Welcome Summer & Smoked Salmon-Cucumber Bites

Every May, people get all excited and cheer the unofficial start to summer. Well, I can tell you, it’s a bunch of malarkey. Or at least it was this year. I don’t know about you but I’ve had to turn the heat back on at least two or three times since Memorial Day. So, let’s just forget all about this unofficial stuff. I don’t think I’m alone when stating that I am more than ready for the real thing.

No, that’s not the fourth of July. The first day of summer or summer solstice finally, happily arrives this coming Friday. The longest day of the year, I love everything about the summer solstice. The myths and legends, the rituals, the parties, the extra hours of sunshine, you name it – I like it.

It must be the combination of Swedish and Scottish blood that courses through my veins along with a splash Danish, some Irish and English. By golly, maybe some of my ancestors were druids. Or maybe I was a druid in another life. Perhaps, that’s why I am such a fan of standing stones. Years ago, I visited Stonehenge. Many believe that the circle of massive stones was built by druids. A few others think it might have been built by extraterrestrials. Either way, the site is awe inspiring.

Druids or ET, no one is altogether sure what Stonehenge is all about. After all, it was completed almost four thousand years ago. However, many believe it pays tribute to the longest day of the year. If you stand in just the right place before sunrise on the solstice and look towards the northeast, you will see the sun rise over what’s known as the Heel Stone. It’s quite dramatic and more than amazing. Thousands of years ago, without cranes or a backhoe or whatever else, ancient people created this incredible monument.

If you like, you too can channel your inner hippie or inner druid and join the summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge. Unfortunately, you are more likely to see the back of someone’s head than the sun coming up over the Heel Stone. Over the years, the annual vigil has become more than a bit of mob scene.

Just as intriguing, are the more modest rings and rows of standing stones found throughout the British countryside. I’ve seen them in the south of England and maybe Scotland. I took a walking tour of Scotland one summer but the trip’s details are now a bit hazy. If you like, or at least don’t mind, a long walk across the moors, you might stumble upon a group of stones. Too small or remote to attract tour buses, there are no souvenir stands or tea shops. There’s a good chance you’ll have the stones all to yourself. The locals know where they are. Ask around, some kind soul is bound to send you in the right general direction. It’s quite something to see them.

Across the North Sea, the solstice celebrations are no less festive. To many Scandinavians, the solstice is as, if not more, important than Christmas. From Denmark to Sweden and Norway, everyone turns out for parties and bonfires by the sea and picnics in the park. After a long, dark winter, everyone is happy to stay out late and enjoy the midnight sun.

The Scandinavian solstice is a wonderful time for family and friends. It is certainly less frenzied than the gathering at Stonehenge. Whether you have a Swedish grandfather like me, a Danish grandmother or no particular ties at all, think about a Scandinavian picnic to celebrate the longest day. You don’t want to miss a minute of sunshine in our too short summer.

Have a great summer with family and friends and bon appétit!

Smoked Salmon-Cucumber Bites
Salmon – smoked, cured, grilled, roasted or poached – is a favorite throughout Scandinavia. This light and bright hors d’oeuvre is perfect for summer picnics and cocktail parties. Enjoy!
Enough for about 4 dozen pieces

Horseradish Cream (recipe follows)
1 1/2 – 2 English cucumbers, peeled and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
About 1 pound smoked salmon, cut in small pieces
Chopped chives

Make the Horseradish Cream.

Top cucumber slices with smoked salmon, add a generous dab of Horseradish Cream and sprinkle with chives.

Horseradish Cream
Makes about 1 cup sauce

2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup or to taste prepare horseradish, well drained
2 tablespoons capers, drained and finely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Grated zest of 2 lemons

Put the cream cheese in bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. A spoonful or two at a time, add the sour cream and continue beating until smooth.

Add the horseradish, capers, mustard and lemon zest and stir until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour to combine the flavors.

