About susannye

A corporate dropout, I left IT sales & marketing for the fun, flexibilty & fear of self-employment & freelance writing.

Thanksgiving – Still a Marathon & Roasted Sweet Dumpling Squash

Before you start reading …
..if you are looking for Thanksgiving menus, click here. On the other hand, if you’d rather build your own menu by picking and choosing from a long list of Thanksgiving-friendly recipes, that list is here.

Recently a friend reminded me of a piece of advice she’d once received from a food writer. She noted that the timing had been uncanny. In the run up to Thanksgiving, her guest list kept growing. From six to nine and then another four and another two. There seemed to be no end to hungry friends and family looking for a spot to land. If you haven’t guessed already, the food writer was me. The advice? Thanksgiving is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

I developed this philosophy ages ago. Over the years, I’ve thrown a bunch of Thanksgiving dinners. At least a handful of times, I was both surprised and pleased that every single invitation was accepted – and then some. No one had a conflict, another commitment or somewhere else to be. Not only that, they all seemed to have a brother or cousin or old family friend in town.

Cooking dinner for twenty in a tiny kitchen, leaves you with two choices. Freak out or pace yourself. I chose to pace myself. Over the years, I moved to bigger digs with better kitchens but I still paced myself. Now, I have my beautiful dream kitchen and, yes, I still pace myself.

It all comes down to a realistic menu and comprehensive shopping and to-do lists. And by comprehensive, I mean absolutely everything. Yes, set aside a time to set the table. Yes, include the obvious on your shopping list. If you’re like me, you can forget to buy milk if it’s not on the list. So, unless you have a crush on the produce guy and want go back time and time again – write it down.

By the way, you’ll need two shopping lists, one for each trip. That’s right, two shopping trips. Make the first one in the next few days. That’s when you buy anything with a long or long-ish sell-by date like flour, hardy vegetables and wine. A day or two before Thanksgiving, do a quick fly-by for the turkey, perishables and whatever you forgot on the first go-round.

As for that to-do list, be sure to be realistic with timing and deadlines. Once you map everything out, the reality of the space-time continuum will be clear. Sorry, no matter how good you are at multi-tasking, you can’t singlehandedly run the local 5K Turkey Trot, set the table, bake three pies, peel the potatoes and make the stuffing between seven and ten on Thanksgiving morning.

Anything you can do ahead – do ahead – way, way, way ahead. If you can freeze it, cook it now. Not to brag but I whipped up my family’s favorite Butternut Squash Soup last weekend. Five quarts are ready to go in the freezer. Set the table on the Sunday. Make the cranberry sauce on Monday. If you are making a veggie casserole or two, get them done on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help. If your brother loves to smash potatoes, let him have at it. He can peel them too. If your neighbor is famous for her apple pie, invite her to bring one along. She’ll be flattered. Thanksgiving is all about sharing. Sharing a meal and sharing at least some of the joy of cooking it.

Revise your plan if the situation changes. Wait a minute, make that when the situation changes. Have you ever known a Thanksgiving to go without a hitch? The dog will steal the turkey. The supermarket will run out of butternut squash or cranberries or whatever. Your uncle’s car will break down and he’ll need a lift. Out of blue, a long-lost cousin will show up on your doorstep. Meanwhile, your niece’s kids will get the flu and they’ll cancel at the last minute. You’ll break your ankle. (I’ve got that one covered – did it a few weeks ago.) It will snow and the power will go out … or something like that.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and bon appétit!

Roasted Sweet Dumpling Squash & Onion
A quick and easy squash recipe to add to your Thanksgiving repertoire and beyond. Enjoy!
Serves 8

About 3 pounds Sweet Dumpling Squash, halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 medium red onions, halved and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Olive oil
Apple cider vinegar

Arrange the racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Put the rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper and paprika in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the squash in a large bowl, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat and toss. Sprinkle with half of the herb-spice mix and toss again.

Spread the squash in a single layer onto rimmed baking sheets. Roast the squash for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees.

While the squash roasts, put the onion in a large bowl, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat and toss. Sprinkle with the remaining the herb-spice mix and toss again.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven, give the squash a toss and arrange the onion around the squash. Switching pan positions from top to bottom and vice versa, return the vegetables to the oven. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and roast for 15 minutes or until tender and browned.

