Merry Christmas Mom & Bûche de Noël

mom_xmas_11My mother loved Christmas. As far as I can figure, she loved everything about it. She loved decorating the house, shopping for her family and gathering that family around her. Not too long ago, Mom lost her long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. Her battle gear was her beautiful smile, her infectious laugh and, most important, her kind heart.

I will keep my mother in my heart at Christmas and throughout the year with memories and stories. Here are some of my favorite images of Mom at Christmas:

Baking cookies. I’m sure that other mothers on Jackson Road baked dozens and dozens of cookies in a multitude of varieties. At our house, Mom, my sister Brenda and I rolled out and baked a batch of sugar cookies. If one existed at the time, we probably made them from a mix. We did not turn out a cornucopia of magnificent cookies but the afternoon was filled with laughter and singing. What Mom lacked in enthusiasm for baking, she made up in her enthusiasm for life.

Tree shopping. Mom was quite particular about our Christmas tree. Most years we went tree shopping as a family. The year my brother John was born, she decided to stay home with the baby. She entrusted this critical task to her husband and two little girls. The three of us bought and returned not one tree but two before she gave up. She bundled Johnny into his snowsuit and back we went to the garden shop. She perused, she studied, rejected and perused some more, until, she did indeed find the perfect tree.

The annual lights tour. Dad strung lights in and around the rhododendrons and Mom hung a wreath with a big red bow on the front door. As displays go it was pretty simple; no sleighs on the roof or flashing lights. For that, the Nye family jumped in the car for a rambling tour of the neighborhood. A week or two before Christmas, usually on a Sunday evening, we would twist and turn down one street and then another in search of spectacular lights. Without a doubt, Mom was the world’s best audience. I can still hear her enthusiastic oohs and aahs.

Santa_bookChristmas story time. In early December, Mom pulled out The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to read to Brenda and me. Worn from countless readings, my mother was a tiny girl when Santa left the book under her tree. Its sixteen wonderful chapters chronicle the life of Nicholas the Woodcarver. The story is filled with love, kindness and generosity. It will make you cry, make you smile and fill you with goodwill. At five, I was convinced that it was all true. I still am.

Lipstick and coffee. We were that family. On Christmas morning, our lights were on before the sun began to think about rising. In spite of or maybe because of our predawn start, Mom insisted on two things – lipstick and coffee. Hopping from one foot to the next, we impatiently waited for Dad to make the coffee and Mom to put on her bright red lipstick. It seemed like forever but, finally, we could pile down the stairs.

Dancing with delight. Bows flew, paper ripped and tags were lost. Finally, it was Mom’s turn and Dad handed her an enormous box. She tore in (we were not a save-the-paper family) and let out shriek. Inside, swathed in a thick layer of tissue was a mink stole from Alfred M. Alexander Furs of Boston. It was another time, before it was politically incorrect to wear fur. Mom immediately pulled it from the box, threw it over her shoulders and danced around the living room – red lipstick, bathrobe, slippers, mink stole and all.

I wish you a holiday season filled with peace and wonderful memories. Bon appétit!

Bûche de Noël
I baked my first Bûche de Noël in high school. With little interest in baking, Mom limited her participation to wholehearted encouragement and enthusiastic appreciation. Enjoy!
Serves 12buche_de_noel_06

Parchment paper, butter and flour for the pan
2-3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
White Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)
Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 15-1/2×10-1/2×1-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. Sprinkle a clean dishtowel with 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder.

Beat the egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form, gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Beat the egg yolks and vanilla in bowl on medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat for 2 minutes more.

Put the remaining cocoa into a bowl, add the flour, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk to combine.

Add half the dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture and beat on low speed to combine. Add the orange juice and beat until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until smooth.

Add 1/4 of the egg whites to the batter and stir to combine. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the bather. Evenly spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake the cake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched in the center. Carefully invert the cake onto the prepared towel and peel off the parchment paper. Immediately roll the warm cake and towel from the narrow end and cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake cools, make the White Chocolate Frosting.

Carefully unroll the cooled cake and remove the towel. Spread White Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cake, leaving a 1-inch border on all edges. Reroll the cake, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

While the cake sets, make the Chocolate Cream Frosting.

