Spring in Northern New England & Crostini with Fig, Stilton and Walnuts

daffodils_in_the_rain_03We’ve all heard the rhyme, “April showers bring May flowers.” Except in northern New England where “April showers bring May showers.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests that spring begins on March 20 and continues until June 20. If you live here, you know that’s nonsense. Warm winter, cold winter, it doesn’t matter. As far as I can tell, spring is either a myth or a scam perpetrated by Madison Avenue to lull us into buying cute shoes and overpriced sunglasses.

I generally divide these so-called spring months into four unequal parts. First, there is still winter. The skiing is usually at its best during this period. Next comes mud season followed by black fly season. These two are both pretty ugly. Finally, we will have a glorious week or two when the lilacs are in full bloom. If we are lucky, the lilacs will bloom against a backdrop of bright, blue sky and sunshine.

But there is no need to grumble about mud or flies. There are countless advantages to a cold, rainy spring. For instance:

Where else can you splurge on ridiculously colorful rubber boots and rain slickers? And, even better, actually wear them? Too much? How about some cool leopard-print rain clogs and a trench coat?

So what if you’re stuck with a choice of stir-crazy or a rainy walk. You can wear your dazzling rain gear. Better still, after the walk you can reward your virtue with a luxurious, guilt-free bubble bath.

There’s no rush to pack away your heavy sweaters and fleece. Admit it, hit a warm day, even two and you’re tempted. Don’t fall for it. As soon as you haul those boxes up to the attic, the thermometer will plummet. When in doubt, wait a week. In the meantime, enjoy the free time. Cozy up to the fire with a good book, finish the sweater you started knitting last November or …

Stir up one last batch of your favorite soup. Potato-Cheddar? Beans and Greens? Tired of soup? You can always braise one last pot roast or make a batch of those wonderful short ribs.

A rainy day is perfect for a trip to the museum. Think of it as another good excuse to don your spiffy rain gear. Once summer comes, you won’t want to spend a minute inside. There is a must-see Killer Heels exhibit at the Currier in Manchester.

Afterwards, spend a lazy afternoon in a café, sip espresso and pretend it’s April in Paris instead of May in New Hampshire.

Then again, you can always stay home and binge watch that television show that everyone’s talking about but you somehow missed.

Sound too indulgent? Well then, reorganize your pantry. You never know what delicious goodies you’ll find tucked behind the oatmeal and boxes of pasta.

Reward you hard work by whiling away an evening with friends and a bottle of great wine. Perhaps some of the goodies you found in the back of the pantry will inspire you to try a spectacular, new tapas recipe or two.

Don’t worry summer will come, eventually. Bon appétit!

Crostini with Fig, Stilton and Walnuts
Look! You found a jar of Fig Preserves* in the back of the pantry. Put it to good use with quick and tasty crostini. Add a bottle of great wine and a few friends. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 dozen crostini

1 tablespoon buttercrostini_fig_stilton_walnuts_01
About 2 tablespoons minced red onion
3/4-1 cup fig preserves
2 tablespoons dry red wine
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoons or to taste balsamic vinegar
1 baguette, thinly sliced on the diagonal
About 1/23 cup chopped walnuts
About 6 ounces stilton, crumbled and at room temperature

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, add the onion and, stirring frequently, cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fig preserves and wine, season with thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, transfer to a serving dish, stir in the vinegar and cool to room temperature. Let sit for at least 20 minutes to combine the flavors. Can be prepped several hours in advanced, covered and stored at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Can be prepped several hours in advanced, cooled to room temperature, covered and stored at room temperature.

Spread the walnuts onto a baking sheet and bake at 375 until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Can be prepped several hours in advanced, cooled to room temperature, covered and stored at room temperature.

Serve the crostini warm or at room temperature. Spread a small dollop of preserves on each toast, top with stilton, sprinkle with walnuts and serve … or bake the crostini at 375 degrees for 2-3 minutes and then serve. The crostini should be warm not bubbling hot.

* If you found dried figs instead of preserves in your pantry, simmer up a batch of my Savory Fig Jam .