Cover and store leftover Horseradish Cream in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Vietnamese Beef
Two Years Ago – Grilled Steak with Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic & Rosemary-Balsamic Glaze
Three Years Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Four Years Ago – Maple-Bourbon Pork Ribs
Five Years Ago – Gravlax with Tarragon-Caper Mustard Sauce
Six Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Seven Years Ago – Crunchy Slaw with Cilantro, Mint & Peanuts
Eight Years Ago – New Potato Salad with Gorgonzola 
Nine Years Ago – Spicy Hoisin Wings
Ten Years Ago – Grilled Steak & Potato Salad

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

How will you celebrate the summer solstice? Feel free to share!

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

Many thanks to Mystic Realms for use of the photograph of the sun coming up over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge.

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Shoo Flies & Asparagus with Lemony Aioli

The street sweeper came by in the middle of last week. With all the rain in April, I think it was a bit behind schedule. Anyway, the combination of the sweeper and Mother’s Day signals the end of mud season. Unfortunately, that means black fly season has arrived. In other words, hardly-spring has morphed into sort-of-like-spring or, maybe, spring-bites.

Mud and flies are fundamental to our two-part spring. Sounds awful but it’s not too bad. With longer and warmer days, it’s a happy time. Or at least mostly happy. Okay, make that happy when/if it doesn’t rain every day for a month. Anyway, moving on. With mud season in the review mirror, trees are budding, daffodils and tulips are bobbing in the breeze and people are sneezing.

The second phase of spring in New Hampshire raises a big question – how to cope with those d#$%m black flies? There are two parts to the issue. The first is the females. These vampires really know how to take a bite out of life. Bloodthirsty dames, they will attack any exposed skin. Depending on your luck or lack of, you are left with itchy bumps or oversized welts.

Now, stop for a minute and think of the tragedy here. After months wrapped in layers of fleece and down, it’s finally warm enough, or almost, for T-shirts and shorts. We are soooo ready to soak up a little natural vitamin D. Sorry, the black flies have a different idea. Instead of the cold, we need to cover up against these beasts. By the way, pants and a long sleeve shirt aren’t enough. Covering up includes your ankles, wrists, hands, face, neck and scalp. If you don’t have one, be sure to get one of those nets that goes over your head. Believe me, it’s a wonderful look.

Now for the male black flies. Happily, they don’t bite. Instead, they flit from flower to flower, sipping nectar. Unfortunately, they do not have an insatiable appetite. Once they’ve had enough, they look around for someone to pester. Like silly boys in middle school, they buzz around and get in your face. Annoyance, sometimes to the point of insanity, rather than pain is the operative word here.

So, here’s the scenario, it’s finally warmed up. If you’re lucky, the sun is out. All you want to do is spend the day outside – hiking, gardening, paddling your kayak, sitting in a café – the list goes on and on. Stepping outside, you are met by a swarm of biting and buzzing flies. What to do? Here are a few hints –

  • Go out in the middle of the day. The flies are apt to be napping or whatever they do when they aren’t pestering you.
  • Black flies congregate in and around running streams. Unlike mosquitos, they like moving water so take your paddling to a quiet pond or lake.
  • They’re not that fast, so trade in your hiking boots for a bicycle and out run them.
  • Wind is your friend. Flies have trouble tracking you down on a breezy day. If you are planning a few hours outdoors and have some flexibility, check the weather report.
  • Stick with light colored clothing. Not only is it more spring-like but dark colors attack flies.
  • Try a natural repellant and reapply frequently. I like lavender but some people swear by vanilla. About lavender, it’s not infallible. At some point, the flies will figure out that you’re a person and come back to bite, buzz and annoy.

Happy spring and bon appétit!

Asparagus with Lemony Aioli
One of the first vegetables of the season, who doesn’t love asparagus? Steamed, roasted or grilled, add a quick and easy aioli for a delicious first course or side dish. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 pounds (more for fanatics) asparagus, trimmed
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Forget the pencil thin asparagus. Sure, they look elegant but the nice, fat spears have the best flavor and texture. Steamed, roasted or grilled, asparagus are best cooked until tender-crisp. Cooking time will vary depending on thickness.

