Thoughts on Independence Day & Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Alright now, we know that the 4th of July is a day of parades, cookouts and fireworks. But what about the real story? What’s behind all the hoopla? In case you’ve forgotten your history lessons, the then-colonists, subjects of the King of England declared independence on the 4th of July, 1776. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that’s what July 4th, Independence Day, is all about.

This declaration did not happen overnight or without warning. Tension over a laundry list of issues had been brewing for years. Taxes were a particularly hot dispute. From documents to tea, the cash strapped British King tried to impose one tax after another on the colonists. Heated protests turned to rebellion before the all-out demand for independence.

Each and every one of the original thirteen colonies were represented when the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and approved the Declaration of Independence. Hardly wild-eyed rabble-rousers, these congressmen were men of means, educated landowners and professionals. In defiance of the King, Congress pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor in pursuit of freedom and independence. Enough was enough, it was finally time to end the crushing tyranny of British rule.

The Colonists’ political and economic complaints were numerous and grave. Not only were they forced to pay taxes without representation, the courts were hopelessly biased and an army of red coats and mercenaries had invaded their shores. The colonists complained that the King had not only cut off trade with the rest of the world, he had, “plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.” In addition, they raised an oddly contemporary issue – immigration, stating “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither …”

And so, the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence renounced any last shreds of allegiance to King and crown. The colonies united into free and independent states. Today, we see it as a heroic declaration of freedom. However, at the time, it was treason. Or, at least, treasonous in the eyes of the British government. It was no small thing when the signers closed with a mutual pledge to stake their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on freedom and independence.

This holiday week, let’s all take a moment to reflect on the freedom fighters who helped create our great American story. Not just the revolutionaries of 1776 but the heroes of the Civil War, World Wars I and II and every conflict in our long history. While you’re at it, don’t forget the champions of the women’s, civil and LGBT rights movements.

A constant work in progress, our American story is far from perfect. Democracy is hard and our great experiment has been known to wobble and waiver occasionally. It will probably continue to do so. Am I alone in thinking that things are particularly wobble-y and waiver-y right now?

So, yes, thank the revolutionaries who laid the foundations for our democracy. Then, let’s ask more of ourselves to help safeguard life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for future generations. Together we can smooth out some of those wobbles and straighten a few more waivers.

Thank you, Happy Independence Day and bon appétit!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
A perfect dessert to help celebrate an old fashioned, red hot 4th of July or any early summer party. Enjoy!
8-12 servings

Butter for the pan(s)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 – 2 pounds rhubarb, washed trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 – 2 pounds strawberries, washed trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 3 quart baking dish or individual ramekins.

Put the sugar, cornstarch and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the rhubarb, strawberries, orange zest and Grand Marnier and gently toss to combine. Pour the fruit into the baking dish or ramekins and sprinkle with the crumble topping.

Put the pan(s) on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly, 45-60 minutes for a large baking dish and 20-30 minutes for ramekins. Serve warm or at room temperate with vanilla ice cream.

Pistachio Crumble Topping
1 cup pistachios
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

Combine the pistachios, flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine and roughly chop the nuts. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add the oatmeal and pulse until the topping comes together in little lumps.

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One Year Ago – Vietnamese Salad
Two Years Ago – Tomato & Burrata Salad with Grilled Bread
Three Years Ago – Grilled Shrimp & Vegetable Salad
Four Years Ago – Fresh Berries with Creamy Lime Custard
Five Years Ago – Grilled Tomato Crostini
Six Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Seven Years Ago – Watermelon & Feta Salad
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Nine Years Ago – Mediterranean Shrimp
Ten Years Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

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

What is (are) your favorite summer fruit(s)/dessert(s)? Feel free to share!

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

 

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Native Strawberries, a Little Taste of Heaven! & Strawberries & Cream Parfaits

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.”       

