Weekend Special – A Cozy Dinner

Mom_SusieI confess. It’s my birthday, not exactly this weekend but close enough. After a bit of internal debate between me, myself and I, I’ve decided to keep it simple. There will be no red carpet, no cast of thousands, just a girls’ night with a few friends. We’ll enjoy a glass of wine in front of the fire and then gather around the table. It’s been a busy couple of months and it will be nice to take an evening to relax and chat.

Keep it simple. For a quiet dinner with your nearest and dearest, you don’t need to serve a plethora of fancy hors d’oeuvres. A sparkling glass of Prosecco, a wedge of great cheese, a few of my famous Rosemary Cashews and a dab of Tapenade is all you need.

While we relax in front of the fire, a beautiful chicken will roast in the oven. Roast Chicken is one of my favorite (and easiest) dinner party dishes.I think that we’ll start dinner with a lovely salad of Radicchio, Fennel, and Arugula. For the main course, roast up some Cauliflower and Baby Potatoes along with the chicken. Then again, maybe I’ll go with Couscous with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts instead of spuds.

To top it all off …  At this point, it’s a toss-up. Bake Carrot Cupcakes or stir up some smooth and creamy special Chocolate Panna Cotta? Decisions! Decisions!

Have a great weekend and bon appétit!

What are your plans for the weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2015

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Birthday Surprise & Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes

Mom_SusieOne of my mother’s many claims to fame is her love of birthdays, especially her own. Perhaps it comes from being an only child. Since Nana and Grandpa only had to worry about one birthday, they did it up big. Then of course, her birthday had a habit of falling on Labor Day weekend and the final days of summer vacation. The long holiday weekend became a celebration of all things Elizabeth.

Friends and family gathered on the Cape to fête my mother and enjoy the last days of summer. Since Nana didn’t bake, the local bakery was kept very busy. Throughout the weekend, every meal, except maybe breakfast, included candles, cake and ice cream.

Since my father loves to tell the story of Mom’s girlhood birthday extravaganza, we grew up hearing about her many parties. By the time we built the little brown house near Pleasant Lake, the endless round had become more finite. If her birthday fell in the middle of the week, she might join her friends for a girls’ night out. Dad arrived on Friday and took her out to dinner. At some point over the weekend, my sister or I baked a cake and we’d celebrate with a family dinner.

Maybe it was Dad’s stories or her own goodwill but one year, Brenda decided to throw our mother a surprise birthday bash. Perhaps it was a way for her to say thank you; she was heading to Colorado in September for college. Everyone assumed it was the big one, Mom’s Four-O. It was actually her forty-first and Mom never suspected a thing. She was delighted with the party and didn’t mind losing a year.

For the most part, the party was all Brenda’s doing. Maybe there was a caterer or two in town back then. If there was, we didn’t know about them. Dad stocked the bar, I baked the birthday cake but Brenda did everything else. Sure Dad paid the tab but my seventeen-year-old sister put it all together. Brenda figured out the menu, filled a couple of carts at Cricenti’s and prepared the food.

She even hired the bar tenders, her then boyfriend and his cousin. Neither knew the first thing about pouring a drink but did their best to intoxicate the guests. If the perfect gin and tonic has a ratio of one gin to three tonic, they flipped it. As I remember, they did fuel a bit of fire. The mood was exuberant, the talk and laughter loud and there was much singing if no dancing. At least one drink was thrown … or maybe that was another night. Luckily, the guests were all close neighbors so the roads stayed safe.

mom_susie_CA_01Mom’s not-really-fortieth became the measure of all future surprise parties. This year marks another milestone for her. She will be eighty-five on Friday. Although there will be cupcakes, I am sad to say there is no big surprise party in the works. Mom still smiles her beautiful smile and brings joy to all who know her but she is in the later stages of Alzheimer ’s disease. We will visit her with gifts and flowers but Brenda’s not-really-fortieth celebration will not be topped. Instead, for the many who love her, Mom’s birthday is a good day to reflect on all that she means to us and to raise a toast in her honor.

Happy birthday Mom and bon appétit!

Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes
The cupcake may be passé in New York and Los Angeles but it is a welcome birthday treat at the Nyes! Enjoy!
Makes about 24 cupcakes

double_frosted_chocolate_cupcakes_043 ounces unsweetened chocolate, choppped
1 stick butter, at room temperature and cut in pieces
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or orange-flavored liqueur
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups less 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate-Orange Ganache (recipe follows)
White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the chocolate and butter in a large bowl. Put the orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the orange juice to the chocolate and butter, let everything sit and melt for a few minutes and then whisk to combine.

