Spring Skiing & Spaghetti with Cauliflower & Olives

skiing_01Less than a month ago, a furry, little fellow popped out of a hole in Pennsylvania and saw his shadow. According to legend, the shadow meant we were in for six more weeks of winter. However, get this! This little pageant has been going on for more than one hundred years. Over all those decades, an early spring has been predicted all of seventeen times. (Nine years of records are missing so it could be a few more.) Now, some curious weather geeks did a few calculations to see how accurate that furry, little fellow is. Their discovery? Well, the groundhog was correct only thirty-nine per cent of the time.

That’s less than a coin toss!

Anyone living in New Hampshire can predict winter’s end with or without a furry friend or coin to toss. Here in the Granite State, winter hangs around until it’s good and ready to quit. Last week’s glorious few days of spring skiing could be the start of warmer things to come … or not. It’s just as likely that the magnificent spring-like weather was nothing more than a blip in northern New England’s decidedly fickle weather patterns.

New Hampshire skiers live for those wonderfully warm, end-of-the season days. We want nothing more than to ski in a t-shirt, even shorts. However, we all know that there are two sides to an early spring. We love the sun and curse the rain. Although we would happily greet one last blizzard, just the threat of a shower sends skiers into a tizzy.

To make matters worse, I was admittedly spoiled during all those years I lived in Switzerland. Spoiled rotten! Even in a mediocre snow year, the season lasted through the first or second weekend of April. In a spectacular year, skiing went on and on until mid-May. Of course, the elevations are a heck of a lot higher in the Alps; way up above the tree line higher.

This extended ski season did lead to a few misadventures. Most were due to the stubborn determination of my friends and I to ski from top to bottom. Just because the ski season lasted until Easter and beyond, did not mean there was snow cover on the bottom third or half of the mountain. By early April, skiers were advised to take the lift down from the mid-station. After a glorious day in the sun and snow, riding a chairlift to the bottom was nothing short of anticlimactic. A gondola was even worse. (The cliché packed in like sardines would be an apt description.)

I’m not one to let a TRAIL CLOSED sign stand in my way. Neither were my ski pals. After a quick peek left and right, we ducked under the rope and headed down. We had the trail to ourselves and it was fabulous. Well, fabulous until we hit a south facing, mud covered slope. Jumping from one small patch of snow to another, we clamored through trees and over a few rocks. Finally and inevitably, we ran out of snow. Off came the skis; we were in for a long slog to the car in our ski boots.

As the weather warms, on the slopes or not, enjoy some time outside! Bon appétit!

Spaghetti with Cauliflower and Olives
This recipe has its roots in sunny Spain and Sicily. It is a great dish when you are pining for a little sun and warm weather. Enjoy!cauliflower_05
Serves 4-6

1 head (about 2 pounds) cauliflower, cut into small florets
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2-1 onion, cut in thin wedges
1/4 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
8-12 ounces spaghetti
About 1/2 cup pitted and roughly chopped green olives
3 tablespoons capers
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
3-4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Grated pecorino Romano cheese

Toss the cauliflower with just enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and spread in a single layer in a roasting pan. Tossing once or twice, roast at 375 degrees until browned and tender, about 40 minutes.

(If you roast the cauliflower in advance, a delicious dinner will be ready in minutes.)

While the cauliflower roasts, heat a little olive oil in a skillet, add the onion and pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and sauté 2-3 minutes more. Stir in the lemon juice. Add the cauliflower, olives and capers, sprinkle with lemon zest and toss to combine. Cover and keep warm.

spaghetti_cauliflower_olives_03Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving a little pasta water.

Toss the pasta with the vegetables. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water and cook on low for 1 minute. Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve with grated pecorino Romano.

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

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

What about you? Now that the seasons are changing, how will you spend time outside? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

La Dolce Vita & Tiramisu

spanish_steps_romeEaster is this coming weekend. Anyone who lives in northern New England knows that spring comes in two parts: Mud Season and Black Fly Season. Easter falls firmly in the former. Which means that, more often than not, Easter is windy, wet and wild. When we were little girls, my dad’s cousin Ginny or my grandmother bought fancy dresses for my sister and me for Easter. Regardless of the weather, we wore those light and frothy dresses to church and Easter dinner. While we were truly adorable, our outfits were hardly appropriate for the icy rain and whipping winds of a typical early spring day in New England.

