About susannye

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

Simple Pleasures & Sausage & Broccoli Rabe Ragù

January is a time of resolutions. Every year, about forty percent of us resolve to make some change or another. We pledge to fix whatever is broken and a few things that aren’t. Popular promises include exercising more, spending less and losing weight. By the Fourth of July, the majority of those resolutions have been kicked to the curb.

Why do we fail? More often than not, these annual attempts at reform are all about deprivation and denial. Not only that, we make them during northern New England’s coldest, darkest days. Even if we somehow manage to keep our resolution through the long winter, there’s still the soggy, black fly infested spring to endure.

Whether we achieve the goal or not, all that deprivation can drive us to foolhardy indulgences. Or maybe it the endless snow and ice that lead us into temptation. Anyway, we take trips we can’t afford. Or spend days binge watching something, anything to avoid going outside for some exercise. Or go on shopping sprees for things we don’t need.

Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and overindulging, how about considering a new approach to resolutions. Why not use them to embrace a happier, healthier and saner lifestyle? Maybe it’s time to pare down and create a life filled with simple pleasures.

An avid walker, I follow the same route almost everyday but it never gets old. There is always something beautiful to experience. One day, it’s the sun filtering through snow covered trees. On another, the songs of the loons fill the air or I bump into a neighbor and enjoy a chat. These simple pleasures send me back out day after day.

However, if the cold isn’t for you, how about dancing? Turn up the music at home or take a class. Find simple joy in good company, in movement and, most of all, in music. An added benefit, you may fulfill another resolution and loose a few pounds.

Is it past time you got out of debt? You are not alone. Just over forty percent of Americans are plagued with credit card debt. The solution is easy; don’t buy anything. And by anything, I mean all of those needless and often impulse purchases that we too often make.

Several years ago, I had a small remodeling project balloon into a much bigger one. I won’t bore you with the details except to say the builder discovered rot. The budget quadrupled. Freaked out, I stopped shopping for at least a year. I went for months without buying another pair of sneakers or a new sweater and whatever other impulse purchases I might have made. My feet were still well shod and body clothed. I already had more than enough dishes and cookware and homey stuff. The house was already filled with piles of books to read and lots of stuff to do

And no, my year without shopping wasn’t enough to cover the increased construction costs. However, it made me feel better – calmer and more in control. Besides, it was surprisingly easy. Except for the supermarket, farm stand and pharmacy, I stayed out stores. The rewards were fantastic. It’s amazing how many interesting adventures, how much fun you can have when you avoid recreational shopping. Instead of deprivation, I enjoyed the simple pleasure of more time to relax, to enjoy nature and to be with loved ones. I still do.

Wishing you many simple pleasures in the days and months to come. Bon appétit!

Sausage & Broccoli Rabe  Ragù

A hearty ragù is simply delicious on a cold winter night. Try the ragù with last week’s Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe or serve it with polenta or your favorite pasta. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausages, sweet or hot, casings removed
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon or to taste hot pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • About 1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium high, Add the sausage and, breaking up into small pieces, cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan and drain.

Add the onion to the pan, sprinkle with thyme and hot pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and garlic, toss to combine and sauté until the broccoli rabe is tender, 5-10 minutes.

Return the sausage to the pan, add the white wine and toss to combine. Sauté until the wine evaporates. Remove from the heat and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Serve the ragù with your favorite gnocchi, pasta or polenta. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

Stranger on a Train & Cheesy Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Over the holidays, I watched or sort of watched more than a few movies. By sort of watching, I mean I was multitasking. Anyway, one film in particular comes to mind. I’m not sure what I was doing but it probably included wrapping presents, baking a flourless chocolate cake and setting the table while vacuuming up pine needles. Except for one wonderful line, I don’t remember a thing about the movie. Delivered with just the right amount of indignation, a pretty blond woman responded to a cheery fellow’s questions with “That’s not something I’d tell a stranger on a train.”

It stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder, “What would I tell a stranger on a train?” I stopped what I was doing, found a scrap of paper and wrote it down – in red magic marker. Then went back to baking and decorating or whatever I was doing. Until today. This morning, I sat down at my desk with a story in my head and ready to write. Fumbling through the flotsam and jetsam for lip balm, I found that scrap of paper. (Now, a newly scrawled note with what would have been today’s topic sits amongst the pens and pencils, cables, flash drives and dogeared scraps that surround my laptop.)

Maybe it’s just me but the whole idea of a conversation with a stranger on a train is intriguing. Especially when it’s a stranger that you’ll probably never ever see again. So … what would you tell a stranger on a train? And what’s off limits or too much information?

Would you stick to the top of mind? The newest, biggest thing in your life like the sweet, little dog who just became the latest addition to your family. Of course, you’ll want to cover any and every detail of her adorableness. After all, she is without a doubt the world’s very best dog.

Then again, the everyday stuff might serve you better. Take for instance, the manager who drives you crazy on a daily basis. A stranger is the perfect target for a good long vent. Whether the boss is a micromanager or a drama queen, your fellow passenger will be thrilled to hear all the awful stuff you put up with. After all, everyone knows that you are more than the perfect employee; you are a saint.

Or, perhaps … a cozy compartment might be just the place for a confession. We all have secrets; some deeper and darker. What might you share? Did you sleep with a married man? Or are you the married man who did the cheating? Maybe you bullied the kid who sat behind you in middle school or scarfed that last piece of cake when no one was looking – and blamed it on your little brother.

An hour is generally plenty of time to share a favorite story. Why not skip the here and now and tell a tale that has been burnished by time, telling and retelling? Regale your seatmate with a glimpse into the life of your remarkable grandfather or childhood adventures on Pleasant Lake.

If you are so inclined, you could also lie. You could weave a tale about your engagement to Brad Pitt. So what if the closest you’ve come to marrying the two-time sexiest man alive was spotting him (or someone who looked a lot like him) on a hike in the Hollywood hills. Perhaps you’d rather share the details of your visit to Washington. The one that ended with you sitting next to Justin Trudeau at a fabulous White House dinner.

Or tell nothing, nothing at all. Maybe you’d hide behind a book and keep your stories, secrets and lies to yourself. At least for another day.

Wishing you many good stories in the new year and bon appétit!

Cheesy Sweet Potato Gnocchi

If train travel isn’t in your immediate future, maybe you’ll share your tall tales, confessions, stories and lies during a cozy dinner with family and friends. Enjoy!

Makes about 2 pounds (6-8 servings)

  • 1 large (1-1 1/2 pounds) sweet potato
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 or more cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Put the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Prick the sweet potato with a sharp knife, set on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and bake at 425 degrees until soft, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, put the ricotta and egg in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses, sprinkle with thyme and paprika, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine.

As soon it is cool enough to handle, halve the sweet potato, scoop the flesh into a large bowl and mash it with a fork. Add the cheeses and egg mixture and stir to combine.

1/2 cup at a time, stir in the flour until a soft, sticky dough forms. Gently knead the dough on a well-floured surface.

Divide the dough into 6-8 balls. Working on a well-floured surface, roll the dough balls into ropes about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 3/4-inch pieces. Place the gnocchi on baking sheets lined with parchment or wax paper.

Can be made a few hours ahead, covered and refrigerated until ready to cook. Or freeze on the baking sheet, transfer to a container, cover and store in the freezer. Do not defrost before cooking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, simmer until they rise to the surface and then continue simmering for 2 minutes.

Serve the gnocchi tossed with roasted or sautéed vegetables or your favorite sauce and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese.

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What would you tell a stranger on a train? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

Some Kind of Year & Winter Salad with Broccoli, Kale & Radicchio

2020 promises to be some kind of year. For one thing, there’s the presidential election. While the excitement has been percolating for months, it will soon come to a full-blown, over the top boil. As important, maybe more, life will happen. People will fall in love; others will fall out. Babies will be born. Little children will experience their first day of school. Bigger children will graduate and move on to the next phase of life. People will find first jobs and new jobs or continue with the same old job and some will retire. Houses will be built and homes will be made. Gardens will grow. The bounty will be harvested. Life will happen.

