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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One Year Ago – Spicy Tequila Chicken Wings
Two Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Three Years Ago – Fettuccine with Escarole, Radicchio & Mushrooms
Four Years Ago – Cassoulet
Five Years Ago – Caribbean Fish Stew

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

January Thaw & Mac & Cheese with Roasted Broccoli & Sun-dried Tomatoes

Susie_John_Dad_at_RaggedJanuary weather is remarkable for two reasons. The first is the absolutely ridiculous, positively frigid temperatures. Who in their right mind wants to get out of bed when the mercury is hovering around minus fifteen degrees? Yes, you got that right, not fifteen degrees but MINUS fifteen degrees. By the way, for my friends in Switzerland that’s Fahrenheit not centigrade. The coldest month, we can thank January for frostbite, frozen pipes and the strange but not exactly true belief that it can be too cold to snow.

The second is the January thaw. From one day to the next, the temperature skyrockets to forty or more. If it weren’t for the rain and resulting ice dams and flooding, the thaw might be a welcome change. And did I mention what happens to the ski slopes during the thaw? Buckets upon buckets of rain create uncharted rivers and streams on every trail.

I grew up in a house of eternal optimism. Even if it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs, we left our cozy suburban home on Friday afternoon for a weekend of skiing. My dad was convinced that it was snowing just over the border in New Hampshire. When it was still pelting rain in Manchester, he assured us that the snowline must be around Warner. Which of course, it wasn’t. The snowline was more or less a few hundred miles north of Montreal.

Never phased, he pulled the car into the driveway and assured us that it was snowing on the top of King Ridge. At a mere 1,500 feet above sea level, the only one he was fooling was himself. Even as he spoke, I’m not sure he was buying his story.

Before snowmaking, the New Hampshire ski season was short and not for the faint of heart. Ten weeks was a good year. And Dad was insistent that we make the most of our season pass in that short time. Blizzards, ice storms, January thaw or blistering cold, it didn’t matter. If the mountain was open, we were expected to ski. So, in spite of the foggy drizzle on Saturday morning, we headed to the mountain.

Juggling our skis, we’d slip and slid across the icy parking lot to the lodge. All the while, Dad had his eyes on the sky, looking for some glimmer of sunshine. After stalling over cups of coffee and hot chocolate, we finally put on our boots and skis and headed out the door. For one maybe two runs, we’d splash down the trail. Cold rain didn’t just soak our parkas and ski pants, it managed to find a path and sneak down the backs of our necks. As nasty as ten or fifteen below is, is there anything more miserable than thirty-five degrees and raining?

Home we went to play Monopoly, put together jigsaw puzzles or read by the fire. Done right, the January thaw wasn’t all that bad.

Within day or two, those balmy temps were replaced with more seasonable weather. The trails froze up hard and fast. The next weekend, sheets of pearl grey ice covered the ski slopes and shone dully in the cold winter sun. Always the optimist, Dad declared the downhill rink, “hard, packed powder!” And off we went, another day of adventure and skiing in New Hampshire.

Happy skiing and bon appétit!

Mac & Cheese with Roasted Broccoli & Sun-dried Tomatoes
Turn plain Mac & Cheese into a beautiful, bubbling casserole with veggies and Italian cheeses. Enjoy!
Serves 8-10

About 2 pounds broccoli florets, cut into bite sized pieces
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
2 ounces grated Pecorino Romano
4 ounces grated Fontina cheese
8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
1 pound pasta – cavatappi, farfalle, penne or elbow macaroni
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm whole milk or half & half
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Pinch nutmeg
10-12 halves oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
About 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a large, shallow baking dish and set aside.

Put the broccoli florets on a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Spread the broccoli in a single layer and roast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Add the onion and more oil and vinegar if necessary, toss to combine and continue roasting for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, toss again and roast for 5 minutes more. Reserve.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Put the cheeses in a large bowl and toss to combine. Reserve.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions less 1 minute.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, season with hot sauce, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue cooking and whisking for 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, simmer and stir until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Put the sour cream in a bowl and, a little at a time, whisk in the warm sauce until smooth.

Drain the pasta, return to the pot and toss with the broccoli, tomatoes, pine nuts, herbs and sauce. Add two-thirds of the cheeses and toss again. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until piping hot and golden brown. Remove from the oven, let rest for 5-10 minutes and serve.