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

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

Be it spring, summer, fall or winter, how do you survive an ugly season? Feel free to share.

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

You Know You’re a Grown Up When … & Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts

table_set_for_dinner_01I think they call it the Peter Pan Syndrome. Generally ascribed to men, it’s an unwillingness to act your age, wake up, smell the coffee and join the real world. I confess; I may have a touch, just a touch, of PPS. It’s not that I’m unwilling to grow up; I just prefer to do it at my own pace. I am forever thinking, except for the most obvious, that anyone I meet is a whole lot older than me. Then he makes a reference to his favorite band in high school or she mentions some cultural icon I’ve barely heard of and I realize that, eeee-gads, I’m at least ten, make that fifteen, years the senior.

Maybe I should give this affliction a name, call it Young at Heart or, even better, Young in my Head Syndrome. The acronym, YHS, is the same either way. Anyway, my condition makes itself known in many different ways. For instance, it’s been years since I graduated from anywhere but as soon as I see those back-to-school ads, I feel like a schoolgirl again. With that feeling comes an overwhelming need to shop for a new notebook or sweater. September means it’s a new year and everyone knows you can’t start it without something (anything really) new.

In spite of my YHS, I am frequently faced with proof that I am indeed getting older. For instance:

Let’s start with the most obvious. My eyes start to close at nine and are down for the count by ten. Of course, they pop wide open again in three maybe four hours for some obligatory tossing and turning.

Next is a bit of role reversal. While it’s been years since my parents had to worry about my health or safety, I frequently worry about theirs. Same goes for doling out advice. My dad tends to come to me more often than the other way around. Since most of his questions are at least vaguely related to his computer or the internet, they pop up quite frequently, even daily.

Moving on to the kitchen, I admit my coffee mugs are a hodgepodge of souvenirs, stocking stuffers and freebies. However, I can and do set a proper table. I’m on my second set of dinnerware and have twelve matching place settings. Can’t stay for dinner? You can join me for a toast; there are a couple dozen wine glasses in my cupboard. Yes, they match and no, they don’t have colorful caped crusaders on them.

Speaking of wine, I haven’t been carded in more than a decade. Make that two or three decades. In addition, it’s been a really, really long time, like forever, since I sipped a fruity drink with a silly name. Instead, I have a closet full of decent wine to go with those wine glasses.

And finally, while I didn’t buy my wine glasses at IKEA, I still and will always love this Swedish purveyor of everything ever needed or wanted for a first (and second) apartment. A trip to IKEA is more than a semiannual spending spree. It is shopping as entertainment at its finest. Alas, I am well past my first and second apartments and rarely shop for entertainment. My collection of cheap but stylish stuff with funny names and umlauts has all been relocated. The storage unit I bought for the kitchen with zero cupboard space is now in the garage, filled with tools and half-empty paint cans. Most everything else went to the Salvation Army or the dump a long time ago.

Here’s to staying young in your head and bon appétit!

Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts
The evenings turn cool in September. This warm and pungent cheese spread will go perfectly with a glass of wine. Enjoy!
Serves 12

????????????????????????????????????Olive oil
1 large Vidalia or red onion, thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon butter, cut in small pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream or half & half
1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
8 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/4-1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and heat on medium low. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and, stirring frequently, cook for about 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and butter, toss to combine and continue cooking and stirring until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic, toss to combine and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat, sprinkle with half of the rosemary and thyme, toss to combine and set aside to cool.

Put the cream cheese in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. With the mixer on low, slowly add the cream, Worcester sauce, hot sauce and remaining herbs and continue beating until smooth.

Use a rubber or silicon spatula to fold the gorgonzola into the cream cheese mixture. Transfer the cheese to a shallow baking dish.

The cheeses and onions can be covered separately and stored in the refrigerator at this point. Bring to room temperature before baking.

When ready to bake, top with the cheese with the onions.

Bake at 350 degrees until heated through and bubbling on the edges, 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with walnuts and serve with crackers, warm or toasted sliced baguette, and/or vegetables.

