Scruffy Entertaining & Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

So, I hear that there is a new trend in entertaining. It’s called scruffy hospitality. It seems that it is becoming quite popular with families with young children. Here’s how it works. You come home from work or skiing or skating or with your freshly cut tree ready to decorate. You know that the stew or chili you’ve already made for dinner is big enough for an army. But (there’s always a but) the house is not spotless and you’re not having the best of hair days.

So, what do you do? Why, in a scruffy, no judgement world, you invite your nearest and dearest or soon-to-be nearest and dearest to join you. Okay, you might throw a few wayward shoes into the bucket by the back door but you don’t run around the house with the vacuum cleaner and dust cloth. You don’t spend an hour fussing with your hair and finding the perfect outfit. You call your guests, throw dinner in the oven, set the table and light the fire. If it’s tree night, you get out the decorations.

And guess what? Everyone is happy. I never met anyone who didn’t love a last-minute invitation. Even if they can’t come, people love it that you thought of them and wanted to spend time with them. If you’re a decent cook, they are even happier. Whether it’s Meme and Gramps, the cousins, your oldest friends or your newest neighbors, they will be delighted to join you.

Now, scruffy entertaining is nothing new. Years ago, an old boyfriend told me about a party he and his roommates threw. Just out of college, their party was beyond scruffy. Perhaps you remember the early days of supermarket brands. Instead of fancy names like Natures Promise, Wellesley Farms or Great Value, store brands version 1.0 were called generics. They came in simple black and white packaging. Anyway, the boyfriend and his roomies threw a generics party. They bought a boatload of generic beer and chips and invited all their friends. They even bought white T-shirts and had HOST in black letters printed on the front. It was nothing fancy and everyone had a wonderful time.

Now, I not suggesting that you entertain like a bunch of recent college grads. However, you can turn down the stress level with a more casual approach. Scruffy hospitality is about connecting around the table. It is about friendship and love. It recognizes that time spent together is more important than a spotlessly clean, picture perfect home. Besides, even with a few pine needles scattered about, your home’s imperfections are what make it perfect.

If you’ve been planning to freeze half of tonight’s dinner, why not invite friends to share it instead? They can help you decorate the tree. Or invite family and share old holiday memories. Next time spaghetti is on the menu, pull an extra quart of sauce from the freezer and turn dinner into a small party. Feel free to ask your guests if they have any salad in the refrigerator or a few extra Christmas cookies that they can bring along.

Opening your home and sharing a meal is a joyful expression love and kindness. Hosts and guests, old and young, everyone benefits. By embracing a bit more scruffy attitude, you might just entertain more, share the love more and stress a whole lot less.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with love and joy. Bon appétit!

Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

Here is a not-too-scruffy dish to serve over the holidays or anytime this winter. The lamb can bubble in the oven while you relax and catch up with family and friends. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • About 4 pounds boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, trimmed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary; add the carrots, celery and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the red wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and herbs and bring to a simmer.

Return the lamb to the pot, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the lamb 2 or 3 times, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and pearl onions to the lamb. Add more chicken stock or wine if necessary. Continue cooking, uncovered, until the lamb is very tender; an additional 30-45 minutes.

Remove the lamb from the casserole and cut across the grain in thick slices. Serve the lamb with a generous spoonful or two or three of sauce and vegetables.

The lamb can be made a few days ahead. Cook for 1 hour, add the mushrooms and onions and cook for 10 minutes more. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Transfer to a 350-degree oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until bubbling and piping hot.

Quick tip: use your food processor to finely chop carrots, celery and onions. Cut the veggies into large chunks and, a handful at a time, pulse until finely chopped. Don’t overdo it or overload the processor; you’ll end up with purée instead of finely chopped.

