Merry Christmas Mom & Bûche de Noël

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While the cake cools, make the White Chocolate Frosting.

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

While the cake sets, make the Chocolate Cream Frosting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting in the Spirit & Chocolate Walnut Tart

Christmas_StockingHopefully, you’re feeling all warm and cozy after Thanksgiving. There were probably a few not too subtle and not too quiet words spoken at some point between the shrimp cocktail and pumpkin pie. It would not be Thanksgiving if there were not at least one blowup. I’m sure all is forgiven or at least forgotten by now. Anyway, let’s turn that Thanksgiving afterglow into some big old, no strings, no limits holiday spirit. I’m sure you have a few ideas but these will help you get started:

First and foremost, take down any political signs that are still in your yard. Replace them with sparkling lights and a snowman or two. Hang a wreath on the door and fill an old planter with evergreens, holly and more lights.

Drive around town and look at other people’s Christmas lights. Revive an old tradition of a special dinner out after the Christmas lights tour. If your family has never celebrated the lights tour tradition, start it. You deserve a night out.

Dig through all your old boxes of decorations and ornaments. Don’t stop there; look through your mom’s old boxes too. These treasures will bring back special memories. Embrace and revel in the nostalgia of Christmas.

Get a tree and fill it with lights, baubles and bows. If it seems like too much trouble … get one anyway. If it really, really, really seems like too much trouble, cover the mantle with greens and decorate them with lights, baubles and bows. It will get you in the spirit and send you over to the farm for a tree.

Whether you favor Bing or Bruce, crank up some holiday tunes. It’s a wonderful time of year and music is a big part of it. Find one of those all Christmas stations on the radio and let it play throughout the day. Music will lift your spirits on a dark and cloudy afternoon and make any task easier. In the coming weeks, make it a point to attend a community concert, go caroling and hum your way through the supermarket.

Bake something. Anything; it doesn’t matter whether you bake dozens of cookies, a tart or a pan of brownies. By all means, get the children or grandkids involved. They can help you measure and mix and keep you company. If you don’t have any kids available, borrow one or two from a neighbor. I’m sure their parents will be delighted to have some free time to wrap gifts, do some shopping or just sit quietly for a minute.

Baking done; now, it’s time to make something. Craft a tree ornament, knit a scarf or decorate a wreath; the list is endless. ‘Tis the season to take a workshop at the library or community center, search the internet for clever projects or ask your creative friends for help. Remember, when in doubt – a can of gold spray paint can turn almost anything into something magical.

Do you have a favorite book that your parents read you every year at Christmas? Even if it’s been years, hunt it down, cuddle up on the couch and read it again. From the transformations of Ebenezer and Grinch to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, these stories share themes of love and kindness.

Happy holidays and bon appétit!

Chocolate Walnut Tart
A delicious change from the traditional Pecan Pie, this tart is perfect for chocoholics. Enjoy!baking_01
Makes one tart

Flaky Pastry (recipe follows)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 cups (about 8 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)
Garnish: unsweetened whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough and fit it into a 9- or 10-inch glass or ceramic tart pan. Trim and crimp the edge. Cover and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter and rum. Whisk in the sugar and maple syrup. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the walnuts and allspice.

Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake until set, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool on a rack for at least 2 hours. Pour the glaze over the tart and spread evenly to cover the top. Cool completely and serve garnished with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

Chocolate Glaze
8 ounces dark chocolate
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Put the chocolate, butter and cream in a heavy saucepan and, stirring frequently, heat on very low until about 2/3 melted. Remove the pan from the heat, let sit for 5-10 minutes and stir until smooth.

Flaky Pastry
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons cold solid vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
2-4 tablespoons ice water

Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Sprinkle with ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.

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One Year Ago – Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies
Two Years Ago – Peppermint Bark Cookies
Three Years Ago – Mixed Reds & Greens Holiday Salad
Four Years Ago – Snowy Pecan Balls
Five Years Ago – Chocolate Truffles
Six Years Ago – Smoked Salmon Mousse
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Beans
Eight Years Ago – Winter Soup with Pasta, Beans & Greens

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

What about you? How do you get in the holiday spirit? Feel free to share!