Use a serrated knife to cut a 1-2 inch slice of cake from one end. Arrange the cake, seam side down, on a platter. Spread Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cut side of the slice and place it frosting side down on the log. Cover the cake with frosting. Smooth the frosting on the ends and then use a fork to draw concentric circles. Use a spatula or fork to create a bark-like texture on the rest of the cake.

The cake can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving.

White Chocolate Cream Frosting
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
Pinch salt
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the cream, orange zest and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat until it is almost a simmer. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the Grand Marnier and vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until cold.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

Chocolate Cream Frosting
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces dark chocolate (or a 50/50 mix of dark and milk) chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and salt in a heavy saucepan and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the cream. Whisking frequently, heat the cream over low heat until it is almost a simmer and the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beets with Sautéed Greens
One Year Ago – Very Ginger Gingerbread Muffins
Two Years Ago – Ginger Shortbread
Three Years Ago – Baked French Toast
Four Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Five Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes
Six Years Ago – Savory Bread Pudding
Seven Years Ago – Triple Chocolate Parfait

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

What about you? What are your favorite family traditions? Feel free to share!

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

Columbus Day Weekend & Cardamom Plum Tort

Elkins_Dam_Foliage_02The Columbus Day weekend is just days away. Although Columbus Day is a federal holiday, less than half the states celebrate and many companies treat it like any other Monday. As far as I can figure, Columbus Day has lost some of its luster. I could be wrong but the holiday seems to have regressed into not much more than a good excuse to buy a cheap mattress or shoes at a big discount.

Whoa bucko, let’s be careful there. Let’s not go disparaging Columbus Day. That goes double if your company gives you the day off or you’re married to an Italian. Columbus Day was a hard fought holiday. Although it was first celebrated in 1792, Columbus Day did not become a federal holiday until 1937. President Roosevelt’s proclamation was largely due to the tireless lobbying of the Knights of Columbus and Italian-Americans.

Admittedly, Columbus Day is fraught with controversy. From all or at least most accounts, Columbus was a nasty guy. His treatment of the indigenous people he met in the Caribbean as well as his crew was atrocious. Many cities and even a few states have changed the name and focus of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day, Native American Day or Discovery Day. I’m good with that. Let’s settle this controversy quick because early to mid-October is a wonderful time for a long weekend.

For one thing, it’s still warm or at least warmish. Whether you want to march in or watch a parade, go for a marathon bike ride or visit a pumpkin patch, you can do it without dressing up like the Michelin man. For another, the leaves are starting to turn. No one but no one does fall foliage like New Hampshire.

Of course this year, we’ll have to contend with more than a few politicians making the rounds. With the election just weeks away, they’ll be at parades and harvest festivals. One or two might even show up in a pumpkin patch. I doubt any will make the mistake of checking out a corn maze. There’s too much at stake to risk the indignity of getting lost in a field of corn. Instead, the pols will be offering up sound bites, shaking hands and kissing babies. Let’s hope that the endless grind of campaigning doesn’t get the better of them. Heaven forbid someone starts biting hands and shaking babies.

For anyone living in New Hampshire, Columbus Day is a reminder that cold weather is coming and coming soon. As a midpoint between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, it is a good time to get your fall To-Do list together. Besides tracking down pumpkins, it’s not a bad idea to put the kayak away, run the weed-wacker around the garden and maybe plant some bulbs. While the long weekend is not a hard and fast deadline for these chores, I suspect we are all starting to feel the looming threat of an early snowfall. Those first flakes may not be hours or days away but the state is famous for Halloween ice and snow.

Regardless of how you spend the day, biking, weed-wacking or shopping, you’ll want to end it with a great meal. Both the holiday and the harvest can inspire you. Let your taste buds travel around the world and back again. After all, Columbus was from Italy and he was trying to get to the Far East when he landed in the Bahamas. Take your pick of any of these great cuisines or mix it up.

Have a fabulous weekend and bon appétit!

Cardamom Plum Tort
This melting pot dessert combines plums from Italy and cardamom from India. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Butter and flour for the pan
1 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
10-12 Italian prune plums or other purple plums
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a deep dish pie plate.

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

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Cut the plums in half lengthwise, remove the pits and quarter, again lengthwise. Put the plums in a bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to combine. Add a little sugar if the plums are particularly tart.