Here’s a rambling list of tips – one for each week of 2020 – to help all of us make it some kind of year:

  1. Hold your head high; you are smart enough, strong enough and important enough. You are enough.
  2. Don’t forget, no matter how important you become – your socks still go on before your shoes.
  3. Drink plenty of water.
  4. Read the entire recipe before plunging in.
  5. Try new things.
  6. Exercise, if not daily, then three or four times a week.
  7. Don’t slouch.
  8. Twinkle lights make everything look better.
  9. It’s okay to write in your cookbooks.
  10. An hour spent doing nothing is time well spent.
  11. Live with integrity.
  12. Practice generosity.
  13. Participate in real conversations.
  14. Look people in the eye.
  15. It’s not always about you.
  16. Smile for real (with your eyes as well as your mouth) or not at all.
  17. Make time for the people who make you happy.
  18. Make time for the places that make you happy.
  19. Make time for the activities that make you happy.
  20. Talk less; listen more.
  21. Save the rind on the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Throw it in the pot when simmering soup or a stew.
  22. Little things matter.
  23. Be curious.
  24. Practice courage.
  25. Every kitchen needs a very big mixing bowl.
  26. Make your bed every day.
  27. Laugh often.
  28. Perfect enough is better than perfect and more attainable.
  29. There’s only one to a customer; treat your body with care and respect.
  30. Fold your laundry and put it away as soon as it comes out of the dryer.
  31. Don’t be afraid to ask. After all, the worst that can happen is the answer could be no.
  32. Own your mistakes, do your best to fix them and move on.
  33. Embrace diversity.
  34. Be kind to others and yourself.
  35. Cultivate creativity and beauty.
  36. Overthinking is as debilitating as it is common.
  37. Love more.
  38. Read a lot.
  39. Complaining rarely solves anything.
  40. Find and maintain balance.
  41. Persist.
  42. Learning never ends.
  43. You can handle a lot more than you think.
  44. Words matter.
  45. Trust your intuition.
  46. Know who you are. Embrace who you are.
  47. Forgive yourself. Forgive others.
  48. Be gracious.
  49. Have fun.
  50. Be here now – not dwelling in the past or daydreaming about the future.
  51. Don’t take any wooden nickels.
  52. Don’t stick your tongue on a frozen metal pole.

Wishing you some kind of new year and bon appétit!

Winter Salad with Broccoli, Kale & Radicchio

My sister-in-law’s broccoli-kale salad is the inspiration for this colorful winter combination. Enjoy!

Serves 8

Start by making the vinaigrette.

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 6 tablespoons or to taste extra virgin olive oil

Put the garlic, onion and mustard in a bowl or clean glass jar, add the lemon juice and vinegar, season with salt and pepper and whisk or shake to combine. Add the olive oil and whisk or shake until well combined. Let the vinaigrette sit for 30 minutes or more to combine the flavors.

Cover and store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

While the vinaigrette mixes and melds, make the salad.

  • 1 broccoli crown, trimmed and finely chopped – about 2 cups
  • 1 bunch kale, ribs and stems removed and thinly sliced
  • 1/2-1 head radicchio, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 6 radishes, cut in julienne
  • 2-3 Persian cucumbers, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • About 3 ounces coarsely grated Pecorino Romano or Manchego cheese
  • About 1/2 cup roughly chopped hazel nuts, toasted

Prep the vegetables and put them in a large bowl. Drizzle with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat and toss to combine.

Transfer the salad to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls, sprinkle the cheese and nuts and serve.

