Weekend Special – Coffee? Tea? Please Join Me

At a certain point, no matter how young or energetic, we all need to slow down. I think I’m rapidly approaching that point. The roller coaster of cold, thaw, rain, snow, more cold, more rain and another thaw has not helped. It’s time for a lazy morning or afternoon or both.

Call up a pal and invite him or her over for coffee or tea. Keep it simple. It’s all about the company. Light a fire, set out a basket of muffins or a plate of cookies and enjoy a good long chat. While I find baking relaxing, particularly the simple stuff like homey muffins and cookies, sometime you just want to curl up in a big armchair. So, a little hint here – a few times a year, I bake a double batch and freeze them.

Here are some of my favorite muffins –

Applesauce Muffins

Zucchini Muffins

Very Ginger Gingerbread Muffins

And some cozy cookies –

Apple Oatmeal Cookies

Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies

Root ’n’ Tooty Good ’n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies

So brew  a pot of your favorite coffee or tea, sit back and enjoy. For a special treat, you might like to try my Spiced Chai.

Relax and bon appétit!

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

How will you celebrate the New Year? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

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


Halloween on Pleasant Lake & Apple Oatmeal Cookies

What’s Halloween like in rural New Hampshire? Well except for the coyotes, pretty quiet. Yes, I know. There’s plenty going on up on Main Street. But nothing, zip, nada in my neighborhood. Down by Pleasant Lake, we’re a mix of year-round and summer people. By mid-October, most of the leaves have faded, it’s dark before six and more than half of houses are empty. We are not a hub of Halloween festivities, far from it.

It was summer and the neighborhood very busy when I moved into my house several years ago. Up until the Columbus Day, there was still a fair amount of weekend activity. That’s when the summer people closed up their cottages. About the same time, the snowbirds disappeared. That said, down at my end of the road, there were a few kids. Not many mind you but enough to know they were there. From time to time, I’d see them with their heavy backpacks on their way to or from the bus.

Knowing there were kids in the neighborhood, I dutifully bought a bag of fun-sized Milky Way®. About that name, what’s up with that? No not Milky Way, I get that. The candy bar was named after a milkshake. The milkshake was named after the galaxy. Why? Well, the story starts to get murky so that’s about all I can tell you.

No, the part I don’t get is why the teeny tiniest candy bars are called fun size. Where’s the fun in these one-bite wonders? Moreover, and please correct me if I’m wrong, those fun size bars seem to be shrinking every year. Who are the candy manufacturers trying to kid?

The fun moniker would be more appropriate for one of those supersized bars. I ask you, what’s more fun – a teeny tiny drop of chocolate or a big honkin’ bar? Come to think of it, a more fitting label might be fun-while-it-lasted. Eating one of those giant candies in one sitting is an invitation to a tummy-ache. But hey, you’re only a kid once.

All right, enough digressing, let’s get back to my Halloween preparations. Although I dutifully stocked up on miniature Milky Way® bars, I forgot to stop at the bank. So I went through every pocket and purse for loose change for Unicef. I put on my orange t-shirt, the one with the jack-o-lantern. I tasted a couple of the mini-chocolates. (Only a few, I needed to make sure they were safe for the children.) And I waited. Then, I waited some more. And some more. When it started raining, I figured that was that.

About eight-thirty, maybe nine o’clock, I was ready to turn off the outside lights and change out of my silly t-shirt. That’s when a car drove in the driveway. What’s with that, I thought. The parents on Jackson Road never chauffeured their kids around on Halloween. Rain, sleet or snow, we walked from house to house. However, I didn’t judge. Instead, I picked up my bowls of candy and coins and headed to the door.

