It’s a Rainy Weekend Special

ducks_in_the_fog_elkinsIt’s April which can mean only one thing in New Hampshire. It’s raining, about to rain or just finished raining. Okay, that’s three things.

It’s mud season in New Hampshire and we all need is a comforting lunch!

Call a few friends and get out the griddle. It’s time for our favorite lunch – grilled cheese and a mug of soup. Try my Not Your Ordinary Ham & Swiss Grilled Cheese or my The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen. In spite of their highfalutin names, they are delicious. Add a cup of soup, what could be better on a cold day. You can go with a classic: Roasted Tomato Soup with Fresh Corn. Since fresh local corn is still months away, you can skip the corn or use frozen shoepeg corn. Alternatively, you might like to try my Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup or my Wild Mushroom Soup.

What about dessert? Staying with the comfort theme, well, is there anything better than chocolate chip cookies? I think my Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies may take the gold prize. Give them a try and let me know what you think. Alternatively, my Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies are loaded with chocolate chips, dried fruit and nuts. They are delicious and, if you like, you can pretend they are even healthy.

How to spend the rest of the day? You could grumble at the gray skies. But, I’d vote for a field trip. Instead of sending everyone home to pout, take in movie or visit the museum. There is no reason to head right home. Make an evening of it! Why not? You’re already out and you’ve got your umbrellas! Give that restaurant you’ve been dying to try a go.

Have a great weekend and bon appétit!

What’s up with you this weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© 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

Rethinking Bacon & White Beans Provençal with Bacon & Baby Kale

bacon_03What can you say about bacon? Well, how about …

Your grandfather loved it and enjoyed bacon and eggs every morning for, oh let’s say, eighty-something, oops, make that ninety-something years. Not just granddad, you love it and wish you could have it every morning for the rest of your life. Not only that, if there’s bacon for breakfast you fervently hope to live to be one hundred. In fact, you’d be more than happy to find ways to sneak it into lunch and dinner.

You are not alone. Bacon is hot right now and getting hotter. News anchors get positively giddy when visiting chefs fry up a slab. Des Moines, Chicago, Los Angeles and, now, Baltimore have an entire festival dedicated to the salty strips. William and Kate passed out bacon sannies in the wee hours of their wedding reception. Okay, the beaming bride and groom didn’t actually do the passing. They had waiters for that.

So here’s a strange confession. I wouldn’t actually swear to it but I don’t think I’ve eaten a strip of bacon in nearly thirty years. As far as I can figure, I more or less stopped eating bacon for breakfast when I moved to Switzerland. Maybe it’s because the French word for bacon is lard. Or maybe because it didn’t look or taste the same. Oh, I’m sure I might have nibbled a slice or two during visits to the States or indulged at one of those big hotel buffet breakfasts. I traveled a lot on business when I lived in Geneva. I guess I should amend my statement, I don’t remember eating a strip of bacon in nearly thirty years.

Anyway, about the time I moved to Switzerland, I stopped thinking of bacon as breakfast food. That’s also when I discovered lardons. Living en Suisse opened my eyes to a variety of new-to-me ingredients and dishes. Lardons were among those new ingredients. Lardons are less fatty, smaller than bite-sized pieces of bacon. Swiss and French butchers even chop them up for you. They are a key ingredient in many French stews. And let’s face it, lardon sounds a lot more appetizing than lard.

Particularly in cold weather, I have a special affinity for what I like to call peasant food. Think Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon and Cassoulet plus hearty soups like Lentil, Bean or Potato. Some foodies try to dress them up and complicate things but for the most part, peasant food is simple, cheap and made from scratch. Oh, and if it’s French, there is a good chance bacon is involved.

Bacon doesn’t just add flavor to these dishes, the rendered fat comes in handy to sauté the veggies or sear the meat for your wonderful stew or soup. After all, no self-respecting peasant would let anything go to waste; especially if it will enhance the flavor of the dish. It’s best to start with a cold pan and gently cook on medium heat to maximize the release of fat. Remove the lardons and drain on paper towels. Then drain any excess fat from the pan, leaving just enough for your sauté or sear.

If you are worried about cooking with bacon, new research suggests that there is no clear link between heart disease and the so-called bad fats (bacon, cream, butter, etc.). When in doubt, cook and eat like the French – everything in moderation! If you are really concerned, forget about bacon as the king of breakfast food and enjoy it in beautiful French casseroles at dinner. It’s easier than you think and really delicious.

