Home for Lunch Bunch & Greek Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Last Tuesday, families were back at bus stops during my morning walk around the lake. It was the first day of school. Cell phones were in camera mode and working in overdrive. Most of the moms were wearing bigger and brighter smiles than the kids, much bigger and much brighter.

While my childhood was split between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, our Monday through Friday life was spent in suburbia. That’s where I went to school. It was a much different world from our northern New England paradise. For one thing, in square mileage, the town was half the size. However, the population was about fifteen, yes, fifteen, times greater.

In the spirit of the post-war building boom, houses were packed close together. Not reach out the window and shake your neighbor’s hand close but close enough. Instead of one regional elementary school serving a couple of towns, there were twelve neighborhood schools and no corner bus stops. From the first day of kindergarten until we finished the sixth grade, we walked to school.

These elementary schools were strategically located so that no child walked more than a mile. Or at least that was the theory. There were a few outliers. My friend Joy was one of them. Her street fell outside the one-mile radius of any school. Joy and kids like her had to tough it out, ride their bikes or hitch rides with their parents.

We actually walked to and from school twice a day. That’s right, we went home for lunch. As you might guess, that put quite a crimp in any parent’s day. But those schools were built in another time for another era. Most moms were stay at home; taking care of kids, house and husband. I’m sure there were a few exceptions but I never met any.

It didn’t seem to bother Mom much when my sister and I were little. She was always there when we bounced back and forth, to and from Fiske School. All the mothers in the neighborhood were on the same schedule. If they complained about it; we never heard. Then again, what seven-year-old pays attention to the hassles and inconveniences her mother might face?

Things changed a bit the year my brother started kindergarten. While the town had twelve neighborhood elementary schools, there was just one high school and one middle school. My sister was in her first year at the high school and I had just move up to the middle school. (We called it junior high back then.)

Anyway, our house fell within inches of the one-mile rule so, middle school or not, I still walked. My sister took the bus. But here’s the important part, neither of us went home for lunch. The school board figured that once you reached the ripe old age of twelve, you could handle a cafeteria.

On the other hand, my kindergartener brother was home every day at noon. It was about that time that my generally cheery mom started to talk about the home for lunch bunch. At twelve, I couldn’t help but notice the not-so-subtle note of irony in her voice. After all, this daily interruption and rush to be home had already been going on for ten years … and, there she was – looking at seven more.

Happy back to school and bon appétit! 

Greek Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

You don’t need to roll out the grill for this grown up version of a childhood favorite. Next time zucchini is on the menu, grill up some extra for tomorrow’s lunch. Enjoy!

Makes 4 sandwiches

  • About 1/2 red onion, cut in thin wedges
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Dash or to taste hot sauce
  • 1-2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • Butter
  • 4 ounces shredded mozzarella
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta
  • Black oil-cured or Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the onion and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Put the vegetables in a grill basket and, stirring from time to time, grill on high until tender crisp.

Return the vegetables to the bowl, fish out the garlic clove, add the hot sauce and toss to coat. Finely mince the garlic, add it back to the onion and toss again.

Meanwhile, brush the zucchini halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the zucchini until nicely browned and tender, 3-5 minutes per side. Remove the zucchini from the grill and finely chop. Add the zucchini to the onion and toss to combine.

Lightly butter one side of each slice of bread. Set half the bread slices in a skillet – you’ll probably need to work in batches or use 2 skillets. Spread a dollop of grilled vegetables on each slice and sprinkle with mozzarella, feta and olives. Top with the remaining bread slices, butter side up. Cover the skillet and cook on medium low until the bread is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Flip the sandwiches and cook until the cheese has melted and the second side is golden, about 5 minutes.

Cut the sandwiches into wedges and serve.

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

 

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Une Grande Dame & Goat Cheese Souffle

Notre Dame de Paris DSC 0846wIt was a jaw dropping moment, not in awe but in sorrow. Turning on the evening news last Monday, I was shocked and saddened to see a great architectural achievement on fire. Catastrophic flames leapt high into the sky. It was unreal. After weathering revolution, countless protests and two world wars, after eight centuries, Notre Dame was on fire.