Hands in his pockets, a hunched over middle schooler shuffled through the rain. He didn’t shout trick or treat and I was none too sure of his costume. However, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was going for subtlety – Clark Kent on casual Friday. Beyond the headlights, I could see the driver’s silhouette and maybe another person. On second thought, maybe it was a simple ploy by his nitwit older brothers to collect candy. You know – send in the kid. After helping himself to a handful of fun, the boy shuffled back to the car. He was my first, last and only trick or treater.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe they were lost or Russian spies trying to figure out this bizarre American custom. I’ll never know. Bon appétit!

Apple Cookies
Loaded with fruit, nuts and oatmeal, if you like you can pretend these cookies are good for you. Enjoy!
Makes about 5 dozen cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup instant oatmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and ginger
1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and allspice
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-2 apples, about 1 cup finely chopped or coarsely grated
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Set 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with silicon liners or parchment paper.

Put the flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and soda and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. Turn the mixer down to low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Fold in the apple, raisins, nuts and chocolate chips

Drop tablespoons of dough about 3 inches apart (a mini ice-cream scoop works great) onto the prepared baking sheets. If you like, you can flatten the cookies slightly with moistened fingers. Switching racks and turning the pans midway through baking, bake the cookies until they are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies set for a minute and then transfer to a rack to cool.

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

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

How many trick or treaters will be at your house on Halloween? Feel free to share!

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

What’s your Brand? & Chocolate-Hazelnut Bars

fabAlmost fifty years ago, Joe McGinnis wrote a book on the marketing and selling of Richard Nixon. At the time, the whole idea of branding a politician like a tube of toothpaste or a fast-food burger was revolutionary. It seemed more than a little strange. After all, we went to the polls to elect a president, not buy a can of soup.

For better or worse, we’ve come a long way. Throughout 2016, the pundits and newscasters talked a lot about the candidates’ brands. It didn’t shock or even surprise us. In fact, these branding discussions made sense. While a politician’s brand may be a simplistic measure, it gave us instant insight into his or her stance on a number of issues. Love him or hate him or something in between, our new president presented a brand that combined business success with brash, tell-it-like-it-is populism. Not everyone believed him but about sixty-three million voters bought into his brand.

But enough about politics; what about you? What’s your brand? And if you don’t know, how do you figure it out. (And, if you don’t like what you got; can you change it?)

Your personal brand combines what you do with how you do it. You’re not just a grandmother (among other things); you’re a fun loving and kind Nanna. You’re not just a plumber; you’re a trusted advisor when it comes to my pipes. Plus, you’re wicked cool and play a mean bass.

So, the first part is probably pretty easy. You know if you are a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. You’re probably a bunch of other things as well, Mom or Dad, golfer, gourmet cook, poet, painter or volunteer. Next, and more difficult, is to figure out the how. Are you thoroughly dependable, happy-go-lucky, creative or analytical?

This last part, the dependable or creative part; it stays with you at work and play. It doesn’t matter if you are working with colleagues and customers or hanging out with friends and family, your brand will shine through. Of course, you will tone it down or amp it up based on the circumstances but you is what you is. If you’re a nasty son-of-a-gun at the office, you’re probably just as nasty on the golf course.

So now you may be wondering, “Is this brand thing set in stone?” Is it possible that you could be stuck – forever – playing the nasty son-of-a-gun, class clown or prim miss. I’m optimistic. I think anyone can change. Just so long as you realize, when it comes to your personal brand, you have to change from the inside out. If you want to become a tough guy; you have to earn it. As I understand it, the tough guy brand requires, among other things, wearing shorts in the middle of winter, never being wrong and lifting weights.

A few weeks ago, I suggested kindness might be a good 2017 resolution. Maybe you’re willing to go so far as to adopt a new kinder brand. You need to beware, the kindness brand requires more than a few nice words. You actually have to become a nice person. Otherwise, people will see right through you. But don’t worry it’s not that difficult. After all, you don’t need to wear shorts in a blizzard or spend hours at the gym. Be positive, smile and, when in doubt, assume the best about people.