Stir in the sugar, Grand Marnier and vanilla. Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, combining after each addition. Add the sour cream and whisk to combine.

Put the flour, orange zest, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and combine thoroughly.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the batter and combine thoroughly. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.

making_choc_cupcakes_02Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 2/3rd full with batter. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To assemble: spread warm Chocolate-Orange Ganache on the cupcakes. Place the cupcakes in the refrigerator or freezer and cool until the chocolate has set. With a pastry bag and a large tip, add a hefty dollop of White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting.

If making ahead, store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate-Orange Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or orange-flavored liqueur
Pinch salt
About 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut in pieces

In a small saucepan, heat the cream and zest to steaming. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain the cream, add the Grand Marnier and salt and reheat to steaming. Remove the cream from the heat, add the chocolate and butter. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then whisk until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

Let the ganache cool for about 10 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
About 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled

Put the butter, cream cheese and sour cream in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined.

Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until just combined. Add the Grand Marnier, vanilla and white chocolate, increase mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until smooth.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese Salad
Two Years Ago – Blueberry Soup with Mascarpone Cream
Three Years Ago – Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Avocado Salsa
Four Years Ago – Crostini with Goat Cheese
Five Years Ago – Corn & Chicken Chowder
Six Years Ago – Joe Nye’s Perfect Lobster
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your birthday party or anytime treat? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going. Click here to leave a comment.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

A Long, Long Birthday Weekend Celebration & Chocolate-Orange Tart

mom_at_17Labor Day Weekend is a wonderful excuse for a celebration. Sure, the return to school and work is looming but for a few more days it’s summertime. Labor Day celebrations take on a particular significance in our family. Depending on the year, and this is one of them, my mother’s birthday falls at the start of the long holiday weekend. She has always done her best to celebrate her birthday with enthusiasm.

Then again, my mother pretty much does everything with enthusiasm. It is her gift to the world. That and her beautiful smile. Some people have a nice smile. Others have a lovely smile. My mother has a beautiful smile. In the days before her birthday we run around picking flowers, buying chocolates and tracking down special gifts. No matter what the gift, a bouquet of wild flowers or something a lot more elaborate, she rewards us with enthusiastic thanks and her beautiful smile. There is no energy shortage when it comes to that smile. It comes from the heart and lights up the entire room.

Nye_Family_CookoutFor years Mom managed to turn her birthday into a long, long weekend extravaganza. Forget a simple cake, one quart of ice cream was never enough. One party was never enough. Mom loves to bring people together. For four or five days she celebrated with a never ending round of lunches, dinners and cocktails. Family cookouts. Parties with friends. Romantic dinners with my dad. Lunch with the ladies. Cocktails on the beach. The list was long. Her birthday was the perfect excuse for one last grasp at summer fun.

Dreading a return to the suburbs and school, all the festivities were a welcome respite when we were kids. It’s still good fun. After all, who doesn’t love a birthday party? When you’re little, as long as there is cake and lemonade, it doesn’t really particularly matter if it’s your own or someone else’s birthday. And when you’re a bit older? Well, maybe you’d prefer a glass of chardonnay or pinot noir instead of lemonade. Sounds about right to me.

Nye_Family_Summer_2000You too can join the party. Celebrations start on Thursday, Mom’s actual birthday. It’s okay to jump in even earlier if you’d like. Throughout the long weekend, get together with family and friends. The possibilities are endless. A big breakfast on the porch. Mid-morning coffee and blueberry muffins at your favorite café. Lunch, drinks, dinner or a dance in the moonlight. While you are at it, raise your glass to birthdays, living life with enthusiasm and beautiful smiles.

Happy Birthday Mom and bon appétit!

Chocolate-Orange Tart
Chocolate is my mother’s favorite, what about you? For a bit of a change, this tart is a wonderfully rich alternative to a cake. Enjoy!
Serves 12-16Chocolate_Orange_Tart_02

Graham Cracker Crust
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line the bottom of a 10-inch tart or springform pan with parchment paper.

Put the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the butter and stir until well-blended.

Press the crumbs into bottom of the pan and about 1-1/2 inches up the side. Bake the crust at 350 degrees until golden, about 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate until ready to use.

Chocolate Filling
10 ounces very good dark chocolate, chopped
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (optional)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Put the chocolate in a small bowl. One minute at a time, zap the chocolate in the microwave on medium heat until the chocolate begins to melt.