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One Year Ago – Baked Haddock with Fresh Tomatoes & Herbs
Two Years Ago – Pumpkin-Ginger Muffins
Three Years Ago – Roast Pork with Apples & Onions
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc
Five Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Soup
Six Years Ago – Rustic Apple Tart
Seven Years Ago – Oktoberfest Sausages & Sauerkraut
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Are you grown up? How can you tell? 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

Back-to-School Shopping & All Grown Up Grilled Cheese

Susie_1st_day_schoolYikes! What happened to summer? Labor Day has come and gone. Except for a stray flip-flop, the beach is empty. Squawking geese fill the sky and the first red leaves are dotting a big maple up by the college. When we were kids, the end of summer meant that it was time to go back to the reality of suburbia and back to school. We traded in long lazy days on the beach, hikes in the woods and fresh air for stuffy classrooms and chalk dust.

When first my sister and then I started kindergarten, an annual ritual began. Mom took us downtown for school clothes and shoes. We would visit Filene’s in search of that perfect first day of school dress. Although more often than not, the first day of school had come and gone by the time we embarked on our back-to-school shopping. It was simple physics, the space–time continuum. We couldn’t be in two places, the beach and suburbia, at the same time.

Anyway, these shopping trips were early lessons in dress for success. What is it about a new outfit? Or an old favorite for that matter? When it fits well and the color is right, it just inspires confidence. Whether we’re striding across the playground or the boardroom, our back’s a little straighter and our step’s a little surer when we know we look good. Don’t be modest, go ahead and admit it. Every closet has its stash of superhero garb. Maybe it’s your lucky jeans or a favorite power suit but once you put them on, you are invincible.

As any baby boomer knows, a Polly Flinder is the perfect dress to start kindergarten or the first grade. These cotton dresses were pure confection with smocking across the front, puffed sleeves, Peter Pan colors and full skirts that swirled when you twirled. At Easter, the dresses came in soft flowery pastels. For back-to-school, they came in darker, fall colors and tartans. Between a few of my own and my sister’s hand-me-downs, I had several. And yes, I looked absolutely adorable.

If we didn’t lollygag or misbehave, Mom took us to Bailey’s for a post-shopping ice cream. Bailey’s was part of a long-standing back-to-school tradition. When my grandmother outfitted Mom for back-to-school, she included both Filene’s and Bailey’s on their itinerary. Bailey’s was always cool on a warm Indian summer afternoon and the hot fudge sauce was thick and devilishly rich. Our little town’s premier ice cream emporium, Bailey’s was reserved for the special-est of occasions. The new school year definitely merited a trip to Bailey’s.

You can imagine my surprise when, bought out or gone bust, all three of these venerable companies from my childhood upped and vanished. Yes, Filene’s, Polly Flinder and Bailey’s are now nothing more than a fond memory and a few lines in Wikipedia. It’s a good thing that after some trial and error, I developed my own decadent chocolate sauce. As for sweet little dresses with smocking and Peter Pan collars, I think I’m more of a jeans and turtleneck kind of girl these days.

Okay, it may have been years since we graduated from anywhere but we can still celebrate September with any and all of our favorite back-to-school traditions. Bon appétit!

All Grown Up Grilled Cheese
Even if it’s been a decade (or more!) since you spent your days in stuffy classrooms, celebrate back-to-school with this grown up version of every kid’s favorite lunch! Enjoy!
Serves 4

8 slices really good artisan bread
Butter, at room temperature
Arugula Pesto (recipe follows)
About 4 ounce fontina cheese, grated or thinly sliced
4-8 thin slices Prosciutto de Parma ham
Pickled Onions*(recipe follows)

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Generously butter one side of each bread slice. Smear the other side with a generous dollop of Arugula Pesto and place the bread butter side down in a large skillet(s). Evenly distribute the cheese across the bread. Cook over medium-low heat until the cheese has melted and the bread is nicely browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Top half the bread with prosciutto and sprinkle the other halves with pickled onions.

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Carefully flip one half of the sandwich onto the other, let sit for a minute, cut into wedges and serve.