— William Butler

The world’s most popular berry, the strawberry, is finally, thankfully, just-about-ready for picking. Now, in reality this luscious red gem is not a berry at all, but a member of the rose family. Okay, wait a minute, stop the presses, back up the train … school’s out for summer. Could we maybe have a break here and skip the botany lesson. Berries or not, who can resist one (or two or a dozen or more) of these perfectly ripe, beautifully red, err, flowers? Particularly when they are growing right down the road.

While strawberries are available throughout the year, nothing can compare to a local, just picked berry. In the off season, at farms as far away as Chile, strawberries are picked before they are ripe and shipped around the world. They tempt us, they’re big, they’re bright and shiny red but unfortunately, their beauty is in the beholding. They may be pretty to look at but more often than not, they are pretty tasteless.

Native berries are ready just in time for end of school celebrations, the Fourth of July and, of course, Wimbledon. The tradition of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon may be as old as the famous lawn tennis tournament itself. Every year tons and tons of strawberries swimming in an ocean of cream are enjoyed at the All England Club.

But you don’t have to fly to England to celebrate the famous tournament; you don’t even have to like tennis. Just bring a few friends and family together, wear white, sip champagne or Pimms and nibble strawberries. I guess you had better put a television tuned into the matches in a corner somewhere for the enthusiasts. And for those who would rather play than watch; well, the ground and grass in most backyards, or at least my backyard, are not optimal for tennis. How about croquet?

In England strawberries are in season between May and September but in New Hampshire the season is fleeting and much too short. It begins in the last few days of June and goes into early July. Local strawberries are ready and ripe for just a few wonderful weeks so take advantage of the season before it runs out. Hurry over to your nearest Pick-Your-Own field, farm stand or farmers’ market and enjoy the heavenly aroma and sweet taste of native strawberries.

If you are looking for activities to keep the children or grandchildren busy and happy, berry picking could be just the ticket. With lots of little helpers, it won’t take long to pick enough strawberries to feed a hunger contingent of tennis or croquet players and Wimbledon watchers. That said, I have noticed that some young helpers have a tendency to put more in their mouths than in their baskets.

From the simplest dessert of strawberries and cream to shortcakes, ice cream, trifles and pies, strawberries are perfect for your early summer festivities. Strawberry season is short, so, make the most of this sweet time.

Enjoy the sunshine and bon appétit!

Strawberries & Cream Parfaits
Try this easy and delicious strawberry dessert at your Wimbledon or 4th of July or any early summer party. Enjoy!
8 servings

About 2 pounds fresh strawberries, halved or quartered

Mascarpone cream (recipe follows)
About 1/2 cup finely chopped chocolate or mini chocolate chips
About 1/2 cup toasted chopped or slivered almonds
About 1/2 cup toasted coconut

Put a layer of fruit in the bottom of 8 wine or dessert glasses. Top with a layer of the mascarpone cream. Sprinkle with chocolate, almonds and coconut. Repeat for 2 or 3 layers.

Mascarpone Cream
6 ounces mascarpone
2-4 tablespoons honey
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups very cold heavy cream

Put the mascarpone, honey and orange zest in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. With the mixer running, slowly add the heavy cream and beat until smooth. Continue beating until soft peaks form.

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One Year Ago – Shrimp & Cucumber Bites
Two Years Ago – Creamy Yogurt Tart with Fresh Strawberries
Three Years Ago – Berry Flag Cake
Four Years Ago – A Hint of Asia Barbecue Chicken or Pork
Five Years Ago – Potato Salad Niçoise
Six Years Ago – Grilled Scallop & Asparagus Salad
Seven Years Ago – Watermelon & Feta Salad
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Nine Years Ago – Mediterranean Shrimp
Ten Years Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

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

What is (are) your favorite summer fruit(s)/dessert(s)? Feel free to share!

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

Thinking about Gratitude & Rhubarb Tarlets

A few years ago, I was asked to take a look at an early draft of a job description and share any thoughts or advice. I’m a sucker for that pitch. Tell me, who doesn’t like to spout an opinion or two? Anyway, the job description included an outline of key responsibilities. Nothing stuck out; it was pretty typical for the job at hand.