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

Belated Birthday Present & Flourless Chocolate Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon appétit!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Circle & Cheesecake Brownies

John_PLeasant_LakeSharing some of the tales told around my table is a lot of fun; especially some of my childhood adventures. Except for the on-going trauma and drama of being a middle child, mine was pretty much an idyllic childhood. However, I have to admit that, from time to time, my fingers hesitate on the keyboard. Although I never ran with scissors, I worry that some readers might be horrified by the easy-going nature of my childhood.

Compared to today’s moms and dads, mine were the epitome of slap-dash. We now lovingly refer to it as the Joe and Libby Nye School of Negligent Parenting. Yes, they loved my sister, brother and I. They still do; but there was no hovering or helicoptering. They didn’t shuttle us from one play date to the next and then on to a never-ending lineup of practices and lessons. They simply told us, in no uncertain terms, to turn off the television and go out to play. And we did.

That said; we were never far from watchful, caring eyes. The moms in our neighborhood were mostly stay-at-home and all their kitchen windows faced the street. These women knew each other’s children and all our quirks. They knew who took jelly with their peanut butter and who took fluff. They even knew that I was the only kid in the United States who didn’t like peanut butter sandwiches, with or without fluff or jelly. They knew who was having trouble with math and who needed to work on the beanbag toss. They tut-tutted any mishaps and applauded our successes. They still do.

These women were more or less everywhere, or at least it seemed that way. Whenever we tried to make a break from the straight and narrow, one of them would appear to give us (and our conscience) a nudge. It didn’t matter if we were throwing crab apples at the new kid, cutting the lift line at the ski hill or hitchhiking; someone’s mother always turned up. Then, gently but firmly, she would ask, “Does your mother know what you are doing?” Except in the case of hitchhiking – then it was more like, “Get in this car this minute! Does your mother know what you’re doing!?!” When we were teenagers, we were convinced that these women were nosey busybodies, a collective pain in our you know whats. Years later, we figured out that they were just looking out for us.

In the summer on Pleasant Lake, Mom and her friends gathered every afternoon at the beach. Known as The Ladies of the Beach, they pulled their beach chairs into The Circle to chat and share ideas, large and small. Yes, even in the summer, these women followed our progress, our triumphs and mishaps. We could run, but we couldn’t hide.

These Ladies were better than Homeland Security when it came to sharing information. Much better. There were daily updates on who passed their raft test, had a wicked case of poison ivy or a troublesome earache. They knew who fell off their bicycle or into the pond. When we got older, they fretted about who we were dating or if we were dateless. They wondered and worried if we were sneaking a few beers on the beach at night. Instead of sending our dads down to check, they let us experiment and suffer that first hangover.

As time went on, the Ladies of the Beach knew where we went to college and our majors. Later, they followed job changes, moves, marriages and the blessed arrival of each other’s grandchildren. When our lives became more complex, it was harder to keep track but they did their best.

Sadly, many of them are gone but we were more than fortunate to have The Ladies of the Beach in our lives. They encouraged us, cheered us and celebrated with us. An African proverb tells us that it takes a village to raise a child. On Pleasant Lake, it takes a Circle.

I wish you all a wonderful summer surrounded by friends and family. Bon appétit!

Cheesecake Brownies
Brownies are everyone’s favorite portable dessert. Next time, swirl in cheesecake batter for a more than special treat. Enjoy!
Makes 24 brownies

Start by making the brownie layer:
14 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon espresso powder or instant coffee
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Place the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch pan.

Stirring frequently, heat the butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over very low heat. Remove the pan from heat when the butter and chocolate are almost melted. Whisk until completely melted and well combined. Cool for 10 minutes.

Whisk the sugar, espresso powder and salt into the chocolate. Whisking constantly, add the eggs one at a time. Whisk in the vanilla. Add the flour and stir until just combined. Spread the brownie batter in the prepared baking pan.

Now make the cheesecake batter and swirl it into the brownies:
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy and well combined. Add the egg and vanilla and continue beating until smooth and well combined.

Drop dollops of cheesecake batter on top of the brownie batter and swirl with a knife.

Finally, garnish and bake:
1 cup your favorite chocolate chips, dark, semisweet or milk

Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the top of the cheesecake brownies.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick just comes out clean. Do not over bake! Cool and cut into squares.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Swordfish with Tequila-Lime Butter
Two Years Ago – Grilled Swordfish with Olive & Caper Salsa
Three Years Ago – Grilled Red Potatoes with Lemon-Garlic-Herb Oil
Four Years Ago – Tandoori Chicken
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Muffins
Six Years Ago – Peanut Butter Brownies

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

Do you have any special summer memories? 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

Consequences & Chocolate Panna Cotta

highway_signWhether it was your mom, dad or a stern teacher or boss, chances are good that you’ve heard the dreaded words, “There will be consequences.” Not once but hundreds of times. And if you’ve never heard them, well heck, loosen up a little! The whole concept of consequences, especially the unintended kind, intrigue me.