That’s not the case in Italy. Fast forward a few decades … to the long Easter weekend I spent in and around Rome. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. I was living in Geneva at the time and dating an Italian. We had four days off and he decided it was time to take me home to meet the family.

Unlike New England or even Geneva, spring had arrived in central Italy. Daffodils bobbed in the warm breezes and the sun gave everything a soft, golden glow. Now, I don’t want to disappoint you but if you are conjuring up visions of a sporty little convertible zipping through the Italian countryside and streets of Rome … well, stop. In spite of his roots, my beau drove a very practical sedan of some sort. I think it was German.

Anyway, we traveled light with no heavy coats or muddy boots to weigh us down. With sweaters casually draped over our shoulders, we wandered through the ancient streets of Rome. We sipped espresso in Piazza Navono, visited the Spanish Steps and Saint Peter’s square. It had been rainy and cool when we left Geneva and we reveled in the sweet life of the Italian spring. Ahhhh, la dolce vita.

Early Sunday morning we headed up into the nearby Apennine Mountains to meet the family. We spent a delightful day in a picturesque medieval village. It was the kind of village you see in the travel books or on picture post cards. Thick stonewalls protected the entire village. Narrow three- and four- story houses were jammed together. We meandered through the winding, cobblestone streets, past my friend’s boyhood home, his grandparents’ old house and the houses of numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and school chums. Along the way, he entertained me with stories of his family, a young boy’s mischief-making and, of course, soccer games played here there and everywhere. It was a wonderful glimpse of what it was like to grow up in a tiny village in central Italy.

Around noon, we found ourselves in the village square with its ancient church. The ringing bells announced the end of mass. Within minutes, people, shouts and laughter filled the square. It was like a scene out of a movie. Widows were dressed in black from head to toe. Men played Bocce. Extended families and friends came together to celebrate. Hugs and kisses were exchanged. New babies were admired. Foreign girlfriends were eyed and not so surreptitiously.

Next, our walk took us out of the protective walls and into the surrounding hills. It was time to stop strolling and work up an appetite for the feast to come. Several hours later, showered and changed, we settled down to an enormous family dinner. The food was perfect and, in a word, abbondanza. We were treated to delicious springtime delicacies – beautiful artichokes, delicious lamb and bright spring greens. Everything was fresh from farms in the nearby valley. Everyone was full of good cheer, the conversation was animated and laughter flowed like good wine.

Have a wonderful Easter with your friends and family. Buon appetito!

Tiramisu
London to New York to Tokyo and everywhere in between, Tiramisu gained worldwide popularity during the 1990’s. For many, it is still the quintessential Italian dessert. Enjoy!
Serves 12

12 egg large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups Marsala
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1 cup very cold heavy cream
About 30 crispy ladyfingers
About 1 1/2 cups freshly brewed espresso or strong coffee
4-6 ounces dark or milk chocolate, grated

Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with water and ice. Set a medium bowl in the ice water and have a fine mesh sieve handy.

Put the yolks, 1 1/4 cups sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a heavy saucepan and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly add 1 1/4 cups Marsala and whisk until smooth. Set over medium-low heat, and stirring constantly, cook until the mixture is thick and reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Immediately remove the pan from heat and pass the custard through the fine mesh sieve into the bowl sitting in the ice water. Add the vanilla and, stirring frequently, let the custard stand until cool.

While the custard cools, put the espresso and remaining sugar in a small bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the Marsala and stir to combine.

When the custard has cooled, put the mascarpone and cream in a bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the custard into the whipped mascarpone and cream.

Cover the bottom of a deep 9×13-inch glass or ceramic dish with a single layer of ladyfingers and drizzle the cookies with half the espresso mixture. Let the ladyfingers sit for a minute to absorb the espresso. Top the ladyfingers with half of the custard-mascarpone mixture and smooth the top. Add another layer of cookies and drizzle with the remaining espresso. Top with the remaining custard-mascarpone, cover and refrigerate for several hours.

To serve: generously sprinkle the tiramisu with grated chocolate, spoon into individual bowls and serve.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Lamb Chops with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce
Two Years Ago – Confetti Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Three Years Ago – Magret de Canard Provencal
Four Years Ago – Strawberry & White Chocolate Fool Parfaits
Five Years Ago – Grilled Lamb & Lemon Roasted Potatoes
Six Years Ago – Spicy Olives
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you celebrate Easter? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

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

Discovering Skiing in the Alps & Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux

Geneva_02I will always think of Geneva as my second home. Oh, that’s Switzerland, not New York or Illinois or a lake in Wisconsin. One of the best things about living in Geneva is the proximity to the mountains. Not any little hills mind you, the Alps.