Next, it described the personal qualities needed to excel at the job. Excellent communication skills, the ability to work independently and problem solve topped the list. I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen a help wanted ad in search of a bad communicator. Furthermore, I’ve yet to hear of a company looking for someone totally dependent on minute-to-minute guidance and instruction. Of course, there was something about technology – like it or not computers are part of life and work.

In other words, it was all pretty standard … with one exception. The person was expected to be grateful. It was a bit vague but, along with a warm and friendly demeanor, something about gratitude was on the list. I immediately put on my contrarian hat or maybe it was my Bolshevik hat and asked, “Grateful for what?” It reminded me of my parents, insisting that I not only eat my peas but like them too. After all, children were starving in Africa.

Now this all happened a while ago – back when gratitude was all the rage. It might have been a sign of the times. The country was starting to find its way out of the mortgage debacle. While not great, the economy was steadily improving. With a sigh of relief, people were thanking their lucky stars that they had a roof over their heads, food on the table and a job to pay the bills.

Meanwhile, researchers discovered that feeling grateful was actually good for you. They figured out that gratitude led to happiness. Perhaps I was too quick to raise those hackles; what employer doesn’t want happy employees? They’re more productive and don’t quit in a huff. Then again, maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe happiness leads to gratitude. I’m not so sure about the whole cause and effect with this psychological stuff.

In any case, it seems to me that gratitude comes from within and can’t be dictated
by an employer. Hopefully, most of us can easily come up with any number of people, places and things we’re grateful for. Let’s start with the basics – a safe place to live, food and water. Now, a decent paying job is usually part of that. An interesting job, one you like or even love, takes it up a notch. I must say having the good fortune to live in beautiful New Hampshire is better than basic. Even when I am harried and rushed, the lake and surrounding hills bring me peace and fill me with happiness.

While they can drive us absolutely, positively crazy, most of us are grateful for our families. I suppose that, if all else fails, they are fodder for a great story or two or more (probably lots more.) Still and all, I don’t think I could do without mine. Same goes for friends. From a fun-filled day to a shoulder to cry on or a new perspective on an old problem, what would we do without our friends. Whether the circle is huge or just a few close besties, we are grateful for each and every one.

When it comes to people and gratitude, I hope that you are grateful for you. Don’t be shy, it’s okay to appreciate, to value and to give thanks to the wonderful person you are. Perhaps you make the world’s best cup of coffee, are a fantastic listener or can touch your nose with your tongue, any and all of that are worthy of thanks and gratitude. Let’s hope your boss agrees!

Feeling grateful for warmer and longer days – bon appétit!

Rhubarb Tartlets
I’m grateful that local rhubarb is ready for harvest. Enjoy!
Makes about 30 tartlets

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed and chopped very fine
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the sugar, corn starch and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the rhubarb, orange zest and Grand Marnier and toss to combine.

Spoon the filling into the tartlet shells, sprinkle the tops with Crunchy Topping and bake until the crusts are golden, about 30 minutes. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes before removing. You may need to use a small knife to loosen the tartlets from the tins. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cream Cheese Pastry Dough
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces
2-4 or more tablespoons ice water

Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add the ice water and pulse until the dough comes together. Remove the dough from the food processor, pat into a ball, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls (about 1/2 ounce each). Place the balls in mini muffin tins and, using your fingers, shape each into a tartlet shell. Freeze the shells for at least 15 minutes.

Crunchy Topping
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup macadamia nuts
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

Combine the flour, nuts, brown sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine and finely chop the nuts. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand and starts to clump together.

Store extra topping in the refrigerator and sprinkle on your next fruit crisp or crumble.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Zucchini Tacos
Two Years Ago – Grilled Lamb with Fresh Mint
Three Years Ago – Grilled Pork Tenderloin
Four Years Ago – Greek Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Five Years Ago – Asparagus & Radish Salad
Six Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Seven Years Ago – Asian Noodle Salad
Eight Years Ago – Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart
Nine Years Ago – Not Your Ordinary Burger
Ten Years Ago – Strawberry Rhubarb Soup

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

What are you grateful for? Feel free to share!