Arrange the plums skin side up in concentric circles on top of the batter. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm, plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Easy Microwave Popcorn
Two Years Ago – Bruschetta with Fresh Tomatoes, Goat Cheese & Pesto Oil
Three Years Ago – Lemon Pasta & Shrimp with Olives & Capers
Four Years Ago – Roasted Sausages with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Rabe & Polenta
Five Years Ago – Lobster Mac & Cheese
Six Years Ago – Sausage, Kale & Potato Soup
Seven Years Ago – Soupe au Pistou
Eight Years Ago – Mulled Cider

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

How will you spend the long holiday weekend? Feel free to share.

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

Welcome Autumn & Applesauce Cake with Brown Butter Icing

Fall_Early_Morning_Pleasant_Lake_03Thursday is the first day of autumn. While winter often feels interminable, summer is fleeting in New Hampshire. Spring can best summed up in two ugly words: mud and blackflies. On the other hand, autumn is our shining glory. Fall is a great time to be a tourist in your own town and state.

Not sure how to go about being a tourist at home? Here are a few suggestions:

Climb a mountain – or a hill if you prefer. Enjoy our beautiful foliage up close and personal. Stay close to home or try one of the mighty 4,000-Footers. You are sure to discover all sorts of interesting flora and, perhaps, some fauna as well.

Pick some apples – Fall and apples, the two just go together. Pick a bushel or a peck; you’ll want plenty for applesauce, apple cake, pie, crisp, pancakes, muffins … apple just about everything!

Take a covered bridge tour – With a grand total of fifty-four, there are lots of bridges to choose from. Whether you decide to see them all or a just a few, they are an interesting part of our architectural and engineering history. (Besides, many are located near excellent restaurants and/or superb ice cream parlors.)

Visit a country fair – Has it been years (or never) since you admired a prize pig or giant pumpkin? Don’t worry; the fair season is not over yet. There is still plenty of time to enjoy this age-old tradition.

Take in a festival – Then again, maybe craft beers or an excellent chili is more to your liking. If that’s the case, bring your appetite to one of the many festive, fall, foodie events around the state.

One last swim? – Mornings are chilly but the lake is still surprisingly warm. This combination of warm and cold creates a thick layer of fog. When the rising sun starts to burn through the mist, the lake is magical.

Well, maybe just one last paddle – If you’ve put your speedo away for the season, you might want to tour the lake in your canoe, kayak or standup paddleboard.

Hit the outlets – Our outlet shopping is world famous. Whether you desperately need a new pair of warm boots for winter or desperately deserve a gorgeous cashmere sweater, you’ll find it all at the outlets … at bargain prices!

Learn some history – Enjoy the sunshine and a little of our past at one of New Hampshire’s historic villages. Interested in rural life? Stroll through the grounds of the New London Historical Society or Muster Field Farm. Want to learn more about the Shakers? Head to Enfield or Canterbury.

Visit the farmers market – You still have a few weeks to meet some modern day farmers at one of the local markets. While you’re there, pick out a pumpkin, stock up on squash and Brussels sprouts and enjoy the last of the corn.

Have a fabulous fall and bon appétit!

Applesauce Cake with Brown Butter Icing
Who knows? This tasty cake may become your new fall favorite. Enjoy!
12-16 servings

Butter and flour for the pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup homemade or unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
Brown Butter Icing (recipe follows)
Garnish: vanilla or ginger ice cream

Set the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom of with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust the pan with flour and tap out any excess.

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

Put the butter and brown sugar in large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat on high speed until smooth.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the flour mixture in 2 batches and mix until just combined. Add the applesauce and mix until just combined. Fold in the walnuts and raisins and pour into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan onto a wire rack. Carefully remove the springform collar. If you like, you can flip the cake, remove the springform base and parchment paper and then flip the cake onto a platter. If all that flipping makes you nervous, slide the cake with the springform base onto a platter.

Spread the Brown Butter Icing onto the top of the cake and let it drip down the sides. Serve at room temperature with a scoop of ice cream.

Brown Butter Icing
4 tablespoons butter
About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 or more tablespoons sour cream

Put the butter in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

While the butter bubbles, sift the confectioners’ sugar and spices together.

