Holiday Entertaining – Dinner Party with Friends

Christmas_Cheers_01The holidays are a great time to entertain. Dinner for eight, brunch for a dozen or cocktails for fifty; you decide. Perhaps you are thinking that you are long overdue for a dinner party? Maybe it is your book club or the neighbors or your favorite, oldest, nearest and dearest friends. The ones you met when you first moved to town … how many decades ago? Whomever the company, take a break from the hustle and bustle and get a group together for a long and lazy dinner party. Let casual meet elegant with your favorite cashmere sweater and cozy bistro dishes.

Maybe you’re thinking … what the heck is a cozy bistro dish or how did that hole find my sweater? I can’t help you with the sweater but I can suggest a menu!

So, here we go.

Start with a glass of champagne and a tasty amuse-bouche. (Translation – amuse-mouth. It’s just a fancy way to say a one or two bite treat.) How about a nice little tartlet (or tartelette in French)? You might like to try my Butternut Squash Tartlets or Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux (Sausage and Leek Tartlet). Add bowls of Spicy Olives and Rosemary Cashews to nibble.

Moving à table (to the table) … a lovely soup is just the thing on a chilly night. I suggest you try my Wild Mushroom Soup.

For the main course … you can’t go wrong with my Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs. Serve the chicken with a spoonful of Whole Grain Pilaf and Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary and/or Roasted Carrots (skip the pearl onions).

Next, comes the salad; yes, after the main course. Keep it simple with Salad Greens with Classic Vinaigrette. Keeping with the French theme, add a wedge of your favorite cheese and a basket of artisan bread and/or crackers.

Now, it’s time for dessert. As always, you can’t go wrong with chocolate. My Chocolate Walnut Tart is rich and delicious. If you’d prefer a creamy French pud, then give my Cranberry Clafoutis or Ginger Crème Brûlée a try.

Have a lovely evening! Bon appétit!

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

How are you spending the long holiday weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! target=”_blank”>Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Labor Day Weekend & Fresh Corn with Sriracha Aioli

Fall_Early_Morning_Pleasant_Lake_03If you live here, the dawning of September is nothing to fear. Labor Day will come and go but the suns will still shine and Pleasant Lake will stay put. The Summer People are not so lucky. If they haven’t already, they will soon be fighting bumper-to-bumper traffic on the drive south to cities and suburbia.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was one of those Summer People. Late on Labor Day afternoon, kids, dogs and turtles crammed into the station wagon with a small mountain of duffle bags. Reluctantly, we headed back to suburbia. I think my mother hated the end of summer migration even more than we three kids did. If it weren’t for Dad’s business, she would have moved to New Hampshire in a heartbeat. Instead, she bravely made sure that everything was packed, closed down the house and herded us into the car. Heaving a dramatic sigh, she proclaimed to any and all, “I am bereft,” and backed out the driveway.

So what’s in store for the Summer People this Labor Day Weekend?

If there is no justice, and there isn’t, they will be busy washing one last load of sheet and towels, storing beach toys and stowing paddleboards and kayaks under the deck. Business at the supermarket and farm stand will be brisk. Townies and Summer People alike will be stocking up for holiday cookouts. Activity at the boat launch will be nonstop. Fancy speedboats, fine looking sailboats and humble dinghies will be strapped onto trailers and hoisted out of the water. Rafts and docks will be dragged onto beaches.

However, Labor Day Weekend is not just about cleaning up and buttoning down. It is also the weekend for a last hurrah. It could be one last sail or one last waterski before hauling the boat out of the water. Maybe it’s a final hike (or finally a hike) up Kearsarge, a run around the lake or a bike ride to nowhere and back.

All of it, both the chores and the fun, is topped off with a festive cookout or two. That’s the thing about Labor Day Weekend. It’s both bitter and sweet. While there are tons of end-of-summer tasks to do, Summer People always do their best to balance the drudgery with fun and games.

However, if live here like me, you can focus on fun all weekend. There will be plenty of time to wash, fluff and fold that last load of beach towels. It will eventually turn cold or rainy or both. It always does. But, if we’re lucky, we can count on at least a month of warmish weather and sunshine.