That should get you started. Bon appétit!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Bars
Every baker needs a few brownies and bars. Perhaps you’ll add this one to your repertoire. Enjoy!
Makes 24 bars

Shortbread Base
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, cut in small pieces

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

Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and process until small lumps form. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and firmly press into the bottom of the pan.

Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven until golden, 15-20 minutes.

While shortbread is baking, prepare the topping.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Topping
1 egg
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1 cup (6 ounces) roughly chopped hazelnuts
12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Put the egg, bourbon, vanilla and cream in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the brown sugar, honey and salt and whisk again until smooth. Stir in the hazelnuts.

Pour the nut mixture over the hot shortbread. Return the pan to the oven and bake until set, 15-20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle chopped chocolate evenly over the top. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute. Spread the melted chocolate over the top. Cool in the pan and cut into bars.

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One Year Ago – Whole Grain Pilaf
Two Years Ago – Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux (Cheese Tartlets with Sausage & Leeks)
Three Years Ago – Chicken, Sausage & Bean Ragù
Four Years Ago – Spicy Tequila Chicken Wings
Five Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Six Years Ago – Fettuccine with Escarole, Radicchio & Mushrooms
Seven Years Ago – Cassoulet
Eight Years Ago – Caribbean Fish Stew

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

What about you? What’s your brand? Feel free to share!

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

New Ride & Mini Chocolate-Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

I’m celebrating spring with a sweet, new ride. That said, since I brought my little car home, the weather has not been particularly spring-like. After an unseasonably warm winter, we’ve been plagued with repeated doses of what weather.com calls a wintery mix. Anyway, a few gray skies and icy drizzle can’t dampen my exuberance for my shiny new Mini Cooper. After all, this boxy two-door in British Racing Green (of course) is all about fun. With its moon roof for summer and heated seats for winter, it is nothing short of perfection.

Although it is not my first small car, it’s my first cool little car. I have always admired cool little cars. In fact, coveted might not be too strong a word. When I was a tween and teen, about half the college kids drove Volkswagen Beetles. I just knew that would-could-should be the car for me. The other half drove their grandmother’s old Chevy Novas.

Since I went to college about 100 miles north of the middle of nowhere, my dad agreed I needed a car to get back and forth. Nana Nye drove a Chevy Nova but, thankfully, was in perfectly good health. I suggested that I take Dad’s weekend car, a twenty-something year old Land Rover. In those days, men coming up from the suburbs to New Hampshire bought old Land Rovers or Jeeps with canvas tops. Now they buy pickup trucks. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the Land Rover would have been a man magnet and made me ever so popular with the rock climbers and skiers at school. Unfortunately, it couldn’t go much faster than thirty-five and spent more time in Kidder’s garage than it did on the road.

In the interest of safety or to avoid a rescue mission on the frozen tundra (I’m not sure which), Dad found an almost new, bright yellow Ford Pinto station wagon. The Pinto cost $1,500. Thanks to my summer waitressing job, that was every penny that I owned. Dad and I struck a deal. First, since the Land Rover had made one too many trips to Mr. Kidder’s, Dad agreed to sell it. The money would go towards the Pinto. It took all of ten minutes to find a buyer, probably another suburbanite. Dad had paid $500 for the blue beast and got the same back. I turned over $500 from my hard-earned tips and Dad chipped in the rest. It wasn’t a Beatle but it was bright yellow and not a Chevy Nova.

A few years later, I had my first gander at the Mini. Prince Charles had just announced that Lady Diana Spencer was not the love of his life but an appropriate choice for a wife. The press was all over her, trailing her comings and goings. Although it could be false, I have a distinct memory of the long legged, soon-to-be princess climbing in and out of a dark blue Mini. Move over VW Bug, I’d found a new car to covet.

By that time, the Pinto had gained fame for its deadly fuel system and was long gone. It was replaced by Mom’s old Firebird. Although decidedly more flashy, the Firebird had definitely seen better days. It was a simple question of sooner or later. When exhaust started streaming into the car through the air conditioning vents, sooner or later became NOW.