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

Women & Their Stories & Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes

With frigid temperatures one day and icy rain and snow the next, March is a month about fortitude. It’s about marching forward against all odds. How do I know this? I don’t. I made it up but it sounds good. It sounds good because March is Women’s History Month and history is filled with women who moved forward against all odds.

Famous and infamous women fill the history books or should. Women we admire like Jane Austin, Elizabeth Blackwell and Shirley Chisholm. There is also the list we keep close to our hearts. Long or short, it includes all the women who have personally influenced our lives. That one includes our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and aunts, a neighbor, maybe two and a couple of friends plus a few teachers and mentors. Most of these women will never have a Wikipedia page but they helped make us who we are.

If you haven’t been paying attention, don’t worry. It’s a thirty-one day month. You have plenty of time to celebrate the women who have inspired, encouraged and influenced you. Now, the only question is – how to celebrate? Here are a few ideas:

Send a note to a woman who made a positive impact on your life. Perhaps she helped you over a rough patch or led by shining example. Maybe she encouraged you when you were at an impasse or read you the riot act when you were floundering. If you’ve lost touch, she may be wondering how you turned out. Share your story with her, thank her and let her know how much she means to you.

Do a little research and look deeper into the lives of some of the women you admire. We all know the two minute version of our favorite heroines. How about a deep dive? Environmentalist might want to learn more about Rachel Carson. If you’re a numbers person explore the life of Katherine Johnson. Musicians can read up on Aretha Franklin and art lovers research Mary Cassatt.

Share stories about your mother, grandmothers and aunties with your kids and grandkids. Help them understand their roots and family history. You might even try writing some of those stories down. Not as a series of dates and data points; focus on the wonderful, strong, vulnerable, living, breathing human beings who helped make you – you.

Tell your own stories. How exactly did you end up being so terrific and right here, right now? Think your story isn’t all that interesting? Think again. Of course, it’s old hat to you. After all, you were there; you lived it. Take some time to stop and reflect. There must be a thousand little things that make you special.

Gather friends around the table for a meal and storytelling. Throughout history, women have gathered around tables to make quilts. Our stories are like the patches in a quilt. Each piece represents a memory and together they form a brilliant whole. Our personal experiences are set against a background of both ordinary and historic events. Embrace and share the crazy hodgepodge of memories. That wonderful, disorganized mix is a beautiful summary of life.

As Abigail Adams once said, “Remember the ladies” and bon appétit!

Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes
These cupcakes are in honor of my mother. She loved chocolate and she loved raspberries. Enjoy!
Makes about 24 cupcakes

1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature and cut in pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Framboise or raspberry liqueur
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups less 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze (recipe follows)
White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Fresh raspberries for garnish

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

Put the jam and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and add the butter and chocolate. Let the butter and chocolate sit and melt for a few minutes and then whisk to combine.

Add the sugar, Framboise and vanilla to the chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly add the chocolate to the eggs. Add the sour cream and whisk until smooth.

Put the flour, 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.

Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 2/3 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-Raspberry Glaze on the cupcakes. Place the cupcakes in the refrigerator or freezer to cool until the chocolate has set. Use a pastry bag fitted with a large tip to add a hefty dollop of White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting. Top each cupcake with a raspberry.

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

Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
Pinch salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate or a mix of bittersweet and milk chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut in pieces

Combine the cream, jam and salt in a heavy saucepan and heat to steaming over medium. Remove from the heat and 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 Framboise
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

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 Framboise, vanilla and white chocolate, increase mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until smooth.

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One Year Ago – Pork Stew with Beans & Greens
Two Years Ago – Shrimp Curry with Spinach
Three Years Ago – Mini Tarte Tatin
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken
Five Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Six Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Seven Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Eight Years Ago –
Creole Shrimp with Creamy Grits
Nine Years Ago –
Wild Mushroom Risotto
Ten Years Ago –
Swimming Pool Jello

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

Are you for or against or … the time change? Feel free to share!

