Happy Birthday George & Chocolate Cherry Nut Brownies

Monday was Presidents Day. There’s a little confusion out there. Does the day celebrate George Washington, Washington and Abraham Lincoln or all presidents? If you look up federal holidays on one of those official dot-gov sites, the third Monday in February is listed as George Washington’s Birthday. However, turn on the television for five minutes and the long weekend is loudly lauded as Presidents Day and famous for big discounts on mattresses and winter coats.

I admit I was a bit chagrined when this whole third Monday in February began. In Massachusetts, we celebrated both Abraham Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday with a day off from school. Of course, one or the other inevitably fell during February vacation. However, there was always a five in seven chance that we’d enjoy another day off to ski or sleep late or whatever.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act put an end to that. A handful of holidays were moved to Mondays so people could enjoy a nice, long weekend. That might have been all well and good except that Honest Abe’s commemoration got lost in the shuffle. While George might have been the first, our sixteenth president is more or less everyone’s favorite. As consolation, everybody, or at least everyone I knew, began calling the new Monday holiday – Presidents Day.

There is a certain logic to having these two great men share a Presidents Day. Check any survey; they’re always neck and neck, claiming the top spots for best president. In addition, the third Monday never falls on either birthday but somewhere between the two. In case you’ve forgotten, Washington was born on February 22 and Lincoln on February 12.

That’s right; Washington wasn’t born yesterday. His birthday isn’t until Saturday. So, you still have plenty of time to celebrate. If you’re tempted to bake a cherry pie, feel free to do so. However, in the off chance that you haven’t heard – the story about Washington and the cherry tree, well, sorry to be the one to tell you but it’s a myth.

While the cherry tree story never actually happened, Washington’s first presidential residence was at 1 Cherry Street in New York. How’s that for a funny coincident? That’s right Washington is the only president not to live in the White House. It is a big house and took quite a while to plan and build. It wasn’t ready until 1800. That’s when John Adams, the nation’s second president, and his wife Abigail took up residency on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although Washington wasn’t a skier (or at least as far as anyone knows – he wasn’t), an après-ski party would be an excellent way to toast George on his actual birthday. A cozy supper with friends by the fire is a wonderful way to spend a cold, winter evening. If it was in George’s time, you might serve a steak and kidney pie or fish muddle. Modern Americans aren’t much for kidneys but a nice beef stew might do. As for the muddle, it’s a wonderful mix of shellfish and a delicious option for sure. Alternatively, you could stir up a chowder. Otherwise, a casserole of some sort or the other would be perfect after a day on the slopes.

So, raise your glasses to George and bon appétit!

Chocolate Cherry Nut Brownies

Instead of birthday cake, give these brownies a try. They are perfect for midmorning coffee, afternoon tea or dessert after a casual dinner. Enjoy!

Makes 24 brownies

  • Butter and flour for the pan
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

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

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

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips, cherries and nuts.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake the brownies at 350 degrees until the edges begin to pull away from sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 20 minutes.

Cool in the pan, cut and serve.

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Hollywood Beckons & Sundried Tomato & White Bean Hummus

Last week, it was the Super Bowl. This Sunday, it’s the mother of all award shows, The Oscars! For everyone who didn’t host a Super Bowl party, well, now’s your chance. You can throw an Oscar bash for all your movie loving friends.

When comes to the Oscars, it’s all about Hollywood glam. Forget the football shaped cakes, buffalo wings and chili. This Sunday, to do it up right, your dishes should be as beautiful as they are delicious. Unless you decide to go in another direction. (Sounds like a producer dashing your hopes and dreams to be the next Marilyn.) What might that alternative direction be? Why – a cozy slumber party of course.

Living in New Hampshire creates this simultaneous desire and aversion to dressing up. Desire because we never do, or almost never. Many of us remember the days when we didn’t just own a pair of high heels; we owned several. More important we wore them on a regular basis. At the same time, when push comes to shove, we really don’t want to cram our feet into those sexy little shoes again.

