The New Kitchen Adventure Continues & Savory Rosemary Biscotti

Well, the fun has begun. My forty-something year old kitchen is now nothing but an empty shell. I managed, just barely, to clear everything out before Bruce the contractor arrived. A pile of freebies, including several interior doors and a gas range, is sitting in my driveway. Most days, something disappears and, just as often, I add something to the pile. The rarely used deep fryer, some thermal mugs and most of the drawers are gone. At some point, anything left will go into the dumpster.

Yes, that’s right; I have a dumpster. In fact, we are on dumpster number two. I really don’t know how the first one filled up so fast. The kitchen isn’t all that big. Why, it’s not much more than a glorified galley. Glorified because instead of the typical eight by eight or ten feet you find in a classic galley kitchen, mine is a luxurious ten by twelve. By the way, those ten feet are just narrow enough that, no matter where he stands, my dad is always in the way.

Now, just because I have a dumpster – don’t go thinking you can come down here with your old television set or that ancient sofa or whatever else the dump won’t take. Sure, I know; it’s tempting but don’t throw any of that stuff in my dumpster. It may be half empty now but it won’t be for long.

So, you ask, what’s it like having your kitchen remodeled? Well, noisy is the first word that comes to mind, very noisy. Followed by dusty. God love Bruce. He can’t do anything about the banging and clanging but he has covered all the doorways with plastic sheeting. It should help keep the dust from spreading to every corner of every room in the house. And God bless my dad, who promptly bumbled through, creating puddles of plastic at every doorway.

Speaking of Dad, Joe Nye thinks the world of Bruce. You see, he reminds Dad of his own father. Grandpa Nye was also a builder. If he was still around today, Grandpa could have been one of those guys on the home and garden network. Not because he could remodel an entire house for $25,000 and then flip it for a huge profit. No, Grandpa Nye could see the whole picture and was all about the details. He made sure all the pieces fit together. In today’s dollars, it would cost more than $25,000 but you would have no doubt that it was worth every penny. I guess, maybe Grandpa was more PBS than HGTV.

Anyway, the key reason Bruce reminds Dad of Grandpa is that, along with his good work, they both sweep up after each task and at the end of the day. Renovations are messy. However, when I walk through the room that once was and will again be my kitchen, there are no dusty piles of bent nails or drywall rubble. There are no half-empty water bottles or coffee cups. As for the plastic sheeting, it’s been carefully re-taped to each doorway.

Although it’s nothing new, the other fallout of renovation is insomnia. Without fail, I wake up around two o’clock every morning for a round of second guessing. Will the utility closet be big enough to hold the vacuum cleaner? A predawn trip downstairs solves that one; the answer is yes, just barely. Should the door slide on the inside of the laundry room or outside? I’m going with outside. The cork flooring is due on Tuesday. Does Tuesday mean before noon or after five? We’ll see. Should the modem stay in the kitchen or move to my office? TBD. Granite or butcher block for that cabinet on the far wall? I have a day or two to figure this one out. Did I remember to email the appliance guy and postpone delivery until Tuesday? Not yet. Does it make sense to have a drain board carved into the granite by the sink? Hmmm, maybe but what would it cost?

… and perhaps most important, what to cook that first night in the new kitchen?

… Bon appétit!

Savory Rosemary Biscotti
Although I have cooked in a convection oven, I have never owned one. That’s all about to change. I’ll be baking up this savory take on the Italian classic for the kitchenwarming. Enjoy!
Makes about 6 dozen biscuits

3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, cut in small cubes
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, cut in small cubes
4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold butter, cut into small cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream

Put the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the cheeses in a food processor and pulse to grate and combine. Remove about 1/2 cup of cheese and reserve.

Add the flour, rosemary, baking powder, salt, pepper and paprika to the food processor and pulse to combine with the cheese. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer the dough to a large bowl.

Put 3 eggs in a bowl and whisk to combine, add the sour cream and whisk again until well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dough and stir until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into four pieces. Using well-floured hands, pat each piece into a flat log about 10-inches long, 2 inches wide and 1 inch thick. Placing them about 3 inches apart, transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheets.