September is a lovely in-between month; not really summer and not quite fall. The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts above average temperatures and below average rainfall this year. While we’d like this drought to end, it is good news for outdoor activities. Only the bravest will continue their early morning swim. The rest of us are content to row or kayak, hike or bike and enjoy the golden sunshine. While it may be a bit chilly for dinner al fresco, we can still enjoy a lunchtime picnic or an evening cocktail on the deck.

Here’s to the magic of September and bon appétit!

Corn with Sriracha Aioli
Corn_w_Sriracha_Aioli_01When it comes to corn, I’ve always been a purist – butter and a little salt. Then I tried it with spicy aioli. Now, I’m hooked. Whether the corn is steamed or grilled, it is a delicious combination. Enjoy!

1 ear corn per person
Sriracha Aioli
Sea salt (optional)

To steam the corn: fill a large pot with a few inches of water, add a steam basket and the corn, cover and bring the water to a boil. Steam the corn for 4-6 minutes or until tender crisp.

To grill the corn: preheat a charcoal or gas grill to high. Lightly coat the corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the corn on the grill and cook on high heat for about 3 minutes per side.

To serve: invite everyone to grab an ear and pass the Sriracha Aioli and sea salt.

Sriracha Aioli
Not just for corn, this aioli is wonderful on a burger. It makes a delicious dip for French fries, fresh veggies or shrimp.
Makes about 2 cups

2-3 cloves garlic, choppedCorn_w_Sriracha_Aioli_08
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons or to taste sriracha or your favorite hot chili sauce
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Sea salt to taste
1 cup or to taste mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped mint

Put the garlic, olive oil, ketchup, lime juice and sriracha in a small food processor, season with cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and process until well combined and smooth.

Add the mayonnaise and process until well combined. Add the lime zest and herbs and pulse a few times to combine. Cover and chill for an hour or more to combine the flavors.

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One Year Ago – Romaine with Grilled Corn, Tomato & Avocado
Two Years Ago – Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Orange Tart
Four Years Ago – Chicken Liver Pâté
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Crisp
Six Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Sauce
Seven Years Ago – Lemon Cupcakes
Eight Years Ago – Couscous with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts

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

What do you love about late summer? Feel free to share.

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

Snow, Sun and Fun – February Vacation & Sausages with White Beans

King_RidgeWhen I was seven, my sister, Brenda, and I took up skiing. It was Brenda’s idea or maybe my father’s. In any case, we both received shiny, new skis for Christmas. Before long, we were hooked. About the time he turned three, my little brother joined us on the slopes.

February was our favorite month. January started cold and ended with a soggy thaw. Perhaps it was the ground hog but the weather took a decidedly better turn in February. The days grew longer and weren’t quite so frigid. School let out for vacation and carloads of flatlanders fled north to the mountains. Leaving within minutes of the last school bell, my family was at the head of that horde of suburbanites.

Our February ski vacations were always glorious. There must have been an unwritten rule decreeing perfect weather and snow for school vacations. It snowed every night but the days always dawned with perfect bright blue skies and brilliant sunshine. The snow gods didn’t tease us by dumping a foot of beautiful, fluffy white powder and then douse it with an inch of rain. The lift lines could be long and sluggish but there were lots of kids around and the skiing was outstanding. It might not have been perfect but it came pretty darn close.

Dad insisted on getting us up and out on our skis early. As far as he was concerned, we could sleep late and laze around in our pajamas after the snow melted. He yanked us out of bed as soon as it was light. We complained half-heartedly but to no avail. Determined to get us out on the slopes sooner rather than later, he rushed around making pancakes and hot chocolate.

As we climbed into the back of our big, blue station wagon my father always asked, “Do you have everything?” Invariably, I had forgotten my mittens or hat. In truth, I could have forgotten my head except that it was firmly attached to my neck. Hey, there’s one in every family and I was it. I would run back in the house and race around searching for gloves or goggles. Some mornings it took a couple of trips back and forth before I was ready to go. Finally, we pulled out of the driveway and were off for a day of snow, sun and fun. Except for the many mornings when, a half mile down the road, we turned around for a missing season pass. Unusually mine; my sister never forgot anything.