Can be prepared in advance, cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated. Reheat at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until piping hot.

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One Year Ago – Cheesy Pumpkin-Sage Biscuits
Two Years Ago – Butternut Squash Tartlets
Three Years Ago – Lemony Kale & Radicchio Salad
Four Years Ago – Wild Rice & Mushroom Stuffing
Five Years Ago – Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Crostini
Six Years Ago – Pumpkin Cheesecake
Seven Years Ago – Rustic Apple Croustade
Eight Years Ago – Cranberry Sauce
Nine Years Ago – Decadent Cheesy Potatoes
Ten Years Ago – Broccoli Puree

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

Are you a host or a guest this Thanksgiving? Either way, do you have a plan? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

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What to Cook this Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving twelve short days away, it’s time to think about planning your feast. If you’ll be a guest and not a host, you might like to check in with your host. Some expect you to bring a dish. Others like to do more or less everything. I’m a little like that. From the Rosemary Cashews to the Pumpkin Cheesecake, I tend to do it all.

However, that’s going to be a bit tough this year. I broke my ankle in late October and am still hobbling around on crutches. My sister-in-law has volunteered to take over hosting duties. Of course, I will be happy to tote along a dish or two.

Last year, I compiled The Long List. With more than sixty fall recipes, it includes all my Thanksgiving-friendly dishes. While impressive, a list of more than sixty recipes can be daunting. So, I’ve paired it down to a two or three, maybe four, options for each course. Here goes –

Appetizers
If you want to get fancy, by all means bake up a batch of my Butternut Squash Tartlets. (By the way – this would be a nice option to bring along if you are not the host.) Add a super easy appetizer to the mix with my Smoked Salmon Mousse. Cheese lovers will love my Warm Brie with Cranberry Chutney.

Soup or Salad?
I generally go with one or the other. However, for a super special meal, you can have both. (For a continental twist, serve the salad between the main course and dessert.) For salads, consider Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese Salad or Kale & Radicchio Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash. My two favorite soups for Thanksgiving are Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Wild Mushroom Soup.

Turkey of course
You’ll never find a ham or leg of lamb on my Thanksgiving table. Instead, you can  rest assured that Roast Turkey with  Giblet Gravy will take center stage. In addition, either My Mom’s Stuffing or Wild Rice & Mushroom Stuffing will be in the bird.

The Sides
Then again, for some, the turkey is just an excuse to to bring on your favorite sides. I’m going to suggest you give my Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions and/or Roasted Carrots with Pearl Onions a-go this year. For spuds, you might like my Decadent Cheesy Potatoes and/or Savory Smashed Sweet Potatoes. (For marshmallow fans, you will never find a marshmallow studded sweet potato casserole at my house. However, this savory dish is really wonderful.)

A Sweet Finish
My all time, make it once a year favorite Thanksgiving dessert is Pumpkin Cheesecake. When two desserts are in order, I add my Rustic Apple Croustade.
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For the curious, here is my 2017 menu.

Speaking of continental, if your family ts a bit more adventurous than mine – you might want to give my menu for A New Englander’s Thanksgiving on the Swiss French Border a try. This menu is typical of the Thanksgiving feasts I prepared when I lived in Switzerland for almost two decades.

Then again, if you are fan of all things Italian, you might want to experiment with my take on A Rustic Harvest Feast Italian Style.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and bon appétit!

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

What will you be cooking this Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2018

November is National Caregiver Month & Oven Braised Moroccan Chicken & Vegetables

National Caregiver Month, what does that even mean? Throughout the year, more than forty million people care for a family member. More often than not, the person receiving the care is elderly. If your only grasp of multi-generational living is the Waltons, well, it’s not always that rosy a picture. Sure, the story of three generations living and loving under one roof was a huge hit. Who didn’t drop everything on Thursday night to watch? However, in today’s reality, multi-generation households often mean one grandparent or the other or both are troubled by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease, stroke or heart issues.

Family members are then pressed into action. Most caregivers are women. They are wives, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters and nieces. A few husbands, fathers, sons, grandsons, brothers and nephews pitch in for good measure. The only payment they receive are the smiles of appreciation from their loved one.

Why do these brave women and men deserve a month of recognition? And by the way, who says they’re all that brave anyway? Well, to steal from an old saying – you can’t truly understand the life of a caregiver until you walk a mile in her shoes.