Leaving any burned bits behind, pour the brown butter over the sugar and spices, add the vanilla and 1 tablespoon sour cream and whisk until smooth. A little at a time, add more sour cream if necessary. The icing should be thick and smooth but a little runny so it will drip down the sides of the cake. Cool for 5 minutes and then use immediately.

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One Year Ago – Applesauce Scones
Two Years Ago – Roasted Beet Tatin with Goat Cheese & Walnuts
Three Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Four Years Ago – Chicken Parmagiana with Spaghetti Marinara
Five Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc
Six Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Soup
Seven Years Ago – Rustic Apple Tart
Eight Years Ago – Oktoberfest Sausages & Sauerkraut

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

How will you vacation in your hometown? Feel free to share.

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

How to Spend Independence Day in a Small Town & Berry Flag Cake

JC_FlagFrom sea to shining sea, cities and towns will be vying for our attention this coming weekend. What better place to spend the long Independence Day Weekend than Tucson, Chicago, Boston or New York. I’m going to take that as a question and not a rhetorical one. My answer: “None of the above.” The best place to spend the Fourth of July is in a small town. If you can manage it, I’d seriously recommend you fine-tune that down to a small town in New Hampshire. After all, it is the live free or die state.

Forget the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Relax and enjoy a country holiday:

Between the sun streaming through the skylight and the birds tweeting, I generally wake early in the summer. As I see it, I have two choices. (Perhaps you have more but I’ve narrowed it down to two.) I can get up and slowly ease into the day with a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin. It’s a red, white and blue weekend, hence blueberry. Or I can head right out the door for a cool morning walk or bike ride. I’ll still get the coffee and muffin, just later rather than sooner.

Midmorning, it’s time for a trip to the farm stand or the farmers’ market. Unless I stocked up the day before, then I might whip up another batch of muffins or bake a coffeecake. When you live in a beautiful place, people tend to visit on holiday weekends. It’s good to be prepared.

Next, I can take it easy and enjoy lunch under a tree at that café I like or belly up to the counter at the local diner. There’s a pretty good chance that the server will know me, if not by name then maybe by face or reputation. Then again, I don’t want that beautiful produce I just bought to go to waste. Perhaps, I’ll toss up a salad and have a leisurely lunch on the porch. Then again, a picnic at the beach sounds pretty good. Decisions, decisions.

Many small towns are almost famous for their Fourth of July parades. Kids attach playing cards to their bicycle spokes and clickety–clack along, veterans march, tutu-wearing dogs look embarrassed, the high school band performs and kids on unicycles amaze. For those of us with a lake nearby, the parade moves onto the water. Instead of unicycles, costumed captains and mates slowly cruise along the shore. There are no bands but flags fly and streamers waft in the breeze.

Speaking of boat parades, a beach on one of New Hampshire’s lakes is the perfect place to spend a holiday afternoon. After the parade, it’s time for an adventure in my kayak. Perhaps you’d prefer a little water skiing or a sail.

Next, who needs a fancy, downtown restaurant when you can enjoy a country cookout with family and friends? Our family tends to go all-American on the Fourth with burgers and dogs on the grill and a couple of salads (including red, white and blue potato salad). Top it off with a spectacular, stars and stripes dessert for a perfect and perfectly delicious patriotic feast.

And finally, out-of-staters will tell you that the best part of a live free or die Independence Day Weekend are the fireworks. Okay, so our public displays can’t necessarily compete with the grandeur of a big-time, big-city extravaganza. But, and it’s a big BUT, any Tom, Dick or Harry can buy fireworks in New Hampshire. Make sure you have the first aid kit and fire extinguisher ready!

Let the fun begin and bon appétit!

Berry Flag Cake
A deliciously patriotic dessert for the long holiday weekend! Enjoy!
Serves 8-12
Flag_Cake_01

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
4 tablespoons Grand Marnier or freshly squeezed orange juice
About 1 1/2 cups Lemon Curd (recipe follows)
1 cup very cold heavy cream
About 24 crisp ladyfinger cookies
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 quart strawberries, halved plus more to pass
1 cup blueberries, plus more to pass

Put the cream cheese and 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. With the mixer running, slowly add the Lemon Curd in large dollops, incorporating each spoonful before adding another. Set aside.

Clean the beaters and beat the heavy cream with the electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese and Lemon Curd mixture.