Put the remaining egg in a bowl and whisk until pale yellow. Brush the logs with the egg and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake the biscotti for 15 minutes, turn and swap the position of the pans. Continue baking until the logs are golden, about 15 minutes more. Cool the biscotti for about 10 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

With a serrated knife, slice the logs about 1/2-inch-thick on the diagonal. Arrange the slices, cut side down, in a single layer on baking sheets. Turning once, bake until golden and crisp, 35-45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Dilly Beans
Two Years– All Grown Up Grilled Cheese
Three Years Ago – Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam
Four Years Ago – Watermelon-Limeade
Five Years Ago – Curried Green Bean Pickles
Six Years Ago – Grilled Ratatouille Stacks
Seven Years Ago – Apple Crisp
Eight Years Ago – Ravioli with Sage Pesto
Nine Years Ago – Brie & Sun-dried Tomato Omelet

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

Help! Do you have any renovation advice to share? Feel free to share!

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

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On the Border & Pissaladière

I was something of a biking fanatic when I lived in Switzerland. I was still running and cycling once or twice a week gave my knees a break. Either that or the boyfriend who truly was a biking fanatic got me hooked. From the first of May through October, most weekends found me pedaling.

Just a few miles from the center of the Geneva, the office buildings, banks and apartment houses give way to ancient farms and rustic villages. Although I lived there for years, it never ceased to amaze me how quickly you could go from international metropolis to farm country. That said, I had no trouble taking advantage of the open space. As long as the day was warm and the sky clear, I’d hop on my bike and take a spin through the countryside.

That’s when I discovered the leaky borders between Switzerland and France. First, a little lesson in geo-politics. Geneva is more or less surrounded by France on three sides. While Switzerland is part of Europe, it is not part of the European Union. While there are border crossings, there is no great wall to separate the two countries. If you’re out rambling through the fields, you could cross from one country to another without knowing it. As for those border crossings, they look a little like a tollbooth without the basket for your change. Some are manned and some not. If there are any, more often than not, the guards just wave you through.

However, if they are bored, the guards will sometimes make you stop, show your passport and ask if you have anything to declare. As for contraband, I’m not talking about dangerous drugs but a couple of nice, thick steaks, a few kilos of butter or several bottles of wine. All of which are much cheaper in France than Switzerland. Sometimes the guards will go so far as to ask you to step out of the car and open the trunk. According to the aforementioned bike-riding boyfriend, this is particularly true if the driver is wearing a short skirt.

Happily for me, any contraband I may or may not have carried across the border was not detected. I’m pretty sure that the statute of limitations protects me from incarceration for any smuggling that I may or may not have done. However, no need to spill my guts and invite trouble.

Anyway, back to bicycling. Weaving my way by farms, fields and forests, I would head mostly west and just a tad north down to the lake. Although I can read a map, I usually cycled without one. A map offers little help when you travel on narrow, unmarked agricultural roads. Now, my sense of direction is not exactly brilliant. So, you guessed it, on more than one occasion, I unwittingly ended up at the border. I’d slow down, wait for the nod and then sail through with a cheery wave.

That’s assuming the crossing had one of little booths, with or without a guard. On more than one occasion, I’d suddenly realize I wasn’t in Switzerland anymore. Could be a road marker or a maybe a roundabout gave it away. There are lots of roundabouts in France. Sometimes things looked familiar and sometimes not. No need to panic, I would simply keep an eye on the sun or the Salève and work my way down to the lake. At some point, I was bound to cross back over the border.

There is an awful lot of talk about borders and walls these days. Some go so far as to contend that a country can’t truly be a country without a wall. If that’s the case than there are a lot of non-countries out there. I know because I’ve driven, walked, skied and cycled through my fair share of them. I’ve even lived in two.

With longer, warmer days, it’s time for all of us to get out and about. Bon appétit!

Pissaladière
Usually served as an appetizer with a glass of white wine, Pissaladière will be a delicious addition to your French cooking repertoire. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2-2 large onions (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons anchovy paste*
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound your favorite pizza dough
12-16 Niçoise olives, pitted and halved
1-2 tablespoons capers

Put the butter and oil in a large pan and heat over medium-low until the butter melts. Add the onions, sprinkle with thyme and rosemary, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Drizzle with the white wine, cover the pan and, stirring occasionally, simmer until the onions are soft.