Whisk the sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and salt together in a 1-quart heavy saucepan. Whisk in the yolks and cream and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until it registers 170 degrees on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove from the heat and pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl with the chocolate.

Let the chocolate sit with the hot custard for a few minutes to melt and whisk to combine. Whisk in the orange zest, orange liqueur and vanilla.

Pour the chocolate filling into the Graham Cracker Crust. Cool the tart to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Remove the tart from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving. Cut into thin wedges (it’s very rich!), garnish with whipped cream and serve.

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One Year Ago – Chicken Liver Pâté
Two Years Ago – Blueberry Crisp
Three Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Sauce
Four Years Ago – Lemon Cupcakes
Five Years Ago – Couscous with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How do you celebrate your birthday? Feel free to share. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013

Happy Birthday Julia! & Filet de Sole Meunière

It’s Julia Child’s birthday tomorrow. If she was still with us, flipping omelets and wrestling chickens, she would be 100. All across the country, restaurants are celebrating by putting many of Julia’s much loved dishes on their menus. Foodies are gathering friends and family together and serving their favorite Julia recipes. Without a doubt, her trademark Boeuf Bourguignon and Lobster Thermidor will appear on many a table. I’m sure a few comedic foodies will give a nod to Dan Aykroyd and roast a chicken or two.

With this great occasion much is being written of Julia’s influence on cooking in America. She is credited with introducing us to French food. While she was not the first person to cook on television, she certainly was and is the most charming. She was ever so approachable in her shirtwaist dresses with the Peter Pan collars, like one of the ladies in the neighborhood. Her star power had nothing to do with glitz or glamour and everything to do with her enthusiasm for good food and joie de vivre.

Since Julia was a teacher, it is a good time to reflect on what we have learned or can learn from her. Here goes!

Find your passion: Before she discovered food, Julia was not much more than an endearing giantess. And by food, I don’t mean the bland and boring meals she found on the dining room table in her childhood home in Pasadena. Julia fell in love when she moved to France. With the country, the people and, most important, she fell in love with the food.

Julia took that passion and turned it into both a career and a calling. At a time when the I Hate to Cook Cookbook was a run-away best seller, Julia made it her life’s work to help Americans cook well. True, it’s not world peace or a cure for the common cold. However, as far as I’m concerned, anything that brings families and friends together to talk, laugh and enjoy each other’s company is a good thing.

Stick to it and don’t do anything half way: When Julia met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle in 1949 they were struggling with a French cookbook for American women. They cajoled Julia into joining them and together they spent almost a decade testing recipes, writing, editing and testing some more.

Through the Childs’ transfers to the south of France, Germany, Washington and Oslo, the threesome persevered. Their book was turned down by their first publisher who complained it was too encyclopedic and the recipes too challenging. They refused to do a puff piece and persevered some more. Finally, their three pound manifesto, Mastering the Art of French Cooking was born in 1961.

Be fearless and embrace life with exuberance: Before she discovered French food, Julia was an admittedly horrendous cook. Attacking the problem head on, she dared to study at the world famous Le Cordon Bleu and worked tirelessly to hone her craft. Later, she dared to bring her cooking into our living rooms. She made history as one of the first television chefs and charmed us all.

Watch an old black and white clip of Julia; her enthusiasm is contagious. Whether she is whacking a rib roast or tossing a potato pancake, you can’t help but smile, maybe giggle, and want to cook something amazing. Julia wholeheartedly believed that we should have fun in the kitchen. More than a great chef, her energy and excitement didn’t stop at the kitchen door. From start to finish, Julia lived life with enthusiasm.

Happy Birthday Julia and bon appétit to all!
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Filet de Sole Meunière
According to Julia’s autobiography, her first meal in France started with oysters and continued with Filet de Sole Meunièr, a green salad and cheese for dessert. She described it as, “… absolute perfection. It was the most exciting meal of my life.”
Serves 6
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1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 pounds fresh sole fillets
Olive oil
6 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Lemon wedges

Mix the flour, salt, pepper and paprika together. Lightly dredge the sole in the flour, shake off any excess.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; add a little olive oil to the pan. In batches, carefully place the fish in the pan and cook a few minutes per side. Remove the fish from the pan and place on an oven-proof platter. Keep the fish warm in a very low oven while you cook the remaining filets.

Make the Meunière Sauce: Reduce the heat to medium and melt the butter in the skillet. As soon as the butter starts to bubble, whisk in the white wine and lemon juice. Cook for about 1 minute, swirling the pan once or twice.