Even though I’d been on the slopes for years, since I was seven, I didn’t really learn to ski until I moved to Switzerland. There is something both thrilling and terrifying about a really big mountain. And by big, we’re talking above-the-tree-line-and-trails-that-go-on-for-miles-and-miles big. For a girl who learned to ski at King Ridge, it was more than a bit daunting at first.

As a proud New England skier, a few things came as a surprise. First of all, there was a lot of snow; like ten or fifteen feet of snow. While late autumn in Geneva was one wet day after another, rain in town meant snow in the mountains. The season usually started by the first week in December and continued on to May. Unlike the areas I grew up with, alpine resorts didn’t brag about huge investments in snowmaking equipment and awards for grooming. They didn’t have to.

My early ventures onto the slopes are a bit of a blur. However, one December day stands out. It began with me lugging my skis to the train station through the quiet, early morning streets of Geneva. A gentle drizzle did not bode well. Ignoring my friend John’s enthusiast assurances, I caught a snooze on the train to Champéry. Once there, we lugged our skis through the bustling streets of the village to the lift.

Perfectly picturesque, a gentle snow was falling as we began our first descent. Unfortunately, that’s were picturesque ended and I began. To say that my form could easily have been mistaken for a lame rhinoceros is not an exaggeration. To make matters worse, I had yet to adopt the alpine-chic style of a European skier. Even though he’d been in Switzerland for three, maybe four, years John hadn’t adopted alpine-chic either.

John was not from New England but Canada. However, we both sported what I came to think of as northeast scruffy. Perhaps it was a holdover of a more bohemian time. My carefully combined ensemble was designed to project an image of someone too laidback and interesting to worry about anything as silly as clothes. That said, the outfit was just as easily the product of New England frugality or grad school debt. I don’t know John’s excuse.

Still December, the temperature hovered around freezing but the snow never turned to rain. It was a long day. The snow was heavy and the slopes were steep and long. Much steeper and much longer than the Queen’s Run and Knave of Hearts at family-friendly King Ridge. While John was no fashion plate, he was a superb skier. Graceful and strong, he was poetry in motion.

With brute force (picture that poor, lame rhinoceros), I plowed my way through the heavy snow. I don’t know what kept me going; grit, determination or plain, stinking pride. Whatever it was, I was more than a little grateful for my daily running habit. Running didn’t make me a better skier but, thankfully, it made me fit and strong. And yes, skiing the alps did get easier and better with time and practice. Lots of time and lots of practice.

Anyway, enjoy the latest snowfall and a day on the slopes. Bon appétit!

Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux
(Cheese Tartlets with Sausage & Leeks)

These earthy little tartlets are perfect for passing at your next cocktail party or before a cozy après ski dinner. Enjoy!
Tartelettes_au_Fromage_avec_Saucisse_et_Poireaux_06Makes 30 tartlets

Savory Tartlet Pastry (recipe follows)
1-2 tablespoons butter
1-2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 clove garlic, minced
4-5 ounces Italian or other fresh sausage, sweet or hot or a mix, casings removed
5-6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup half &half

Make the Savory Pastry Dough. Cut the dough into 24 rounds, press the dough into nonstick mini muffin tin cups and freeze for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until tender, 5-10 minutes. add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl, cool and reserve.

Raise the heat to medium-high and put the sausage in the skillet. Breaking the meat up into small pieces, sauté until lightly browned. Drain and cool the sausage on paper towels. Add the sausage and cheese to the leeks and toss to combine.

Put the eggs in a bowl, add the mustard and spices and whisk until smooth. Add the half & half and whisk again.

In one bowl or the other, combine the wet ingredients with the leeks, sausage and cheese.

Spoon the filling into the pastry shells and bake until the filling sets and the top and crusts are golden, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing and serving. You may need to use a small knife to loosen the tartlets.

Can be made up to 1 day in advance. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate in the muffin tins. Reheat, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Savory Tartlet Pastry
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces
3 or more tablespoons ice water

Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add the ice water and pulse until the dough comes together in large clumps.