* I always add some onion to my homemade pickles. If you do too, use them in sandwiches, including this one. Otherwise, my Quick Pickled Onions will do the job.

Arugula Pesto
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
5-6 ounces baby arugula
Extra virgin olive oil
About 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Put the walnuts, garlic and vinegar in a small food processor, season with salt and pepper and pulse until finely chopped. Add the arugula in batches and pulse until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add olive oil and process smooth. Add the cheese and pulse to combine.

Cover and refrigerate the leftover pesto. Try it with pasta or spread it on pizza or sandwiches.

Quick Pickled Onions
1/2 Vidalia or red onion, halve the onion length-wise and then cut in thin wedges
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Put the onion and thyme in a small bowl.All_Grown_Up_Grilled_Cheese_08

Put the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a saucepan. Stirring until the sugar and salt dissolves, bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover the onions with pickling liquid. Let the onions sit for at least 20 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Cover and refrigerate the leftover pickled onions. Try them on any and all of your favorite sandwiches.

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One Year Ago – Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam
Two Years Ago – Watermelon-Limeade
Three Years Ago – Curried Green Bean Pickles
Four Years Ago – Grilled Ratatouille Stacks
Five Years Ago – Apple Crisp
Six Years Ago – Ravioli with Sage Pesto
Seven Years Ago – Brie & Sun-dried Tomato Omelet
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What is your favorite back-to-school shopping story? 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

Starlight & Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Cheese Quesadillas with Fresh Tomato Salsa

Brenda_Susie_Mary_Beth_CarusoWhen you’re little, there was something quite thrilling about being outside after dark. And even better if it is past your bedtime!

I grew up in suburbia, about twenty miles west of Boston. The houses on our street were all fairly small and overflowing with kids. Lucky for us, life in a small house, not to mention the times, encouraged outdoor play. Those houses could hold only so many toys and there were no computers, computer games or Disney Channel. If it wasn’t raining and the sun hadn’t set, our mothers shoved us out the door. Summer was pretty simple. There was nothing to do but play and nowhere to go but out.

We played hopscotch and four-square, rode bikes and climbed trees. We built houses and forts in the woods and staged elaborate games of make believe. There were epic battles of hide and seek, tag and Red Rover. Since every house had at least two children, and usually three or four, there were plenty of kids to join the fray.

My all-time favorite game was something we called Starlight. I later learned that kids in other neighborhoods called it Ghost or Graveyard or maybe Sardines. It was special for a variety of reasons.

Starlight could not be played with a handful of kids. A decent game more or less required the entire neighborhood. Most days and with most games, age lines were drawn and boys and girls didn’t mix a whole lot. A neighborhood melee didn’t happen all that often, making it all the more grand.

Full MoonRunning around in the dark was a real treat. My mother had this boring rule that we had to come home as soon as the streetlights came on.

And finally, no doubt about it, Starlight was an absolutely terrifying game. At least if you were six.

Unlike today’s playdates, these battles were far from perfectly planned events. More often than not, Starlight was play on the fly. It would start when, for no particular rhyme or reason, an impromptu gathering occurred. Warm weather drew families outside for a walk or game of catch. A group would form to admire a new car or welcome a family back from a cross-country vacation. With any luck, the adults moved onto the porch for a nightcap. Before our parents could stop and think about bedtime, we kids disappeared into the darkness. Out of sight, we were out of mind; at least for an hour, maybe more.

Starlight was a simple game. Someone was IT; I think we called this person The Ghost. One big kid or another, often my sister, always wanted to be IT first. The Ghost drifted off into the backyard and hid. Then everyone else carefully crept around the house. Each step was more frightening than the last. Just as our terror reached a fevered pitch, The Ghost leapt out of the bushes and tagged as many kids as possible.

Those who escaped returned to the front stoop, regrouped and did it all over again. If caught, you were declared dead or some such thing. Anyway, you then joined The Ghost and helped chase down the escapees. Eventually, the last kid was captured and became The Ghost in the next round. The game went on until blood, tears or both were shed or our parents realized it was after ten o’clock.