I have visited Paris many times. After all, it was a quick three-hour trip by train from Geneva, my adopted home for almost two decades. Upon hearing and seeing the tragedy, my thoughts turned immediately not to my first trip to Paris nor to my last. Instead, memories of my first solo trip came flooding back.

Solo travel can be daunting, particularly for women. However, for those first few months in Switzerland, I was the new girl. I didn’t have a posse of family and friends to enlist in my travel goals. Fear and intimidation be damned, I resolved to spread my wings and visit all the great centers of Europe. Once a month, alone or not, I would hop on the train or find a cheap flight. At the time, I thought I’d only be there a year. I wasn’t going to waste it. From the leaning tower of Pisa to the tower of London, I wasn’t going to miss a thing.

I arrived in early August and it didn’t take long to settle into my new job and studio apartment. My docket as a research associate at an international leadership and management education institute (wow – that’s a mouthful) filled up quickly. The tiny apartment overlooked a different Notre Dame. It didn’t take long to unpack and find the nearest grocery store, farmers market and gym. I was settled and ready to see Europe.

From the start, I kept to the plan and spent weekends in Vienna and Munich. Paris was next. For a New England girl, it was amazing to leave work a few hours early on a Friday afternoon and arrive in Paris in time for dinner. Mind you, Parisians don’t eat at five or six but then neither do I.

I stayed in a cheap hotel, ate in neighborhood cafés and walked and walked and walked some more. It was October, a bit cool, mostly overcast but thankfully the rain held off. My feet took me from one great landmark to another. I wandered around and in Notre Dame Cathedral as well as the Arc de Triomphe, Les Jardin des Tuileries and a few interesting little shops. I took great delight in walking up and down the Seine and over its famous bridges. I drank tiny cups of strong coffee and glasses of dry wine. I feasted on croissants, steak-frites and oysters with raspberry vinegar and shallots.

Perhaps I was feeling a little homesick on Sunday afternoon. Before heading home on the train, I stopped for lunch at, of all places, a Greek restaurant. No, I’m not Greek but my mother and I used to go to the theater once or twice a year. We went to the matinée and before the show we joined the ladies-who-lunch at the Athens Olympia Café on Stuart Street in Boston.

A charming older woman sat at the next table. We exchanged polite smiles. After I gave my order, she asked a question or two. I replied in faltering French and a pleasant, only slight awkward conversation ensued. As I got up to leave, she commended me, not because I was anything close to fluent but because I made the effort. My mother would have been proud of me. I was proud of me.

Here’s to adventures great and small, safe travels and bon appétit!

Goat Cheese Souffle
Jacque Pepin’s mother’s souffle recipe is the inspiration for this simple, throw it all together dish. Enjoy!
Serves 4

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, plus more for the ramekins
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups whole milk or half & half or a mix
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled and at room temperature*
4 large eggs, at room temperature*
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon minced chives
1/2 tablespoon minced rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter 4 (1-cup) ramekins, place them on a baking sheet and set aside.

Make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes. Continuing to whisk constantly, add the milk and whisk until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the salt and pepper and set aside for 10-15 minutes.

Put the goat cheese, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer or whisk with a fork until well combined.

Beating constantly, add the béchamel a little at a time and mix until well combined. Pour into the prepared ramekins.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated for several hours. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking until puffed and golden, about 10 minutes more. Serve immediately.

It will be easier to combine the goat cheese and eggs if they are at room temperature. If you forget to take them out of the refrigerator in advance – don’t worry just beat for a minute or two more.

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One Year Ago – Vindaloo Chicken
Two Years Ago – I Love Lime Pie 
Three Years Ago – Quinoa Salad
Four Years Ago – Latkes 
Five Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Six Years Ago – Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
Seven Years Ago – Espresso Brownies
Eight Years Ago – Lemon Scones
Nine Years Ago – Shrimp with Jicama Slaw
Ten Years Ago – Pork Mole

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Do you have special memories of Paris? Feel free to share!

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

Notre Dame Cathedral photograph – courtesy of Peter Haas, CC BY-SA 3.0

Come Together & Quinoa-Cheddar Cakes

What’s going on? We are plagued by division. Forget dog eat dog; we live in a world of dog people versus cat people. The simplest of nonissues spark controversy with #whiteandgold versus #blueandblack, Facebook versus Twitter and Superman versus Batman. Not to mention, the more significant debates of stay-at-home versus working moms, Coke versus Pepsi, skins versus shirts, this versus that and on and on. It’s exhausting.