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One Year Ago – Red Bean Chili with Pork & Butternut Squash
Two Years Ago – Piri Piri Prawns
Three Years Ago – French Lentil Soup
Four Years Ago – Spicy Chicken (or Turkey) Noodle Soup
Five Years Ago – My Favorite Chili
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are you up to now that we are back in the deep freeze? 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

Fourteen Things to Do in 2014 & Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup

14_in_2014_01While many people turn to resolutions at the start of a new year, others are taking stock of their bucket list. Some of these buckets are so full that I for one wonder what the heck they’ve been doing for the last ten or twenty or more years. How about you? Are you starting to think that hiking Kilimanjaro or swimming with dolphins is more pipedream than possibility?

Maybe it’s time to take a second or third look at that bucket list. If you need to win the lottery to accomplish your goals, it’s probably time to reconsider. (Especially if you don’t buy lottery tickets; even when the jackpot is over $600 million!) So how about a simple list of fourteen things to do in 2014? And then do them. I’m still working on my fourteen for fourteen but here are a few ideas:

1. Learn something new. Take a course or design your own self-study with a pile of library books.

2. Find a new favorite author. Read reviews, ask friends, family and strangers for recommendations or pick a book by its (gorgeous) (racy) (intriguing) (sophisticated) (you get the picture) cover.

3. Change your look with a pair of brightly colored socks or a new shade of lipstick.

4. Cut your hair or grow a beard. Afraid of the scissors; change your hair color or go back to natural, find a new style or wear a great hat.

5. Get a tattoo?!? Show it to friends or keep it a secret.

6. Dive in and do something that intimidates you. Write a letter to the editor. Send the letter. Hang glide. Go to a party alone. Make a soufflé, Beef Wellington or Baked Alaska from scratch. Wear bright red lipstick or florescent pink socks, out, in public. Talk to a stranger. (A nice compliment is a good way to start.)

7. Every day for a week, get up in time to see the sunrise and go for a long walk.

8. Whether it is a walk-in closet or a tiny cupboard, clean your pantry. Think of the delicious treasures you’ll find. Dried cherries? Israeli couscous? Black beans? Anchovies, Kalamata olives or capers? Whip up a few great dishes with your finds.

9. Slap a new coat of paint on your living room or bedroom walls. Or both.

10. Think positive. When it’s too cold or too rainy to go out, spend the day reading your new favorite author. If you look for the silver lining, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find it.

11. Make a new friend.

12. Celebrate the small wins. When your favorite song comes on the radio, sing at the top of your lungs. When someone holds the elevator for you, thank him with a beaming smile. When you’re running late and every light is green; join the radio in joyful song.

13. Be thankful … for new friends, old friends, strangers who hold elevators, favorite songs, and, and, and …

14. Be happy; maybe not every minute of every day but most of the time.

I wish everyone a wonderful 2014 and bon appétit!

Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup
When the weather turns cold or rainy, a mug of soup will warm you to the core. Enjoy!
Serves 8sweet_potato_soup_02

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3 carrots, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
Sherry vinegar
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon or to taste minced chipotle chiles in adobo
1/2 cup dry sherry (optional)
6-8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
Garnish: sour cream, grated cheddar cheese and chopped cilantro or cilantro oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the vegetables in a large roasting pan, sprinkle with cumin, thyme, salt and pepper and drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat. Toss to combine and roast for 45 minutes.

Add the garlic, chipotle and sherry to the pan and toss to combine. Return to the oven and cook for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Let the vegetables cool for about 15 minutes. Working in batches, puree the vegetables with a little broth in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Put the vegetable puree in a large soup pot. Add the bay leaf and whisk in more or less broth for a thicker or thinner soup. Reheat on the stovetop on medium and simmer for on low for 15 minutes.

If you have the time, the soup is best if cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated for several hours. Reheat on medium-low until piping hot.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls, stir in a dollop of sour cream, sprinkle with cheddar and cilantro or drizzle with cilantro oil and serve.