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

Stuff You Should Know & Lemon Roasted Chicken

As we grow older and hopefully wiser, there’s a whole heap of stuff we should know. Some of it’s practical, hands-on stuff like changing a tire. Then, there are the academic bits and bobs. For instance, it might be a useful to know how the three branches of government work and how to calculate a tip. Finally, there are any number of more philosophical ideas or life lessons that could come in handy. In no particular order …

It’s okay to go ahead and ask. Ask for the job, the promotion or the last piece of pie. Ask the family over for dinner; ask that secret crush to the movies; ask your neighbor for that fabulous recipe. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? The answer will be no. So maybe you’re disappointed. We’re all disappointed from time to time but you’ll have an answer and can move on. Then again, it could be yes. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

A bonafide grownup should be able to roast a chicken. As important, maybe more, is having the grace and confidence to host a dinner party. Few, if any of us, are born unflappable. Dry chicken or obstreperous guest – think of it as a mini lesson in adversity. With each gaffe, we learn more, not just about the task at hand but how to handle unexpected complications, difficulties and embarrassments. Facing mishaps with a smile and grace puts life’s little catastrophes in perspective.

Everything in moderation, including moderation. That first part, don’t overdo it, well, it’s sounds sensible. But come on now, we all need to live a little. Not all the time but, heck it’s okay to let loose once in a while. Dance that extra dance. Laugh a little too loud. Eat the cupcake.

Whether the glass is half-empty or half-full isn’t important. It’s a glass; it’s refillable. Most of us have our gloom and doom moments but life is better for people who embrace optimism. As optimists, we understand that we can’t always predict or guarantee an outcome. However, we are confident that we can control our reactions and determine our next steps. Sure, it can take some time to regain our equilibrium. However, we know there’s almost always another glass in the cupboard.

Tomorrow is another day. While it might not always seem that way, opportunities exist. All you need to do is open your eyes and your heart. A new day offers the chance to review, regroup and take a different direction. Each sunrise reminds us that we have options – to explore a new path, to right a wrong and to make changes for the better.

It’s not all about you. We’ve all seen them – that little group whispering and laughing in the corner. No matter what they are saying; it’s not about you. It’s probably about their weekend plans or a movie we should all see. In the unlikely event they are talking about you; it doesn’t matter. Gossip isn’t about you – it’s about the gossipers. And if they’re admiring your shoes, well, it’s about the shoes. You already know you have excellent taste.

So too, the world does not revolve around you. The sun doesn’t wait until you are ready to stumble out of bed to rise. Your schedule, your preferences, your needs and wants are just that – yours. The rest of us, we’ve got our own lives and we’re doing our best to live them with you but not for you. Your whim is not our command.

That’s all for now and bon appétit!

Lemon Roasted Chicken

A beautifully roasted chicken would be perfect at your next dinner party. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • 1 (about 6 pounds) roasting chicken
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 lemons
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed and quartered
  • 2 sprigs rosemary plus 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme plus 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2-1 cup chicken stock or both
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the giblets from the chicken and reserve for another use.

Put the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the chicken’s cavity liberally with salt and pepper. Quarter 1 of the lemons and squeeze the juice over the chicken. Put the lemon pieces, onion, 5 garlic cloves and the rosemary and thyme sprigs into the bird’s cavity. Sprinkle the outside of the chicken liberally with salt and pepper.

Put 2 cups of water in the bottom of the roasting pan. Loosely cover the chicken with foil and slide it into the oven.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 375 degrees and continue roasting for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and roast for an addition hour or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees. If the water in the bottom of the pan evaporates before the chicken is done, add some more.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, lightly cover with foil and let it rest while you prepare the sauce.

Zest the remaining lemon and juice one half; reserve the other half for another use. Mince the remaining garlic clove.

Set the roasting pan on the stove top on medium-high. Add the wine and stock, whisk in the mustard, minced rosemary, thyme and garlic and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Continue whisking until the sauce comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the butter and simmer until the butter melts and the sauce starts to thicken. Whisk in the lemon juice.

To serve: carve the chicken and transfer to a serving platter or individual plates. Add any of the chicken’s juices to the sauce and transfer to a serving bowl.