No, as much as we might pine for a past, more glamorous life, we do love our much more casual existence. Think about it. The class may not start until 5:30 in the evening but we’re happy to wear our yoga pants all day. Same goes with the ancient sneakers or clogs on our feet. We delude ourselves into thinking our current versions of party clothes are casual-cool-chic when they’re really just casual. Or maybe there’s no we here; only me.

Anyway, there could be more but I see two choices for an Oscar party – glamorous gowns and tuxedos or pajamas. Given that it’s winter, in New Hampshire, I’m seriously leaning toward pajamas. If you want, you could add a tutu and a tiara. I really need to put those two items on my must-have list. Everyone needs a spot in the back of the closet for costume-y clothes and accessories. My stash is missing these two key items.

For the menu, you can turn to the Oscar’s themselves. Or more precisely the after parties. These days, Hollywood is lending its support to the sustainability movement. There’ll be a spotlight on plant-based delicacies at this year’s post-award galas. There will be lots of locally grown vegetables on the menu. Gathering around the television for an Oscar watching party doesn’t really lend itself to a sit down meal. Vegetarian or vegan small plates, tapas and appetizers will be perfect for your party.

If you’re planning an elegant evening, then beautiful one and two bite wonders will be just the thing. A fun and festive pajama party can take a more serve yourself approach with beautiful dips, mugs of soup and small bowls of fresh salad. Or you could skip all that and pop some popcorn. After all, it is the perfect movie food. To complete the menu, all you need is a glass of champagne. Unless, I suppose, you decide to serve Milk Duds and Twizzlers for dessert.

As for me? Yes, I will be in my pajamas and there will be, among other things, popcorn and champagne. I’ve told a few movie-loving friends that I would be more than delighted if they joined me to watch glamorous stars pass out awards and give speeches. Except for one thing, I can barely make it to best film editing before my eyes start to get heavy and my head starts to nod. No one was hurt. One friend figured she might have to leave in the middle sound mixing or risk falling asleep at the wheel on the way home.

Enjoy the pageantry and bon appétit!

Sundried Tomato & White Bean Hummus

A healthy snack for any occasion, serve the hummus with fresh vegetables and/or pita chips. Enjoy!

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch chunk red onion
  • About 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • About 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • About1/4 cup roughly chopped, drained oil-packed sundried tomatoes
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon or to taste sriracha or your favorite hot sauce
  • 1 can (about 1 1/2 cups) white beans
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Very hot water
  • Fresh vegetables and pita chips
  • Toasted pine nuts

Put the garlic and onion in a food processor, add the herbs and pulse to combine and chop. Add the sundried tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil and sriracha and pulse until everything is finely chopped and combined.

Add the beans, season with salt and pepper and pulse to chop and combine. 2-3 tablespoons at a time, add the hot water and process until smooth.

Let the hummus sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to combine the flavors. Can be made ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

Two ways to serve:

Pass sweet little hors d’oeuvres: peel and slice cucumbers. Using a small spoon or a pastry bag, add a dab of hummus on each cucumber slice and top with a pine nut.

… or …

Let everyone help themselves: put the hummus in a bowl, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with pine nuts. Place the bowl in the center of a large platter, surround the bowl with a variety of vegetables and pita chips.

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Alternatives & Thai Butternut Squash Soup

After two decades of dominating the NFL there is a big, cloud hanging over New England. Most everyone from Rhode Island to Maine is bereft. The Super Bowl is this Sunday and the Patriots aren’t in it. Of course, New Englanders aren’t alone; only two teams have golden tickets to Miami. But that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that, at least for now, Tom and the boys and all their fans must settle for six Super Bowl rings.

I’m not sure what you are supposed to do when your team fails to meet the cut. Do you sit around and pout or head to New Orleans or Las Vegas for a wild weekend? Since I’m football impaired, I can only guess about these things.

