone mixture and smooth the top. Add another layer of cookies and drizzle with the remaining espresso. Top with the remaining custard-mascarpone, cover and refrigerate for several hours.

To serve: generously sprinkle the tiramisu with grated chocolate, spoon into individual bowls and serve.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Lamb Chops with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce
Two Years Ago – Confetti Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Three Years Ago – Magret de Canard Provencal
Four Years Ago – Strawberry & White Chocolate Fool Parfaits
Five Years Ago – Grilled Lamb & Lemon Roasted Potatoes
Six Years Ago – Spicy Olives
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you celebrate Easter? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

A Soggy Weekend Special

PL_Snow_01More snow, sleet, rain and fog in the forecast for Saturday. Cheer up! Technically, it’s spring and Sunday promises sunshine. (Let’s hope that whoever is in charge delivers.) A gray Saturday is a great excuse to hang out in the kitchen.

Invite your beset buds over to share the results. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Think warm and sunny when it comes to appetizers. Start the evening with one of my favorites, Baba Ganoush or Caponata. Serve either with warm pita.

To the table for a salad! Roasted vegetables go great with greens. Give my Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad or just as delicious Mixed Greens with Warm Roasted Squash.

Moving on, how about Harira, cozy Middle Eastern soup with chicken, chickpeas and lentils. Too spicy? then try a New England favorite – Lobster-Corn Chowder. Yes, lobster is a bit pricey these days. Maybe everyone’s favorite, Four Cheese Lasagna Bolognese with Spinach, would be a better bet,

I’ve got the perfect dessert for this weather. Since it’s mud season, what could be better than New Hampshire Mud Pie. Want another option? How about Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart?

Have a great evening and bon appétit!

What are your plans for 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, 2015