So, you wonder, did I buy a Mini? I might have but they weren’t available in the US. It had something to do with emission standards or some pesky nonsense that had nothing to do with being cool. Instead, I bought a boxy little Honda. It was the antithesis of flashy and never claimed to be cool. Best described as trustworthy, the Honda could haul a passenger or three plus skis, bikes and bags from here to there and back again.

Well enough practicality, finally, all these years and four Hondas later, I have my Mini.

Happy trails and bon appétit!

Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies
Whether you have a new car this spring or not, with warmer weather and sunshine (let’s hope!), it’s time to make whoopie! Enjoy!
Makes 20-30 whoopie pies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon espresso powder or instant coffee
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Peanut Butter Filling (recipe follows)

Arrange the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats.

Put the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda and powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg, sour cream and vanilla and beat on medium speed until well combined.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Using a 2-teaspoon or 1-tablespoon scoop or spoon, drop dollops of batter onto each baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cakes. Bake the cakes for about 6 minutes or until springy to touch. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer to racks to cool completely. Repeat using the remaining batter.

Using a spoon or pastry bag, drop a generous dollop of Peanut Butter Filling on half of the cakes and top with the remaining cakes.

Peanut Butter Filling
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup smooth peanut butter
About 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Put the cream cheese, butter and peanut butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the powdered sugar. Increase the mixer speed and beat until smooth.

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One Year Ago – Tiramisu
Two Years Ago – Grilled Lamb Chops with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce
Three Years Ago – Confetti Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Four Years Ago – Magret de Canard Provencal
Five Years Ago – Strawberry & White Chocolate Fool Parfaits
Six Years Ago – Grilled Lamb & Lemon Roasted Potatoes
Seven Years Ago – Spicy Olives

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

What your good news this spring? Feel free to share!

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

In the Spirit & Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies

 Once Thanksgiving has come and gone, it’s time to get in the Christmas spirit. Depending on what else is going on … well, getting in the spirit can be a snap or close to impossible. We’ve all had those times when suddenly it is Christmas Eve. Where did the time go? Why is the tree still in the garage? What happened to that wreath I bought the day after Thanksgiving? The stockings haven’t been hung by the chimney with care. And oh my gosh, I still have to wrap the presents or bigger gosh … I haven’t even bought them yet!

If you are having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, here are a few tricks:

1. Get an advent calendar. Make sure it’s the kind with a chocolate behind every door. As the days lead up to Christmas, the calendar will help you keep track of time. The chocolate will give you a lift on a cold winter day.

2. Bake cookies. An afternoon of warm, sugary aromas will take you back to your childhood; baking with Mom and Nana. Nothing says Christmas memories like a batch of cookies.

3. Deck the halls and trim the tree. Spend a Saturday or Sunday pulling out the nutcrackers and filing bowls with shiny, glass ornaments. The smell of the tree and the greens on the mantle will blend beautifully with the cookies.

4. Check out the lights. A drive through the town to see the lights is a time-honored tradition in my family. Every town has their prime spots for decorations. Perhaps it’s Main Street where the Inn, is all done up in shining glory. Or that junction with the post office and community center. Take your pick and enjoy.

5. Make a gift. Knit a scarf, roast some nuts or decorate a tote bag. Psychologist tell us that creating and giving a special present brings joy to the gifter as well as the recipient. It really is more fun to give than receive.

6. Host a Christmas movie marathon. Pop some popcorn and settle in with Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby and/or Tim Allen for a relaxing good time. If you think you don’t have time for a Christmas movie, you can knit or wrap presents while you watch.

7. Play Christmas carols. Whether it’s your favorite radio station in the car, a stack of CD’s you’ve been collecting for years or Pandora … have yourself a merry little musical time.