Bon appétit!

White Beans Provençal with Bacon & Baby Kale
A delicious side dish, try it with lamb, pork, poultry or seafood. A great money-saver, you can also serve beans as the main event. Penny-pinching never tasted so good. Enjoy!
Serves about 12 as a side dishwhite_beans_provencal_bacon_kale_02

1 pound dried small white or cannellini beans (about 6 cups cooked beans)
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)
1 1/2 large onion, cut the half onion in half again and finely chop the whole
5 stalks celery, cut 1 in thirds, finely chop the remaining 4
4 carrots, cut 1 in thirds, finely chop the remaining 3
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups crushed tomatoes
2-3 cups chicken stock
1 pound baby kale*

Soak the beans overnight. Drain and rinse the beans. Put the beans, Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, half onion, celery and carrot chunks, 1 sprig thyme and 1 bay leaf in a large pot, add cold water to cover plus 2 inches and bring to a boil on medium heat. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer until the beans are tender 1 – 1 1/4 hours. Remove the onion, carrot, celery, thyme twig and bay leaf, drain the beans and season with salt and pepper. (Can be done ahead or use canned beans, rinsed and drained.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, put the bacon in a large casserole and cook over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot, drain and reserve. Leaving just enough to coat the pot, drain any excess fat.

Add the chopped onion, celery and carrots to the pot, season with salt and pepper and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent, 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Stir in mustard and wine, add the remaining thyme, rosemary and bay leaf and simmer until the wine has reduced by half.

Add the cooked white beans, crushed tomatoes and 1-2 cups chicken stock. Bring the beans to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, adding more chicken stock if the beans seem dry. For a thicker dish, mash about 1 cup of the beans with a fork.

If you have the time, cool the beans to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours. Remove the beans from the refrigerator and return to a simmer on medium-low heat.

Stir the kale into the beans, return the pot to the oven and continue cooking until the kale is tender, about 10 minutes, and serve.

* If you can’t find baby kale, you can use regular kale. Remove the tough ribs, cut in julienne and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.

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One Year Ago – Moroccan Spiced Grilled Lamb with Roasted Eggplant Salsa
Two Years Ago – Linguine with Shrimp, Artichokes Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Olives
Three Years Ago – Roast Chicken
Four Years Ago – Roasted Asparagus with Walnuts
Five Years Ago – Roasted Eggplant with Peperonata
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What ‘s your favorite way to prepare/eat bacon? Covered in chocolate or sizzling with a side of sunny-side up? 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 Weekend Special – A Cozy Dinner with Friends

Pleasant_Lake_Winter_MistVulcan-Schmulcan! It happened again! That mix of rain, then snow and finally cold. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make me very happy. Our ski season is short enough without a March deluge. But, I’ll cheer up if you will.

Although it’s not the most elegant of dinners, a long and relaxing evening with a charcuterie, roasted vegetable and cheese board and a hearty mug of soup sounds pretty good.

Light the fire, put on some music and open a bottle of wine. Settle in for a good long chat, a few good jokes and some interesting stories. While you are relaxing share some delicious cheeses, prosciutto and sausage and your favorite roasted veggies. Let everyone mix and match and create their own special crostini. Try Butternut Squash with prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, Beets with goat cheese, Mushrooms with fontina. For a final flourish and garnish, top with Caramelized Onions and a sprinkle of toasted nuts.

Before everyone fills up, pass around steaming mugs of soup. Decisions, decisions. My Potato & Cheddar Soup and Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup are bother winners but so is my Black Bean Soup.

And for dessert? Something easy … and perhaps with chocolate. How about a knock your socks off brownie? Give my Espresso Brownies or Triple Threat Brownies a try.

Have a relaxing weekend and bon appétit!

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

What about you? What are cooking this weekend? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2014

Polar Vortex & Potato & Cheddar Soup

Hey! Canada! Come get your polar vortex.
icicles_02
Don’t you hate it when that happens? A friend comes over to visit and then leaves something behind. Maybe he forgets his coat or gloves or she leaves a book after book club or a dish after a potluck. You call to let them know and they promise to stop by to retrieve it. Of course, you believe them and you leave whatever it is by the backdoor.

A few days turn into weeks, even months. After tripping over it one too many times, the coat is relegated to the back of the closet. The gloves are stowed in the mitten basket. Abandoned books are shelved and dishes go into the cupboard. More often than not, these friends stop by from time to time. No matter how often they visit, they always manage to forget their stuff.