The summer always seems to end before we know it. Day or night, enjoy the outdoors and bon appétit!

Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Cheese Quesadillas with Fresh Tomato Salsa
The season for local corn and tomatoes is short so indulge often. These quesadillas are great for lunch, a casual supper or appetizer. Enjoy!
Serve 4-6 for dinner or lunch and 12, maybe more, for appetizers

2-3 ears (enough for 1-1 1/2 cups kernels) fresh corn
Olive oil
About 1 1/2 cups (15-ounce can) black beans, drained and rinsed
About 1/4 cup chopped red onion
About 1 tablespoon or to taste minced jalapeño pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces cheddar or Monterey jack, shredded (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup sour cream
6-8 large or 10-12 medium flour tortillas

Grilled Corn_02Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to high. Brush the corn with a little olive oil. Lay the ears directly on the grill and, turning to cook evenly, cook for about 15 minutes or until nicely charred and tender. Remove from the grill. When the corn is cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to remove the kernels from the cobs. Can be prepared in advance, covered and stored in the refrigerator.

Put the corn, beans, onion, jalapeño and garlic in a bowl, season with cumin, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add the cheese and sour cream and toss again.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Grilled_Corn_Black_Bean_Quesadilla_02Set the tortillas on a work surface, evenly spread about 1/3 cup of beans, corn and cheese on one-half of each tortilla and fold the tortilla over the filling.

Heat a large griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with oil and, working in batches, place the tortillas on the griddle. Flipping once, cook until the tortillas are golden and the cheese melts, about 5 minutes. Transfer the quesadillas to an ovenproof patter and keep warm in the oven while you cook the next batch.

Cut the quesadillas into wedges and serve with Fresh Tomato Salsa.

Fresh Tomato Salsa
1/4 cup or to taste chopped red onion
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced (or more to taste) jalapeño pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped or about 12 ounces tomato, seeded and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt to taste

Put the red onion, pepper, garlic and jalapeño in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice and olive oil, season with salt and pulse until well combined and finely chopped.

If not serving immediately, cover and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.

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One Year Ago – Summer Salad with Green Beans, Blueberries & Goat Cheese
Two Years Ago – Shrimp Salad Niçoise
Three Years Ago – Insalata Caprese
Four Years Ago – Mojito Melons
Five Years Ago – Grilled Antipasto
Six Years Ago – Nana Nye’s Fish Chowder

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

What’s your favorite summer game? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going. Click here to leave a comment.

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

April Is National Grilled Cheese Month & Not Your Ordinary Grilled Ham & Swiss Cheese Sandwiches

Susan_Nye_1st_day_schoolSummer has salad days, the dark days of December have cookies and comfort food and April has Grilled Cheese. At least in New Hampshire, a celebration of our favorite comfort sandwich is probably a good thing. While other parts of the country are basking in sunshine and watching the daffodils bob, New England has been enjoying a typical spring. And by typical I mean that delightful combination of brilliant sun and temperatures in the seventies one day and snow, ice and gale force winds the next. With weather like that, we need a little comfort.

More than a sandwich, grilled cheese is an iconic symbol of childhood and the home for lunch bunch. That’s what my mother called us. Long after most schools across the country set up cafeterias and kitchens, the elementary schools in my childhood suburb sent us home at midday.

It was a nice break for kids and good exercise. We had at least an hour to get home, have lunch and get back again. Since we walked the half mile to school and back again, two round trips kept us pretty fit. That said, it kept our mothers on a very short tether. Within a few short hours of kissing us goodbye, we were back for a sandwich. It wasn’t long after that second kiss that we were home for the day. Mom heaved a giant sigh of relief and did a splendid happy dance when elementary school lunches finally started. My brother was in the third or fourth grade. John was the youngest of three and she’d been rushing home to fix lunch for one kid or another for more than ten years.

Our absolute favorite lunch was a grilled cheese sandwich. We didn’t have them often, so they were all the more coveted and delicious. Although she loved bringing her family together for a meal, Mom was not an enthusiastic cook. Her grilled cheese sandwiches were no frill and devoid of gourmet touches. She dabbed a little butter on some Wonder Bread and added a square of something that only vaguely resembled cheese and fried them up. Mom used those plastic-wrapped squares that came in orange or white. Those little squares melted beautifully and had little if any taste.