I’m sure that a fair number of New Englanders will glumly watch San Francisco and Kansas City battle it out. A warm beer in one hand and a tear-soaked handkerchief in the other, they’ll dream of what coulda, shoulda been and do their best to enjoy the game.

What about you? Not feeling tearful or in need of a warm beer? There must be alternatives. In our mix and match, design-your-own-plan world, there are always alternatives.

To start with, you could invite all your friends over to watch an all-day or all-night marathon of:

All six Patriots’ Super Bowl wins.

Every football movie ever made from Brian’s Song to Any Given Sunday and, of course, Jerry Maguire.

Romantic comedies with at least one scene with a football, including Love Story and Jerry Maguire.

Then of course, you could enjoy a different kind of competition. How about:

A mah jongg tournament or Scrabble match.

A bake-off to see who can make the cutest, the most clever cupcakes.

A sing-off. If the cat doesn’t run away, you’re the winner.

Or just relax.

Forget about football.

Forget about competition.

Except for sports bars, most restaurants and movie theaters are half empty on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s the perfect night to book a table at that always full to overflowing hot spot. Same goes for the latest block buster. The one that’s been sold out every time you’ve tried to see it.

Or stay home.

Invite your football-impaired friends over for a glass of wine and a good long chat. Ask anyone who’s willing to bring a batch of soup or a salad to share. Heck, if you’ve got a busy day on Monday, you can do it on Saturday. When it comes to friendship, there is no schedule or calendar. Any day is a good day to have friends around.

Enjoy the game any way you like and bon appétit!

Thai Butternut Squash Soup

My roasted butternut squash soup is a family favorite but sometimes you need a change. Or maybe a new favorite. Enjoy!

Makes 5-6 quarts

  • Olive oil
  • 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup Thai red curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon or to taste sriracha (optional)
  • 1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 6 or more cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Garnish: fresh chopped cilantro

Lightly coat a soup kettle with olive oil and heat over medium high, add the squash, onion, carrots, bell pepper and curry paste, season with thyme, coriander, cumin and sriracha and toss to combine. Cook, stirring frequently until the onion is translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté until the vegetables start to brown.

Stir in the vegetable stock, coconut milk, soy and fish sauces. Bring the soup to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat and cool the soup for about 20 minutes.

Working in batches and adding more stock if necessary, puree the soup in a blender until very smooth.

Return the soup to the pot and heat to steaming. Ladle into bowls or mugs, sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve.

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Scruffy Entertaining & Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

So, I hear that there is a new trend in entertaining. It’s called scruffy hospitality. It seems that it is becoming quite popular with families with young children. Here’s how it works. You come home from work or skiing or skating or with your freshly cut tree ready to decorate. You know that the stew or chili you’ve already made for dinner is big enough for an army. But (there’s always a but) the house is not spotless and you’re not having the best of hair days.

So, what do you do? Why, in a scruffy, no judgement world, you invite your nearest and dearest or soon-to-be nearest and dearest to join you. Okay, you might throw a few wayward shoes into the bucket by the back door but you don’t run around the house with the vacuum cleaner and dust cloth. You don’t spend an hour fussing with your hair and finding the perfect outfit. You call your guests, throw dinner in the oven, set the table and light the fire. If it’s tree night, you get out the decorations.

And guess what? Everyone is happy. I never met anyone who didn’t love a last-minute invitation. Even if they can’t come, people love it that you thought of them and wanted to spend time with them. If you’re a decent cook, they are even happier. Whether it’s Meme and Gramps, the cousins, your oldest friends or your newest neighbors, they will be delighted to join you.