Remove the dough from the food processor, pat into a log about 12-inches long and wrap in plastic or parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

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

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

Do you have a ski story? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

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

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 Holiday Office Party & Rosemary Cashews

Christmas_Party_TableThe wheels of industry will soon come to a grinding halt. Well, at least for a few hours. Yes, the annual holiday office party season is upon us. For many years, I worked for a big computer company in Switzerland so I’ve attended (or endured – you choose) my fair share of office parties.

The festivities began on the first Friday night of December. Hardly an intimate affair, more than 600 employees gathered in the oversized lobby and cafeteria for food, drink, dancing and merriment. The frivolity continued throughout December with each work group celebrating with a holiday lunch. The definition of group was rather fluid and most people attended at least three, often more, lunches.

The company was famous for its matrix organization so for several years I had two, even three, bosses. Two or three bosses meant two or three lunches. They, in turn, each had a boss or two for a few more lunches. One year a colleague invited a bunch of us out again. He was always looking for something to celebrate and dreamed up some excuse for a party. I think that made a total of six; or was it seven? As far as I remember, no one donned a lampshade but a few revelers came very, very close to dancing on the table.

All this frivolity was squeezed into the first two or three weeks of December. At least once or twice a week, people drifted out of the office around 11:30. No one ever wandered back before 3:00 and it was generally closer to 4:00. Feeling logy and full of too much good food and fun, few stayed long and headed home early. Eventually someone figured out that all of these lunches were costing the company a whole lot of money and even more time. The cumbersome matrix didn’t come down but the profusion of holiday lunches was reduced to a paltry few.

When I became a boss, I reinvented the holiday lunch for my group. I moved it to the weekend, brought it home and invited spouses and significant others. The result was a relaxed and elegant evening. We sipped champagne in front of a crackling fire and then enjoyed a lovely dinner around my farmhouse table. Most of my team had children, so a few years later, we reinvented again. Children came along; we started by bowling a few frames and ended with a casual Sunday lunch.

Then the company transferred me to California. The internet boom had just gone bust and the powers-that-be cancelled any and all year-end celebrations. I decided my team deserved a little fun anyway. With the help of my assistant, Bonnie, we organized a family party. It was potluck and I encouraged everyone to bring a traditional dish from their holiday table. As host, I decked the halls, cooked up a few treats and made goodie bags for all. For entertainment, we held a Yankee Gift Swap for the adults and Santa graciously agreed to come and discuss wish lists with the kids.

With holiday music playing in the background, the conversation flowed. And with children and spouses around, we were less tempted to talk shop. Holiday tchotchkes, dust-catchers and boxes of chocolates were swapped. The kids got up close and personal with Santa. Riddling him with questions and requests, they barely let him out the door. Luckily, as if on cue, a family of deer arrived and created both a note of authenticity and a diversion to help for Santa escape. I may be biased but I’m pretty sure it was the best office party ever!

If an office party is in your holiday plans, enjoy. But beware, if you get the urge to dance on the table, put a lampshade on your head or tell the boss exactly what you really think of him; it’s time to go home!

Bon appétit!

Rosemary Cashews
I am constantly roasting up a batch of these delicious nuts during the holidays. They are a great addition to any party and make wonderful hostess gifts. Enjoy!

1 pound raw cashewsrosemary_cashews_03
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
About 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon butter, cut in small pieces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the nuts in a single layer in 1-2 heavy skillets and, stirring once or twice, roast at 375 degrees until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the rosemary, salt and paprika in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Remove the nuts from the oven and combine in one skillet. Add the butter to the pan and toss until it melts and coats the nut. Sprinkle with the rosemary and spices and toss again. Cool in the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Store leftover nuts in an airtight container at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Greek Stuffed Mushrooms
Two Years Ago – Ginger Crème Brûlée
Three Years Ago – Aunt Anna’s Pecan Pie
Four Years Ago – White Chocolate & Cranberry Trifle
Five Years Ago – Chicken with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Penne
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s on your Christmas shopping list this year? 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

No One’s an Orphan on Thanksgiving Day & Smashed or Mashed Potatoes

Yes, yes, I know, we’re barely done with Halloween and already I’m talking about Thanksgiving. In my defense, Thanksgiving has got to be the greatest foodie event of the year. Of course there are lots of other holidays with fabulous meals but none are devoted to feasting. Christmas dinner is great but still secondary to Santa. While Independence Day cookouts are delicious, they are just the lead-in to the fabulous fireworks. Easter has the bunny, Halloween has witches, ghouls and ghosts and both have enough candy to render dinner superfluous. Thanksgiving is all about the feast, the loved ones around the table and, okay, maybe a little football.