In honor of Grilled Cheese Month, it’s time to get out the griddle. You can go with the classic, Wonder Bread and Kraft Singles, if you insist. Not me. Now that I’m all grown up or at least a lot older, I steer clear of foods with labels like Cheese Product. Be it cheddar or brie, gruyere, mozzarella, fontina, Havarti or goat cheese, nothing beats real, honest-to-goodness, natural cheese. Don’t be shy, mix and match a few cheeses. And forget the Wonder Bread; wonderful cheeses deserve a beautiful, artisanal bread. From a lovely baguette to a hearty sourdough, there are lots to choose from for your perfect sandwich. To make it even more delectable, throw in a few grown-up embellishments. Already delicious, it will become irresistible when you make one or two or three spectacular additions. Think bacon, caramelized onions, fig jam, mushrooms, olives, prosciutto, spinach, tapenade or, well let’s face it, the list of possibilities is all but endless.

Oh, and while grilled cheese may be the epitome of the perfect lunch, those gooey on the inside, crunchy on the outside sandwiches will make a fabulous addition to your next cocktail party. Nostalgia will meet scrumptious when you pass around wedges of your favorite grilled cheese sandwich. Or mix it up with a spectacular variety of minis made with different combinations on sliced baguette. Yummmm!

Happy Grilled Cheese Month and bon appétit!

Not Your Ordinary Grilled Ham & Swiss Cheese Sandwiches
llish real Swiss Gruyère and Emmental cheeses with jambon cru and pickled onions for one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches you will ever eat. Enjoy!grilled_swiss_cheeses_proscuitto_05
Serves 2

About 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
About 2 ounces Emmental cheese, grated
1-2 tablespoons dry white wine
Butter, at room temperature
4 slices country bread
Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 thin slices(about 2 ounces) jambon cru* or prosciutto
Garnish: pickled red onions (recipe follows)

Put the cheeses and wine in a bowl and toss to combine.

Generously butter one side of each bread slice. Smear the other side with mustard and place the bread on a large griddle or in a skillet. Evenly distribute the cheese across all four slices of bread and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat until the cheese has melted and the bread is nicely browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Top half of the bread and cheese slices with jambon cru and sprinkle the other half with pickled red onions. Carefully flip one half of each sandwich onto the other, let sit for 2 minutes, cut into wedges and serve.

But what if you want to make grilled cheese for a crowd?

Multiple the ingredients to accommodate the number of sandwiches you want to make. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or foil and set wire racks in the pans.

Generously butter one side of each bread slice. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, cook the buttered side on the griddle until the bread is a pale golden brown.

Transfer the bread, toasted side down, onto the wire racks. (Can do up to 1 hour ahead.)

Put the cheeses and wine in a bowl and toss to combine. Smear the untoasted side of the bread with mustard, sprinkle with the cheeses and season with salt and pepper.

Bake until the cheese has melted, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, top half of the bread and cheese slices with jambon cru and sprinkle the other half with pickled red onions. Carefully flip one half of each sandwich onto the other, let sit for 2 minutes, cut into wedges and serve.

* Similar to prosciutto, jambon cru is a dry cured raw ham and popular in Switzerland and France.

Pickled Red Onions
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf

Combine the hot water, vinegar, sugar, salt and red pepper in glass bowl. Stir until sugar and salt dissolve.

Put the red onion and bay leaf in a clean glass jar. Add the vinegar mixture, cover and shake to combine. If the pickling liquid does not cover the onions completely, add more water and vinegar and give it another shake.

Cover and chill overnight.

