Loving the Holidays & Ginger-Orange Cheesecake

From time to time, you’ll hear someone disparage the holidays. They’ll complain that Christmas is too stressful or too commercial, too one thing or another. Not me, I love the holidays. The hustle, the bustle, the cooking, decorating, music and, yes, even the shopping. As far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty much all good.

With Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday and Cyber Monday, the past few days were all about shopping. However, with a refrigerator full of leftovers, I kept my credit card in my wallet and made turkey soup. That’s not to say, I wasn’t tempted. My intray pinged constantly with one email offer after another. These weren’t just any old sale. Not by a long shot, they were HUGE, door busters and blowouts. At least that was the subject line in the emails.

If last weekend was all about shopping, then it stands to reason that this coming weekend must be about decorating. Yes? No? Maybe? Let’s go with yes and deck the halls. More than anything, decorations tell our family history. From keepsakes and school photos framed in glittery popsicle sticks to tiny elves, sailboats and cowbells, our tree ornaments track new babies, weddings, comings and goings, hobbies and travels. Each tells a story, reminds us of an adventure or harkens back to a particular time in our lives.

In addition, our decorations create a bridge linking one generation to the next. Technology changes, cooking trends come and go, new artists overtake old crooners but you can always find a spot for Nana’s della Robbia wreath or Great-Grandma’s crèche. Several years ago, we found a small hemlock, perfect for Grandpa’s ancient string of outdoor lights. The only trouble was, as soon as Dad plugged them in, the bulbs exploded with a snap, crackle and pop. I guess some things are just not made to last. That said, the story has been told and retold at least fifty times, maybe more.

Whether it’s shopping, holiday baking or decking the halls that has you stressed (or all of the above), here are a few tips to keep you centered throughout the yuletide season.

1. Keep things in perspective and set priorities. It’s the holidays; it’s a busy time. It’s okay to say no once in a while. Don’t confuse must and can. As in, you must show up for work, take a shower and get some sleep versus you can singlehandedly fold hundreds of origami cranes and hang them from the gym ceiling for the school dance. Can doesn’t mean you should let alone must.

2. Exercise, I’m not listening when you say you don’t have time. With a to-do list a mile long, you deserve some me-time. Get on the stationary bike or take a walk, join a Zumba class or spend an hour stretching on your yoga mat. Breathe deep and take a break from all those things that are shouting for your attention.

3. Laughter is a wonderful stress reducer. Whether a string of lights explodes, you drop the pecan pie or you discover mice have been living in the Lionel train, all you can do is laugh and laugh some more.

Enjoy the holiday season with friends and family. Bon appétit!

Ginger-Orange Cheesecake
I like to make a cheesecake at least once a year for Thanksgiving or Christmas. This one will be perfect for Christmas Eve. Enjoy!
Serves 12-16

Ginger Cookie Crumb Crust
2 cups ground gingersnap cookies
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted

Ginger-Orange Filling
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 inches fresh ginger peeled and finely grated (about 2 tablespoons)
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

Make the Cookie Crumb Crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the cookie crumbs, brown sugar, spices and butter in a 10-inch springform pan and mix with a fork until well combined. Firmly press the crumbs into the bottom and about 1-inch up the sides of the pan. Tightly wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in two large sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Cool the pan on a rack. Do not remove the foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Make the Ginger-Orange Filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until fluffy. With the beater running, gradually add the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Continue beating, adding the eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in the sour cream. Add the crystallized and fresh ginger, orange zest and juice and beat until well combined. Pour the filling into the springform pan.

Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about halfway up sides of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake until the filling is puffed slightly, softly set and golden, about 1 1/4 hours.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and discard the foil. Put the cheesecake on a rack to cool. Transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator and chill uncovered until cold. Cover and chill overnight or up to 2 days.

To serve: carefully cut around the sides of the pan with a thin knife and release the sides of the pan. Cut the cheesecake into wedges and serve.

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One Year Ago – Chocolate Walnut Tart
Two Years Ago – Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies
Three Years Ago – Peppermint Bark Cookies
Four Years Ago – Mixed Reds & Greens Holiday Salad
Five Years Ago – Snowy Pecan Balls
Six Years Ago – Chocolate Truffles
Seven Years Ago – Smoked Salmon Mousse
Eight Years Ago – Roasted Beans
Nine 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!

How do you keep your sanity during the Holidays? Feel free to share!

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

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What Now? What Next? & Strawberry Tort

It will be all pomp and circumstance at the local high school on Saturday. Bright-eyed teenagers will collect their sheepskins in front of beaming parents and grandparents. Many will continue their education in the fall; others will head straight to work. There will be plenty of sage words and glib platitudes but here are a few more…

Dreams are like an early morning mist. They float and surround you but there is little to grab and hold. Work is real and makes dreams come true. No one said it would always be easy; make a plan and persevere.

Don’t settle. Life is too short, too tough and too much fun to settle for dull and boring. It is much too short for cruel and meaningless.

Don’t wait for stuff to happen to you. Create your own next best thing. Achieve something; learn a new skill or take an old one to new heights. Perhaps you will write a sonnet, unscramble a piece of jumbled code or build a birdhouse. Go ahead – take a step, then another and make life happen.

Of course, accidents happen and luck can be hit or miss but the future is by far and away a product of the choices you make. Good, bad or indifferent, own your choices and move on to the next.