Not only exhausting but (and I’m speculating here) it’s hardly worth it. White-gold-blue-black, it’s only a dress. As for the Facebook and Twitter question, well, think for a minute. Whether its 400 or 4,000 or 4,000,000, the vast majority of your contacts are not friends and they are definitely not your followers. Unless of course, you are some kind of cult leader. If that’s the case, I guess you do have followers. Whoa, that’s a bit scary.

Anyway, life is complicated. Issues can rarely be dumbed down to either or. Unless someone’s asking about dinner at a wedding reception, then it works. By the way, take the chicken. The beef is always well done as in overcooked and tough as shoe leather. Okay, lets get back to more complicated choices and debates.

The Man of Steel can fly which is incredibly special and pretty wonderful, especially if you live somewhere with a lot of traffic. On the other hand, Batman has lots of cool toys and is a millionaire. However, he is a brooding type of guy and never seems too happy. You could ask, why have a bunch of cool toys if they don’t make you happy? Wouldn’t it be better to fly around and leap tall buildings? Not to digress but have you ever noticed that invisibility is an exceedingly rare super power? More than complicated, that one is just creepy.

Anyway, I guess if pushed to choose, I’d lean towards Superman. However, in the grand scheme of things – the debate is not worth a big or even a small blowup. Surely, you wouldn’t risk a longtime friend or the close relationship with your sister, brother, uncle or whoever over Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.

Cuddle your cat or sing with your parakeet. Enjoy that Pepsi, Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper. Play rugby with or without a shirt. Post your photos on Instagram and Tweet to your heart’s content. It’s okay by me. Except for mean Tweets, even if I don’t see them, it would make me sad to think you might be so inclined.

When it gets right down to it; we’re more alike than different. Most of us want the same things out of life. We want to be warm, safe and loved. We’d like to have enough food to keep us going and good health. We’d like to be happy. While we all have different definitions of luxury, I’m betting we’d all like to indulge in an extravagance now and then.

Not convinced? Here’s one undeniable truth that ties us together – we all put our socks on before our shoes. Spike heels, mukluks or sneakers; silky stocking or wooly socks, the order is undeniable. It links us through time and space. Unless you don’t wear socks or shoes or both. If that’s the case, you probably still put your pants on one leg at a time.

A toast to a lot less partisanship and a lot more kindness and understanding. Bon appétit!

Quinoa-Cheddar Cakes
Appetizer, side dish or main, these little cakes are delicious and have a nice crunch. Serve them with a dab of guacamole and salsa or sprinkle with cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper. Enjoy!
Makes about 16 regular cakes

1 cup quinoa
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4-5 scallions, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
5 large eggs
1-2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated cheddar cheese
Olive oil
Garnish: your favorite salsa and/or guacamole or cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper

Cook the quinoa until tender according to package directions.

While the quinoa cooks, put the scallions, garlic, herbs and spices in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add the hot quinoa to the scallions and stir to combine. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Put the eggs and pepper sauce in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs to the quinoa and stir to combine. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes or cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Lightly coat a large, heavy skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Working in batches, add dollops of quinoa to the pan and flatten into pancakes. (A 1/4-1/3 cup ice cream scoop works well. A mini scoop is good for hors d’oeuvres.)

Fry the pancakes for 5-8 minutes per side or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Remove the cakes from the pan and drain on paper towels. Transfer the cakes to an ovenproof platter to keep warm in the oven and continue with the next batch.

Serve immediately with your favorite salsa, guacamole or a sprinkle of cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Carrot Salad
Two Years Ago – Irish Lamb Stew
Three Years Ago – Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary
Four Years Ago – Not-Really-Irish and Not-Really-French Potato Gratin
Five Years Ago – Zucchini Pancakes
Six Years Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Seven Three Years Ago – Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Nine Years Ago – Linguine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Roasted Eggplant
Ten Years Ago – Fettuccine with Classic Bolognese Sauce

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

What are your thoughts? Can you suggest one action – large or small – to help bring us together? Feel free to share!

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

 

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