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One Year Ago – Pasta with Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes & Feta
Two Years Ago – Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema
Three Years Ago – Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde
Four Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Five Years Ago – Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard
Six Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Seven Years Ago – Lemon Rice Cakes with Spinach & Manchego
Eight Years Ago – Apple Crumb Cake
Nine Years Ago – Ginger Scones
Ten Years Ago – Curried Eggplant Soup
Eleven Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon

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

What’s stuff do you think we all should know? Feel free to share!

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

Happiness Is … & Cucumber Bites with Goat Cheese, Tapenade & Tomatoes

The other morning, I ended a phone call with a grumpy comment that I was stuck inside waiting for the UPS man. I added that I was feeling pretty cranky about the whole thing. In reply, the person on the other end of the line told me that I didn’t sound the least bit cranky. Let’s chalk that one up to a sunny disposition.

I decided years ago, decades actually, that life is better for happy people. I confess, after a happy-go-lucky, cheerful childhood, I grew into a somewhat moody teenager. It was all part and parcel of trying to figure out the world and how I fit in. About the time I turned eighteen, I realized that it would probably be a while before everything made sense. It dawned on me that, in the meantime, my life would probably improve if I dropped the glum façade.

So, for the most part, I did just that. I practiced cheerful optimism. Over time, I actually became a cheerful optimist. That’s not to say, that I’m never down in the dumps, sad, mad or fed up. I go through funks just like everyone else. However, I refuse to spend too much time wallowing in the doldrums. At a certain point, I realize it’s time to cheer up, smile and be happy.

It’s not always all that easy to cheer up. Sometimes, you have to work at it. However, on many occasions it takes nothing more than opening your eyes and your heart to the simple delights that surround you. Think about it. Above and beyond a warm puppy, there’s a whole pile of things to fill you with joy. For instance, happiness is …

  • Hearing the call of the loons in the early morning.
  • A weekend with no looming deadlines.
  • Watching a baby sleep.
  • Cooking and sharing a meal with friends.
  • Chatting with your sister.
  • Starting a challenging assignment.
  • Finishing a challenging assignment.
  • A new pair of shoes.
  • Helping someone.
  • Finding a dollar in your back pocket.
  • Exploring a favorite spot with a new friend.
  • Nonchalantly complimenting someone and then seeing their face light up.
  • A good hair day.
  • Losing yourself in a good book.
  • Hanging out with people you love.
  • Your favorite song coming on the radio just as you pull out of the driveway.
  • Dancing.
  • Singing, even if off-key, at the top of your lungs.
  • A big, loud, enthusiastic laugh.
  • A sunny day with a light breeze off the lake and sand in my toes.

… and a whole lot more.

Happy day and bon appétit!

Cucumber Bites with Goat Cheese, Tapenade & Tomatoes
Summertime is the perfect time for easy appetizers. As long as you have a jar of tapenade in your refrigerator, this one comes together in minutes. Enjoy!

Makes about 30 canapes

  • 1-1 1/2 European or 3-4 Persian cucumbers
  • About 8 ounces soft goat cheese at room temperature
  • About 3/4 cup homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought tapenade
  • 8-16 cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quarters or 1/2-1 tomato cut in small dice

Peel the cucumber and slice 1/4-1/2-inch thick.

Whisk the goat cheese with a fork until smooth. Spread each cucumber slice with 1-2 teaspoons goat cheese, top with a small dollop of tapenade and garnish with a cherry tomato half or quarter or diced tomato.

Homemade Tapenade

  • 8-12 ounces dry pack, oil cured black Greek olives or a mix of oil cured and Kalamata olives, pitted
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
  • Dash hot pepper sauce or pinch hot pepper flakes

Throw everything into a small food processor. Process until the mixture becomes a nice paste. If necessary, add a little more olive oil. Cover and let sit for up to 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator before using to combine the flavors.