So while it may be a little early to work on your shopping list, it is not too early to think about the guest list. Thanksgiving_GVAEspecially if you are alone this Thanksgiving or know someone who might be looking for a little company on Turkey Day.

When I first moved to Switzerland, I couldn’t help but feel a little homesick as Thanksgiving approached. It would be my first Turkey Day away from home. Lucky for me, a colleague decided to throw a party. Better yet, she drafted me as her co-host and sous-chef.

Since Thursday was not a holiday in Switzerland, we celebrated on Saturday. By mid-morning, I was in Linda’s kitchen, sporting an apron and brandishing a potato peeler. We peeled pounds of potatoes, baked pies, simmered cranberry sauce, steamed beans and stuffed and roasted a fat turkey. Tasty aromas began to fill the apartment as we shared stories of home and Thanksgivings’ past. At seven, the doorbell started to ring and we shared our delicious labors with a dozen or so expatriates from the US and around the world.

Linda left Switzerland the next summer but I stuck around to throw many more Thanksgiving dinners. It was always a fun and lively affair. Then and now, the most important tradition, more important than the turkey or cranberry sauce, is that no one should be alone on Thanksgiving. Admittedly, only my American friends truly appreciated this sentiment. So while my guest list was a veritable United Nations of nationalities, a few extra Americans always seemed to find my Thanksgiving table.

It would start with a phone call (make that two or three) to add a holiday orphan (make that two or three). “My brother (sister, cousins, best friend from kindergarten) is visiting, can he/she/they come to Thanksgiving?” Or “My office mate (neighbors, new sweetheart, running buddy) is American and has no plans for Thanksgiving. Can I bring him/her/them along?” As my friend Kevin wisely noted, “There is always room for one more at Thanksgiving.”

As the tally grew, I put out an SOS for extra chairs and devised a makeshift extension to my table for eight with sawhorses and an old plank. One year, nineteen people squeezed into around the table. Somewhat miraculously, everyone managed to get enough to eat. My apartment’s tiny oven could barely hold a twelve-pound turkey. Luckily, one of the extras was a chef and he carved the bird with both biblical and surgical skill.

If it looks like you’ll be alone this Thanksgiving, take it as a sign and create a festive gathering of holiday orphans. And for anyone with lots of family and old friends gathering for turkey, why not add that colleague or neighbor who is far from home? Either way, the more the merrier!

Have a wonderful gathering of family, old friends, new friends and soon-to-be friends. Bon appétit!

Smashed or Mashed Potatoes
Thanksgiving is filled with family food traditions. My mother always mashed her potatoes with sour cream and they were delicious. Mom’s spuds were smooth but I prefer chunky so I give them a rough smash. Take your pick and enjoy!
Serves 12 or moresmashed_potatoes_02

About 5 pounds red skinned or Yukon gold potatoes
About 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) or to taste butter, cut into small pieces
1/2-1 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Scrub and peel (or not) the potatoes and cut into 1-2 inch cubes. Alhough my mother always peeled the potatoes, I like to leave the skins on.

Put the potatoes and 1 tablespoon butter in a large pot. Add enough salted water to cover and bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until just tender, about 10 minutes.

Drain the potatoes in a large colander and return them to the pot.

Add the sour cream and remaining butter to the potatoes and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir/smash with a large spoon or potato masher until everything is well combined but the potatoes are still chunky.

smashed_potatoes_04

Alternatively, follow my mother’s lead and, using an electric mixer, whip until smooth. (Don’t overbeat or the spuds will turn to glue. Unlike my mother, I use a potato ricer instead of an electric mixer when I want very smooth mashed potatoes.)

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One Year Ago – Apple Muffins
Two Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Warm Roasted Squash
Three Years Ago – Spinach Ricotta Pie
Four Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Lentils
Five Years Ago – Tomato, Olive & Feta Tart
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How are your Thanksgiving plans shaping up? 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

I Say Soup – You Say Potage & Soupe de Poisson Provençal

Either – either, tomato – tomato, potato – potato … stirring_the_potFor many years, I lived a stone’s throw from the French border in Switzerland. A day maybe two, after arriving in Lausanne, I discovered that soup was a lot more than soupe. There was potage and velouté, as well as potage crème velouté. There was bisque but, coming from New England, that was nothing new. I’d heard of consommé but wasn’t quite sure why or how it was different from bouillon.