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One Year Ago – Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two Years Ago – Thai Curried Shrimp and Green Beans
Three Years Ago – Asparagus Risotto
Four Years Ago – Fennel & Feta Salad
Five Years Ago – Dandelion Salad with Grilled Steak, Potatoes & AsparagusOr Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite Grilled Cheese combo? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

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

© Susan W. Nye, 2014

The Glories of Spring Skiing & Decadent Mac & Cheese

snowy_day_New_London_01My birthday falls in the first few days of March so when we get a big snowstorm in the last week of February, I take it personally. And even more so when the sun returns and shines on all that beautiful new snow. Six inches is lovely, more is wonderful but I don’t complain if it is only an inch or two. Fresh snow and sunshine on my birthday are all the proof I need to know that the snow gods are smiling down upon me. I’m not sure what I’ve done right but I sure hope I continue to do so.

Skiing in New England has always been a bit of catch-as-catch-can; particularly when you compare our slopes to the Alps or the Rockies. We start the season dreaming of a white Christmas. We end it with our fingers crossed and hoping for a white Easter. Sometimes we get both; sometimes, neither. It was even more precarious when I was a kid and few ski areas had snow making equipment.

Imagine my delight when I moved to Switzerland. Skiing in the Alps began well before Christmas in late November or early December. Forget holiday shopping, that’s was airport duty free was for. For many years, my family members were regularly treated to chocolate and SWATCHs under the tree. I don’t think it took them long to figure out why.

But back to skiing in the Alps; even early in the season, unlike New England, the skiing was pretty good. Instead of a measly few trails, a good portion of the mountain was open. Of course, most of the light was gone by two o’clock but you can’t have everything. Then again, I can’t imagine I had too many issues with starting the après ski festivities a little early. On the back end, spring skiing continued until the first of May, sometimes later. I remember one spectacular season when I didn’t hang up my skis until May 16th. How glorious!

For now, I am looking forward to some glorious spring skiing right here in New Hampshire. The days are getting longer. The sun is brighter and higher in the sky. You can leave the heavy parka and hand and toe warmers at home. Maybe (hopefully) even put them away for the season. Fashion-forward skiers will hit the slopes in bright and shiny miracle fiber jackets. As colorful as a bowl of jelly beans, they’ll light up the slopes in tangerine and hot pink. The not-so-fashion-forward will take us back in time and ski retro in ancient Nordic sweaters or faded windbreakers. Sun glasses are mandatory. Hats are not.

Spring skiing is our reward for weathering early winter’s blistering cold days as well as the wet and dreary January thaw. It’s payback for skiing through hurricane force winds and traversing over the sheets of ice which we shrug off as hard-packed-powder.

It’s a joy to be outside and on the mountain. Whether you ski ‘til you drop or spend most of the day working on your tan – enjoy the sunshine, bon ski and bon appétit!

Decadent Mac & Cheese
mac_cheese_01Hungry friends and family will love this rich and cheesy dish. America’s favorite comfort food, mac & cheese is a great après ski dinner for adults and kids alike. Enjoy!
Serves 8-12

Butter
8 ounces grated fontina cheese, shredded
8 ounces mozzarella, shredded

4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
Olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm whole milk or half and half
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon or to taste hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 pound pasta – cavatappi, medium shells, penne or elbow macaroni
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole.

Put the fontina, mozzarella and about 3/4 of the Parmigiano-Reggiano in a bowl, toss to combine and reserve.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and reserve.mac_cheese_02

Put the breadcrumbs and herbs in a bowl, add 1 tablespoon melted butter and toss to combine. Add the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, season with salt and pepper and cooking, whisking, for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.

Put the cream cheese in a large bowl, slowly stir in the warm sauce and continue stirring until smooth. Add the sour cream, hot sauce and nutmeg and stir until smooth. Stir in the onions and garlic. Reserve.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the pasta water.

Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry add a little pasta water. Sprinkle the pasta with the cheese mix and toss again.

Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. (You can make ahead to this point, cover and refrigerate. Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking.) Bake the mac & cheese at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until piping hot and golden.

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One Year Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Two Years Ago – Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Three Years Ago – White Bean Dip
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Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your plans for Oscar night? Let’s get a conversation going.