Uncover the pan, add the garlic, anchovy paste and vinegar and toss to combine. Continue cooking, uncovered, until any liquid has evaporated and the onions are lightly browned and very tender. Remove from heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven and a pizza stone (if you have one) to 450 degrees.

Cut the dough in 2, 3 or 4 pieces – whatever is easiest for you. Pat or roll each piece of dough out into a thin round and place on a piece of parchment paper. Top with the onions, sprinkle with olives and capers.

Working in batches, transfer the pissaladière to the preheated pizza stone or a baking sheet. Bake the pissaladière until golden, 8-12 minutes with a pizza stone and 12-15 minutes with a baking sheet.

Cut into wedges or squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be made a few hours ahead and served at room temperature.

* If you prefer, use 6-8 anchovies. Instead of tossing them with the onions, cut them lengthwise and decoratively arrange them on top of the Pissaladière before baking.

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One Year Ago – Tabbouleh
Two Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Grilled Asparagus, Cucumber & Avocado
Three Years Ago – Grilled Balsamic Vegetables
Four Years Ago – New Potato Salad Dijon
Five Years Ago – Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Vegetables
Six Years Ago – Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Seven Years Ago – Feta Walnut Spread
Eight Years Ago – Bruschetta with Grilled Vegetables & Gorgonzola

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

What about you? How do you get your exercise once spring finally rolls around? Feel free to share!

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

Lies &Truths Mothers Tell & Crostini with Cucumber, Radish & Feta

All mothers lie. I’m not sure how it works but I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities. My first theory is that an anti-truth drug is mixed into their prenatal vitamins. The second is that new mothers receive an injection of anti-truth serum just after the baby is born.

I’m leaning towards the second. Ingesting anti-truth stuff during pregnancy could mean that all kids would come out lying. We know that’s not true or at least it’s only partially true. Kids only lie about important things, like if they break something or eat all the cookies and then blame their little brothers.

In honor of Mother’s Day this coming Sunday, I’d like to dispel a few of the lies mothers tell and share one important truth.

There is no hotdog-bun conspiracy. The bakers and butchers did not get together in an effort to make you buy too many hotdogs or dash out at the last minute for more buns. Yes, it is an inexplicable fact that hotdogs come in packages of ten and buns are bundled eight to a bag. Rather than a conspiracy, it’s more likely the opposite. The butchers and bakers never bothered to get together and talk.

Mothers doesn’t have eyes in the back of their heads. At least my mother didn’t. We know because my brother looked for them when he was about four years. It just seems that way. Rather than a second pair of eyes, mothers use all their senses to observe and know their children. How else do they know that the backseat is not just quiet, it’s much too quiet?

Although she was probably tempted a few times, your mother never would have sold you to the ragman. This one was a pretty much an empty threat at my house. You could tell by Mom’s delivery. It usually came when I did something that was more funny than naughty. Mom would rock me in her arms, laugh and ask, “What am I going to do with you? I’ll have to give to the ragman.” She never did. As far as I can figure, all the ragmen have moved on to new employment so today’s children needn’t worry.

One real, honest to goodness lie all mothers tell is, “I’ll think about it.” It might be the only lie they tell. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now but it’s an effective way to, at least temporarily, avoid conflict. As in, “Can we go for ice cream?” Of course the answer is no. It’s 5:30. Dinner is in an hour. However, “Get in the car and I’ll think about it,” moves the meltdown from the supermarket checkout line to the privacy of the family minivan or SUV.

By the time she pulls into the driveway, your tears have subsided, replaced by that awful cranky face. That’s when she tells you, “Stop scowling, your face will freeze that way.” The truth is, no matter how ornery you get and how much you show it, your face won’t freeze that way. In the meantime, that cranky face is pretty off-putting. You have a beautiful smile and the world would love to see it more often.

My mother lost her long fight with Alzheimer’s disease last December. She won’t be telling me any more lies. A few days before she died, she told me one important truth. As I sat next to her bed, she greeted me with her big, beautiful smile, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I love you.”

Happy Mothers’ Day and bon appétit!

Crostini with Cucumber, Radish & Feta
Although she didn’t really like to cook, my mother was a most appreciative recipe tester. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices baguette or ciabatta bread
6 ounces feta, crumbled
1-2 handfuls arugula
4-5 radishes, thinly sliced
About 1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

Prep the oil in advance: put the lemon zest and juice, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch pepper in a jar or bowl. Shake or whisk to combine. Add the oil and thyme and shake or whisk again. Let the oil sit at room temperature for an hour or more.