As far as I could figure and now remember, here is a guide to French and Swiss soups:

First, there is Soupe. Except for the silent e, this one is pretty simple. Soupe is any combination of vegetables, meat, poultry and/or fish cooked in a liquid.

Then, there is the aforementioned Potage. At its best, potage is soupe that has been pureed. Think butternut squash, potato and leek or tomato. Sometimes cream, egg yolks or a roux is added to make it creamier or thicker. A potage crème velouté is a super smooth and creamy potage. Sometimes, but not always, a velouté is run through a sieve so it’s not just smooth, it’s silky.

Within days of my arrival in Switzerland I discovered potage at its worst – Potage de Farine. Unless my memory is playing tricks, Potage de Farine is flour soup. I confess the chef might have been having an off day (I only tried it once) but it was dull and tasteless. If you’ve ever wondered what gruel is, I’m guessing Potage de Farine is the answer. When poor Oliver timidly asked for more, I’m pretty sure Potage de Farine was in the kettle.

Rarely seen on today’s menus, Bouillon and Consommé make me think of dinner at Downton Abbey. Bouillon is nothing more than broth made from cooking vegetables, poultry, meat or fish in water. Consommé is bouillon which has been clarified.

According to tradition, Bisque is a wonderfully rich pureed soup made with seafood and cream. Perhaps to appear more elegant, many American chefs have commandeered the name bisque for any smooth, creamy soup. Maybe the recipes have changed (probably not) but a lot of menus list tomato, butternut squash and mushroom soups as bisques.

If they are trying to be fancy, chefs could use the name velouté instead of bisque. Wild Mushroom Velouté or Artichoke Velouté sounds positively elegant. Of course it helps to know that velouté means velvety in French. As far as I can figure, it is just the shorthand name for a Potage Crème Velouté. As delicious as it may sound, Butternut Squash Potage Crème Velouté is quite a mouthful.

During my almost two decades in Switzerland, I sampled a lot of soups in homey cafés and trendy bistros on both sides of the border. Inspired, I set to work in my kitchen developing my own tasty repertoire. I scoured the market for wonderful ingredients, tracked down interesting gadgets and learned new skills. Of course, I didn’t hesitate to mix and match my own New England traditions with these new discoveries. One of the good things about being a foreigner, you are not tied to someone else’s time-honored tradition!

With the weather turning cold and blustery, there is nothing better than comfortable chair by the fire and a mug of steaming soup. Bon appétit!

Soupe de Poisson Provençal (Fish Soup)
e Soupe de Poisson Provençal as a first course at a special occasion or as a main course for lunch or a casual, light supper. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive oilsoupe_poisson_01
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red skin potato, peeled and chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1-2 cup crushed tomatoes
2-3 quarts fish, shrimp or chicken stock or a mixture
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 strips orange peel, 4-inches long
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
2 pounds skinned haddock, halibut or salmon fillet

Garnish: 1-inch thick baguette slices, toasted and topped with Rouille (recipe follows) and freshly grated Gruyère or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat a little olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, carrot, celery, onion and leek. Season with salt, pepper and pepper flakes and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more.

Add the wine and saffron; bring to boil. Add the potato, tomatoes, 2 quarts stock, thyme, orange peel and bay leaf and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Increase the heat to medium-high, add the fish, bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the fish is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool for 15-20 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf and orange peel from the pot and, adding more stock if necessary, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the pot and reheat to steaming.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread rouille on toasted baguette slices and sprinkle with grated cheese. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the toasts and serve.

soup can be made a day ahead. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator.

Rouille
1 cup mayonnaise
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
Sea salt to taste

Put the mayonnaise, garlic, paprika and cayenne in small bowl, season with salt and whisk to combine. Cover and chill the rouille for 2-3 hours or overnight.

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One Year Ago – Hearty Black Bean Soup
Two Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna
Three Years Ago – Gingerbread Cupcakes
Four Years Ago – Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle
Five Years Ago – Pork Stew Paprika

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

What’s your favorite tea time treat? 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