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

Shoo Flies & Asparagus with Lemony Aioli

The street sweeper came by in the middle of last week. With all the rain in April, I think it was a bit behind schedule. Anyway, the combination of the sweeper and Mother’s Day signals the end of mud season. Unfortunately, that means black fly season has arrived. In other words, hardly-spring has morphed into sort-of-like-spring or, maybe, spring-bites.

Mud and flies are fundamental to our two-part spring. Sounds awful but it’s not too bad. With longer and warmer days, it’s a happy time. Or at least mostly happy. Okay, make that happy when/if it doesn’t rain every day for a month. Anyway, moving on. With mud season in the review mirror, trees are budding, daffodils and tulips are bobbing in the breeze and people are sneezing.

The second phase of spring in New Hampshire raises a big question – how to cope with those d#$%m black flies? There are two parts to the issue. The first is the females. These vampires really know how to take a bite out of life. Bloodthirsty dames, they will attack any exposed skin. Depending on your luck or lack of, you are left with itchy bumps or oversized welts.

Now, stop for a minute and think of the tragedy here. After months wrapped in layers of fleece and down, it’s finally warm enough, or almost, for T-shirts and shorts. We are soooo ready to soak up a little natural vitamin D. Sorry, the black flies have a different idea. Instead of the cold, we need to cover up against these beasts. By the way, pants and a long sleeve shirt aren’t enough. Covering up includes your ankles, wrists, hands, face, neck and scalp. If you don’t have one, be sure to get one of those nets that goes over your head. Believe me, it’s a wonderful look.

Now for the male black flies. Happily, they don’t bite. Instead, they flit from flower to flower, sipping nectar. Unfortunately, they do not have an insatiable appetite. Once they’ve had enough, they look around for someone to pester. Like silly boys in middle school, they buzz around and get in your face. Annoyance, sometimes to the point of insanity, rather than pain is the operative word here.

So, here’s the scenario, it’s finally warmed up. If you’re lucky, the sun is out. All you want to do is spend the day outside – hiking, gardening, paddling your kayak, sitting in a café – the list goes on and on. Stepping outside, you are met by a swarm of biting and buzzing flies. What to do? Here are a few hints –

  • Go out in the middle of the day. The flies are apt to be napping or whatever they do when they aren’t pestering you.
  • Black flies congregate in and around running streams. Unlike mosquitos, they like moving water so take your paddling to a quiet pond or lake.
  • They’re not that fast, so trade in your hiking boots for a bicycle and out run them.
  • Wind is your friend. Flies have trouble tracking you down on a breezy day. If you are planning a few hours outdoors and have some flexibility, check the weather report.
  • Stick with light colored clothing. Not only is it more spring-like but dark colors attack flies.
  • Try a natural repellant and reapply frequently. I like lavender but some people swear by vanilla. About lavender, it’s not infallible. At some point, the flies will figure out that you’re a person and come back to bite, buzz and annoy.

Happy spring and bon appétit!

Asparagus with Lemony Aioli
One of the first vegetables of the season, who doesn’t love asparagus? Steamed, roasted or grilled, add a quick and easy aioli for a delicious first course or side dish. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 pounds (more for fanatics) asparagus, trimmed
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Forget the pencil thin asparagus. Sure, they look elegant but the nice, fat spears have the best flavor and texture. Steamed, roasted or grilled, asparagus are best cooked until tender-crisp. Cooking time will vary depending on thickness.

To steam: put about 2-inches of salted water in a large skillet or sauté pan and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus, cover and cook for 3-5 minutes.

To roast: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the asparagus in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 8-12 minutes.

To grill: Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high. Put the asparagus in a large dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Arrange the asparagus on the grill, cook for 1-3 minutes.

To Serve: Arrange the asparagus on a platter or individual plates. Serve warm or at room temperature with Lemony Aioli.