Preheat the grill or a grill pan to medium high.

Lightly brush each side of the bread slices with the lemon-olive oil. Place the bread on the grill and, turning once, toast for 1-2 minutes.

To serve: top the still-warm toasts with the feta, radishes, cucumber and arugula. If you like, drizzle with a little lemon-olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Store extra lemon-olive oil in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Crostini with Fig, Stilton and Walnuts
Two Years Ago – Rhubarb Crumb Cake
Three Years Ago – A Duo of Aiolis
Four Years Ago – Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mushrooms & Mustard Sauce
Five Years Ago – Crunch Salad with Apples & Grapes
Six Years Ago – Grilled Mustard Pork Chops
Seven Years Ago – Rhubarb Crisp
Eight Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Steak

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

What about you? What lies and truths did your mother tell you? What lies and truths do you tell your children? Feel free to share!

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

Cinco de Mayo & Grilled Shrimp with Salsa de Cacahuate y Chile de Arbol

May 5th, better known as Cinco de Mayo, is this coming Friday. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Celebrated from coast to coast with tequila shots and tacos, it is an excellent excuse for a party. Perhaps you’ve been thinking that it would fun to have a totally authentic Cinco de Mayo celebration. You know, skip the queso dip and Macarena in favor of real Mexican flavors and dance steps. I get it. You want to a party like they do down in sunny Mexico.

Alright then, here’s what you do … nothing. Yup, that’s right. Absolutely nothing.

Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated in Mexico. Widely mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo commemorates an early victory in the Franco-Mexican War. The Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1862. The resulting victory was more than fifty years after Mexico declared its independence from Spain. In case you’ve forgotten, Mexico was a colony of Spain not France.

So indeed, our enthusiastic celebrations of Cinco de Mayo are somewhat akin to the Swiss celebrating the American victory against the British in the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh. In case you’re wondering, they don’t. I know where Plattsburgh is but I doubt that too many of my Swiss friends do. I also know where Puebla is. Not because I’m a geography or history whizz but because I looked it up on a map a few minutes ago.

Regardless of whatever convoluted calculations or interpretations you might try to make, Cinco de Mayo adds up to being a mostly American holiday. I suppose that’s makes sense. After all, we are a nation of immigrants and many of our holidays reflect that. The Chinese New Year celebrates our ties with China. Everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Oktoberfest has found its way from Munich to Muncie and several other U.S. cities.

Now the question arises – how to celebrate? Well, you could find one of those 100-foot margarita bars, the kind that serves fruity cocktails in glasses the size of fish bowls. Alternatively, you could expand your horizons and spend the day learning something about Mexico. Listen to Mexican music, study Mexican artists, investigate true Mexican cuisine or get a better understanding of how our two economies can and do work together.

Complete your day with a Mexican-inspired celebration. Skip the taco chain restaurants for a more authentic experience. I’m not sure if you can find real Mexican food this far north but you can always try. Many of us dream that one of those absolutely wonderful Mom and Pop-type Mexican restaurant will miraculously appear close to home. So far, it hasn’t happened but one can always hope.

For now, invite a few friends over and try your hand at some Mexican-inspired dishes. Dinner outside in early May in New Hampshire is probably pushing it but cocktails on the porch might work. Set your table with a brightly colored cloth and flowers and think warm and sunny thoughts.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo y ¡buen apetito!

Oh, and by the way, Mexican Independence Day – it’s on September 16.

Grilled Shrimp with Salsa de Cacahuate y Chile de Arbol
Appetizer or main course, shrimp with spicy peanut sauce will make a delicious addition to your Cinco de Mayo feast. This smooth peanut sauce is also good with chicken. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Salsa de Cacahuate y Chile de Arbol
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Olive oil
3/4 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 onion, chopped
4 or more (to taste) dried arbol (also called bird’s beak) chiles, stemmed
1/2 teaspoon allspice
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2-3/4 cup chicken stock or broth
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2 lime or to taste

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion, peanuts and chiles, season with allspice, salt and pepper and sauté until the onion starts to become translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and sauté until the onion is soft and the garlic is fragrant, 2-3 minutes more.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Let the salsa cool for about 15 minutes, transfer to a blender and process until very smooth. Cool to room temperature, stir in the lime juice and serve.