Some unintended consequences are well known, even infamous like prohibition. Instead of cleaning up life in the United States, the Eighteenth Amendment led to significant increases in lawlessness and alcoholism. Plus, the loss of revenue from excise taxes on liquor forced many states to institute or increase their income tax.

So, what other unintended consequences come to mind?

Remember the boom box? It’s invention led to many wonderful consequences. Mimes could fight their way out of imaginary boxes to music. A whole generation of talented kids danced their way into our hearts on New York street corners. John Cusack set a whole new bar for teenage romantic gestures. In spite of all that good stuff, this wonderful treasure has gone the way of the dinosaur and phonograph.

Thanks to Steve Jobs, we now get our portable music from a tiny iPod attached to even tinier earbuds. Instead of sharing our music and joy with the entire neighborhood, we bob our heads and listen alone. Oh, we might hum along tunelessly or share a bud with a friend but it’s not the same as the rambunctious, in-your-face boom box.

And oh, it’s not just the boom box. Gone too are cassette tapes. This loss might not seem like such a big deal until you pause and remember the mix tape. I’m sorry, I know all sorts of counterfeiting laws were broken but nothing says road trip like a mix tape of your favorite songs. Or happy birthday but I’m broke and wanted to get you something special and this is what I came up with. Or I love you madly, miss you terribly or think you’re the greatest and here’s the proof.

Eons ago, kids from the suburbs received their first cameras at about age ten. Off to camp or summer vacation, they’d go with their shiny new cameras. Hundreds of pictures were snapped and then rushed to the pharmacy for developing. About a week later, proud and happy kids shared all their out-of-focus, head-chopped-off, under- and over-exposed photographs with friends and family.

Today, there’s a camera in every cellphone. Kids go off to camp or summer vacation or just down the street for the afternoon. They take hundreds of pictures and within minutes post all those out-of-focus, head-chopped-off, under- and over-exposed photographs on Facebook.

Yes indeed, the cellphone for all its convenience has created a long list of unintended consequences. At least I assume they were unintended. Before its invention, restaurants were filled with people, talking to each other, even laughing. Now, diners sit at tables and text or talk to absent friends and family. What ever happen to love the one you’re with?

Plus, and this is a big one, cellphones led to the demise of the phone booth. While you may not miss them, think of poor Clark Kent. That’s right, when was the last time Superman swooped in to save the nation. It’s been awhile and with all this snow, we need him, desperately. Roofs are collapsing, cars are piling-up on the highway and fisticuffs over parking spaces have become commonplace. Where’s Superman in all this mayhem? He’s still looking for somewhere to change.

With a toast to future inventions, I wish you, bon appétit!

Chocolate Panna Cotta
Not all that recently, a reader wrote in to say she couldn’t find my Chocolate Panna Cotta recipe. She asked if I could email her the link. My response – “Sorry, it’s not lost. My Chocolate Panna Cotta recipe is still in my head and not yet in a post.” So, consider today’s recipe a consequence of that request. Enjoy!
Serves 6-8

2 cups heavy creamChocolate_Panna_Cotta_Blood_w_Orange_02
1/2 cup brown sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup whole milk or half & half
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder or instant coffee
5-6 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup sour cream
2-3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Garnish: fresh orange segments segments (blood oranges if you can find them), raspberries or strawberries and whipped cream

Combine the cream, brown sugar and orange zest in a large saucepan. Stirring frequently, cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the cream is steaming. Remove from the heat and let the orange zest steep for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the chocolate and put it in a large measuring cup. Put the milk in a small bowl, sprinkle with the gelatin and let sit until the gelatin softens, about 15 minutes.

Reheat the cream to steaming. Add the gelatin mixture and espresso powder and whisk until the gelatin dissolves.

Pour the cream through a fine mesh sieve into the measuring cup with the chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for 5 minutes and then whisk to combine.

Put the sour cream into a small bowl. A little bit at a time, whisk 2 cups of chocolate cream into the sour cream. Stir in the Grand Marnier and vanilla and then whisk the sour cream mixture into the measuring cup with the chocolate cream.