Before you know it, you are not only wearing those gloves; they’ve become your favorites. Thanksgiving rolls around and the homeless need winter clothes. The front hall closet is filled to overflowing, so, without really thinking about it, his coat goes into the pile for the shelter. Come spring, her book joins a stack for COA’s fundraising sale. A rainy day cleaning binge uncovers a beautiful platter but you can’t figure out why it doesn’t fit with the rest of your dishes. Your niece moves into her first apartment and you give it to her.

If only it were so easy to get rid of this arctic blast that just won’t quit. Or teases us by retreating for a few days and then come back with a vengeance.

So listen up Canada, you’re welcome to visit anytime. You’re an ally and a friend. We share a border and a language with most of you. And those who don’t, whether you are speaking English or French, you have lovely accents. So please come down and see us, enjoy our ski slopes, snowshoe in our woods and skate on our ponds. Visit our museums, give our musicians a listen, shop ‘til you drop and enjoy our restaurants. It’s all good as long as you leave your #@%&* polar vortex at home.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s March already and this is New Hampshire. It’s not the Yukon or Val-d’Or. All right already, we get it. We know it’s too early for sandals and cherry blossoms. We understand that spring is relative and Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions don’t apply here. No one expects to see daffodils until the end of April or early May. However, we shouldn’t be waking up to minus eight.

Now, if by some unfortunate chance, the arctic cold slips into your backpack and hitches a ride south, we’ll understand. We won’t like it but we’ll understand if, and ONLY IF, you take it with you when you leave. We get it that you too are ready to see the last of the blasted polar vortex. However, you sent it down here; taking it back is the right thing to do. Consider it good global manners or being a decent neighbor. We would be most grateful.

Stay warm and bon appétit!

Potato & Cheddar Soup
As long as the cold air refuses to head back up north, this soup will be perfect for a hearty lunch or light supper. Hopefully, it won’t be on your 4th of July menu! Enjoy!
potato_cheddar_soup_03Makes about 2 1/2 quarts

3-4 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon smoke paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 pounds red skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
3-4 sprigs thyme, tied in a bundle
1 bay leaf
1 cup sour cream (optional)
4 ounces (plus more for garnish sharp) Cheddar cheese, shredded
Chopped chives and/or fresh parsley for garnish

Put the bacon in a large stockpot and cook over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan, drain and reserve. Leaving just enough to coat the pot, drain most of the fat.

Add the onions, carrots and celery to the pot, season with the paprika, salt and pepper and sauté over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half.

Add the potatoes and chicken stock to the pot. Tie the thyme and bay leaf with butcher’s string and add the bundle to the pot. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Let the soup cool for about 30 minutes. Remove the herb bundle.

Using a potato masher, smash the potatoes until the soup is thick and chunky. For a thicker soup, process about 2 cups of soup in a food processor until smooth and stir back into the pot. For a very smooth soup, puree the soup in a blender.

Put the sour cream in a bowl and, a little at a time, whisk in 2 cups of soup. A little bit at a time, whisk the sour cream mixture into the soup. Reheat the soup to steaming on medium heat. Whisk the cheddar cheese into the soup. Stirring frequently, reheat the soup to steaming.

Meanwhile, put the bacon pieces on a sheet pan and warm in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with the cheddar cheese, bacon and chives. Serve immediately.

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One Year Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Two Years Ago – Guinness Lamb Shanks
Three Years Ago – Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Four Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Five Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your thoughts on the record cold and, in some parts of the country, record snowfall? 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

February Vacation! & Coq Au Vin

skiing_at_RaggedFor young skiers, nothing beats February vacation. As kids, some of our friends went to Florida for the sunshine or New York for the arts. The Nyes were more than happy to head to New Hampshire. By mid-February, the brutally cold winds of January had blown back to the North Pole. Even if the longest day was still months away, the sun waited until at least five to set. Every year the Nye kids looked forward to the break and a wonderful week in New Hampshire.

As soon as school got out on Friday afternoon, we headed home to grab duffels and cram bags of groceries into the station wagon. Dad was expected to leave the office early. If he wasn’t home by four, his phone would start to ring. Instead of potential customers looking for quotes, it was his children demanding he head home. Since he was as excited as we were, Dad didn’t argue. Dogs, turtles and kids piled into the car and we headed north.