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One Year Ago – Mixed Greens Salad with Gorgonzola & Walnutst
Two Years Ago – Spanakopita Triangles
Three Years Ago – Braised Red Cabbage
Four Years Ago – Apple Bread Pudding
Five Years Ago – Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do your have 14 for 14? 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

Late Fall Weekend Special

pleasant_lake_autumn_clouds_sun_01A few clouds, a little sun and a little rain. It’s late fall in New Hampshire. Chase away any November blues this weekend with a fun and festive dinner. It will give you something to do while it’s raining and your house will smell wonderful!

Here are a few ideas:

Let dinner bubble in the oven while you enjoy a long chat and a glass of wine. If you’d like something to nibble, how about my Baba Ganoush. It is one of my favorite dips and reminds me evening by the water in Turkey and Israel. Serve the Baba Ganoush with wedges of warm pita bread and fresh vegetables.

When you are ready, move to the table and a lovely salad. A Crunchy Salad with Apples & Grapes or Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese Salad sounds delicious.

What could be better than braised beef at the end of dreary day? Either Braised Short Ribs or Carbonnade á la Flamande – Beer Braised Beef & Onions will be the perfect. Serve the beef with my family’s favorite Smashed Potatoes.

And for dessert? Delight you guests with, perfect for the season, Pumpkin & Spice Cookies and tiny cups of White Hot Chocolate. (I’m never sure – should that be White Hot Chocolate or Hot White Chocolate!?!)

Have a great weekend and bon appétit!

What are your plans for the weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

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, 2013

Cycling in Northern Italy & Orecchiette with Sausage, Mushrooms & Radicchio

schwinnSeptember is my favorite month. Filled with warm, sunny days and cool, crisp nights, I try to spend as much time as I can outdoors. When I lived in Switzerland, September was a great time to take a sports holiday. The crowds of tourists thinned out as the days shortened and the air cooled down. Over the years, I hiked and biked all over Switzerland, France and Italy.

My friend John went along on a few of these adventures. Not to be confused with my brother of the same name, John was a willing companion for skiing, hiking and bike trips. However, there was one not so little problem. John’s life was filled with a multitude of minor mishaps and at least a few major calamities. One of my favorites was the time his car overheated in the middle of rush hour traffic. Unlike most cars, his didn’t stall and refuse to budge. No, John’s car burst into flames. Things just happened to John … and to anyone who traveled with him.

A bicycle trip, whether for two days or ten, takes a bit of planning and some negotiation. Maps are examined and destinations debated to find the perfect route with great views and not too many hills or heavy traffic. To complicate matters, when autumn days grow shorter you need to keep an eye on the clock as well as the map. Start too late in the morning or linger too long over lunch (or both) and you may very well finish your ride in the dark.

Trips with John never got off to an early start and always included a long, leisurely lunch. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? Sure, except at least one slightly terrifying ride. First we missed the10:03 train for Domodossola, the starting point for a long cycling weekend in Italy. Of course it was John’s fault. He always had trouble getting started in the morning. Feigning a frazzled and hurried look, he rode into the Geneva train station about fifteen minutes after our train had come and gone.

Luckily, there was another at 10:33. (I somehow suppose he already knew that.) It made a few more stops so we arrived in Domodossola about an hour later than planned. Our peddling was further postponed when John insisted we stop for lunch. He was hungry, we were in Italy and a quick sandwich would not do.

Finally, we were off and making our way down a quaint but narrow country road. Before too long the sun dipped down behind the trees. The blue sky turned to pink and then gray and finally black. There were no street lights. No ambient lighting from nearby stores and cafés. It was a country road; there were no stores, no cafés or houses. Every few minutes a car whizzed by, threatening to force us into the ditch. With white knuckles clutching my handle bars, I peddled and fumed until we finally arrived on Lago Maggiore’s picturesque shore. A momentarily contrite John offered to buy dinner. I accepted.

At the end of the same long weekend, just a few miles from the train which would take us home, it began to rain. Not a gentle mist mind you, it was an icy cold deluge. Next the quiet bike path we’d been enjoying abruptly ended and turned onto a major highway. Cars and trucks roared by at eighty or more miles an hour. It didn’t matter if it was his fault or not; I blamed John.

All that said, in spite of the rough start and end to the weekend, it was a success. The views along Lago Maggiore were spectacular, the conversation was fun and fast-faced, the food was delicious and the wine delightful.

Enjoy the open road and the early autumn sunshine. Bon appétit!