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

Fun with Fondue & Traditional Cheese Fondue

I’m not sure what the food fashion police have to say about fondue this winter. Is it reborn and hip again? Fondue is one of those dishes which always seems to be in the midst of a comeback. Of course it was all the rage back in the ‘70’s. From New England’s snowy peaks to Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers, a party was not a party without a gently bubbling pot of cheese and/or chocolate fondue.fondue_pot

When my sister tied the knot, she received four, maybe five fondue pots. Or at least a few more than she thought she needed or would ever need. The extra pots were consigned to the purgatory of my parents’ attic. Years later when I set up my first apartment, fondue was already passé but I magnanimously adopted one. I was moving to Vermont and fondue seemed like a natural. I think I might have served it on one or two cold winter nights but I can’t swear to it.

But fondue is not a fad in Switzerland. It doesn’t come and go on the whim of some fancy food fashionista. It’s been a favorite on Swiss tables since the late 1600’s. That’s when a hungry alpine cow-herder made supper of some stale bread and a bit of melted cheese on a cold and blustery winter night.

One of the first things l learned when I moved to Switzerland was that the Swiss take their fondue very seriously. As you would expect in a country where “everything which is not required, is forbidden,” certain rules apply when eating fondue.

1. Never eat fondue in the summer. Relaxing around a pot of piping hot cheese is a lovely way to spend a winter evening but steamy business in the middle of summer. Every year the Swiss celebrate the first cold, rainy days of autumn with a fondue.

2. Only drink white wine, preferably Fendant from the Valais region of Switzerland. For children or anyone who does not drink wine, hot tea is okay but never beer, water, juice or heaven forbid Coca-Cola. The practical explanation or urban myth for this rule is that these drinks will cause the cheese to come together into a hard, cold ball in the pit of your stomach. Every Swiss person knows someone who knows someone who knows someone whose uncle died from drinking a cold beer after a fondue.

3. It’s okay to skip dessert, but if you do indulge, fruit with a splash of kirsch is the traditional after-fondue sweet. While the idea of an all-fondue evening might sound intriguing, chocolate fondue is decidedly un-Swiss. Chocolate fondue was invented in New York about fifty years ago, albeit by a Swiss-born chef. Obviously, too much time in Manhattan led him astray. Ice cream is strictly frowned upon; see rule number 2.

Tourists, especially American tourists, are notorious for breaking these rules. Not many cafés serve fondue during the summer. If by chance, you venture by one that does; you’re sure to find a jolly group of tourists enjoying a fondue in the hot sunshine. More likely than not, they’ll be washing it down with a beer or icy cold Coke. Strangely enough, in spite of this terrible lapse, the sidewalks in front of these establishments are not littered with tourists writhing in pain and near death.

Now is the perfect time to venture into the attic and retrieve that old fondue pot. A lazy evening with friends around a pot of bubbling cheese and a bottle of wine is an excellent way to end a long day on the slopes.

Bon appétit!

Traditional Cheese Fondue
Fondue is the perfect après-ski meal. A mix of cheeses is best; Gruyere and Emmental are most common and easiest to find. If you can track some down, try adding Fribourg Vacherine or a combination of Tilsit and Appenzell. Enjoy!
Serves 6

1 clove garlic, halved
1 1/4 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 pounds cheese
Try: 1/2 Gruyere and 1/2 Emmental,
1/2 Gruyere and 1/2 Fribourg Vacherin or
1/2 Gruyere, 1/4 Tilsit and 1/4 Appenzell
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ounce Kirsch
Freshly ground pepper
Crusty country bread cut or torn into bite sized pieces

Special equipment: a fondue pot, stand for the pot, alcohol burner and long handled fondue forks

Grate the cheeses, sprinkle with cornstarch and toss to combine.
fondue_01
Rub the fondue pot with the garlic. Drop both halves in the bottom of the pot, add the wine and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cheese in handfuls and cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Stir in the kirsch and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.

Set the fondue pot on its stand over a low flame. Pierce a piece of bread with a fondue fork and swirl it through the cheese.

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One Year Ago – Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach
Two Years Ago – Tuscan White Bean Soup
Three Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Risotto
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Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

When was the last time you had a fondue? Let’s get a conversation going.

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