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Do you have a favorite tip for 2020? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

 

 

The Night Before Christmas & Roasted Butternut Squash & Sausage Tart

Over the years, my family’s Christmas and Christmas Eve traditions have morphed and changed. Tiny tots or the lack of have been a key driver to where and how we spend the holidays. It all started with my mother. As soon as my sister came along, she declared that children should be home for Christmas. Grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins were welcomed with open arms. The more the merrier as long as Mom didn’t have to pile kids and dogs and presents and onsies into the car. Her kids were going to sleep (or not) in their own beds on Christmas Eve.

Years later, my sister and brother followed Mom’s example. That’s when the holiday became a mini road trip for Mom, Dad and me. Christmas Eve was spent with John and family and Christmas Day with Brenda and her crew. They lived less than an hour apart so the trip was far from taxing.

Today, there are no wee babies or even small children in the family. There haven’t been for a while. In addition, my brother and family now live a couple of miles down the road. For the past few years, we’ve spent Christmas Eve at my house. The better part of Christmas Day has been spent at John’s. But, you ask, what about my sister and fam?

Since we always try to do our best to extend any holiday for another day or two or three, the fun continues. Dad’s birthday is the 27th (yes, poor Daddy-o is an almost-Christmas baby), so, Brenda and family come over for a post-Christmas plus birthday celebratory brunch.

Of all these events, I think that Christmas Eve dinner is quite possibly my favorite. If I’m smart, I have all my presents bought and wrapped. My little tree is decorated, nutcrackers guard the mantle and greens fill the house with a piney scent. Best of all, around four o’clock, my nieces burst in the door ready to cook.

Christmas Eve – the girlies with Grandpa!

When they were little, their father called them the twirling girlies. They had boundless energy then and they have boundless energy still. They are smart, resourceful and brave. Not to mention, they have the most beautiful smiles. Just being in a room together makes me happy.

Aprons are passed out. We put on some music, pop a cork, maybe two, chat, laugh and chat some more. All the while, there is a whole lot of chopping, stirring and rolling going on. The table is set in festive red and green. Cooking tips are passed back and forth. Family history is shared. New news is exchanged. In spite of whatever bias I may harbor, I can state unequivocally that these are three remarkable young women. Plus, two out of the three really like to cook. The third is not quite there yet but she’s slowly coming around. In any case, all cooks love both an audience and someone to entertain them. She handles both tasks beautifully.

It is a wonderful thing to share something you love with people you love. I’m sure there will come day when our traditions will morph and change again. For now, I’m just relishing the time I get to spend with the girlies in my kitchen.

Wishing you a happy holiday season filled with love and joy. Bon appétit!

Roasted Butternut Squash & Sausage Tart

Christmas morning or birthday celebration, this hearty quiche is perfect for a festive brunch. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8

  • Savory Flaky Pastry (recipe follows)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausage – sweet or hot or a mix, casings removed
  • 2 cups (about 8 ounces) seeded, peeled and chopped butternut squash
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • About 2 cups (8 ounces) cheddar cheese, grated
  • About 1/3 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half or whole milk or a mix

Roll out the Savory Flaky Pastry dough on a lightly floured surface. Line a 10-inch tart pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie plate with the pastry and crimp the edges. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

Place the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Breaking it up into small pieces, sauté the sausage until cooked through, remove from the pan and drain. Cool to room temperature.

Put the squash on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, rosemary and thyme and toss to combine. Return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes or until the vegetables are lightly browned and tender. Cool to room temperature.

Bump up the oven temperature to 450 degrees.

Put the cheeses in a bowl, sprinkle with the flour and nutmeg and toss to coat.

Put half cheeses in the tart shell and top with the vegetables and sausage. Sprinkle with the remaining cheeses.

Put the eggs and mustard in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Slowly add the half & half, whisking until well combined. Leaving at least 1/4-inch at the top of the tart shell, pour in the egg mixture.

Transfer the tart to the oven. Cook for 5 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking until the custard is set and tart is golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Cool for 5-10 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.