With an entire week to explore every slope and hidden glade, the pace was a little more relaxed. Especially if Dad headed back to the office for a day or two! If Mom was in charge, it was okay to hit the slopes at the crack of ten, even ten-thirty. Without Dad, there was less pressure to get in our daily quota of twenty-five (or was it more?) runs. Mom didn’t mind if we left before the last chair dropped its final load of skiers on top of the mountain. Heck, when Mom was in charge, we could leave at lunchtime if a nor’easter was blowing. We just couldn’t tell Dad that we spent the afternoon putting jigsaw puzzles together or baking brownies.

In any case, sitting around the house didn’t last long. As soon as we got a second wind, it was back outside for sledding or deck jumping. There was a fairly steep hill across the street from our house and most of the trees had been cleared for sledding. In a very snowy year, the stumps and boulders were not a problem. What you can’t see; can’t hurt you. Can it? Although no limbs were lost or broken, at some point, someone’s parents, not mine, must have taken a second look at those rocks. That was that and we were banished from the hill. The trees and scrub soon grew back. Today, you’d never know that a death-defying run was hidden among the rocks and under the trees. To make up for the loss, we tried a little cross-country skiing. While fun, cross-country couldn’t quite match the dangerous thrill of careening through the dark on the sledding hill.

With a ten or fifteen foot drop, deck jumping also required a fair amount of snow. Mother Nature usually complied by mid-February. Every weekend throughout December and January, we shoveled the deck, slowly but surely adding to the pile below. That first jump provided a wonderful combination of sheer terror and utter exhilaration. As teenagers, my sister and I discovered that it was a great opportunity for sixteen year old boys to show off. It still is.

I hope that you are enjoying the thrills, spills and fun of winter. Or at least sitting back and enjoying fond memories of winter wonderland vacations.

Bon appétit!

Coq Au Vin
Warm and cozy, coq au vin is the perfect dinner after a day on the slopes. Add a salad and serve the stew with warm crusty bread or smashed potatoes. Enjoy!
Serves 4-6coq_au_vin_02

2-3 ounces bacon, chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 chicken thighs or a combination of thighs and legs
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 bay leaf
16 ounces mushrooms
8 ounces frozen pearl onions
Garnish: fresh, chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain and reserve.

While the bacon browns, season the flour with salt and pepper and lightly coat the chicken. Raise the heat to medium-high and brown the chicken, about 3 minutes per side. Reserve.

Put the onion, celery and carrots in the pot, sprinkle with herbs, season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes more. Remove the pan from heat, add the cognac and mustard and stir to combine.

Return the pot to the heat and gradually stir in the wine and stock. Add back the bacon and chicken and bring to a simmer. Cover and transfer the casserole to the oven. Cook at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, heat a little olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden.

Add the pearl onions and mushrooms to the chicken, return the casserole to the oven and continue cooking for 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot and arrange on a large serving platter. Cover and keep warm.

Return the pot to the stovetop and reduce the cooking liquid by about half over high heat. Ladle some sauce over the chicken and vegetables, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve. Pass any extra sauce.

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One Year Ago – Crostini with Beef Tenderloin & Stilton
Two Years Ago – Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach
Three Years Ago – Lemon Cheesecake
Four Years Ago – Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms
Five Years Ago – Raviolis in Broth with Meatballs & Escarole

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

What are your favorite winter vacation memories – ski, food or otherwise? Feel free to share. 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, 2014

Comfort Food & Chicken, Sausage & Bean Ragù

frosty_window_01In spite of the busy day awaiting me, I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Those soft flannel sheets were just too comfy and cozy. I might have stayed there all morning if somehow someone had brought me a cup of strong, milky coffee or tea. But no one did. So, digging deep to find a tiny smidgen of willpower, I finally wrenched myself from the warm cave.

Yes, I was that kid. The only one in the neighborhood who had no trouble sleeping in. I’m not talking teenagers here. We all know they do their best to stay in bed until the crack of noon. But small children, my sister and brother were among them, are famous for leaping from bed at dawn. Not me. If a stray beam of light penetrated the curtains, my curly head just burrowed deeper into the pillow. That extra hour was not necessarily for sleeping but for dreaming. I suppose it still is.