Don’t just pick your battles; pick the outcome. If you find yourself in the middle of an angry feud, you can choose to fume, forgive or forget. More often than not, being at peace is better than righteous indignation.

Life is better when you are happy. Happiness is not a deep secret or a profound mystery. You can find happiness by smiling more, laughing more and singing more. And don’t forget to dance.

Given a choice between an adventure and the same old-same old, choose adventure. No matter what happens, you will learn a whole lot along the way.

Don’t be an idiot. Open your mind to new people, possibilities and ideas.

Change is constant and all around us. If it wasn’t, you’d still be using a rotary phone. Heck, you’d know what a rotary phone was. Technology, fashion and opportunities change but love for family, for friends and a favorite place is constant. So embrace the latest smart phone but use it to call your grandmother on Sunday morning.

Keep kindness as a core value. Throughout your life, you will experiment and explore. You may investigate different beliefs or try new approaches to life. Through all those changes and evolutions, practice simple acts of kindness to connect to the people around you.

Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents. They won’t be here forever so appreciate them while you can.

Enjoy the ride and bon appétit!

Strawberry Tort
June is the month for graduations, weddings and strawberries. No, this tort can’t replace a five-tier wedding cake but celebrants will welcome it at almost any other festive feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/2 cup butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in half

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.

Arrange the strawberries cut side down on top of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for at least 20 minutes, the tort can be served warm or at room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Two Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Four Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Six Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
SevenYears Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Eight Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

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

What about you? Do you have a favorite piece of advice for graduates? Feel free to share!

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

Easter at Nana’s & Lemon Pound Cake

My grandmother was happy for any excuse to see her family. Thanksgiving, Independence Day, you name it. At her house or ours, in the dining room or backyard, she loved seeing her clan all together. So, after Mom and Dad built the little brown house in the New Hampshire woods, an early Easter became the bane of Nana’s existence. A March Easter increased the likelihood that we would be skiing instead of headed to Nana’s for baked ham, scalloped potatoes and green beans.

As much as we loved her and we truly did, Nana and her Easter ham could not entice us off the slopes. We’d be more than delighted to indulge in her scalloped potatoes and green beans once the snow was gone. For her part, although she liked to have her family around her table, Nana wasn’t fussy. She’d have come up to our house in the suburbs without hesitation. Why, she would have been more than pleased to bring the scalloped potatoes or a lemon cake or both. (New Hampshire was another matter. She preferred to visit the little house in the woods during the summer.)

When it came to cooking, Nana was old school and a true New Englander. She baked at least once a week or at least she did when her grandchildren were around. I can’t remember ever being at her house when there were not homemade cookies in the jar. My grandfather’s favorites were Hermit Bars and Molasses Cookies. She baked lots of pies, especially blueberry, as well as the occasional cake and pan of brownies.

Her kitchen was tiny, just large enough to hold the stove, refrigerator and the sink with flanking counters. Cheery, calico curtains hid the treasures inside the lower cabinets. The uppers were open and held mysteries not found in my mother’s kitchen. No, these shelves were not filled with exotic spices. After all, Nana was a classic New England cook. However, she had a glass jar of cream of tartar. It was not creamy and was nothing like the tartar sauce that came with our fried clams at the local fish shack. There was also a canister of cornmeal and jars of nuts and raisins, ground ginger, baking powder and a bottle of molasses. Not a single one of these obscurities could be found in my mother’s kitchen.

Apart from the countertops on either side of the sink, her only work space was a small table. My sister Brenda and I would sit at that table and ask her countless questions while she bustled about. My grandmother was a bustle-er. We were more than curious as to why she didn’t bake her cakes from a mix or buy her cookies ready-to-eat and lined up in a plastic tray. After all, that’s what our mother did.

Now, this was not the kitchen my dad grew up with, that one might have been larger but maybe not. The kitchen I connect with my grandmother was in their cozy retirement house on Buzzards Bay. Infrequent or not, it continues to amaze me that Nana prepared family dinners for eight, twelve or more in that tiny kitchen.

Although it might have happened at least once, maybe twice, I never saw even a hint of chaos when Nana cooked. When we arrived for dinner, Easter or otherwise, everything was under control and close to ready. The ham was roasting and the potatoes were bubbling in the oven. The beans were trimmed, snapped and ready for steaming. A lemony cake was sitting on the kitchen table and strawberries were ready in the refrigerator.

… and if Easter was early, well, there was always Mother’s Day. Bon appétit!

Lemon Pound Cake
Lemony cake with fresh berries is a bright and sunny dessert for Easter or any spring feast. Enjoy!
Serves 12

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the pans
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 1/4 cups sugar
Juice of 3 lemons
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
Whipped Mascarpone & Cream (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8×4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pans.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the lemon zest and whisk again.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until fluffy. With the mixer running on medium-low, add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add the lemon juice and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat again.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Increase the mixer speed and beat until just smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the top and bake for 45-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached. Cool to room temperature and serve with a spoonful of fresh strawberries and a dollop of Whipped Mascarpone & Cream

Whipped Mascarpone & Cream
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Put the mascarpone, zest, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat until fluffy. With the mixer running, slowly add the cream and beat until well combined. Increase the mixer speed and continue beating until soft peaks form.

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One Year Ago – Lavender Scones
Two Years Ago – Calzones with Marinara Sauce
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Espresso Cheesecake
Four Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with Pasta
Five Years Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Six Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Seven Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Eight Years Ago – Chicken Provençal

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

What about you? How will you celebrate Easter this year? Feel free to share!

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

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