After a long day on the slopes, we headed home to ice skate or sled, cross country ski or jump off the deck. By dinnertime, we were cold, wet and wind burned, not to mention completely exhausted and starving. I think that it was all part of my parents’ grand plan. They figured if our days were filled with snow and sport, we couldn’t get into mischief. After a hearty dinner, we would fall into bed, looking forward to doing it all over again the next day.

With more rain than snow, winter has been far from typical this year. Thankfully, ski areas have been making snow. The skiing may not be stellar but fresh air abounds. Après ski, there is enough snow to cover hills for sledding and the local rink is waiting for you and your skates. Unless you’d rather strap on your snowshoes for a hike in the woods.

Whether you ski or not, enjoy a wonderful winter vacation with family and friends. Bon appétit!

Sausages with White Beans
A hearty casserole is the perfect dinner for family and friends after a busy day on the slopes. Enjoy!
Serves 8

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
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup dry white wine
3-4 cups chicken broth
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2-2 1/2 pounds cooked garlic sausage or smoked kielbasa

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-high heat. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer until the beans are almost tender, about 1 hour.

While the beans are cooking, 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 bacon fat.

Add the chopped onion, celery and carrots to the casserole, 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 the mustard and wine, add the remaining thyme, rosemary and bay leaf and simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Add 2-3 cups chicken broth and the crushed tomatoes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Drain the beans and remove any large pieces of onion, carrot and celery as well as the thyme twig and bay leaf.

Add the beans and bacon to the casserole. Bring everything to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, adding more chicken broth if the beans seem dry.

Cut the sausage on the diagonal into 1-inch-thick pieces. Add the sausage to the beans, return the pot to the oven and continue cooking until the sausage is heated through and the beans are bubbling, about 30-45 minutes. Ladle the beans and sausage into shallow bowls and serve.

If you have the time, cool the beans to room temperature before adding the sausage. Then, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Remove the casserole from the refrigerator about an hour before baking. Cook the casserole in a 350 degree oven until the sausage is heated through and the beans are bubbling, 45-60 minutes. Ladle the beans and sausage into shallow bowls and serve.

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

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

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

What Kind of Thanksgiving? Pumpkin-Ginger Mousse

ThanksgivingWhat kind of Thanksgiving will you have? Elegant with name cards, fine china, silver and crystal? Casual, fun and a tad funky? A football marathon on the couch with a plate full of turkey? A feast like Mom, Nana and Great Grandma used to make – same menu; same tablecloth? Except for the football marathon, I think I’ve done it all. My favorite combines a bit of elegance with some funky casual. It can be yours too. Here are a few tips to make it happen:

For many families Thanksgiving is more than a meal, it’s a reunion. Plan a relaxed day or evening, a marathon not a sprint. Start with an extended cocktail hour while the turkey rests and the kids play touch football or soccer. Keep the hors-d’oeuvres and the drinks light and have plenty of cider available. Serve dinner in leisurely courses, with breaks between and a pre-dessert walk. Finish up in the living room or outside around the fire pit with a sip of grappa or cozy cup of tea.

Do the festivities tend to get out of hand? Perhaps siblings replay ancient rivalries or Uncle Bob falls off the wagon. Consider inviting at least one non-family member, maybe two or three. While, I can’t vouch for your family, we tend to be on our best behavior when an outsider is at the table. Moreover, no one wants to spend Thanksgiving alone, so it’s a win-win.

Feel free to create a seating plan to encourage lively conversation. Separate spouses and significant others as well as quarreling sibs. Play matchmaker and put your cousin next to your new neighbor. For a big crowd, consider switching it up at dessert.

Skip the flowers; a low bowl of gourds, pinecones and acorns surrounded by candles is easy and festive. By the way, save the scented candles for the bedroom. Your delicious dinner should be the only aroma wafting through the house. Don’t forget music. My favorite is old school jazz: Stan Getz, Miles Davis and a bit of Louis Armstrong and Michael Bublé. What about you?