Now, scruffy entertaining is nothing new. Years ago, an old boyfriend told me about a party he and his roommates threw. Just out of college, their party was beyond scruffy. Perhaps you remember the early days of supermarket brands. Instead of fancy names like Natures Promise, Wellesley Farms or Great Value, store brands version 1.0 were called generics. They came in simple black and white packaging. Anyway, the boyfriend and his roomies threw a generics party. They bought a boatload of generic beer and chips and invited all their friends. They even bought white T-shirts and had HOST in black letters printed on the front. It was nothing fancy and everyone had a wonderful time.

Now, I not suggesting that you entertain like a bunch of recent college grads. However, you can turn down the stress level with a more casual approach. Scruffy hospitality is about connecting around the table. It is about friendship and love. It recognizes that time spent together is more important than a spotlessly clean, picture perfect home. Besides, even with a few pine needles scattered about, your home’s imperfections are what make it perfect.

If you’ve been planning to freeze half of tonight’s dinner, why not invite friends to share it instead? They can help you decorate the tree. Or invite family and share old holiday memories. Next time spaghetti is on the menu, pull an extra quart of sauce from the freezer and turn dinner into a small party. Feel free to ask your guests if they have any salad in the refrigerator or a few extra Christmas cookies that they can bring along.

Opening your home and sharing a meal is a joyful expression love and kindness. Hosts and guests, old and young, everyone benefits. By embracing a bit more scruffy attitude, you might just entertain more, share the love more and stress a whole lot less.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with love and joy. Bon appétit!

Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

Here is a not-too-scruffy dish to serve over the holidays or anytime this winter. The lamb can bubble in the oven while you relax and catch up with family and friends. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • About 4 pounds boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, trimmed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary; add the carrots, celery and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the red wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and herbs and bring to a simmer.

Return the lamb to the pot, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the lamb 2 or 3 times, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and pearl onions to the lamb. Add more chicken stock or wine if necessary. Continue cooking, uncovered, until the lamb is very tender; an additional 30-45 minutes.

Remove the lamb from the casserole and cut across the grain in thick slices. Serve the lamb with a generous spoonful or two or three of sauce and vegetables.

The lamb can be made a few days ahead. Cook for 1 hour, add the mushrooms and onions and cook for 10 minutes more. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Transfer to a 350-degree oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until bubbling and piping hot.

Quick tip: use your food processor to finely chop carrots, celery and onions. Cut the veggies into large chunks and, a handful at a time, pulse until finely chopped. Don’t overdo it or overload the processor; you’ll end up with purée instead of finely chopped.

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Peace & Joy for the Holidays plus Rosemary-Lemon Biscotti

Thanksgiving was late this year. Well, actually, it was on right on time. As always, it was the fourth Thursday of November. However, Turkey Day can fall as early as the twenty-second and as late as the twenty-eighth. This year, it fell on the latter. With fewer days, the Christmas season promises to be hustle-ier and bustle-ier.

In anticipation of a whole lot of running around, I wish you peace this Christmas. I wish you peace of mind, peace of spirit and peace in your heart. And, after what might have been a lively but somewhat contentious Thanksgiving feast, I wish you peace in your family, peace in your home and peace in your friendships.

Christmas is a joyful time. It seems to me that joy should come without strings or pressure. By all means, it’s fine to create a holiday bucket list. However, if that list is suddenly two or three pages long … it’s more than fine to let a few things slide. There is always next year and the year after that. And if you never take your children or grandchildren on one of those Polar Express train rides or make a turducken or build a miniature, snow-covered village … well, that’s okay too.

My mother loved Christmas. She loved everything about it – gathering with family and friends, shopping and decorating. Never an enthusiastic cook, she didn’t seem to begrudge the extra time in the kitchen. Once in a while, the enormity seemed to drive her a little nuts.

As a child, I never really noticed. It wasn’t until later when I was a teenager, or maybe it wasn’t until I reached my twenties. Although, she was quite fussy about her tree; it was never about the decorations. She rolled with any and all punches when it came to holiday feasts. No, her biggest worry was that she’d miss someone or come up short on a gift.