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

A Lot to Like about Halloween & Halloween Candy Brownies

Hang onto your hats (and your turkey legs), it looks like Halloween is poised to become the second most popular holiday in the country. Well, maybe not this year or next, but it’s trending in that direction. For as long as I can remember the triumphant trinity of holidays has been Christmas in the number one spot, followed by Thanksgiving and then Halloween. According to a Harris poll, Halloween is now more popular than Thanksgiving with millennials. That’s anyone between eighteen and thirty-five years old. Already thirty percent of the population, their ranks are growing.

Why do millennials love Halloween? Why not? Halloween has a lot going for it. You get to decorate. From cheery autumnal pumpkins and gourdes to ghosts, ghouls and gravestones, there are loads of options. You dress up in some fantastic outfit. What could be better than showing the world your alter ego, your true self or if-only self? There’s candy.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving has family, food and football. When it comes to family, Thanksgiving is famous for its meltdowns. A few weeks after the election, there is more than enough fodder for conflict. Even if you all agree, someone or everyone will begin to rant and rave. Right, left, liberal or conservative, it doesn’t matter. There’s discontent on all sides. Throw in a few alternative lifestyles, a dash of sibling rivalry and one too many glasses of wine and you have an explosion ready to happen. But the food is good and the football is never ending.

But back to Halloween, for little kids and big ones, there is a lot to like about this spooktacular night:

First my favorite part, you can let your imagination go wild. From scary to sexy to silly (or some combination) you get to be someone else for an evening. Try on a new identity; someone braver and wiser. Who knows? You might decide to keep it on for a week or so – maybe even longer. Literally or figuratively, is there anything more empowering than tights and a cape?

It’s all in good fun. As the days grow shorter and colder, Halloween gets us out and about. It’s a celebration. Whether you are a little kid dashing from one house to another or a big kid dancing the night away, there is nothing too terribly serious about Halloween.

There’s something for everyone. If you don’t feel like trick or treating or dancing, you can travel back through history and learn about the origins Halloween. The ins and outs of ghosts and goblins, witches and their familiars make for interesting reading and study.

The community comes together. Clusters of kids and their parents roam the neighborhood. Parks and parking lots are filled with cars for trunk or treat. Friends come together for festive cheer. History buffs gather at the library for a lecture on the Salem witch trials or some such thing. Superficial divisions melt like a jack-o’-lantern candle and cheery neighborliness rules. By the way, beneath our masks, we’re all human – suggesting that any and all divisions are superficial.

There is a spirit of generosity. Everyone turns on their porch light and stands at the ready with peanut butter cups and crunch bars. Well, not everyone. In quiet rural neighborhoods like mine, we see nary a ghost or superhero. However, we would be ever so happy to welcome you with a treat if you happen by.

Have a wonderful Halloween and bon appétit!

Halloween Candy Brownies
Start with your favorite brownie recipe and add leftover Halloween candy for a spooktacular treat. Enjoy!
Make 24 squares

About 12 ounces leftover Halloween candy – try M&Ms, peanut butter cups, Milky Way, Snickers, Heath Bars and/or Three Musketeers
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Cut the candy bars into small pieces – about 1/2-inch square.

Put the butter, chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in a heavy saucepan and heat on very low until the chocolate is about 2/3 melted. Remove from the heat and stir to combine until melted and smooth. Add the sugar and instant coffee and stir to combine.

Put the eggs in a bowl and beat with a fork. Beating constantly, a little at a time, add about a cup of warm chocolate to the eggs. Add the remaining chocolate and the vanilla to the chocolate-egg mixture and stir to combine.

Put the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate and stir to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the candies evenly over the top and gently push into the batter.

Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and cut into squares.