After she developed Alzheimer’s Disease, my dad was my mother’s caregiver. In Mom’s case, it was a slow and steady decline over twenty years. The first ten years were difficult. The last ten were something else. As Mom’s infirmities worsened, Dad developed back problems and then a post-surgery infection. It is not at all uncommon for caregivers to fall ill with something or other. Stress can be quite devious.

Dad’s prognosis of six to eight weeks to heal stretched out to eight months. Then there was another year and a half to fully recover and get back on track. His caretaking days were over. Mom needed round-the-clock care and moved to assisted living. Since he couldn’t drive and could barely walk, I moved in with Dad to help. I can only describe those first few months as drinking from a firehose.

There are as many scenarios as there are families. Your loved one can have physical difficulties, cognitive issues or both. The problems can be mild or severe. Onslaught can be fast or slow but, in most cases, the situation doesn’t improve with age. Although, my mother did not recover (you don’t recover from Alzheimer’s Disease), my dad did. No matter what seemingly never-ending ups and downs, caretaking requires constant adjustment to an ever-changing new normal.

Some caregivers find that their new normal includes the unimaginable. No one ever expects to help a spouse or a parent shower, dress, use the bathroom or eat. Although rarely discussed, helping with these simple daily tasks is quite real. Add frequent trips to the doctor, pharmacy and emergency room and you’ll understand why the days are never ending.

Oh, and by the way, most caregivers have a day job, full or part time, along with caring for their loved one. Morning comes early and bedtime is late. There are no days off. Finding yourself exhausted, on deadline and the verge of tears at eleven o’clock at night is part of the new normal.

Some families, like mine, have the good fortune to be able to add professional help to the mix. Others go it alone. My heart goes out to all the families that go it alone. I can not imagine.

Hug a caregiver this month and bon appétit!

Oven Braised Moroccan Chicken and Vegetables
Cozy comfort food is perfect for the rainy days of November. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8-12 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
8-12 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
Olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 cup or more dry white wine
2 cups or more chicken broth
12-16 ounces baby spinach or kale
Lemon or lime wedges, for garnish (optional)
Basmati rice

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

Put the oregano and spices in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Sprinkle the chicken with half of the spice mix. Place the chicken, skin-side down in the hot pan. Return the pan to the oven and roast the chicken at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.

While the chicken roasts, put the vegetables in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining spice mix and toss to coat and combine.

Turn the chicken, scatter the vegetables in the pan and add the wine and broth.

Return the pan to the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Adding more wine and broth if necessary, continue roasting until the chicken is cooked through and golden and the vegetables are tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes more.

While the chicken braises, cook the rice according to package directions.

Remove the chicken from the pan, lightly cover and reserve.

A few handfuls at a time, add the spinach to the pan and toss to combine and wilt. Add a little broth if necessary and return to the pan to the oven for 3-5 minutes or until piping hot.

Transfer the vegetables to a deep serving dish or individual shallow bowls, top with chicken and serve with basmati rice and lemon or lime wedges.

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One Year Ago – Warm Brie with Cranberry Chutney
Two Years Ago – Butternut Squash Tartlets
Three Years Ago – Lemony Kale & Radicchio Salad
Four Years Ago – Wild Rice & Mushroom Stuffing
Five Years Ago – Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Crostini
Six Years Ago – Pumpkin Cheesecake
Seven Years Ago – Rustic Apple Croustade
Eight Years Ago – Cranberry Sauce
Nine Years Ago – Decadent Cheesy Potatoes
Ten Years Ago – Broccoli Puree

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

What’s your favorite pasta and sauce? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

#IWILLVOTE & Cheesy Roasted Cauliflower & White Bean Soup

It’s the midterms. A time in our democracy when too many people stay home and enjoy a nice cup of tea rather than head out to the polls. But not me, my mother made sure of that. Mom was a firm believer in the power of the vote. Maybe it was because her mother was born before the nineteenth amendment was passed. Moreover, her grandmother was well into her forties when she was able cast her first ballot. Either way, Mom realized it was a hard won right and not to be ignored.

However, not everyone has had the privilege of being my mother’s daughter, son, grandchild or great-grandchild. Without her good influence, whole bunches of people have found lots of reasons to skip the trip to the polls. Here are a few … and her probable retorts:

It’s too cold to go out.
So, what else is new? It’s always cold in New Hampshire in November. Put on a coat; don’t forget your gloves and a hat too. By the way, if you suddenly won tickets to a Patriots game – would you turn them down? I don’t think so.