To steam: put about 2-inches of salted water in a large skillet or sauté pan and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus, cover and cook for 3-5 minutes.

To roast: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the asparagus in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 8-12 minutes.

To grill: Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high. Put the asparagus in a large dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Arrange the asparagus on the grill, cook for 1-3 minutes.

To Serve: Arrange the asparagus on a platter or individual plates. Serve warm or at room temperature with Lemony Aioli.

Lemony Aioli
Makes about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in small bowl and whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to combine the flavors. Whisk again and serve.

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

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

How do you deal with black flies? Feel free to share!

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

Life Is Like a Horse Race & Parmesan Popovers

The wisdom of Forrest Gump’s mama tells us that, “Life is like box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” That might be more or less true but not the whole truth. It’s not just possible but highly likely that there is more to life than sampling the mysteries of a box of sweets. Along with chocolates, maybe life is like a parachute, a bowl of cherries, monkey bars, a rat race or …. or a horse race.

With the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, the Triple Crown is about to play out. Now is as good a time as any to explore why life might be like a horse race. Last year, Justify was the thirteenth horse to win all three jewels in the Triple Crown. At this point, it’s anyone and everyone’s horse race. Who will make it to the winner’s circle this year – once, twice or three times?

Running a race takes training and a lot of hard work. When it comes to sports, the arts, all sorts of things, it’s easy to sit back claim it’s all about talent. You got it or don’t. As important as natural talent is, training and hard work are what get you over the finish line first.

It takes teamwork. The jockey and horse need to operate as one. However, the trainer and owner, plus the breeder are all part of the team. Looking at our own victories, we may proudly declare we did it on our own. Sometimes that’s true but not always and probably not often.

You have to pace yourself. Thoroughbred horses can only run about a quarter mile at top speed. Setting a good pace out of the gate and then unleashing the final burst of speed at just the right moment are critical to winning. Throughout life, we find ourselves in situations where we need to decide when to cruise and when to go full out.

There are uniforms. Every jockey wears brightly colored racing silks. In the days before public address systems, those flashes of yellow, green and blue helped fans find their horse in the pack. But not just the jockey, the fans wear uniforms too. For women, showy hats are de rigueur. The most conservative of men will sport navy blue blazers and white flannels. For everyone else, it’s a pastel paradise. Women flounce in flowery dresses. Brave or colorblind men wear jackets in colors most often found in Easter baskets.

Most days most of us wear a uniform of some sort or another. For the executive, it’s a $3,000 suit. The middle schooler must have perfectly torn jeans. Some choose a uniform to stand out while others just want to blend in.

It’s a gamble. From the owner who literally bets the farm to buy, train and run a horse to the little old lady who places her $2 wager, horseracing is a gamble. So is life; who to marry or whether to put pineapple on your pizza, it’s all a bit of a gamble. Betting the farm on a new job or trying a new pub, sometimes we do our research and (maybe) all goes well. Other times, we trust our gut and hope for the best.

There’s one thing for sure, unlike a racehorse, we don’t peak early. While thoroughbreds can run for about five years, most retire after three. Not humans, we don’t get older; we get better. Fifty is the new thirty and eighty is the new sixty. At any age, it’s great to look forward to the next fabulous chapter.

Step into the winner’s circle, you belong there. Bon appétit!

Parmesan Popovers
Derby or Belmont, popovers will make an excellent addition to your watch party. Enjoy!
Makes 12 popovers

2 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon or to taste freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a muffin tin or popover pan in the oven while you make the popover batter.

Put the eggs, salt and pepper in a blender and process on low until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the milk and process until well combined. A little at a time, add the flour and process until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and chives and pulse until well combined.

Remove the pan from the oven, place a teaspoon of melted butter in each cup and return the pan to the oven for 1-2 minutes more.

Remove the pan from oven and fill each cup about halfway with popover batter.

Return the pan to the oven and bake the popovers for 10 minutes at 450 degrees. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until the popovers are puffed and browned, about 10 minutes more.