Orecchiette with Sausage, Mushrooms and Radicchio
After a long bicycle ride there is nothing like some delicious pasta! Enjoy!
Serves 4

About 12 ounces spicy or sweet Italian sausage
About 8 ounces orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) or conchiglie (medium shells)
Olive oilOrecchiette_w_Sausage_Mushrooms_Radicchio_01
1 small red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
About 12 ounces mushrooms, preferably wild, thickly sliced
1/4 teaspoon or to taste dried red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock or broth
About 8 ounces radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
About 1/4 cup chopped and toasted walnuts
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the sausages on a rimmed baking dish and roast at 375 degrees, turning once or twice, for about 30 minutes or until cooked through. Drain on paper towels and reserve.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and stock and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the radicchio, toss to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Orecchiette_w_Sausage_Mushrooms_Radicchio_03Cut the sausages into 1/2-inch rounds. Reduce the heat to medium, add the sausage and pasta to the vegetables and toss to combine. If the pasta seems a little try, add a few tablespoons of pasta water. Cover and cook for 1 minute. Spoon the pasta, sausage and vegetables into individual shallow bowls or onto a large platter, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve. Pass additional Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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One Year Ago – Curried Green Bean Pickles
Two Years Ago – Grilled Ratatouille Stacks
Three Years Ago – Apple Crisp
Four Years Ago – Ravioli with Sage Pesto
Five 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 fall sport? 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, 2013

Summer Daze & Blueberry Clafouti

beach_towelYes, it’s been a hot summer. Yes, it’s been a humid summer. And yes, it’s been a rainy summer. It’s just about now that the kids, and maybe you, utter those dreaded words … “I’m bored.” Of course it doesn’t make any sense. There are still miles to swim, kayak, sail and hike before summer calls it quits. There are still at least a half dozen best sellers to read. And interesting places to visit, shops to shop and funky restaurants to try. August may be bearing down on us but summer is far from over.

So what do you do when the day is gray or even rainy or when the temperature and humidity climb into the stratosphere. When you don’t know what to do with yourself?

Hit the road. Whether you’ve lived here your whole life or are new to the area, there is always something new to see. Maybe it’s the latest blockbuster at the movies … or maybe not. Perhaps the Currier Museum of Art
or the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium is calling you. Don’t want to be cooped up inside, even if it is gray, hot or humid or all three? Take that long postponed trip to the farmers’ market in Lebanon or Newport. Or travel back in time to Muster Field Farm or Canterbury Shaker Village.

Learn something new. Maybe it’s time to get that home repair guide out and finally fix that leaky faucet or squeaky hinge. There’s nothing like learning by doing. If you don’t want to go at it alone, implore your neighbor to show you how to make her world-famous flakey pastry or incredible chocolate mousse. Dive into history with a visit to the library and ask for a recommendation for a great read. If there are kids underfoot, have some fun together with a few kitchen science experiments. Or take a deep breath and finally learn to double Dutch. Too hard, how about chess?

Hey kids! Let’s put on a show! Staging a talent show will keep all the kids in the neighborhood busy and happy for a day, maybe two. There are tasks for everyone, from planning the program and making the tickets to finding costumes and props. Each child can show off his or her special talent with a song, a dance or a tumbling routine.

If a talent show sounds daunting, how about a sand castle contest? While it might be tough in a deluge, a cloudy, even drizzly day is fine for castle building. What could be better? Elaborate castles with moats and ramparts take hours to build and they are as much fun to knock down as they are to build.

Get crafty. Take a lesson from scout camp and build a birdhouse or make lanyards. Take a walk on the beach, collect shells and then turn them into a necklace or refrigerator magnets. Throw caution to the wind and tie-dye some t-shirts.

Get cooking. Some study somewhere by someone who is probably important recently discovered that 53% of all children like to cook. Why not give it a try with your kids or grandkids. If they aren’t available, borrow the children next door. I’m sure their parents would love a little break. Start your adventure at a pick-your-own farm, blueberries are in season, and end it in the kitchen. If it’s cool and rainy do some baking. Hot and humid, try your hand at homemade ice cream or gelato.

Have fun and bon appétit!