It’s raining. I don’t want to get wet.
You must have an umbrella. Why do I know this? Easy, because I have at least a half dozen of them in all colors, shapes and sizes and most of them were free.

I don’t have time.
Depending on what you do and where you live, this one might have merit. For example, the day shift at the hospital runs from seven to seven. Those are the exact hours of our local polling station. However, you can stop by the town offices and pick up an absentee ballot. As for that other stuff – you can get your hair cut, your nails done and your car washed on Wednesday. If you have time to stand in line for a lottery ticket, you have time to stand in line to vote.

I have no idea who’s running? I only (sometimes) vote in presidential elections.
Mom wasn’t tech savvy but if she was – she would have told you to go to your computer, visit your town website and pull up a sample ballot. If you can’t find one there, Google NH 2018 midterm election for a list of candidates. Now, check out them out and learn about their policy positions. Vote for candidates who best align with your values.

Why bother? My vote doesn’t matter.
Now, here’s a funny thing – your vote actually does matter. The 2016 presidential election was determined by about 70,000 votes. Living in a small state, that might seem like a lot but think again. More than 135 million people voted in the 2016 election. The final outcome came down to 70,000 individuals who made the effort to get to their polling stations that day.

It’s all rigged.
Another funny thing, voter fraud is actually extremely rare. Yes, it makes a good sound bite at a rally or in a tweet but the facts don’t back it up. When you go to the polls, you can be confident that your vote will count and matter.

#IWILLVOTE on November 6. You can too. See you at the polls and bon appétit!

Cheesy Roasted Cauliflower & White Bean Soup
Reward your trip to the polls with a cozy mug or bowl of soup. Enjoy!
Makes about 4 quarts – freezes beautifully so don’t hesitate to make a double batch

Olive oil
About 4 ounces (4 slices) thick cut bacon, chopped
1 head (2-3 pounds) cauliflower, cut in bite-sized pieces and florets
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves
3-4 cups cooked small white beans (about 8 ounces dried beans or 2 15-ounce cans)
6-8 cups chicken stock or broth
2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
3-4 sprigs thyme and 1 bay leaf tied together with kitchen twine
2 cups half & half
2 ounces plus more for garnish Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
2 ounces plus more for garnish Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly coat a heavy skillet with olive oil and heat on medium. Add the bacon and sauté until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and reserve.

Put the cauliflower on 1-2 baking sheets, drizzle with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and enough bacon fat to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Roast the cauliflower at 375 degrees until tender, about 30 minutes.

If you like – set some of the roasted florets aside for garnish.

Put the onion, carrots and garlic on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and enough bacon fat to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Roast the vegetables at 375 degrees until tender, about 20 minutes.

Put the vegetables in a large soup pot, add the white beans, 6 cups stock and the herb bundle and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes.

Cool the soup for about 20 minutes. Remove the herb bundle, and, working in batches, puree the soup. Use a blender for very smooth soup or pulse in the food processor for a more rustic version. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the half-and-half.

If you have the time, cool the soup to room temperature and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Stirring frequently, adding more stock if necessary, reheat the soup to steaming on medium. Stir in the cheeses and stir until the cheeses have melted and combined into the soup.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls, sprinkle with the reserved florets and bacon and serve. Pass more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano for the cheese lovers.

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One Year Ago – Savory Smashed Sweet Potatoes
Two Years Ago – Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù
Three Years Ago – Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction
Four Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Vegetables & Chickpeas with Couscous
Five Years Ago – Smashed or Mashed Potatoes
Six Years Ago – Apple Muffins
Seven Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Warm Roasted Squash
Eight Years Ago – Spinach Ricotta Pie
Nine Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Lentils
Ten Years Ago – Tomato, Olive & Feta Tart

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

What’s your favorite cozy soup on a chilly day? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

A Lot to Like about Halloween & Halloween Candy Brownies

Hang onto your hats (and your turkey legs), it looks like Halloween is poised to become the second most popular holiday in the country. Well, maybe not this year or next, but it’s trending in that direction. For as long as I can remember the triumphant trinity of holidays has been Christmas in the number one spot, followed by Thanksgiving and then Halloween. According to a Harris poll, Halloween is now more popular than Thanksgiving with millennials. That’s anyone between eighteen and thirty-five years old. Already thirty percent of the population, their ranks are growing.