Lemony Aioli
Makes about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in small bowl and whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to combine the flavors. Whisk again and serve.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Moroccan Chicken with Chickpea Salsa
Two Years Ago – Pissaladière
Three Years Ago – Tabbouleh
Four Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Grilled Asparagus, Cucumber & Avocado
Five Years Ago – Grilled Balsamic Vegetables
Six Years Ago – New Potato Salad Dijon
Seven Years Ago – Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Vegetables
Eight Years Ago – Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Nine Years Ago – Feta Walnut Spread
Ten Years Ago – Bruschetta with Grilled Vegetables & Gorgonzola

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

How do you deal with black flies? Feel free to share!

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

You Gotta Love a Nurse & Artichoke, Spinach & Goat Cheese Tart

I think I’m one of thousands, probably millions, who was incensed and disgusted a week or two ago. A thoughtless politician on the other coast suggested that nurses in rural hospitals sit around most of the day playing cards. After cooling down a bit (it took a while), I put on my be-nice-cap. Although still sort of fuming, the trying-to-be-nice Susan decided that the thoughtless critic has never spent any time in a hospital with a sick friend or family member. For the last seven or so years, first with two, now with one elderly parent, I have lots of experience with hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In fact, I’m so good at it that a friend brings me along to her appointments when she feels the need for a second pair of ears.

Television has given us a look, real or imagined, into the workings of big city hospitals. The emergency room is a favorite stage. Beds line the hallways and waiting rooms are filled to the brim. There is drama behind every curtain and romance in the stockroom. Now, I can’t attest to any storage closet shenanigans. However, there is usually at least a little drama around every bed in every hospital, urban, suburban and rural, across America. Yes, that’s right – every bed; tears, fears and joy are not confined to the ER or large population centers.

Small as they may be, these heartfelt dramas play out around the clock, week in and week out. They include the personal worries of knowing that someone you love is in pain, ill or in some kind of trouble – again. There are staff concerns when yet another patient arrives in pain, ill or in some kind of trouble – and alone.

Beautiful sunny, Saturday afternoons or snowy Thursday nights, illnesses and accidents happen twenty-four by seven, three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. There are no commercial breaks. Every day and night, rural hospitals feature scenes of love and loss, of hope and joy, of deep sadness and pure exhaustion. For each and every one of these mini dramas, nurses and nursing assistants are there … and they’re not playing cards. They know that, when it’s your loved one, the drama is hardly mini.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I can’t help but think of all the wonderful nurses and nursing assistants who helped my mother They embraced her with all her frailties and all her quirks. They treated her with kindness and dignity. The nurses I know have an uncanny ability to see beyond illness, beyond disabilities into the heart, mind and soul of the people they are helping.

Doctors come and go, checking in on patients once or twice, maybe three times a day. Nurses are one-on-one with them throughout their long shift. Day and night, from seven to seven, nurses are on duty, caring and watching out for your loved one. Not just for my mom or yours, they are there for the entire family. When they ask, “How are you?” It’s not a polite platitude, they want to know if you are taking care of yourself. When they tell you to get some rest, they aren’t kidding. A nurse may be taking care of your mom or dad or child or spouse but they are looking out for you too.

This year, Mother’s Day falls at the end of National Nurses Week. Honor your mom by hugging a nurse. Thank a nurse. Thank your lucky stars there are nurses on this planet. And by the way, rural hospitals are not perfect but if you’re looking for a card game, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Happy Mother’s Day and bon appétit!

Artichoke, Spinach & Goat Cheese Tart
What would Mother’s Day be without brunch and a quiche? Try my latest and enjoy!
Serves 6-8

Savory Flaky Pastry (recipe follows)
Olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 package (8-10 ounces) frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, well drained and coarsely chopped
8 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed of excess moisture
About 8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup (about 1 ounce) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch nutmeg
1 1/2 cups half & half or whole milk or a mix

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Line a 10-inch tart pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie plate with the pastry and crimp the edges. Store in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat, add the artichokes and spinach and toss to combine. Cool to room temperature.

Put the eggs and mustard in a bowl, sprinkle with nutmeg, season with salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Add the half & half and whisk until well combined.