Arrange the cookies in a single layer in the bottom of 9 x13-inch glass or ceramic pan. Combine the orange juice with the remaining Grand Marnier and drizzle over the cookies. Spread the creamy topping over the cookies. Cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, overnight is best.

To serve: line up the blueberries in a 3-inch square in the top corner of the cake. Create stripes with the strawberries. Let everyone admire your flag before spooning the cake into individual bowls and serve with more strawberries and blueberries.

Lemon Curd
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

6 large egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cold and cut into small pieces

Create an ice bath by setting a small bowl in a larger bowl and surrounding it with ice and water.

Put the yolks, juice and sugar in a small, heavy saucepan and whisk to combine. Set over low heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the curd reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the pan from heat, add the butter a few pieces at a time and whisk until incorporated. Pass the curd through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl set in the ice bath. Add the lemon zest and, stirring frequently, cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

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One Year Ago – A Hint of Asia Barbecue Chicken or Pork
Two Years Ago – Potato Salad Niçoise
Three Years Ago – Grilled Scallop & Asparagus Salad
Four Years Ago – Watermelon & Feta Salad
Five Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Six Years Ago – Mediterranean Shrimp
Seven Years Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

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

How will you celebrate the long holiday weekendt? Feel free to share.

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

Belated Birthday Present & Flourless Chocolate Cake

Mom_JohnnyTomorrow is my birthday. Before you get all excited and plan a surprise (although, who am I to stop you), it’s not one of the big ones. I’m not entering a new decade or even a half-decade. Now, if my birthday is tomorrow, then my brother’s is not far off. I had just turned seven when John joined the family. He was a few weeks early, but lucky for me, he arrived after, not during, my birthday party.

Children’s birthday parties have changed quite a bit since I was seven. We passed from one year to the next without bouncy castles, magicians or adventure parks. When it came to fun and games, pin the tail on the donkey was more or less it. PB&Js and fluffernutters were as haut as the cuisine got. The cakes were homemade or, in our house, homemade with the help of Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. The ice cream came in little paper cups with wooden spoons that looked a lot like mini tongue depressors.

All of that changed the year I turned seven. With Mom ready to pop, Dad magnanimously offered to take my birthday party to the movies. The Community Playhouse showed a children’s film on Saturday mornings. What could be better? Or easier? My birthday fell on a Friday that year so the celebrations were postponed a day.

Although he was clearly over his head, Dad somehow managed to get seven little girls in party dresses into the family station wagon and a few miles down the road to the theater. Even more miraculous, he singlehandedly secured a box of Junior Mints or Milk Duds and a seat for each of us. Exhausted by the effort, I assume he napped through the film that might or might not have been 101 Dalmatians. I seem to remember seeing Cruella and the puppies at about that time.

After the movie, the house lights jolted Dad awake and he herded us out to the parking lot and into the car. As far as I know, he didn’t lose anyone. After a quick stop at the house to pick up Mom, we headed out to Route 9. While Mom had been happy to let Dad take us to the movies, she was pretty sure that lunch with seven seven-year olds was beyond his pay grade. Okay, make that six seven-year olds; my older sister was part of the party. Regardless of whatever tests of skill or smarts Dad had already mastered, Mom knew that a gaggle of giggling girls could easily take him down. At nine, Brenda might have been a cool number and more than a bit bossy but she and Dad were outnumbered.

With Mom now firmly in charge, we burst into the lobby of Valle’s Steakhouse. The site of countless celebrations, Valle’s was the backdrop for part two of the festivities. Unheard of on Jackson Road, this birthday party was going out for lunch! To a restaurant!

True to form, no sooner had we sat down but all or most of us needed a trip to the ladies room. With her enormous belly pushing us along, Mom guided us through the cavernous dining room. As we chatted and giggled, took our turns, washed our hands and giggled and chatted some more, a kind (and kind of mischievous) woman looked over at Mom and said, “I hope for your sake that this next one’s a boy.”

My brother was born a few days later. It was still dark out when Brenda nudged me awake with the news. She was obviously very excited and asked me if I was too. I told her no, rolled over and went back to sleep. Some children would have welcomed him as a belated birthday present; not me. Yes, his imminent arrival had given me the fanciest party in the neighborhood but that couldn’t make up for two simple facts. He stole my bedroom and made me a middle child.