8. Re-read a Christmas classic. Dickens or Seuss or something else entirely, an old favorite will fill you with the joy of the season. Share that story by reading aloud to an elderly loved one with failing eyesight. Or ask a child who loves books to read it to you.

9. See a holiday spectacular. You don’t need to go to New York to see the Rockettes. (Although a trip to the Big Apple could be fun!) You’ll find Christmas revels, dancing nutcrackers and great concerts much closer to home. From a sing along at your local church to something a bit more professional at a nearby arts center, there are holiday performances everywhere.

10. Invite friends over. No one says it has to be a big, fancy do. Host a cookie swap or a skating party, sing a few carols and sip hot chocolate or something stronger.

Have fun and enjoy the spirit of the holidays! Bon appétit!

Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies
sugar_cookies_03These aren’t your same old-same old sugar cookies. They are buttery delicious with just the right touch of citrus and spice. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Grated zest of 1/2 lime
Grated zest of 1/3 orange
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Pinch nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon each lemon, lime and orange juice
Sanding or colored sugars or Citrus Icing (optional)
Garnish: sprinkles, chocolate chips, candies or colored sugars (optional)

Put the flour, grated citrus zest and spices in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the brown sugar and beat 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.

Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the dry ingredients. Divide the dough into a 2 balls and then flatten into disks. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.

Evenly space the racks in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Put the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough and cut into cookies with decorative cutters. Transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined or nonstick baking sheet. Press excess dough together, roll and cut more cookies. You may want to stick the dough in the freezer for a few minutes to re-chill it.

If you like, sprinkle the cookies with sanding or colored sugar before baking. Bake until the cookies’ edges are golden, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Ice the cookies with Citrus Icing and decorate with sprinkles, chocolate chips or candies. Let sit until the icing sets, about 30 minutes.

Citrus Icing
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered eggs whites or meringue powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
4 – 6 tablespoons mix of lemon, lime and orange juices
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted (optional)
Food coloring (optional)

Put the confectioners’ sugar in a medium mixing bowl, add the powdered eggs, cinnamon and salt and whisk to combine. Whisk in the citrus juices until the icing reaches the desired consistency for painting, piping or drizzling. Whisk in the melted butter.

Transfer the icing to small bowls and add drops of different color food coloring.

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One Year Ago – Peppermint Bark Cookies
Two Years Ago – Mixed Reds & Greens Holiday Salad
Three Years Ago – Snowy Pecan Balls
Four Years Ago – Chocolate Truffles
Five Years Ago – Smoked Salmon Mousse
Six Years Ago – Roasted Beans
Seven Years Ago – Winter Soup with Pasta, Beans & Greens
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, 2015

Happy Halloween! & Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

skeleton_03The other day I was shocked, yes shocked. I was chatting with a couple of women and they both agreed that they hated Halloween. Hated Halloween!?! From my first go at trick-or-treating on Mary Ann Lane to this day, I love Halloween and I will love it tomorrow and beyond infinity.

What’s not to love? When you’re a kid, you get to dress up and run around outside in the dark. All the mothers in the neighborhood give you candy and tell you how scary, cute, pretty or heroic you look. It doesn’t matter that your mom tosses at least half of your candy in the trash when you’re at school. Okay, maybe it matters just a little. Filled with sweet memories, Halloween is a wonderful adventure.

And when you’re a grownup (I’ve heard that happens to some people), you get to dress up and have fun with your friends until the wee hours. There is little if any candy but lots of dancing, hooting and hollering. Someone usually makes a big bowl of purple or green punch. If they are clever, they’ll add some dry ice and call it witch’s brew. Proceed with caution. More often than not, these concoctions are powerful stuff; hence the dancing, hooting and hollering.

So with all it has to offer, why do these women hate Halloween? While it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, most of the aversion centered on finding a costume. Words like pressure and competition were bandied about. In addition, these ladies weren’t looking forward to the thirty-seven pounds of candy that their kids bring home.