The salsa can be prepared in advance, covered and stored in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Grilled Shrimp
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
About 2 1/2 pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes (optional)

Put the olive oil in a bowl, add the garlic, lime zest and juice and whisk to combine. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Marinate in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.

Heat the grill to medium-high. Place the shrimp directly on the grill or thread them onto the soaked skewers. Grill the shrimp, turning once, until just opaque, 2-4 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with Salsa de Cacahuate y Chile de Arbol.

The shrimp can be grilled in advance, covered and stored in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Puffy Apple Pancake

Two Years Ago – Tostadas with Avocado Crema & Black Bean Salsa
Three Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Four Years Ago – Lemon-Lime Squares
Five Years Ago – Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)
Six Years Ago – Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt
Seven Years Ago – Black & White Brownies
Eight Years Ago – Rhubarb Muffins

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

What about you? How will you celebrate Cinco de Mayo and our southern neighbor on Friday? Feel free to share!

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

A Holiday Cocktail Party Special

Are you one of those people who think about but never get it together to throw a holiday cocktail party? I don’t blame you. With all that is going on, it can be daunting. Well, let this be the year you throw caution to the window and plunge in. I’ve got some tasty treats to suggest as well as some hopefully helpful Party Planning Tips.

A special cocktail is always a hit! Think sparkling with a Kir Royale. Too traditional? How about fun and festive with my Berry Merry Martni?

And now for the nibbles! For a small group, keep it simple. A nice platter, and perhaps a warm and tasty mug of soup. Let’s face, big or small, no one will be eating dinner after your party. For a larger do, you’ll want a nice selection of tasty treats to pass and a platter or two for grazing.

Delicious platters…
Put out a basket, a platter or two. Your guests can wander, chat with old friends and make new ones while they nibble to their hearts content. May I suggest …

Beautiful cheeses with fruit or some lovely slices of prosciutto and dried sausages, add a basket of artisanal crackers and Cheddar-Sage Biscuits and bowl or two of Roasted Almonds and Spicy Olives.

Fresh veggies with a great dip or three. Try my Roasted Beet & White Bean Hummus or Chipotle Sweet Potato & White Bean Hummus. If you like, add small bowls of my Artichoke Pesto, Roasted Red Pepper Dip and/or Tapenade

Gravlax with Tarragon-Caper Mustard Sauce – what could be more festive?

Or go retro with a bubbling pot of Fondue.

For a nice touch, set stacks of small plates (tea and espresso cup saucers work well) next to your platters. Instead of a traffic jam at the buffet table, your friends can help themselves to a nibble or two and then move on to mingle and munch.

Not your Nana’s canapés …
Warm or cold, everyone enjoys a tasty hors d’oeuvre, so why not pass a few delectable little bites. Without a doubt, the two top fan favorites from my treasure chest of treats are Beef Tenderloin & Stilton Crostini and/or Roasted Shrimp with Tarragon Aioli … or if you prefer Lemon-Basil Aioli.

And by the way, speaking of retro and fondue, anything with melty cheese will please most guests. I’ve got lots to choose from – how about Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux (Cheese Tartlets with Sausage & Leeks),Spanish Stuffed MushroomsButternut Squash Tartlets? or Spanakopita?

For sipping … Served in shot glasses or espresso cups or a big old mug, what could be more welcoming than piping hot soup. Keep it easy, skip the spoons and stick to purées like my Roasted Butternut Squash, Tomato Soup ( with wedges of Grilled Cheese?) or Wild Mushroom.

A sweet finish …
One or two sweet bites are a great way to end the evening. Delight your guests with mini Gingerbread Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting, Sweet Dream Bars and/or Almond Macarons with Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache.

rosemary_cashews_03Say good-night with a gift bag …
Send everyone home with a little treat. Leave a happy holiday basket at the door with little bags filled with my addictive Chocolate Almond Brittle or go savory with Rosemary Cashews!

Cheers and bon appétit!