It’s a holiday; think splendiferous and ask your guests to dress smart casual. Your dinner deserves it. In addition, people tend to behave better when they spruce up – see above. As for the chef, after cooking for a day (or three), something stunning will make you feel chic and clever instead of worn and frazzled. Just make sure you tie on an apron before you carve the bird and whisk the gravy.

It’s okay, often expected, to ask for help. When I lived in Switzerland, a couple of friends loved to bake. For many years, I happily assigned them pies. Another guest contributed folding chairs and still another brought along an extra bag of ice or two. Back in the US, Mom has peeled spuds on Thanksgiving morning while Dad makes one last supermarket run and my sister-in-law brings a pie.

Preparing a dozen or more individuals plates is time consuming and stressful. In the heat of the kitchen, it’s impossible to remember who’s vegetarian, who’s gluten-free and who’s just plain picky. Passing platters is an option but they’re heavy and it can be slow going, not to mention complicated. A buffet is a great alternative. Plate and serve the first course, be it salad or soup. Then let everyone line up at the buffet to help themselves to turkey and sides. Place gravy boats, bowls of cranberry sauce, salt and pepper as well as water, wine and cider on the table and double up on everything.

Thanksgiving deserves a little ceremony. Whether a toast or grace, kick off the meal with a few words. Be heartfelt but keep it short, no one wants a cold dinner. As dinner progresses, invite everyone to share their gratitude. Voicing the good things in our lives will keep the conversation upbeat and give everyone a chance to participate.

It doesn’t matter what kind of Thanksgiving you have as long as it is wonderful! Bon appétit!

Pumpkin-Ginger Mousse
I served this mousse for several years when I lived in Switzerland. It’s a nice change from a traditional pumpkin pie. An added plus, you can make it a day ahead. Enjoy!
Serves 12

1 tablespoon gelatin
2 tablespoons dark rum
3/4 cup maple syrup
4 eggs yolks
2 cups very cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
1/3 cup cold sour cream
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
Garnish: slivers of crystallized ginger

Prepare an ice bath in a large, shallow bowl and set aside.

Place the rum in a cup, sprinkle with the gelatin and let stand for 10 minutes to soften.

Whisk the maple syrup, yolks, 1/4 cup cream, fresh ginger and spices together in a small, heavy saucepan. Set over low heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the custard reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the pan from heat, add the gelatin mixture and whisk until the gelatin dissolves. Add the butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking until incorporated. Pass the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.

Stir in the pumpkin and vanilla. Set the bowl in the ice bath, and stirring frequently, cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate the custard for about 1 hour.

Stir the sour cream and crystallized ginger into the custard. Whip 1 cup heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard.

Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or individual dessert glasses or bowls, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Remove the mousse from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving. Whip the remaining cream until soft peaks form. Serve the mousse with a dollop of whipped cream and decorate with slivers of crystallized ginger.

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One Year Ago – Radicchio, Fennel, and Arugula Salad
Two Years Ago – Roasted Mushrooms, Leeks, Shallots & Pearl Onions
Three Years Ago – Turkey Noodle Soup with Spinach
Four Years Ago – Curried Thai Soup with Turkey, Vegetables & Noodles
Five Years Ago – Roast Turkey with Mom’s Stuffing & Giblet Gravy
Six Years Ago – Penne Gratin with Leftover Turkey
Seven Years Ago – Leftover Turkey Stir-fryOr Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? What kind of Thanksgiving are you planning? Feel free to share!

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

Kitchen Hacks & Chicken with Onions & Olives

pitting_olives_01We are all on the hunt for the perfect hack. Come on, you know what I’m talking about and if you don’t; you should. A hack is one of those clever little tips or tricks that save time, money or both. Some hacks work. Some don’t. For instance, placing a wooden spoon on top of a pot will not keep it from boiling over. However, perhaps you have trouble unrolling the duct or packing tape. Next time, slip a toothpick under the end before tossing it back in the junk drawer. You’ll always find the end with ease.