Admittedly, I get the candy thing; but the costume thing? Nope, not at all. Halloween shouldn’t competitive. There is more than enough rivalry in the world and no need to add Halloween to the mix. Dressing up should be fun. A costume lets you try on a different persona for a while. It’s an opportunity to be devilish, heroic, sultry, silly or just plain wicked.

In addition to fun, Halloween costumes should be easy. Life is too busy to spend days on your ensemble. A pair of jeans, a t-shirt and that ancient leather jacket that you bought during your junior year in Rome add up to James Dean or Marlon Brando. A sheet, some ivy from the garden and you can take your pick: noble Roman or animal house Greek. A slim and slinky black dress and gloves, a tiara and pearls and it’s breakfast at Tiffany’s. Some spray paint on an old pitchfork plus a little red dress, tights and shoes and you’re a devil in the making. Horns from the party store will finish the look.witches_hat_02Like Garanimals, you can mix, match and reconfigure your costumes. Skip the tiara and pearls, add a cape and a pointed hat for a wonderfully wicked witch. Swap out your devil’s pitchfork and horns for a cape and mask you’re a superhero. I have a thing for capes at Halloween, so as far as I’m concerned any excuse is a good excuse to wear one.

Whether you buy or make your costumes, it’s okay to wear them more than once. Unless you’re one of those A-list, red carpet movie stars, I doubt anyone will notice. Witch, devil, black cat; keep one or more handy in the back of your closet. Even if you are an A-list, red carpet movie star, the classics never go out of style.

Stay home and pass out candy, roam the neighborhood with your kids or make whoopee until the wee hours – whatever you do, be sure to try on a fun and festive, new you.

Have a spooktacular Halloween and bon appétit!

Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
A New England classic, whoopie pies are the perfect fall treat. Enjoy!
Makes about 3 dozen mini (or 1 dozen regular) whoopie piespumpkin_whoopie_pies_04

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (15 ounce can) pure pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon rum

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper.

Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and brown sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the pumpkin, egg, maple syrup and rum and beat until well combined. Mixing well after each addition, add the dry ingredients in two batches.

Leaving about 2-inches between each cake, use a 2-teaspoon ice cream scoop to drop batter onto the baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees until the cakes are firm, about 7 minutes. (Alternatively, use a 1-ounce scoop and bake for about 15 minutes.) Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, transfer to a rack and cool completely.

Spread a dollop of filling on the bottoms of half of the cakes, top with a second cake and serve. Can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated for 2-3 days. Serve at room temperature.

Spiced Cream Cheese Filling
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
Pinch salt
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon rum

Sift the confectioners’ sugar and spices together into a bowl. Set aside.

Put the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the maple syrup and rum and beat until smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until incorporated. Increase the mixer speed and continue beating until creamy.

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One Year Ago – Pumpkin Spice Cookies
Two Year Ago – Chicken in Every Pot
Three Years Ago – Roasted Carrots & Pearl Onions
Four Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Five Years Ago – Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions
Six Years Ago – Mexican Chicken Soup

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

Have you got your costume ready? What will you be for Halloween? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

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

Death of the Cupcake & Almond Macarons with Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache

coconut_cupcake_02About a month ago, the New York Times declared the cupcake dead, gone and all but forgotten. Say it isn’t so! How could America walk away from a sweet little dessert that is both delicious and adorable? And to top it off, imagine the potential for embarrassment! Just as the Big Apple was announcing the end of the birthday party as we know it, I was lining up red, white and blue cupcakes for a Fourth of July bash.

Living in New Hampshire rarely puts you close to the cutting edge of, well, more or less anything. Food trends, technology trends, fashion trends, it’s been a while since northern New England led the groundbreaking way. Of course, the alarm clock was invented in New Hampshire in 1787 and Maine gave us both Bean boots and lobster rolls.

Not that I’m complaining. Living off the edge gives you the sublime freedom to explore and be exactly who you are. However, devotees of the now passé cupcake deserve alternatives. So, all you fancy-pants New York writers … what do you suggest? You can’t shout nay and then walk away.