Pour the panna cotta into small dessert or wine glasses or espresso cups. Chill uncovered until the panna cotta has set, 4-6 hours. Cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Remove the panna cottas from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving. Top each panna cotta with a generous spoonful of fresh fruit, a small dollop of whipped cream and serve.

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One Year Ago – Turkey Scaloppini with Prosciutto & Sage
Two Years Ago – Cheese Fondue
Three Years Ago – Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach
Four Years Ago – Tuscan White Bean Soup
Five Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Risotto
Six Years Ago – Swimming Pool Jello
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have a favorite story about an unintended consequence? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

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

Birthday Surprise & Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes

Mom_SusieOne of my mother’s many claims to fame is her love of birthdays, especially her own. Perhaps it comes from being an only child. Since Nana and Grandpa only had to worry about one birthday, they did it up big. Then of course, her birthday had a habit of falling on Labor Day weekend and the final days of summer vacation. The long holiday weekend became a celebration of all things Elizabeth.

Friends and family gathered on the Cape to fête my mother and enjoy the last days of summer. Since Nana didn’t bake, the local bakery was kept very busy. Throughout the weekend, every meal, except maybe breakfast, included candles, cake and ice cream.

Since my father loves to tell the story of Mom’s girlhood birthday extravaganza, we grew up hearing about her many parties. By the time we built the little brown house near Pleasant Lake, the endless round had become more finite. If her birthday fell in the middle of the week, she might join her friends for a girls’ night out. Dad arrived on Friday and took her out to dinner. At some point over the weekend, my sister or I baked a cake and we’d celebrate with a family dinner.

Maybe it was Dad’s stories or her own goodwill but one year, Brenda decided to throw our mother a surprise birthday bash. Perhaps it was a way for her to say thank you; she was heading to Colorado in September for college. Everyone assumed it was the big one, Mom’s Four-O. It was actually her forty-first and Mom never suspected a thing. She was delighted with the party and didn’t mind losing a year.

For the most part, the party was all Brenda’s doing. Maybe there was a caterer or two in town back then. If there was, we didn’t know about them. Dad stocked the bar, I baked the birthday cake but Brenda did everything else. Sure Dad paid the tab but my seventeen-year-old sister put it all together. Brenda figured out the menu, filled a couple of carts at Cricenti’s and prepared the food.

She even hired the bar tenders, her then boyfriend and his cousin. Neither knew the first thing about pouring a drink but did their best to intoxicate the guests. If the perfect gin and tonic has a ratio of one gin to three tonic, they flipped it. As I remember, they did fuel a bit of fire. The mood was exuberant, the talk and laughter loud and there was much singing if no dancing. At least one drink was thrown … or maybe that was another night. Luckily, the guests were all close neighbors so the roads stayed safe.

mom_susie_CA_01Mom’s not-really-fortieth became the measure of all future surprise parties. This year marks another milestone for her. She will be eighty-five on Friday. Although there will be cupcakes, I am sad to say there is no big surprise party in the works. Mom still smiles her beautiful smile and brings joy to all who know her but she is in the later stages of Alzheimer ’s disease. We will visit her with gifts and flowers but Brenda’s not-really-fortieth celebration will not be topped. Instead, for the many who love her, Mom’s birthday is a good day to reflect on all that she means to us and to raise a toast in her honor.

Happy birthday Mom and bon appétit!

Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes
The cupcake may be passé in New York and Los Angeles but it is a welcome birthday treat at the Nyes! Enjoy!
Makes about 24 cupcakes

double_frosted_chocolate_cupcakes_043 ounces unsweetened chocolate, choppped
1 stick butter, at room temperature and cut in pieces
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or orange-flavored liqueur
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups less 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate-Orange Ganache (recipe follows)
White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the chocolate and butter in a large bowl. Put the orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the orange juice to the chocolate and butter, let everything sit and melt for a few minutes and then whisk to combine.

Stir in the sugar, Grand Marnier and vanilla. Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, combining after each addition. Add the sour cream and whisk to combine.

Put the flour, orange zest, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and combine thoroughly.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the batter and combine thoroughly. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.

making_choc_cupcakes_02Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 2/3rd full with batter. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To assemble: spread warm Chocolate-Orange Ganache on the cupcakes. Place the cupcakes in the refrigerator or freezer and cool until the chocolate has set. With a pastry bag and a large tip, add a hefty dollop of White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting.