Why do millennials love Halloween? Why not? Halloween has a lot going for it. You get to decorate. From cheery autumnal pumpkins and gourdes to ghosts, ghouls and gravestones, there are loads of options. You dress up in some fantastic outfit. What could be better than showing the world your alter ego, your true self or if-only self? There’s candy.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving has family, food and football. When it comes to family, Thanksgiving is famous for its meltdowns. A few weeks after the election, there is more than enough fodder for conflict. Even if you all agree, someone or everyone will begin to rant and rave. Right, left, liberal or conservative, it doesn’t matter. There’s discontent on all sides. Throw in a few alternative lifestyles, a dash of sibling rivalry and one too many glasses of wine and you have an explosion ready to happen. But the food is good and the football is never ending.

But back to Halloween, for little kids and big ones, there is a lot to like about this spooktacular night:

First my favorite part, you can let your imagination go wild. From scary to sexy to silly (or some combination) you get to be someone else for an evening. Try on a new identity; someone braver and wiser. Who knows? You might decide to keep it on for a week or so – maybe even longer. Literally or figuratively, is there anything more empowering than tights and a cape?

It’s all in good fun. As the days grow shorter and colder, Halloween gets us out and about. It’s a celebration. Whether you are a little kid dashing from one house to another or a big kid dancing the night away, there is nothing too terribly serious about Halloween.

There’s something for everyone. If you don’t feel like trick or treating or dancing, you can travel back through history and learn about the origins Halloween. The ins and outs of ghosts and goblins, witches and their familiars make for interesting reading and study.

The community comes together. Clusters of kids and their parents roam the neighborhood. Parks and parking lots are filled with cars for trunk or treat. Friends come together for festive cheer. History buffs gather at the library for a lecture on the Salem witch trials or some such thing. Superficial divisions melt like a jack-o’-lantern candle and cheery neighborliness rules. By the way, beneath our masks, we’re all human – suggesting that any and all divisions are superficial.

There is a spirit of generosity. Everyone turns on their porch light and stands at the ready with peanut butter cups and crunch bars. Well, not everyone. In quiet rural neighborhoods like mine, we see nary a ghost or superhero. However, we would be ever so happy to welcome you with a treat if you happen by.

Have a wonderful Halloween and bon appétit!

Halloween Candy Brownies
Start with your favorite brownie recipe and add leftover Halloween candy for a spooktacular treat. Enjoy!
Make 24 squares

About 12 ounces leftover Halloween candy – try M&Ms, peanut butter cups, Milky Way, Snickers, Heath Bars and/or Three Musketeers
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

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

Cut the candy bars into small pieces – about 1/2-inch square.

Put the butter, chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in a heavy saucepan and heat on very low until the chocolate is about 2/3 melted. Remove from the heat and stir to combine until melted and smooth. Add the sugar and instant coffee and stir to combine.

Put the eggs in a bowl and beat with a fork. Beating constantly, a little at a time, add about a cup of warm chocolate to the eggs. Add the remaining chocolate and the vanilla to the chocolate-egg mixture and stir to combine.

Put the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate and stir to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the candies evenly over the top and gently push into the batter.

Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and cut into squares.

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One Year Ago – Apple Oatmeal Cookies
Two Years Ago – Chipotle Sweet Potato & White Bean Hummus
Three Years Ago – Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares
Four Years Ago – Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Five Years Ago Ago – Pumpkin Spice Cookies
Six Years Ago – Chicken in Every Pot
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Carrots & Pearl Onions
Eight Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Nine Years Ago – Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions
Ten Years Ago – Mexican Chicken Soup

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

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

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Back on Cook’s Corner – Cheesy Polenta with Fresh Corn

Looking for a cozy side dish for fall? I’m back on Cook’s Corner today with a delicious suggestion.

Quick before it’s all gone, give my Cheesy Polenta with Fresh Corn. (You can use frozen corn if you can’t find fresh.)

If you missed me live – you can watch the clip!