Bon appétit!

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Big or not, don’t all birthdays call for cake? Enjoy!
Serves 12-16

9 tablespoons butter plus more for the pan
10 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 large eggs, at room temperature and separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cognac
Pinch salt
Garnish: heavy cream, lightly sweetened or not and whipped to soft peaks

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper. Wrap the pan in two layers of heavy aluminum foil.

Put the chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan and, stirring frequently, heat on very low until about 2/3 melted. Remove the pan from the heat, let sit for a few minutes and stir until smooth. Stir in the expresso powder and cinnamon and set aside to cool slightly.

Put the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and frothy. Beat in the vanilla and cognac. Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks and sugar.

Clean the electric mixer’s beaters and beat the egg whites and salt until thick. Add remaining the sugar and continue beating until stiff but not dry.

Stir about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the remaining whites. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and place it in a roasting pan.

Add boiling water to the roasting pan to come halfway up the side of springform pan. Bake at 37 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 and continue baking for 35-40 minutes.

Remove the cake from the roasting pan and place it on a rack to cool completely. Unwrap the foil, remove the side of springform pan and transfer the cake to a serving plate.

Cut the cake into thin wedges and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs
Two Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Three Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Four Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Five Years Ago – Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Six Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Seven Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding

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

Do you have any special plans for a winter vacation? Feel free to share!

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

Countdown to Christmas & Cranberry Coffee Cake

evergreen_basketThree days! Yes, there are only three days until Christmas. I don’t know about you but it has sort of caught me unawares. Yes, I’ve seen all the signs. The Christmas lights twinkle on Main Street. There are rows of evergreens at the farm stand. The barrage of holiday ads is relentless. The only thing missing is the cold and fluffy white stuff.

Who dreams of a green Christmas? Not me. At least for this New England girl, it’s hard to get in the spirit when it feels more like April than December. One excuse is as lame as another so I blame this year’s somewhat tenuous grasp of the holiday spirit on El Niño. I guess it is only fitting that this meteorological phenomenon arrives in the weeks leading up to Christmas. El Niño means the boy in Spanish and refers to the birth of Christ.

But what the heck; we’ve had green Christmases in the past and we’ll have them again in the future. It’s time to pull myself together. Anyway, the last few days before Christmas are really the best! With no time to spare, I’m making my final lists and checking them twice.

One last decoration? Looking around the house, there might be a few spots still shouting for attention. Nothing over the top mind you, just an additional bowl (or three) filled with greens or shiny ornaments. Do I need another wreath? (If you have to ask, the answer is probably yes.) The stockings are somewhere but where. And, didn’t I already get mistletoe?

Last minute shopping. Whether it’s special ingredients for the holiday feast, stocking stuffers or that impossible-to-buy-for rellie, there is always at least one last mad dash around town. I don’t mind; it only adds to the excitement. The shops bustle with activity and everyone smiles.

Wrapping. I rarely, maybe never, wrap as I buy. A day, maybe two, before Santa climbs down the chimney, I get into gear. First, I crank up the Christmas music or tune into It’s a Wonderful Life. Then, I take an assortment of fancy paper, bags and bows and turn plain packages into presents. I confess to using gift bags whenever possible but there are always a few present that require scissors, tape and wrapping paper.

Cooking with the girlies. The twirling girlies are not so little anymore. All three are taller than their auntie. Two are away from home and living on their own. Lucky for me, they have discovered that they like to cook. Emily played sous to my chef at Thanksgiving. Kaela has signed on to help with Christmas Eve dinner. I suspect Emily will join us. A good thing, since I may want to add a coffee cake for Christmas morning to my to-do list.

Rein it in. I’ve been known to go a bit nuts in the last day or two before Christmas. One year it was pinecone wreaths and mini-trees. Another time it was scarves. (I was still knitting at midnight on Christmas Eve.) Who knows what holiday treat will try to tempt me this year. It might be difficult but, with only three days to go, I’ll do my best to resist the urge to make dozens of lavender sachets, turn tiles into coasters or bake a gingerbread village.

Have a wonderful holiday! Bon appétit!