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One Year Ago – Apple Oatmeal Cookies
Two Years Ago – Chipotle Sweet Potato & White Bean Hummus
Three Years Ago – Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares
Four Years Ago – Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Five Years Ago Ago – Pumpkin Spice Cookies
Six Years Ago – Chicken in Every Pot
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Carrots & Pearl Onions
Eight Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Nine Years Ago – Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions
Ten Years Ago – Mexican Chicken Soup

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

What’s your favorite Halloween candy? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Graduating Advice & Strawberries in Cointreau

It’s graduation season. Politicians, celebrities and the wisest among us take to podiums and blather on about one thing or another. In most cases, they offer some kind of advice. These important people extol the virtues of goal setting and hard work. They like to use phrases like dream big, dare to fail and never give up. They hope to inspire the next generation to climb mountains, reach for the stars and seek the truth … or some such thing.

My advice is simpler, much simpler. Learn to cook. In an age of fast food and microwave dinners, it’s tempting to give the kitchen a pass. Don’t. Cooking is both creative and calming. As you gain knowledge and confidence, you will delight in combining ingredients in new and different ways. Plus, the rhythmic stirring and chopping will calm you after a busy day. Knowing how to cook will feed your stomach and your soul. (It will also help you save money to pay off those student loans.)

When I look at life and work, cooking stands out for one particular reason. It can bring almost instant gratification. For so much of what we do, progress is not measured in hours but in weeks, months or years. A book can take years to write, rewrite and write again. A teacher will work for months hoping for a breakthrough with reluctant students. Complicated business projects take weeks or months to complete. As for raising kids, tending a garden, building and maintain strong and happy relationships – these are never-ending works in progress.

But cooking – even Thanksgiving, the biggest of all holiday feasts is prepped, cooked and served in a couple of days. With a little planning, a weekend dinner party can be tossed together in an afternoon and an any-day-of-the-week meal is done in an hour. As for the reward – you will taste it immediately. Better yet, you will see it in the smiles and hear it in the animated chatter and laughter around the table. A good meal with people you love will make your heart sing.

Which brings me to my next point – invite friends and family to eat with you. Food is more than sustenance; eating is a communal rite. A meal is meant to be shared. Food tastes better when served with a side of stimulating conversation, harmless banter and silly jokes.

Perhaps a dinner party, even the idea, scares the bejeebers out of you. Don’t let it. In the words of Julia Child, “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize,” So what if the soup is a little spicy or the dog steals the turkey? If anyone remembers, it will be another great story to tell and retell. Sure, you’ll look back at some of your mishaps with a grimace but, more important, you’ll also look back with a giggle.

To close, I have two utterly practical suggestions. First, get a big bowl. Only the most timid of cooks can make do with one of those nesting sets of three. You won’t use that giant bowl every day but you’ll be happy to have it. I have a couple, a big one at eight quarts and a really big one at fourteen. Cooking requires a lot of tossing and mixing – give yourself plenty of room to do it with gusto.

Second, start every party with an empty dishwasher. Like it or not, even the loveliest of evenings do come to an end. Eventually, you must clear the table. Cleanup is faster and easier if you can immediately stack all those dishes in the dishwasher. Oh, and yes, I know many first (even second) apartments don’t have dishwashers. This rule also applies to the sink. It should be empty of dirty dishes when your guests arrive.

Have a wonderful life filled with happy friends around table. Bon appétit!

Strawberries in Cointreau
Sometimes the simplest of desserts can be the most delicious – especially when local strawberries are coming into season. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered or halved, depending on size
About 2 ounces Cointreau
Zest of 1 orange
Brown sugar to taste
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Place the strawberries in a bowl large enough for tossing. Drizzle with Cointreau, sprinkle with orange zest and gently toss. If necessary, add a little brown sugar and toss again.

Let the strawberries sit for about 10 minutes while you put the dinner dishes in the sink to soak or fill the dishwasher.