Remove the popovers from pan immediately and serve hot.

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One Year Ago – Mexican Chocolate Pot de Crème
Two Years Ago – Grilled Shrimp with Salsa de Cacahuate y Chile de Arbol
Three Years Ago – Puffy Apple Pancake
Four Years Ago – Tostadas with Avocado Crema & Black Bean Salsa
Five Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Six Years Ago – Lemon-Lime Squares
Seven Years Ago – Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)
Eight Years Ago – Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt
Nine Years Ago – Black & White Brownies
Ten Years Ago – Rhubarb Muffins

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

Is your life like a box of chocolates or a horse race … or something else? Feel free to share!

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

Race track photo courtesy of Noah Salzman under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Hidden Beauty & Green Olive Salsa or Tapenade

I always complain about April. Well not just April, I also have this thing about November. As far as I’m concerned, they are the two worst months of the year. They are funky, in-between months. The days pass slowly as we anticipate the new season and next adventure. In November, we anxiously look to sky for enough snow to ski or snowshoe and ice to skate. In April, we anxiously wait for the last of that snow and ice to disappear.

In both cases, the predominant color is gray. We New Englanders love our blazing fall colors but by November the trees are bare. We also love the bright green buds on the trees, the pink and white apple blossoms and the first cheery yellow daffodils of spring.

If anything, April is worst than November. Both are gray but April is just so messy. I’m far from being a clean freak but the mountain of sand that come into the house gets to me every year. As much as I’d like to enjoy a beach right now, I don’t want one in my kitchen.

Speaking of beaches, that’s the other thing about these two in-between months. There’s nothing special to do. Next season’s fun is still a month or two away. The lake is covered with ice but probably not all that safe for skating. The mountain has closed down for the season. Hiking paths are covered with a mix of mud and ice. Perhaps I could take up mah jongg or go nuts with spring cleaning. Both would keep me busy but I’m unsure of the fun factor. That’s not quite true, spring cleaning is low on my list of fun stuff to do.

Then, like the proverbial silver lining, I spied a bright spot in the drab landscape. Maybe the barren countryside isn’t so bad. Without foliage or four feet of snow, I made an interesting discovery on my walk the other day.

Looking out from the sandy edge of the road, I saw evidence of beavers. They’ve been at work in a swampy area near Great Brook. Bands of newly exposed wood were visible at the bottom of several trees. Still others, were mere stumps, chewed to a sharp point. The wind was blowing a gale. The sky had clouded over but none of that mattered. A soothing abstract arrangement of trees in pale gold and gray was etched against the snow. It was beautiful.

beaver_landscape_014

While I have never tried to ramble around back there, I suspect it’s barely accessible. Part of the network of wetlands that surround much of the lake, it would make for a soggy walkabout. Melting snow and any significant rainstorm create a maze of little streams. As soon as it warms up, poison ivy will again be rampant.

For most of year, this magical view is shielded by thick foliage or mountainous snowbanks. Perhaps, that’s the magic. Hidden away, it’s ignored by all but the most curious puppy out for a walk. That combination of light and dark, gray and gold is only revealed for a few days. Soon the snow will melt and the trees will retreat into a muddy backdrop.

Sun or clouds, be sure to spend some time exploring your world and bon appétit!

Green Olive Tapenade or Salsa
Same ingredients – two results. Both are delicious.  Enjoy!
Makes about 2 cups

2 cups pitted Castelvetrano olives or your favorite green olives, rinsed and well drained
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dry vermouth or white wine
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes or to taste
1 bay leaf (optional)

Salsa: finely chop the olives and capers and mince the garlic. Put all of ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Cover and let sit for up to 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator to combine the flavors.

Serve the salsa on crostini with a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano or with grilled fish or chicken or toss with pasta.

Tapenade: working in batches, throw everything but the bay leaf into a small food processor. Process until the mixture comes together in a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl or jar, add the bay leaf, cover and let sit for up to 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator to combine the flavors.