Probably my favorite hack of all time is the little black dress. It’s simple and, at least in my vivid imagination, elegant and slimming. Not to mention that it works no matter what the occasion; cocktails, dinner, funerals, even weddings. Yes Mom, even a wedding. If you’re old enough to have been around awhile, you remember when women didn’t wear black to a wedding. Considered inappropriately somber at best and a passive-aggressive protest at worst, it just wasn’t done.

Of course, a few of us might be extrapolating the little black dress thing a bit too far. I’m also a fan of the little black skirt and black jeans, t-shirts, turtlenecks, sweaters, jackets and, and, and …

Anyway, enough of that. When it comes to hacks, kitchen tips and tricks are always in great demand. Since the wooden spoon thing doesn’t work, I guess I should offer up a few that do. Like onions …

Unless you are in need of a good cry (and who isn’t from time to time), there are a couple of tricks to avoid tears when cutting an onion. First, use a good, sharp knife for a clean cut. Dull blades release more onion fumes. In addition, a sharp knife will make short work of the onion, giving you less time to cry. While you’re at it, breathe through your mouth instead of your nose and open a window or plug in a fan to send the fumes in another direction. Alternatively, kitchen gadget lovers can invest in a pair of onion goggles. If your kitchen already has way too many gadgets, slip on your swim goggles or your kid’s snorkel mask.

While garlic doesn’t make you cry; peeling it can be tedious and stink up your fingers. The easiest way I know to peel garlic is simply to smash it. Place a clove of garlic under the flat side of your favorite chef’s knife and give it a whack. The papery skin pops right off and you are ready to chop.

Speaking of smashing things, do you love olives but worry that one of your guests or kids will break a tooth on a pit? You can pit olives in a flash. Place the flat side of a chef’s knife on top of the olive and hit the knife with your fist. The pit pops right out.

Not comfortable hitting a sharp knife? Take a can – whatever you find in your cupboard that easily fits in your hand and has a little weight behind it. Carefully clean the lid and then crush the olive or garlic clove with the can. Again, the papery skins pop right off and pits slip out easily.

Yes, yes, I know you can buy garlic powder or jars of minced garlic but your dish will not taste the same. As for those cans of pitted supermarket olives? Sure, they’re easy but you’ll miss out on a lot of variety and flavor.

Okay, one last quickie. Avoid a crumbly mess by cutting soft cheeses with dental floss or nylon fishing line. Worried it will somehow taste funny? Please, use new, unused fishing line or plain dental floss, also unused.

That’s it for now but the list goes on and on. Bon appétit!

Chicken with Onions & Olives
Chicken_w_Onions_Olives_04Use my onion, garlic and olive hacks to put this tasty chicken dish together and enjoy!
Serves 8

8 chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 red onions, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and then in 1/4-inch wedges
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2-2 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2-1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup your favorite olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons cognac
2 tablespoons butter (optional), cut in small pieces
Garnish: fresh, chopped parsley

 Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a roasting pan (make sure it is large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer) in the oven for 10 minutes.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the chicken, skin-side down in the hot roasting pan. Return the pan to the oven and roast the chicken at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put enough olive oil in a large skillet to lightly coat and heat on medium-high. Add the onion and pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper, toss to combine and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and sauté 1-2 minutes more. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 cup wine, the mustard and herbs and bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer on low for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives, capers and cognac.

Turn the chicken and, adding more stock and/or wine if necessary, spoon the vegetables and sauce in and around the chicken. Return the pan to the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue roasting until the chicken is cooked through and golden, about 30 minutes more. Check the chicken after 15-20 minutes and add more stock and/or wine if necessary.

Transfer the chicken to a platter or individual plates. Add the butter to the vegetables and stir until melted and well combined. Top the chicken with a spoonful of onions, olives and sauce, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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One Year Ago – Gorgonzola & Walnut Shortbread with Savory Fig Jam
Two Years Ago – Soupe de Poisson Provençal
Three Years Ago – Hearty Black Bean Soup
Four Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna
Five Years Ago – Gingerbread Cupcakes
Six Years Ago – Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle
Seven Years Ago – Pork Stew Paprika

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

What about you? What’s your favorite kitchen hack? Feel free to share!