Toss again and serve the strawberries with a spoonful of whipped cream or ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Southwest Turkey Burgers
Two Years Ago – Cherry Cobbler
Three Years Ago – Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction
Four Years Ago – Strawberry Shortcakes with Cardamom Cream
Five Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Six Years Ago – Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet
Seven Years Ago – Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons
Eight Years Ago – The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen
Nine Years Ago – Asian Slaw

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

What advice would you give to this year’s new graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo & Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago Massachusetts and Maine celebrated Patriots’ Day. The day commemorates the first battles of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord. Those of us who grew up in Massachusetts learned a lot about the State’s early history. We spent most of the fall studying the pilgrims. In the spring, we turned to Mad King George’s tyrannical rule and our forbearers’ heroic quest for freedom.

I share this only to point out that, as far as I know, no one in Mexico celebrated Patriots’ Day. Okay, I’m sure that a few of their athletes came north to run the Boston Marathon. However, I can’t imagine that there were lots of parties with baked beans and brown bread down in Cancun or Puebla.

And yet, in a few short days, we’ll be pulling out all the stops for a fun and festive Cinco de Mayo. Before you go making assumptions, no, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t celebrate Mexican independence. It’s the anniversary of the victorious Battle of Puebla against the French in 1862. Just as the Battles of Lexington and Concord were early victories in the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Puebla was an quick win in the Franco-Mexican War.

So why in the world do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo? First of all, it’s a lot easier for Americans to pronounce than Día de la Independencia – Independence Day. And second, Día de la Independencia is in mid-September. Life is good in September. The weather is fine. The leaves are starting to change to red and gold. We’re busy picking apples and showing off our new pencil boxes. We don’t have time for a Mexican fiesta.

Compare that to early May. It’s mud season. There is no red or gold and very little green. The trees are barely in bud. If it’s not raining, it’s cloudy or it will be soon. Sand is everywhere and I could (almost) kill for a mudroom. We could all use a little celebration right about now. Why not shake off the mud season doldrums with a ginormous Cinco de Mayo potluck. Your friends and neighbors will love you for it.

Don’t’ worry, you don’t need to make a huge fuss. The point is to get everyone together and have some fun. Here are a few pointers –

Start with a little color. Track down that sunshine yellow tablecloth and throw it on the table. Use the bright red napkins and add some candles or tea lights. A bowl of lemons and limes will make a perfect centerpiece.

Skip the hokey sombreros and silly mustaches from the party store but encourage everyone to think spring. It’s probably too cold and muddy for flip-flops but take a few minutes to find that bright pink sweater. It’s in the back of the closet somewhere.

Encourage everyone to bring a favorite Mexican-inspired dish. Hopefully, your foodie friends will go one better and create something deliciously authentic.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo y buen provecho!

Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème
Very creamy chocolate with just a touch of Mexican spice, I can’t think of a better dessert for Cinco de Mayo. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 1/3 cups half & half
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon for to taste chipotle powder
8 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon espresso or coffee powder
8 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon Triple Sec
Garnish: unsweetened whipped cream

Put the half & half and cream in a heavy saucepan, add the cinnamon, chipotle and orange zest. Stirring frequently, heat until steaming. Remove from the heat and let the orange zest and spices steep for about 30 minutes.

Put the chocolate and espresso powder in a large measuring cup or bowl. Set aside.

Reheat the cream to steaming.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly add the hot cream to the egg yolks.

Return the egg-cream mixture to the saucepan and set over low heat. Stirring constantly, cook until the custard reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove from the heat, stir in the Triple Sec and immediately strain the hot custard through a fine mesh sieve into the measuring cup with the chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then whisk until smooth and completely melted.

Pour the chocolate crème into 8 small dessert bowls or glasses. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Serve the pots de crème with unsweetened whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Shrimp with Salsa de Cacahuate y Chile de Arbol
Two Years Ago – Puffy Apple Pancake
Three Years Ago – Tostadas with Avocado Crema & Black Bean Salsa
Four Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Five Years Ago – Lemon-Lime Squares
Six Years Ago – Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)
Seven Years Ago – Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt
Eight Years Ago – Black & White Brownies
Nine Years Ago – Rhubarb Muffins

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

How will you celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018