Even in the days before internet shopping, Mom seemed to find the time to get it all together. Of course, on top of loving Christmas, she liked to shop. Still, there were days, make that middle of the nights, when she was convinced that she’d forgotten something or someone. You know the feeling. It’s 3 a.m., two days before Christmas and you’re suddenly bolt upright in bed realizing that there is no present for Aunt Bess. Or maybe it’s Uncle Henry you forgot or, worst, your father-in-law.

Anyway, time is always at a premium but particularly during the holidays. You have a choice, go crazy, develop coping strategies or set priorities. Let’s avoid crazy and …

Take a moment to breathe and enjoy the wonder and beauty around us. Instead of cursing the snow, admire how it frosts the evergreens. Let nature heal any stress.

Make lists. Check them twice and, then, cut them in half. It’s okay to roll back the madness. Clear eyed and calm beats frazzled and crazed any holiday.

Remember being present is the greatest gift. Hug the people you love and tell them what they mean to you.

Wishing you a peaceful and joyful holiday and bon appétit!

Rosemary-Lemon Biscotti

A not-so-sweet cookie to enjoy with mid-morning coffee or afternoon tea. Celebrate the holidays with friends and family by sharing a simple treat and a good long chin wag. Enjoy!

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

  • 2 3/4 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

Put the flour, nuts, lemon zest, rosemary, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs, lemon juice and vanilla and beat until well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until a soft dough forms.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Dust your hands with a little flour, pat the dough into 2 logs about 12-inches long and set the dough on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten the logs to form loaves about 2-inches wide.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool for about 20 minutes. While still warm, cut 1/2-inch slices on the bias with a serrated knife.

Lay the biscotti on baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Flip and bake 5-6 minutes more. Transfer the biscotti to a rack to cool completely before serving or storing.

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Thoughts on Independence Day & Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Alright now, we know that the 4th of July is a day of parades, cookouts and fireworks. But what about the real story? What’s behind all the hoopla? In case you’ve forgotten your history lessons, the then-colonists, subjects of the King of England declared independence on the 4th of July, 1776. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that’s what July 4th, Independence Day, is all about.

This declaration did not happen overnight or without warning. Tension over a laundry list of issues had been brewing for years. Taxes were a particularly hot dispute. From documents to tea, the cash strapped British King tried to impose one tax after another on the colonists. Heated protests turned to rebellion before the all-out demand for independence.

Each and every one of the original thirteen colonies were represented when the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and approved the Declaration of Independence. Hardly wild-eyed rabble-rousers, these congressmen were men of means, educated landowners and professionals. In defiance of the King, Congress pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor in pursuit of freedom and independence. Enough was enough, it was finally time to end the crushing tyranny of British rule.

The Colonists’ political and economic complaints were numerous and grave. Not only were they forced to pay taxes without representation, the courts were hopelessly biased and an army of red coats and mercenaries had invaded their shores. The colonists complained that the King had not only cut off trade with the rest of the world, he had, “plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.” In addition, they raised an oddly contemporary issue – immigration, stating “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither …”

And so, the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence renounced any last shreds of allegiance to King and crown. The colonies united into free and independent states. Today, we see it as a heroic declaration of freedom. However, at the time, it was treason. Or, at least, treasonous in the eyes of the British government. It was no small thing when the signers closed with a mutual pledge to stake their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on freedom and independence.

This holiday week, let’s all take a moment to reflect on the freedom fighters who helped create our great American story. Not just the revolutionaries of 1776 but the heroes of the Civil War, World Wars I and II and every conflict in our long history. While you’re at it, don’t forget the champions of the women’s, civil and LGBT rights movements.

A constant work in progress, our American story is far from perfect. Democracy is hard and our great experiment has been known to wobble and waiver occasionally. It will probably continue to do so. Am I alone in thinking that things are particularly wobble-y and waiver-y right now?