Blueberry Clafouti
Blueberry_Clafouti_01A delicious dessert on a cool-ish August night. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 lemon, lime or orange
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 1/2-2 cups blueberries
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch glass pie or tart pan and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Put the eggs and 1/3 cup sugar in a blender, process at high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Turn the mixer down to low speed, add the flour, cream, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, zest, salt and Grand Marnier and process until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Arrange the fruit evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan. Pour the batter over the fruit and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is firm, 35-40 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes, cut into wedges, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Blackberry Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt
Two Years Ago – Brown Sugar Yogurt Gelato
Three Years Ago – Red Pepper Dip
Four Years Ago – Grilled Chicken, Shallots & New Potatoes
Five Years Ago – Barbecue Chicken
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How do you beat the summertime boredom blues? 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, 2013

Surviving the Gray Days of April & Moussaka

mud_seasonThere is no doubt about it. At least in New Hampshire, April is a crummy month. The ski season ends. Most days the sky is any one of more than fifty shades of gray. The clouds all too frequently open up and dampen more than our spirits with a fine drizzle, torrential rain or even snow. At least in my yard, all but a few spring blooms are hiding under dirty snow banks. Dirt roads are filled with muddy ruts. Paved roads are a roller coaster of pot holes and frost heaves. To add insult to injury, taxes are due.

So how do you lift your spirits when you are surrounded by gray skies, mud and piles of forms and receipts? Here are a few ideas:

1. Put on your rubber boots and slicker and go out anyway. It helps if your rain gear is bright red or yellow, polka dotted or flowered.
2. Find a change of venue. Instead of reading a book in your own cozy living room, grab a comfy chair at the library or coffee shop. Look up periodically; you never know who you might spot to share a cup of tea or coffee and a chat.
3. Do that thing that you’ve been postponing for weeks. It could be a boring piece of paperwork or cleaning out the refrigerator. The dreary weather won’t make it more fun or interesting but you will enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when you are done.
4. Take an afternoon nap.
5. Create a scrapbook for someone special. Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day as well as graduation and wedding season are coming.
6. Read all the Dr. Seuss books. The Cat in the Hat is a good place to start … “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.”
7. Go to the gym. Get your blood pumping with a zumba workout or find serenity with a yoga class.
8. Do a crossword puzzle. And another.
9. Invite your pals over to play poker. Or bridge if you prefer.
10. Rearrange the furniture. You’ll have a brand new room without spending a dime.
11. Buy flowers. They’ll look great in your brand new room! Buy a second bunch and surprise a friend or neighbor.
12. Play with your dog or cat. They’re probably bored too. Make a video of your adorable pet and post it on YouTube. Just don’t let it go to Fido’s head when the video goes viral.
13. Learn something new. Attend a lecture, take a guided tour of an historic landmark or peruse a how-to-fix-anything book and then fix something.
14. Cook one of those dishes that you’ve been avoiding because it takes too long or is too complicated. Fill the house with the warm and wonderful smell of homemade moussaka, simmering soup or braised beef.
15. Invite all your favorite people to dinner to share that dish. We tend to entertain in the summer, on special occasions and holidays so a party for no reason at all in the middle of April will be highly appreciated and memorable.

Before you know it, the ice will be off the lake and the garden will be filled with flowers. Good luck and bon appétit!

Rich and hearty after a dreary day, this Greek dish is great for casual dinner parties. Enjoy!
Serves 12moussaka_04

About 3 pounds (3-4) small eggplants, trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8-10 ounces each ground pork and turkey
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch allspice
2 tablespoons butter and more for the baking dish
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
8 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and pepper and bake until tender and browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the meat sauce. Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the meat and season with salt and pepper. Breaking the meat up into bite-size pieces, sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the crushed tomatoes, herbs, cinnamon and allspice and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

While the meat sauce simmers, make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk, bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, season with salt and pepper and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens about 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep 9×13-inch baking dish.

Put the cheeses in a bowl and toss to combine.

Layer half the eggplant in the bottom on the prepared dish, top with half the meat sauce and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Repeat. Top with béchamel and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses.

Bake for 40 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Let sit for 10 minutes, cut into squares and serve.

* Moussaka can be prepped and assembled in advance. Cover and store in the refrigerator. It will take longer to cook if it goes into the oven cold.

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One Year Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Two Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Three Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Four Years Ago –
Chicken Provençal
Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite way to spend a rainy, gray or otherwise miserable day? Let’s get a conversation going.

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