If making ahead, store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate-Orange Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or orange-flavored liqueur
Pinch salt
About 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut in pieces

In a small saucepan, heat the cream and zest to steaming. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain the cream, add the Grand Marnier and salt and reheat to steaming. Remove the cream from the heat, add the chocolate and butter. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then whisk until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

Let the ganache cool for about 10 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
About 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled

Put the butter, cream cheese and sour cream in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined.

Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until just combined. Add the Grand Marnier, vanilla and white chocolate, increase mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until smooth.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese Salad
Two Years Ago – Blueberry Soup with Mascarpone Cream
Three Years Ago – Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Avocado Salsa
Four Years Ago – Crostini with Goat Cheese
Five Years Ago – Corn & Chicken Chowder
Six Years Ago – Joe Nye’s Perfect Lobster
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your birthday party or anytime treat? 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

Heat Wave & Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet

Last week we had our first heat wave of the summer. You know what they say, “It’s not the heat it’s the humidity.” Well they’re wrong. It’s BOTH. It’s the HEAT and the HUMIDITY. After our incredibly mild winter, I hope this early heat wave is not a premonition for a hot hot summer to come.

For now, I’ll stay positive and just assume we’ll have no more than our usual share of dog days. But just in case, I’ve put together a few tips on how to survive a heat wave. Let’s hope we don’t need them too soon or too often!

1. Follow Nana’s advice. Leave the windows open at night and put fans all over the house to get the air circulating. In the morning, close the windows and pull the curtains to keep the cool air in and hot air out.

2. Get one of those big, beautiful fans. The kind you see geishas gently fluttering in the movies. If it’s too hot to leave the house in search of a fan, fold a piece of paper accordion style, staple one end and flap away.

3. Stand in front of the open refrigerator or better yet the freezer until a voice in your head (I’m betting it’s your mother’s) shouts for you to SHUT THAT DOOR.

4. Eat and drink cool. That means lots of ice water. And then some more. Be sure to eat plenty of ice cream, gelato and sorbet. Heck, munch on frozen peas it you must.

5. Hang out in the freezer section of the supermarket. If the manager gets suspicious and throws you out or you get tired of standing around, take a trip to the library. If your town library is not air-conditioned try the book store. Of course you could go to the movies but that would only kill a couple of hours. Besides there are always lots of nice people in libraries and book stores and they have comfy chairs.

6. Find a tree and a breeze. Park yourself under the tree and don’t move except to sip a frosty drink. Daydream of igloos and Eskimo pies. Snooze often.

7. Go to the beach and float in the water for hours and hours. If you don’t live near a lake or a pond or the ocean, find a pool or run through a sprinkler. If all else fails fill the bathtub with cool water. Floaties and fins as well as a rubber ducky or two are optional.

8. Move to the basement. Hot air rises so the basement is usually nice and cool. Even if it is a little damp and musty.

9. Buy an air-conditioner, at least for your bedroom. Yes, I know we always say it never gets all that hot in New Hampshire. But we lie. It does get all that hot, if only for a few days, two, maybe three times every summer. And please take note; wrestle the air-conditioner into the window before the mercury climbs to ninety-five, not after.

10. When all else fails, book a flight to Antarctica. Leave your flip-flops at home.

Stay cool, have a wonderful summer and bon appétit!

(p.s. … and remember … if you start to feel faint or ill, call for help!)

Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet

A cool treat for chocoholics. Enjoy!
Makes about 1 quart

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup freshly brewed espresso
2 cups hot water
.
1 tablespoon Irish whiskey, coffee liqueur or rum (optional)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3-4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet
chocolate, finely chopped

Put the sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Whisk in the hot espresso and whisk until smooth. Slowly whisk in the hot water and continue whisking until the cocoa powder and sugar dissolves and the mixture is smooth.

Add the Irish whiskey and vanilla. Cool to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator until very cold.

Freeze the sorbet in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s directions, adding the chopped chocolate in the last 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the sorbet to a plastic container and freeze for 1-2 hours or until firm enough to scoop.

The sorbet will keep in the freezer for up to one month. If it comes out of the freezer rock hard, put it in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes. It will soften a little and be easier to scoop.

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One Year Ago – Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons
Two Years Ago – The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen
Three Years Ago – Asian Slaw Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How do you stay cool during a heat wave? I’d love to hear from you! 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, 2012