So, yes, thank the revolutionaries who laid the foundations for our democracy. Then, let’s ask more of ourselves to help safeguard life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for future generations. Together we can smooth out some of those wobbles and straighten a few more waivers.

Thank you, Happy Independence Day and bon appétit!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
A perfect dessert to help celebrate an old fashioned, red hot 4th of July or any early summer party. Enjoy!
8-12 servings

Butter for the pan(s)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 – 2 pounds rhubarb, washed trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 – 2 pounds strawberries, washed trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 3 quart baking dish or individual ramekins.

Put the sugar, cornstarch and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the rhubarb, strawberries, orange zest and Grand Marnier and gently toss to combine. Pour the fruit into the baking dish or ramekins and sprinkle with the crumble topping.

Put the pan(s) on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly, 45-60 minutes for a large baking dish and 20-30 minutes for ramekins. Serve warm or at room temperate with vanilla ice cream.

Pistachio Crumble Topping
1 cup pistachios
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

Combine the pistachios, flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine and roughly chop the nuts. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add the oatmeal and pulse until the topping comes together in little lumps.

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One Year Ago – Vietnamese Salad
Two Years Ago – Tomato & Burrata Salad with Grilled Bread
Three Years Ago – Grilled Shrimp & Vegetable Salad
Four Years Ago – Fresh Berries with Creamy Lime Custard
Five Years Ago – Grilled Tomato Crostini
Six Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Seven Years Ago – Watermelon & Feta Salad
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Nine Years Ago – Mediterranean Shrimp
Ten Years Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

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

What is (are) your favorite summer fruit(s)/dessert(s)? Feel free to share!

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

 

Welcome Summer & Smoked Salmon-Cucumber Bites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make the Horseradish Cream.

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

Horseradish Cream
Makes about 1 cup sauce

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

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

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

Cover and store leftover Horseradish Cream in the refrigerator.

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Bonnet & Easter Bunny Carrot Cake

Okay, now we all know that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, Christmas is all about Santa and presents, Halloween is costumes and candy and Independence Day is fireworks. Now, what about Easter? With all respect, Easter is all about hats and dresses. I note with respect because Easter is often considered to be the holiest of day in the Christian calendar.

Easter marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent and the final day of the long Easter weekend. Holy Week commemorates the days and events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. Easter celebrates the resurrection and the triumph of good over evil.

Like many Christian feast days, today’s Easter traditions are a mix and mingle of many ancient cultures. Centuries ago, Europeans celebrated the coming of spring and warm days with great joy. Warmer, longer days were a relief after months of cold darkness. For Anglo-Saxons and Celts, spring was a time of planting, fertility and renewal. As Christianity spread north, its beliefs, symbols, celebrations and rites collided with pagan traditions.

Over time, this collision created a strange combination. On the one hand, you have a history of fasting, prayer and serious worship. On the other, you find vestiges of pagan symbols of renewal with eggs, new clothing to welcome spring, parades, bunnies, lambs and baby chicks.

My mother was among the millions of America’s suburban women who took their children shopping for Easter clothes. I suppose mothers in urban and rural America took their kids shopping too but I didn’t see it with my own eyes. Like clockwork, back-to-school and Easter forced any and all moms to take a deep breath and, then, a hard look at their children’s clothing. More often than not, everyone had jumped a size, if not two.

Like most younger sisters, my wardrobe was mostly hand-me-downs. However, somehow or other, both my sister Brenda and I received a new outfit in time for Easter. Now, Easter is a strange holiday since it pops up anytime between the middle of March and late April. One year it’s a celebration of spring and the next you’re up early shoveling snow before church. Living in New England, our Easter outfits ranged from little wool suits to sweet cotton dresses. With full skirts, puffy sleeves and lace collars, the dresses were far superior to any chic little suit.