Remove the fish from the oven. Pour the sauce over the sole, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

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One Year Ago – Artichoke Leaves with Shrimp 
Two Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Chicken
Three Years Ago – Corn & Tomato Salad
Four Years Ago – Summer Rolls Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have a special memory or story about Julia? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project
Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

Eighty-Five & Mediterranean Seafood Stew

Today is my father’s birthday. He is eighty-five … yes, 85.
Most years, Dad’s birthday gets overshadowed by the hoopla of Christmas, New Year’s and the start of the ski season. There’s only one thing worse than finding a birthday gift two days after Christmas. That’s having your birthday two days after Christmas. But eighty-five is an impressive milestone and deserves at least a bit of attention.
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My dad is a very special guy. Yes, I know that most kids brag about their fathers but mine is truly remarkable. Without a doubt, Dad is the peoplest people person I know. He’s never met a stranger he didn’t like. And he meets people everywhere! He’ll help you pass the time in that long line at the deli counter on a busy summer weekend or drive away the boredom on a plane ride from here to there. He’ll tell you a story and listen to yours over a long, leisurely dinner. Completely genuine, Dad always has at least a few words, more often several, for everyone. It’s more than simple charm; he is energized by his friends, family and the innocent bystanders who cross his path. Dad doesn’t pretend to be interested in your story; he truly is interested in what you have to say.

And Dad loves to talk. He has a story for every rhyme, reason and season. He can remember the names and idiosyncrasies of every one of his childhood pals. He knows who had a pain-in-the-neck little brother and who had a gorgeous sister. Dad’s got a passel of stories about sailing on the Cape and skiing in Vermont and New Hampshire. He’s got tales about college in Boston and road trips to and from Kansas. How and why he ended up in Kansas is another story and closely related to having too much fun in Boston.

His grandfather holds a special place in his life and heart and Dad is delighted to share their adventures. Grandpa Nye was a contractor and built a lot of little houses in their hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts. He drove a big, old Buick and loved to take his onlygrandson with him when he made his rounds. Dad got his first business less ons from Grandpa Nye. Over the years he picked up a lot more from his father, various bosses, employees and customers. He is only too happy to share what he learned from any and all of them.

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Even better, he can tell you all about the day he met my mother, down to the very last detail.

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When I was a teenager, Dad amazed, horrified and embarrassed me. I couldn’t begin tounderstand how he could just jump in and start a conversation … with a stranger no less. In all honesty, I think I was more or less horrified and embarrassed by any and everything he did. Don’t forget, I was a teenager. Luckily, I eventually got over myself and came to admire and even emulate his cheery chattiness. A master storyteller and a decent listener, he made it look easy.

If you’re one of those shy fellows, believe me, with a little practice it is easy. And well worth it. Everyone has a story. Most would like nothing better than to share it. All you need to do is ask a simple question or two, pay attention and ask a few more. True, some stories are more interesting than others but all are worth a listen.

Sometimes I’ll catch myself making small talk with a stranger and can’t help but smile. And give Dad a silent word of thanks. Following his example, I’ve met a lot of strangers over the years. Happily, some have become dear friends.

Happy Birthday Dad and bon appétit!

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Mediterranean Seafood Stew
Birthday celebration or not, this seafood stew is the perfect centerpiece for a festive winter feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8-10
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Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
Pinch or to taste chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
3/4-1 cup shrimp, fish or chicken stock
1-2 tablespoons capers, drained
10-12 Sicilian or other large green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 pound scrod or other firm white fish, cut into chunks
1 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 pound bay scallops
Finely chopped, fresh basil

Heat a little olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chili pepper and herbs to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and cook for another minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the tomatoes, stock, capers and olives. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high, add the scrod, return to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and scallops, return to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring once or twice, until all the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. The scrod and scallops will be opaque and the shrimp will be pink.

Sprinkle with chopped basil and serve immediately with warm chunks of sourdough bread or with rice.

You can make the sauce in advance. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to continue, bring the sauce to a simmer and complete the recipe.

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One Year Ago – Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce
Two Years Ago – Potato, Leek & Kale Soup
Three Years Ago – Salmon & Lentils
Or Click Here!  for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite birthday dinner? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on theSign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new stories and recipes.

Want more? Feel free to visit my photoblog Susan Nye 365 or click here for more recipes and magazine articles or here to watch me cook!I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2011

Today Is My Birthday & Carrot Cake

It’s been a busy morning …

I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts to write about Mardi Gras, ice cream, The Prouty and The Fells

… but I keep getting the most delightful interruptions. Phone calls and the pings of emails and Facebook greetings keep breaking my concentration. It’s my birthday!