Serve the tapenade with raw vegetables and flatbread crackers or use it to add a bit of punch to sandwiches and pizza.

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One Year Ago – Pasta Primavera
Two Years Ago – Coq au Vin au Printemps
Three Years Ago – Moroccan Baked Cod
Four Years Ago – Artichoke Pesto
Five Years Ago – Quinoa with Sweet Potato & Spinach
Six Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with
Seven Years Ago – Bananas Foster
Eight Years Ago – Tapenade
Nine Year Ago – Lavender Infused White Chocolate Crème
Ten Years Ago – Lemon Tart

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

How do you survivemud season a favorite dog? Feel free to share!

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

Come Together & Quinoa-Cheddar Cakes

What’s going on? We are plagued by division. Forget dog eat dog; we live in a world of dog people versus cat people. The simplest of nonissues spark controversy with #whiteandgold versus #blueandblack, Facebook versus Twitter and Superman versus Batman. Not to mention, the more significant debates of stay-at-home versus working moms, Coke versus Pepsi, skins versus shirts, this versus that and on and on. It’s exhausting.

Not only exhausting but (and I’m speculating here) it’s hardly worth it. White-gold-blue-black, it’s only a dress. As for the Facebook and Twitter question, well, think for a minute. Whether its 400 or 4,000 or 4,000,000, the vast majority of your contacts are not friends and they are definitely not your followers. Unless of course, you are some kind of cult leader. If that’s the case, I guess you do have followers. Whoa, that’s a bit scary.

Anyway, life is complicated. Issues can rarely be dumbed down to either or. Unless someone’s asking about dinner at a wedding reception, then it works. By the way, take the chicken. The beef is always well done as in overcooked and tough as shoe leather. Okay, lets get back to more complicated choices and debates.

The Man of Steel can fly which is incredibly special and pretty wonderful, especially if you live somewhere with a lot of traffic. On the other hand, Batman has lots of cool toys and is a millionaire. However, he is a brooding type of guy and never seems too happy. You could ask, why have a bunch of cool toys if they don’t make you happy? Wouldn’t it be better to fly around and leap tall buildings? Not to digress but have you ever noticed that invisibility is an exceedingly rare super power? More than complicated, that one is just creepy.

Anyway, I guess if pushed to choose, I’d lean towards Superman. However, in the grand scheme of things – the debate is not worth a big or even a small blowup. Surely, you wouldn’t risk a longtime friend or the close relationship with your sister, brother, uncle or whoever over Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.

Cuddle your cat or sing with your parakeet. Enjoy that Pepsi, Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper. Play rugby with or without a shirt. Post your photos on Instagram and Tweet to your heart’s content. It’s okay by me. Except for mean Tweets, even if I don’t see them, it would make me sad to think you might be so inclined.

When it gets right down to it; we’re more alike than different. Most of us want the same things out of life. We want to be warm, safe and loved. We’d like to have enough food to keep us going and good health. We’d like to be happy. While we all have different definitions of luxury, I’m betting we’d all like to indulge in an extravagance now and then.

Not convinced? Here’s one undeniable truth that ties us together – we all put our socks on before our shoes. Spike heels, mukluks or sneakers; silky stocking or wooly socks, the order is undeniable. It links us through time and space. Unless you don’t wear socks or shoes or both. If that’s the case, you probably still put your pants on one leg at a time.

A toast to a lot less partisanship and a lot more kindness and understanding. Bon appétit!

Quinoa-Cheddar Cakes
Appetizer, side dish or main, these little cakes are delicious and have a nice crunch. Serve them with a dab of guacamole and salsa or sprinkle with cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper. Enjoy!
Makes about 16 regular cakes

1 cup quinoa
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4-5 scallions, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
5 large eggs
1-2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated cheddar cheese
Olive oil
Garnish: your favorite salsa and/or guacamole or cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper

Cook the quinoa until tender according to package directions.