These final, frigid days of January aren’t a bad time to slow down and dream a bit. Well, except when you are striding across the supermarket parking lot with wind chills of minus fourteen degrees. If that’s the case, don’t slow down; whatever you do, keep going! Otherwise, grab that cup of strong, milky tea and get comfortable with a good book. Whether you actually read it or not is up to you. Stare out the frosty window and let your thoughts wander aimlessly. Drifting from here to Timbuktu and back again, you never know what you may find. In case you’re wondering, Timbuktu is in western Africa on the edge of the hot and sunny Sahara dessert.

While you’re at it, you might want to dream up a few new recipes. It’s comfort food season. Let your mind wander to the dishes your mother or grandmother used to make. (Or the ones you wished they’d made. My mother was not an enthusiastic cook. Same goes for her mother and grandmother.) Maybe your new recipe will be better than anything found in the kitchens of your childhood. If not, well, the cold weather will be with us for a while; just dream up another tomorrow.

Wonderful soups and cozy stews are perfect winter fare. To stay healthy during these ice-cold days and freezing nights, think hearty and nutritious. Don’t know where to start? A practical first step is to check your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. My pantry is usually packed with pasta, crushed tomatoes, beans, lentils, olives, onions, garlic and more. There are always carrots and celery in my refrigerator, not to mention a few leftovers. Chances are good, there’s chicken, a few sausages, spinach and homemade chicken or turkey stock in the freezer. And if I’m out of homemade stock, there should be a box of broth in the cupboard.

After taking stock of your ingredients, consider your dreams. Are you dreaming of sandy beaches? Turn those reveries into a Caribbean black bean soup or a spicy Middle Eastern stew with chickpeas and chicken. Earning for a warm spring day in the French countryside? How about cassoulet or lentil and sausage soup? Or recreate an evening in Bologna with a thick, rich sauce Bolognese over tagliatelle.

Now all you need to do is take a break from the daydreams, roust yourself from the sofa and throw everything into a pot. The interruption will be worth the effort. As you settle back into the sofa, you’ll be rewarded with the rich aromas of bubbling goodness.

Stay warm and bon appétit!

Chicken_Sausage_Bean_Ragu_01Chicken, Sausage & Bean Ragù
Too thick for a soup, this one pot meal can simmer while you read a book or dream by the fire. Enjoy!
Serves 10-12

1 pound dried small white or cannellini beans, soaked overnight or about 6 cups cooked beans
1 1/2 large onion, cut the half onion in half again and chop the whole one
5 stalks celery, cut 1 in thirds, chop the remaining 4
5 carrots, cut 1 in thirds, chop the remaining 4
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound Italian sausage, sweet or hot or a mix
4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch chili pepper
1 cup dry white wine
2 pounds bone-in chicken breasts, skins removed
3 – 4 quarts chicken stock
28 – 32 ounce can crushed tomatoes
Parmigiano-Reggiano rind* (about 2×3-inches) (optional)
1 pound frozen spinach
4-6 ounces angel hair pasta, broken into 1-2 inch pieces
Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)

Drain and rinse the beans. Put the beans, half onion, celery and carrot chunks and 1 bay leaf in a large pot, add cold water to cover plus 2 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer until the beans are tender about 1 – 1 1/4 hours. Remove the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf, drain and rinse the beans and season with salt and pepper. (Can be done ahead or use about 6 cups canned beans, rinsed and drained.)

Meanwhile, remove the sausage casings. Heat a little olive oil in a soup pot over medium high heat, add the sausage and, breaking the meat up into small pieces, sauté until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pot, drain on paper towels and reserve.

Add the chopped onion, celery and carrots to the pot, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, thyme and rosemary and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Add the wine and remaining bay leaf and simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the vegetables with the crushed tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano rind and 3 quarts stock. Bring the ragù to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the pot. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut or shred into bite-sized pieces.

Add the sausage, chicken, beans and spinach to the ragù. Add more stock if the ragù is too thick. If you have the time, remove the ragù from the heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours. If not, bring the ragù to a simmer and simmer on low for about 15 minutes.

Raise the heat to high and bring the ragù to a boil. Add the angel hair pasta* and cook until al dente, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the ragù sit for 2-3 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

* A piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind will give the ragù for more flavor and richness.

* If you won’t be serving the entire pot of ragù in one go, remove the extra ragù from the pot before adding the pasta. The ragù freezes nicely so don’t worry about making too much. When adding the pasta, plan on 1/2-1 ounce per serving.

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