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

How are you spending the long holiday weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2016

What NOT to Give this (or any) Christmas & Garlicy Shrimp with Tomatoes & Olives

santa_sleigh_presentsIf you have finished all of your Christmas shopping, well then today’s post is not for you. However, if you have a long list of friends and relatives that you still need TO buy for – well, read on. Unfortunately, I’m not up on the latest and greatest, so, I can’t tell you what to buy for your spouse, your mom and dad or your best friend. However, I can make a few suggestions of what NOT to give to more or less anyone.

Fruitcake. A perennial non-favorite, fruitcake is THE what-not-to-give gift. The world’s most popular re-gift, this sticky-sweet cake is an acquired taste; one that few acquire. I’m guessing that hundreds, even thousands, of re-gifted fruitcakes have been bouncing from one house to the next for decades.

Socks and underwear. Forget coal, socks and underwear are what bad little girls and boys find in their stocking on Christmas morning.

Appliances. Unless you are ready to sleep in the garage for the next month or two, never, ever give your spouse a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. Same goes for a dish washer or washing machine.

Exercise equipment. Buying a loved one exercise equipment is a sort of like hesitating before answering the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” The same holds true for a gym membership, a diet book or, heaven forbid, a scale.

The obvious re-gift. Re-gifting is somewhat controversial. While few admit, many do it. Controversy aside, there are re-gifts and, then, there are re-gifts. If your initials are monogrammed on the cuff, don’t re-gift that shirt. Yes, even if it makes your skin look sallow. Keep it for a Halloween costume or donate it to Goodwill.

Now, are there exceptions to any of these rules? Of course, there are always exceptions. Well, make that usually exceptions. I can’t think of a soul who is pining for a fruitcake. As for that canvas bag with your initials? Sorry, throw it in the truck of the car. Orange may not be your color but it will be great for grocery shopping.

Anyway, back to exceptions. You can break the socks and underwear rule if your gift is beyond special. The key to socks is finding pairs that your friends would never buy for themselves. Simple black, navy and brown or athletic socks are not for gifting. Colorful rainbows, alligators and pink flamingos work for me. Nor should you give a three-pack of tidy-whities to your sweetheart. Think lingerie, silk and sexy. (But make sure you get the right size. Otherwise, you could be sleeping in the garage until Valentine’s Day.)

While a vacuum cleaner never works, a young foodie who is assembling her first kitchen will be delighted with a gourmet gadget or fancy cookware. Think food processors, stand mixers and pasta makers. Or one of those fabulous French cast-iron pots.

Although they make great clothes racks, forget the treadmill or stationary bike. However, it may be okay to give the kids the latest athletic status symbols. Or maybe not. If one of the kids on your list failed the bean bag toss and has trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, well, you might want to think again.

Happy shopping and bon appétit!

Garlicy Shrimp with Tomatoes & Olives
This quick dish is perfect for the busy holiday season (and that fabulous French cast-iron casserole). Enjoy!

Serves 8 for dinner & 12-16 as a small plate, tapas or appetizer

Olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch or to taste red pepper flakes
About 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes*, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup dry white wine
About 2 pounds extra-large shrimp, shelled and deveined
About 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
8 slices thick cut ciabatta or country bread, toasted

Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and sauté until they begin to bubble. Add the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about 1/3.

While the tomatoes simmer, season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium high, add the shrimp and toss to combine. Cook the shrimp, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or until pink.

Transfer the shrimp to individual shallow bowls.

Add the olives, capers and butter to the skillet and toss to combine. Stirring frequently, cook the sauce for about 2 minutes.

Spoon the sauce over the shrimp, sprinkle with chopped basil and parsley and serve immediately with a slice of toasted ciabatta or country bread to soak up the sauce.

* You can use regular tomatoes but I find that the ones in my grocery store have little taste during the winter months. If you use regular tomatoes, seed and chop.