While the quinoa cooks, put the scallions, garlic, herbs and spices in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add the hot quinoa to the scallions and stir to combine. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Put the eggs and pepper sauce in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs to the quinoa and stir to combine. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes or cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Lightly coat a large, heavy skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Working in batches, add dollops of quinoa to the pan and flatten into pancakes. (A 1/4-1/3 cup ice cream scoop works well. A mini scoop is good for hors d’oeuvres.)

Fry the pancakes for 5-8 minutes per side or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Remove the cakes from the pan and drain on paper towels. Transfer the cakes to an ovenproof platter to keep warm in the oven and continue with the next batch.

Serve immediately with your favorite salsa, guacamole or a sprinkle of cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Carrot Salad
Two Years Ago – Irish Lamb Stew
Three Years Ago – Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary
Four Years Ago – Not-Really-Irish and Not-Really-French Potato Gratin
Five Years Ago – Zucchini Pancakes
Six Years Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Seven Three Years Ago – Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Nine Years Ago – Linguine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Roasted Eggplant
Ten Years Ago – Fettuccine with Classic Bolognese Sauce

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

What are your thoughts? Can you suggest one action – large or small – to help bring us together? Feel free to share!

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

 

Another Holiday Special – The Cocktail Party

Will you be celebrating the season with a festive cocktail party? If it’s been awhile since you entertained a crowd, this could be your year. December is a great time to entertain. After all, your house is decorated and spirits are high.

Not sure what to serve? Keep it simple with a few serve-yourself platters and a couple of one or two bite savories to pass. Here are a few ideas:

As for those platters –

Arrange a three or five beautiful cheeses on a cutting board. You’ll want to include a variety of textures and flavors. Combine a firm cheese like a beautiful aged cheddar, add a soft cheese like a triple-crème brie and don’t shy away from a fabulous blue cheese. Stilton is always a good choice or try my Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts. (You can prep it in advance.) Feel free to add a Spanish Manchego, a smoked Gouda or a log of goat cheese.

You can’t go wrong adding some prosciutto, pâté and artisanal sausage to your cheese board. Alternatively, you can create a separate charcuterie platter.

A seafood platter is a great idea. You can go crazy with oysters, shrimp and crab or keep it simple with gravlax or smoked salmon. Embellish the salmon with wedges of lemon, thinly sliced onion and capers. A little caviar or chopped egg would also be nice.

Finally, a vegetable platter with a wonderful dip or two is a good idea. Most of your guests will consider it dinner, so a few veggies will be appreciated. As for dips, can I suggest Roasted Beet & White Bean Hummus, Sun-dried Tomato Aioli and/or Spicy Red Pepper Aioli?

Now, what to pass?

Cook up a couple of one- or two-bite savories. (BTW – if you aren’t hosting but heading to a potluck, any one of these delightful little treats will be welcomed.) Could I suggest – Cheesy Spinach Tartlets, Spanish Stuffed Mushrooms and Roasted Shrimp with Rémoulade Sauce.

Don’t forget to scatter small bowls of Spicy Olives and my favorite Rosemary Cashews an strategic spots. At the very least, put one of both on the buffet table and on the bar.

Finally, finish the evening with a sweet treat. Who wouldn’t enjoy a Christmas cookie, brownie or mini cupcake or all three? Fill a tray with rows of Macadamia Snow Balls,  Gingerbread Cupcakes and Sweet Dream Bars. For a smooth and creamy treat, fill tiny dessert glasses (even a shot glass) with Chocolate Mousse or White Chocolate Mousse and topped with a raspberry.

Bon fête and bon appétit!

Want more? Try one of my seasonal menus or create your own with the help of my extensive recipe index.

What are your favorite recipes for cocktail party nibbles? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

© Susan W. Nye, 2018

Holiday Cocktails & Cheesy Spinach Tartlets

The holiday season means holiday parties. Don’t ask me why but expectations always seem to be over-the-top. Forget a casual get-together; it just won’t do. No indeed, our holiday parties should sparkle. If you’re thinking of hosting one this year, you may be feeling a wee bit of pressure. It’s okay, take a deep breath and don’t panic. After all, ’tis the season for holiday magic.