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

Banker or Ballerina? Graduation Advice & Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction

John_Christmas_Eve_1964When we were kids we had dreams. Some were big, others were small, some fanciful and a few were even heroic. We weren’t afraid to reach for the stars. At five, the boys imagined their future selves as policemen and firemen or operating enormous bulldozers. The girls dreamed of becoming veterinarians or artists. If we liked our kindergarten teacher, then teacher was added to the list.

When did we become so unabashedly realistic? Few if any little kids ever dream of becoming an insurance agent or a marketing manager. Chances are good that bus driver or accountant is not on many lists of dream jobs. Better to invent a walking-talking-poker-playing robot or drive racecars. However, most of us ended up in the real world not dreamland. We don’t wear capes and are more likely to punch a clock than a dastardly villain.

Somewhere along the way, we turned our back on those glamorous careers and chose Plan B. There were lots of good reasons. For some, it was the realization that they just weren’t the type to run into a burning building. Others discovered that as much as they loved animals, they had little if any aptitude for veterinary science. Or maybe an uncle offered them a good paying internship between junior and senior year of college and twenty-five years later, they’re still there … making widgets or counting beans. Let’s face it; it’s hard to turn your back on a sure thing and reach for the stars. We all have a cousin or neighbor who reached and stumbled. Playing at the Grand Ole Opry or inventing the next Facebook is hardly a sure thing.

This spring, more than three million bright and happy seniors will graduate from high school in the US. A million or so more will earn associate degrees and close to two million will bring home a bachelor’s. What career advice would you, should you, will you give these kids?

No matter how long I live, I will not forget the scene in The Graduate when Benjamin Braddock receives a word of career advice. Plastics. Laughing on the outside, that one word sent shivers of dread and horror through millions of idealistic, young Americans. Like me. The scene evokes visions of cubicles, tyrannical bosses and boring meetings. It suggests a life sentence of bumper-to-bumper commutes and endless conference calls.

That young, idealistic me knew there had to be something better. Most days I seesawed between ace reporter and artist. At the time, my list of personal champions was pretty diverse and included both the oh-so glamorous Brenda Starr and fearless Georgia O’Keefe.

But that was then and now is now. What career advice will you give the bright young graduates among your friends and family? Before you answer; stop and think. Is there another path you wish you’d taken? Sure, you can tow the party line and suggest healthcare, insurance or telecommunications but, maybe just maybe, you’ll take a step back and channel the voice of your younger, more adventurous self. You remember that one, the idealist.

So what wise words will you offer? Banker or ballerina? Computer analyst or cowboy? Doctor or DJ? It’s up to you. Before you decide, ask yourself (and answer honestly), “Is there anything you’d rather be?” Then, go ahead and advise those eager young people to follow the straight and narrow … or share the dream you set aside. Who knows, you might convince yourself it’s time for a new start.

Here’s to new beginnings and bon appétit!

Balsamic Reduction with Heirloom Tomatoes
Not just for tomatoes, drizzle Balsamic Reduction on other veggies, grilled meats and chicken or your favorite brie or goat cheese. Enjoy!
Serves 12

1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 small clove garlic, minced
2-3 springs thyme
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon or to taste honey
1/4-1/2 cup or to taste extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 pounds heirloom tomatoes
1 loaf country bread, thickly sliced (if making bruschetta)

Put the vinegar in small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil the over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the shallot, garlic and thyme and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Using a rubber spatula to press on the solids, strain the vinegar through a sieve into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and whisk in the mustard and honey. Continue whisking and slowly add the olive oil until thick and well combined.

heirloom_tomatoes_02Slice the tomatoes or cut into wedges, arrange on a large platter or individual plates and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle sparingly with Balsamic Reduction and serve.

Alternatively, make bruschetta. Grill slices of country bread and, while the bread is still warm, top with tomato and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle sparingly with Balsamic Reduction, cut into wedges and serve.

Cover and store extra Balsamic Reduction in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Strawberry Shortcakes with Cardamom Cream
Two Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet
Four Years Ago – Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons
Five Years Ago – The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen
Six Years Ago – Asian Slaw

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

What advice will you give your favorite graduate? Something you hear at least a couple of times a year? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.

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

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
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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