First on the next or now food fad list is probably kale. While delicious, these hardy greens are hardly birthday material. After working up an appetite with pin the tail on the donkey, most boys and girls are not begging for a tall, cool glass of kale juice.

Then comes quinoa. Nutty, chewy and loaded with protein, quinoa is both tasty and good for you. I even served it at a birthday dinner last spring. But not for dessert. Quinoa may start to pop up on menus from here to eternity but, no, it will not take over where the cupcake left off.

Cronuts? Whoopie pies? Macarons? They’ve all been heralded as the next worth-standing-in-line-for-two-hours treat. Let’s take them one at a time.

With a registered trademark and warning to beware of imitations, the cronut is doing its best to remain a uniquely New York treat. By all accounts, it is worth the trip but it’s been a while since I had cause to visit New York. I’m still not convinced that a donut-croissant hybrid is enough of a reason to jump on the train. Besides, when it comes to standing in line for an hour or more, well, better you than me.

Since they were invented in Maine, whoopie pies are easy to find (at least in New England). They are piled high in sweet pyramids in bakery windows, at farmers’ markets and farm stands. Moreover, they’re not particularly difficult to make and come in a variety of flavors. Unfortunately, in spite of their fun and funny name, they are nowhere near as pretty as a cupcake.

Lavender-Infused-White-Chocolate_Mousse_Macaron_03And finally, the macaron. Born in France and not to be confused with a macaroon, macarons are light and airy meringue cookies. (Macaroons are also tasty but moister, denser and made with coconut.) These French confections are tricky but nowhere near impossible to make and are definitely worth the effort. As long as you don’t bake them on a damp, humid or rainy day, you shouldn’t have any trouble. By themselves or with a luscious dab of mousse and a few berries, macaron are definitely birthday party worthy.

So, while I don’t intend to give up cupcakes anytime soon, a batch of macaron sounds delightful right about now. Bon appétit!

Almond Macarons with Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache
macaron_01These delicate cookies are crisp on the outside, slightly chewy inside. They are worthy of any celebration, be it a birthday dinner or end-of-summer afternoon tea with an old friend. Enjoy!
Makes about 16 cookies

3 ounces whole almonds or 3/4 cup almond flour
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache (recipe follows)

Put the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.

Put the almonds and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

Put the egg whites and salt in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on medium, gradually add the granulated sugar and vanilla. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.

In 2 batches, gently fold the almond mixture into the egg whites until just combined.

Use a pastry bag with a large tip to drop quarter-sized rounds about 1 inch apart onto the prepared pans. Alternatively, use a small (1 1/2-2-teaspoon) scoop to measure out small mounds and place about 2 inches apart on the pans. If necessary, smooth the tops with a wet fingertip. Let the macarons sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before baking.

Bake at 325 degrees, switching and turning the pans halfway through, for 10-15 minutes or until the macarons are puffed and tops appear dry.

Cool the macarons in the pan for 10 minutes before transfering to a rack to cool completely. Spread ganache on half of the cookies, top with the remaining halves to make little sandwiches and gently press together.

If you are not going to eat all the cookies the day you make them, store extras before filling in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

For a razzle-dazzle presentation, tint the macarons pink with gel food coloring. Or use blueberry jam or orange marmalade and Grand Marnier in the ganache and tint the cookies blue or orange. Alternatively, you can fill the cookies with lemon, orange or lime curd, buttercream or jam and tint them to match. The possibilities are endless.

Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
1 teaspoon Framboise
Pinch salt
About 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
About 2 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

While the macarons bake, combine the cream, jam, Framboise and salt in a small heavy saucepan. Add the chocolate and heat on low until the chocolate just starts to melt. Remove from the heat, let sit for a few minutes and then whisk until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

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Six Years Ago – Summer RollsOr Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

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