Hip Hip Hooray for Pasta Day & Linguine alla Vodka with Seared Scallops

National Pasta Day is tomorrow. For many of us, any day is a good day for pasta. After all, who doesn’t love pasta? Nine out of ten kids choose it for their birthday dinners. (I just made that up but is sounds true – doesn’t it?) A favorite of athletes, it’s the meal of choice before every marathon. Warm and cozy, pasta is perfect for simple family dinners and casual entertaining.

Growing up in the suburbs, my pasta vocabulary was limited to spaghetti, macaroni and ravioli. Who knew there were as many as 350 different and all wonderful pasta shapes? I guess suburbia will do that to you. Lush green lawns are not a problem but the international aisle at the supermarket, well, it’s limited at best.

Anyway, with age and broadened horizons, I have discovered a whole heap of options. If you speak Italian, most types are fairly descriptive. Think cavatappi (corkscrew), tagliatelle (ribbons), conchiglie (shells) and conchiglioni (big shells). From the charm of campanelle (bell flower) to the more curious orecchiette (little ears), it’s all good.

Then again, at least one or two have a darker side. Strozzapreti or priest chokers are cursed. Poor farmers and innkeepers fed them to gluttonous priests who cared more about their stomachs and purses than the wellbeing of their congregations. The vengeful plan called for the clergy, with their voracious appetites and greed, to gobble up too much too fast and choke on the delicious pasta.

Pasta’s versatility is more than the wonderful shapes and sizes. With a seemingly endless array of great sauces, you can probably toss up a different dish every night for a year. That simple marinara or red sauce of our childhood is both delicious and a good start. Add a touch of the devil with spicy red pepper flakes, a little sophistication with vodka or turn it into a hearty Bolognese.

Creamy sauces are wonderful on a chilly night. After a crazy, busy day, you can have dinner on the table in minutes with fettuccine carbonara or Alfredo. Or relax and get cozy with macaroni baked in a cheesy béchamel sauce. No need to stick to the tried and true cheddar. Get creative and experiment with gorgonzola, Fontina and mozzarella. Add depth and flavor to your dish by adding vegetables, meats or poultry, even lobster.

Not sure what goes with what when it comes to pasta and sauces. Thin, delicate pastas, like angel hair, are best with light sauces. Thicker pasta, like fettuccine, is great with heavier sauces. Chunky sauces work best with pasta which has holes or ridges, like rigatoni, penne rigate or fusili.

When serving pasta as a main course, two ounces of dried pasta per person should do it. Italians traditionally serve pasta as a first course. If you decide to adopt this tradition, cut the portions in half. Same goes for pasta as a side dish, plan on one ounce per person. With fresh pasta, three to four ounces will satisfy most people. Of course, all of these measures go out the window if a horde of hungry college students or marathoners gather around your table.

The cardinal rule of pasta is not to overcook it. Italians eat their pasta al dente or to the tooth. Pasta should be firm, a bit chewy, but not crunchy. Taking a taste is the best way to check. However, you can always entertain your friends by throwing spaghetti at the refrigerator. If it sticks it’s done.

Enjoy warm and wonderful pasta throughout the fall and buon appetito!

Fettuccine alla Vodka with Seared Scallops 
A delightful change from a traditional marinara sauce, vodka sauce pairs beautifully with fettuccine and scallops. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 pounds sea scallops
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound linguine
Olive oil

Sprinkle the scallops with oregano, paprika, chili powder, salt and pepper and let sit while the water comes to a boil for pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute. Saving a little of the pasta water, drain and return the pasta to pot.  Add enough Vodka Sauce to coat plus a little pasta water and gently toss. Cover and set on low to keep warm.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a heavy large skillet with a little olive oil to and heat over medium-high. Add the scallops to skillet and cook until opaque in center, about 1 minute per side.

Transfer the fettuccine to a large, deep serving platter or individual shallow bowls, top with scallops and serve.

Vodka Sauce
Makes about 2 quarts

Olive Oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped or grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup vodka
3/4 cup heavy cream

Coat a heavy sauce pan with enough olive oil to lightly coat and heat over medium. Add the onion, carrot and garlic, sprinkle with herbs, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are tender.

Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Optional – Let the sauce cool slightly, then transfer to a blender in batches and process until smooth.

Return the sauce to the pot, add the vodka and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the cream into the sauce and whisk until well combined.

Cover and refrigerate or freeze left over sauce.

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

What’s your favorite pasta and sauce? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018