No, it’s not one of the big ones … not one that ends with a big-0 … or even a sort’a big-5. And while I won’t be baking today, I thought it would be fun to share my favorite cake recipe with you.

Enjoy the day!

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Julie’s Carrot Cake
Carrot cake is my favorite and my friend Julie has generously made this delicious cake for me many times over the years. Enjoy!
Makes a 9×13-inch cake or about 24 cup cakes

2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking dish or line muffin pans with paper liners.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat the eggs, oil and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the carrots, walnuts and raisins.

Pour batter into prepared pan or fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake the cake for about 45-60 minutes (cupcakes for 35-45 minutes) or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Generously spread with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, add the vanilla extra and combine. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well blended. Increase mixer speed and continue mixing for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

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What is your favorite birthday cake? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2011

Another Birthday, Another Decade & Lemon Cupcakes

Summer and Birthdays seem to go together in our family. I have four nieces, four nephews and a couple of god children. It seems that most of them have summer birthdays, giving us more than our fair share of parties on the beach with excited cousins, cake and melting ice cream.

However, the celebrations of this younger generation pale in comparison to the extravagant festivities of The Original Birthday Girl. Yes, my mother, the Grand Dame of birthdays, celebrates her day at the end of August. Most people recognize that autumn is approaching when soccer practice starts or when the stores hawk their back-to-school sales. Some figure it out because they suddenly need a sweater for their evening walk or when it’s dark at 8:00. In our family, we know that summer is over when Libby celebrates her birthday.

In her youth, Mom’s birthday celebration went on for days. There was the family party, a cozy celebration with her parents and grandmother. This party was preceded and followed by lots of merry-making with friends and extended family. My mother was an only but never a lonely child. In need of siblings, she simply adopted a few from across the street. The Blackwell kids were the brothers and sister she never had. Friendships this so close demanded a second “family” party. Next, all the kids in the neighborhood were invited around. There were no bouncy castles but plenty of cake and lemonade. Throw in a ladies lunch or tea and a cookout with cousins and the number rounded out at five or six. As soon as she agreed to marry my Dad, a party with in-laws was added to the list.

Now Mom’s birthday generally falls right before Labor Day. So it is possible, just possible, that all these celebrations were nothing more than a last hurrah of summer. Just a few friends and family getting together for some last minute fun before back-to-school, back to the suburbs and back to reality. The long weekend is filled with cookouts and clambakes so it’s easy to throw in a cake and call it a birthday party. However, I would never dare suggest that all these galas over all these years were not expressly created for her … and so far, no one else would either.

Particularly this year. This year is not just any birthday. It is one of the big ones. This year, my mother turns eighty. Now I know that some will criticize; appalled that I share this information with the world. But I say, ridiculous! What’s with this old school notion that “one should never tell a lady’s age.” Heck, I’d shout it from the rooftop if I wasn’t afraid I’d slip and tumble off.

I think that it is absolutely marvelous that my mother has reached the august age of eighty. It is a magnificent milestone. She has raised three kids, spoiled a passel of grandchildren and survived fifty-nine years of marriage with never a harsh word. She has always been the heart and glue that has held our family together. She deserves praise, admiration and celebration, not secrecy.

As Mom’s special day rapidly approaches, multiple generations of Nyes are making plans. Pens are scratching and keyboards are clacking out tributes, toasts and poems. We are hopelessly considering the perfect gift for the girl who has everything. Sunshine and clear blue skies have been ordered and reservations have been made. We will celebrate in fine fashion and look forward to, well maybe not another eighty years, but at least another decade or two.

I hope that you celebrate your birthday every year. Whether you are young, ageless or somewhere in between, birthdays are a great way to celebrate life and a wonderful excuse for a party.

Bon appétit!

Lemon Cupcakes
It is a toss-up of whether to go with chocolate or lemon cake for my mother. Either way, cupcakes are a fun addition to any party. Decorate each cupcake with a perfect blueberry or raspberry and complete the picture with a spoonful of fresh fruit. Enjoy!
Makes 10-12 cupcakes

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3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) softened butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
1 egg
1 3/4 cup sifted flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat on high speed until smooth. Add the milk and beat on medium speed to combine.

Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Stir in lemon peel. Add to the butter mixture and combine.

Fill paper liners 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting and decorating.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest 1 lemon

About 4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, add the vanilla extract and lemon peel and combine

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One Year Ago – Couscous with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts  

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