Be it dinner for eight or cocktails for fifty, don’t worry, everything will be smashing. Not only will you figure it out, you might even keep your sanity. First, let’s start by stating categorically and for the record that one-of-a-kind, special and specular do not mean perfect. After all, why settle for perfect when you can have wonderful?

It starts with the company. Collect a group of brilliant, funny conversationalists and the party will be a success. Good company makes for a good party. However, add great food and a beautiful setting and the evening becomes exceptional.

Whenever you put together an eclectic group, it’s a good idea to enlist some kind of conversation starter. Some hosts do it with ugly sweaters or twenty questions. I find that food, yes food, is a fantastic ice breaker. Set out a beautiful cheese board and someone will share a story about a recent trip to France. Smoked salmon with all the fixings will encourage a tall tale of a fishing trip or Christmas Eve smorgasbord.

Keep it simple but elegant. There is no need to buy box after box of hors d’oeuvres from Trader Joes or Costco. Instead, think homemade and two or three, not tens, of different appetizers to pass. Add a few beautiful platters, scatter bowls of olives and nuts or other nibbles and you’ve got it covered.

Every family has its holiday food traditions. From oysters on the half shell to Christmas cakes and sugar cookies, certain foods are inextricably linked to yuletide. When planning your menu, consider bringing a few updated family favorites to the table. That said, you might want to skip the green Jello salad in the Christmas tree mold. Some things are better left in the past.

End on a sweet note. Let’s face it, at least a few of your friends are night owls and don’t know when it’s time to go home. A subtle and delicious hint is to put the savory treats away and pass a tray of holiday cookies. After all, aren’t you suppose to go home after dessert? Even if they don’t get the hint, be flattered. Everyone is having too much fun to call it a night.

Now for the decorations. Start with lots of greenery and boughs of holly. Next, big bowls of simple glass balls are lovely – especially in candlelight. Elegant gold and silver or cheery red – it’s up to you. Of course, you will want to bring out all your favorite decorations. Whether you have a grand army of nutcrackers or Santas from around the globe, your collection is part of your holiday story.

Finally, everything looks better by candlelight. I’m rather fond of red candles for the holidays but it’s up to you. Fat ones, skinny ones, tall and short, more is better so don’t be shy. (Do be careful to place candles where they won’t be knocked over. As much as we love our volunteer firefighters, I’m guessing you’d rather they come as guests – not to the rescue.)

Have a lovely party and bon appétit!

Cheesy Spinach Tartlets
For a delicious little nibble, pass flavorful tartlets at your holiday cocktail party. You can buy and fill phyllo tartlet shells or make your own pastry. Enjoy!
Makes about 24 tartlets

Savory Tartlet Pastry (recipe follows) or frozen Phyllo Tartlet Shells
Olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
2 large eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Pinch nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

If using Savory Tartlet Pastry, make the dough and divide into 1 1/2 to 2-inch balls. Place the balls in mini muffin tins and, using your fingers, shape each ball into a tartlet shell. Place the tins in the freezer for 15 minutes. If using phyllo tartlet shells, put the shells in mini muffin tins and store in the freezer until ready to fill.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and make the spinach filling.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Remove from the heat, stir in the spinach and cool for a few minutes.

Put the eggs in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the ricotta, season with thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper and whisk until smooth. Fold in the spinach and mozzarella.

Spoon the filling into the tartlet shells, sprinkle the tops with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and bake until the filling sets and the top and crusts are golden, about 20 minutes. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes before removing and serving. You may need to use a small knife to loosen the tartlets.

The tartlet shells and filling can be prepped 1 day in advance and stored separately.

Savory Tartlet Pastry
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces
2-3 or more tablespoons ice water

Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add the ice water and pulse until the dough comes together in large clumps. Remove the dough from the food processor, pat into a ball and wrap in plastic or parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

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

What are your favorite holiday cocktail party tips? Feel free to share!

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