Savory Flaky Pastry 

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 2-4 tablespoons ice water

Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Sprinkle with ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, cover and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

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Do you have a favorite Christmas tradition? Feel free to share!

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

Scruffy Entertaining & Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

So, I hear that there is a new trend in entertaining. It’s called scruffy hospitality. It seems that it is becoming quite popular with families with young children. Here’s how it works. You come home from work or skiing or skating or with your freshly cut tree ready to decorate. You know that the stew or chili you’ve already made for dinner is big enough for an army. But (there’s always a but) the house is not spotless and you’re not having the best of hair days.

So, what do you do? Why, in a scruffy, no judgement world, you invite your nearest and dearest or soon-to-be nearest and dearest to join you. Okay, you might throw a few wayward shoes into the bucket by the back door but you don’t run around the house with the vacuum cleaner and dust cloth. You don’t spend an hour fussing with your hair and finding the perfect outfit. You call your guests, throw dinner in the oven, set the table and light the fire. If it’s tree night, you get out the decorations.

And guess what? Everyone is happy. I never met anyone who didn’t love a last-minute invitation. Even if they can’t come, people love it that you thought of them and wanted to spend time with them. If you’re a decent cook, they are even happier. Whether it’s Meme and Gramps, the cousins, your oldest friends or your newest neighbors, they will be delighted to join you.

Now, scruffy entertaining is nothing new. Years ago, an old boyfriend told me about a party he and his roommates threw. Just out of college, their party was beyond scruffy. Perhaps you remember the early days of supermarket brands. Instead of fancy names like Natures Promise, Wellesley Farms or Great Value, store brands version 1.0 were called generics. They came in simple black and white packaging. Anyway, the boyfriend and his roomies threw a generics party. They bought a boatload of generic beer and chips and invited all their friends. They even bought white T-shirts and had HOST in black letters printed on the front. It was nothing fancy and everyone had a wonderful time.

Now, I not suggesting that you entertain like a bunch of recent college grads. However, you can turn down the stress level with a more casual approach. Scruffy hospitality is about connecting around the table. It is about friendship and love. It recognizes that time spent together is more important than a spotlessly clean, picture perfect home. Besides, even with a few pine needles scattered about, your home’s imperfections are what make it perfect.

If you’ve been planning to freeze half of tonight’s dinner, why not invite friends to share it instead? They can help you decorate the tree. Or invite family and share old holiday memories. Next time spaghetti is on the menu, pull an extra quart of sauce from the freezer and turn dinner into a small party. Feel free to ask your guests if they have any salad in the refrigerator or a few extra Christmas cookies that they can bring along.

Opening your home and sharing a meal is a joyful expression love and kindness. Hosts and guests, old and young, everyone benefits. By embracing a bit more scruffy attitude, you might just entertain more, share the love more and stress a whole lot less.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with love and joy. Bon appétit!

Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

Here is a not-too-scruffy dish to serve over the holidays or anytime this winter. The lamb can bubble in the oven while you relax and catch up with family and friends. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • About 4 pounds boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, trimmed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary; add the carrots, celery and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the red wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and herbs and bring to a simmer.

Return the lamb to the pot, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the lamb 2 or 3 times, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and pearl onions to the lamb. Add more chicken stock or wine if necessary. Continue cooking, uncovered, until the lamb is very tender; an additional 30-45 minutes.

Remove the lamb from the casserole and cut across the grain in thick slices. Serve the lamb with a generous spoonful or two or three of sauce and vegetables.

The lamb can be made a few days ahead. Cook for 1 hour, add the mushrooms and onions and cook for 10 minutes more. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Transfer to a 350-degree oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until bubbling and piping hot.

Quick tip: use your food processor to finely chop carrots, celery and onions. Cut the veggies into large chunks and, a handful at a time, pulse until finely chopped. Don’t overdo it or overload the processor; you’ll end up with purée instead of finely chopped.

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

Do you have a favorite entertaining style or tip? Feel free to share!

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

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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How do you beat holiday stress? Feel free to share your favorite tips!

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