Thankfully, regardless of timing and weather, a bonnet was always included in our Easter ensembles. Bedecked with flowers and ribbons, those bonnets were the highlight of Easter shopping. I’m not sure if they were ever worn more than once but they stayed firmly on our heads throughout Easter Sunday.

I credit those bonnets to a lifelong love of hats. Funny enough, except for wool caps in winter, I rarely don one. Perhaps, I should change that this spring. Why, I could throw on a fascinator or wide brim and make every day a parade. Given the miserable weather we’ve been having, it might not be a bad idea.

New duds or not, have a lovely Easter and bon appétit!

Easter Bunny Carrot Cake
For Easter or anytime – carrot cake is always a favorite. Enjoy!
Makes a 9×13-inch cake or about 24 cup cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon dark rum

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

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

Put the carrots, coconut, walnuts and raisins in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.

Put the oil and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined. Add the rum and beat until well combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the carrots, coconut, walnuts and raisins.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan or fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full. Bake the cake for 45-60 minutes (cupcakes for 30-45 minutes) or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Generously slather with cream cheese frosting and serve.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla and beat until well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat to combine. Increase the mixer speed and beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

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

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

How 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, 2019

Another Holiday Special – What’s for Christmas Dinner?

I’m dashing out in a few minutes for one last Christmas present … and then on to the supermarket to shop for tomorrow night’s Christmas Eve dinner.

I will not be cooking on Tuesday. If you are, you might want to take a peak at a few of my suggestions for Christmas dinner. I put these menus together last year. Hopefully one or another will help you solve any last minute cooking dilemmas.

Have a wonderful Christmas and bon appétit!

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

What are your holiday cooking plans? 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

 

 

Another Holiday Special – What’s for Christmas Eve Dinner?

Are you cooking this Christmas Eve? I’m soooo looking forward to cooking with the Nye girlies. My brother’s daughters, my nieces are fantastic twenty-somethings. Although their level of enthusiasm varies, they are all interested in cooking.

I like the tradition of fish for Christmas Eve. After all, I am a New England girl through and through. A few years ago, I posted a menu for a feast of seven fishes. Feel free to give it a try.

We’ll be keeping things a tad bit simpler at my house …

Kaela is the oldest of the three and most enthusiastic cook. We had a quick discussion about the menu between football plays this past Sunday. For the main course we’re going with Lemon Roasted Salmon with Tarragon Sauce. I was thinking of serving the fish with Lemon Roasted Potatoes but Kaela convinced me that Lemon Risotto with Spinach & Herbs was a better choice. (In either case, it’s a good thing we all like lemon.)

But let’s back up the train here.

For starters, we’ll need some tasty apps. Something with mushrooms sounds good … like, well, Spanish Stuffed Mushroom or Mushroom Crostini. Or, if we decide to go with two fishes, then Shrimp & Cucumber Bites or Roasted Shrimp with Rémoulade Sauce or Peanut Sesame Dipping Sauce  would be perfect. I’ll set out some Rosemary Cashews and maybe some Olives or Tapenade.

When it’s time to head to the table, we’ll want a great salad. Kaela has made a beautiful Kale Salad for the past two years. (It’s a busy kitchen with lots of chatter so, while I’ve sort of watched her make it, I’m hazy on the recipe. It’s quite simple with kale and lots of lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Here’s my interpretation. Or we can try my colorful Romaine & Radicchio Salad with Avocado, Pomegranate & Walnuts.

We’ll finish the evening with something sweet. I’m still up in the air for dessert. My mom always baked Aunt Anna’s Pecan Pie. When I was a teenager, I took over dessert and baked a Bûche de Noël. Over the past few years, I’ve baked a Flourless Chocolate Cake and Ginger-Orange Cheesecake for Christmas Eve. I’m thinking about Ginger Mousse.

The girlies are coming for lunch tomorrow – so we can iron out all these last, little details.

Have fun countdown to Christmas and a great weekend! Happy holidays and bon appétit!

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

What are your holiday cooking plans? 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