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One Year Ago – Wild Rice Pilaf with Roasted Mushrooms & Kale
Two Years Ago – Maple-Nut Sundaes
Three Years Ago – Rosemary Cashews
Four Years Ago – Greek Stuffed Mushrooms
Five Years Ago – Ginger Crème Brûlée
Six Years Ago – Aunt Anna’s Pecan Pie
Seven Years Ago – White Chocolate & Cranberry Trifle
Eight Years Ago – Chicken with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Penne
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? How do you get in the holiday spirit? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Post-Election Blues? & Butternut Squash Tartlets

I_votedBy the time you read this, you will have already voted … or set aside time for your trip to the polls. I’m assuming most Americans will be riveted to the returns tonight. I know I will be. Depending on how things go, we’ll be in dreamland before the clock strikes midnight … or stagger off to bed around dawn. Your guess is as good as mine.
Thank goodness, we can get back to normal tomorrow. The red, white and blue signs that have decorated the neighborhood for the last month or so can be hauled off to the dump. For those of us who plunged into the deep, dark abyss of round-the-clock news coverage, withdrawal might be tough. I’m thinking a chick flick binge and a bowl of popcorn with a glass of chardonnay will help. In any case, we’ll all be thankful to see the last of the seemingly endless run of political ads.

Assuming the election isn’t contested; don’t look to Washington for excitement for the next couple of months. If you’re hoping for a resolution of one stalemate or another, don’t hold your breath. The House and Senate will be on vacation for a good part of November and December. Not much will be happening until January or beyond. Over at the White House, I’m guessing life will become pretty low key. In spite of being a lame duck, in a couple of weeks Mr. Obama will pardon a turkey. After Thanksgiving, Mrs. Obama will put up a tree and deck the halls. That should be about it until the next president moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Be it tomorrow or a week from tomorrow, if you start to feel any post-election blues, here are a few suggestions to get you through it:

Thanksgiving is three weeks away. Pour your heart and soul into it. Go all out with your biggest and best effort yet. Buy up every foodie magazine you can find and start planning. Forget cable news, the cooking shows are calling.

Take up a new hobby. Knit scarves for the entire family or the entire neighborhood for that matter. Go online and find ideas for homemade Christmas ornaments. Glue ribbons and beads on popsicle sticks or Styrofoam balls, have fun with felt and learn origami.

Go through your closets. Make a pile of all the warm, wooly clothing you no longer wear. Do a second sort and toss out anything that’s threadbare. Donate the good stuff.
Ignore the cold and get in shape. If you’ve spent the last month or two glued to cable news, the fresh air will do you good. While you’re at it, treat yourself to some new exercise gear … just stay away from red or blue. Think fluorescent green or pink.

It’s a little early to put up the Christmas decorations. So, do the next best thing; re-arrange the living room furniture. It will give you a new perspective. But please, make sure you turn the lights on before you enter the room. The days are short and it’s dark early; no accidents please.

Now, if your favorite candidate isn’t be the one taking the oath of office on January 20, your post-election blues may be quite intense. If any or all of the above fails to cheer you up, you can always start packing. I’m not sure if Canada or any other country will take you but you can give it a try.

Here’s to peace and prosperity. Bon appétit!

Butternut Squash Tartlets
Looking for a new appetizer for Thanksgiving? How about a tasty little tartlet? Enjoy!butternut_squash_tartlet_06
Makes 24 mini tartlets

Olive oil
2-3 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
About 1 cup finely chopped butternut squash
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
About 1/4 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
About 1 cup baby spinach or kale, chopped
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
2 eggs
1/4 cup half & half
24 mini phyllo pastry shells or 1 batch of Savory Pastry Dough
About 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the sausage and breaking into small pieces, sauté until nicely browned. Remove the sausage from the pan and drain.

If necessary, add a little more olive oil to the pan. Add the butternut squash and sauté until the edges start to brown. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and continue to sauté until the onion is translucent and the squash is tender. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Add the sausage and greens, toss to combine and wilt the greens. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Add the fontina to the vegetables and sausage and toss to combine.

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

Put the eggs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Add the half & half and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs to the vegetables, sausage and cheese and toss to combine.

Gently press the phyllo cups or Savory Pastry Dough into nonstick mini muffin tins. If using Savory Pastry Dough, freeze the dough in the muffin tin for 30 minutes.

butternut_squash_tartlet_01Fill the prepared muffin cups about the veggie, sausage and cheese filling. (If you have leftover filling, toss it with spaghetti for an easy lunch or supper.)

Sprinkle each tartlet with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake until golden, about 15 minutes for the phyllo cups and 30 minutes if using Savory Pastry Dough. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes.

Transfer the tartlets to a platter (you may need to use a knife to loosen them) and serve.

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

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

What’s your secret? Feel free to share.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016