Cranberry Coffee Cake
What could be better on Christmas morning that a sweet and tangy coffee cake? Enjoy!
Serves 8

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder


1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen (do not defrost) cranberries
Crumbly Nut Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the pan with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust with flour and tap out any excess.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the orange zest and whisk again. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until just smooth. Do not overbeat.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle first with the cranberries and then with the Crumbly Topping.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until the cake is golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Remove the springform collar and continue to cool. The coffee cake can be baked ahead and stored, loosely covered, at room temperature overnight.

Crumbly Nut Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch allspice
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts

Put the flour, sugar and spices in a small food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the topping comes together in lumps. Add the pecans and pulse once or twice to distribute the nuts evenly in the topping.

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One Year Ago – Fish Stew Provençal
Two Years Ago – Twice-Baked Potatoes
Three Years Ago – Baked French Toast
Four Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Five Years Ago – Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce
Six Years Ago – Potato, Leek & Kale Soup
Seven Years Ago – Salmon & Lentils

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

What I Like About Spring & Rhubarb Crumb Cake

daffodils_april_10_03_editedIf you have a mind to, there is plenty to complain about spring. Particularly for those of us who live in New Hampshire. Muddy roads, black flies, red eyes and sneezing from allergies … I’m sure the list can go on and on. At least for today, let’s forget that onerous list of tiresome complaints. Instead, let’s put together something upbeat and uplifting. How about a list of all the things we like?

Sounds good to me. You may be surprised at how happy you will feel when you are done.

So here goes … in no particular order …

I like the smell of spring first thing in the morning and in the evening after it rains. The scent is fresh and clean with a hint of mud and moss. On top of the fresh smell, the air feels strangely warm and cool at the same time. I hope you know what I mean because I think it’s wonderful.

I like the sound of spring peepers in the evening. They are outside chirping right now. It reminds me of being a kid. I have this vague memory of coming home one rainy night and the car’s headlights flashing on hundreds of tiny frogs. First, we made Dad stop so not to run them over. Then, we got out of the car danced among them.

I like spotting the first spotted newt of the season. There is something quite endearing about our state amphibian. Or maybe it’s just endearing that a group of high school students managed to convince Concord that we needed a state amphibian.

I like complaining about black flies. Please note: I don’t like these loathsome creatures. They are nothing short of icky but I do like to tell exaggerated tales of their orneriness.

I like it when everyone with an antique car takes it out of the barn for a spin around Pleasant Lake. Now that the days are warmer, we see a fair number of model T’s and old Buicks on any given Sunday.

I like rhubarb. I don’t always know what to do with it but I like that it is wonderfully tart. I like that it comes back year after year. I like that it will be ready for harvest and a cake by the weekend.

I like that the sun wakes me before the alarm clock can go off. Instead of a jarring buzz, the early morning rays peek in my window, gently tug me from sleep and ease me into the day.

I like daffodils. There is something so charming and optimistic about their bright yellow blooms.

I like lilacs. Their heavy scent fills the air. If you close your eyes and breathe deep, you might think, if only for a second, that your nana is beside you.

I like the warm sun on my skin and wearing shirtsleeves and shorts. That’s in the daytime but the nights are still delightfully cool for a wonderful deep sleep.

Happy spring and bon appétit!

Rhubarb Crumb Cake
Every spring I think about new ways to use my rhubarb plant. Here is the latest. Enjoy!
Serves 8-12

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
Pinch nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 12 ounces rhubarb, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
Crumbly Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan or deep-dish pie plate. If using a springform pan, line it with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust the pan or plate with flour and tap out any excess.

Put the flour, orange zest, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until just smooth. Do not overbeat.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange the rhubarb on top of the batter in a single layer. Sprinkle with the Crumbly Topping.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until the cake is golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Remove the springform collar and continue to cool.

Rhubarb Crumb Cake can be stored, loosely covered, at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Crumbly Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
Pinch nutmeg
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/3 cup oatmeal

Put the flour, sugar and spices in a small food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add the oatmeal and pulse until the topping comes together in lumps.

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One Year Ago – A Duo of Aiolis
Two Years Ago – Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mushrooms & Mustard Sauce
Three Years Ago – Crunch Salad with Apples & Grapes
Four Years Ago – Grilled Mustard Pork Chops
Five Years Ago – Rhubarb Crisp
Six Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Steak

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

What do you like about spring? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015