Put the vegetables in the tart shell. Sprinkle with the cheeses. Leaving at least 1/4-inch at the top of the shell, add the egg mixture.

Transfer the tart to the oven. Cook for 5 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking until the custard is set and tart is golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

 Savory Flaky Pastry 
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, cold, cut into small pieces
2-4 tablespoons ice water

Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Sprinkle with ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, cover and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

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One Year Ago – Lettuce Cups with Stir-fried Chicken & Vegetables
Two Years Ago – Crostini with Cucumber, Radish & Feta
Three Years Ago – Crostini with Fig, Stilton and Walnuts
Four Years Ago – Rhubarb Crumb Cake
Five Years Ago – A Duo of Aiolis
Six Years Ago – Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mushrooms & Mustard Sauce
Seven Years Ago – Crunch Salad with Apples & Grapes
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Mustard Pork Chops
Nine Years Ago – Rhubarb Crisp
Ten Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Steak

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

Do you have a special nurse to hug this week? Feel free to share!

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

Une Grande Dame & Goat Cheese Souffle

Notre Dame de Paris DSC 0846wIt was a jaw dropping moment, not in awe but in sorrow. Turning on the evening news last Monday, I was shocked and saddened to see a great architectural achievement on fire. Catastrophic flames leapt high into the sky. It was unreal. After weathering revolution, countless protests and two world wars, after eight centuries, Notre Dame was on fire.

I have visited Paris many times. After all, it was a quick three-hour trip by train from Geneva, my adopted home for almost two decades. Upon hearing and seeing the tragedy, my thoughts turned immediately not to my first trip to Paris nor to my last. Instead, memories of my first solo trip came flooding back.

Solo travel can be daunting, particularly for women. However, for those first few months in Switzerland, I was the new girl. I didn’t have a posse of family and friends to enlist in my travel goals. Fear and intimidation be damned, I resolved to spread my wings and visit all the great centers of Europe. Once a month, alone or not, I would hop on the train or find a cheap flight. At the time, I thought I’d only be there a year. I wasn’t going to waste it. From the leaning tower of Pisa to the tower of London, I wasn’t going to miss a thing.

I arrived in early August and it didn’t take long to settle into my new job and studio apartment. My docket as a research associate at an international leadership and management education institute (wow – that’s a mouthful) filled up quickly. The tiny apartment overlooked a different Notre Dame. It didn’t take long to unpack and find the nearest grocery store, farmers market and gym. I was settled and ready to see Europe.

From the start, I kept to the plan and spent weekends in Vienna and Munich. Paris was next. For a New England girl, it was amazing to leave work a few hours early on a Friday afternoon and arrive in Paris in time for dinner. Mind you, Parisians don’t eat at five or six but then neither do I.

I stayed in a cheap hotel, ate in neighborhood cafés and walked and walked and walked some more. It was October, a bit cool, mostly overcast but thankfully the rain held off. My feet took me from one great landmark to another. I wandered around and in Notre Dame Cathedral as well as the Arc de Triomphe, Les Jardin des Tuileries and a few interesting little shops. I took great delight in walking up and down the Seine and over its famous bridges. I drank tiny cups of strong coffee and glasses of dry wine. I feasted on croissants, steak-frites and oysters with raspberry vinegar and shallots.

Perhaps I was feeling a little homesick on Sunday afternoon. Before heading home on the train, I stopped for lunch at, of all places, a Greek restaurant. No, I’m not Greek but my mother and I used to go to the theater once or twice a year. We went to the matinée and before the show we joined the ladies-who-lunch at the Athens Olympia Café on Stuart Street in Boston.

A charming older woman sat at the next table. We exchanged polite smiles. After I gave my order, she asked a question or two. I replied in faltering French and a pleasant, only slight awkward conversation ensued. As I got up to leave, she commended me, not because I was anything close to fluent but because I made the effort. My mother would have been proud of me. I was proud of me.

Here’s to adventures great and small, safe travels and bon appétit!

Goat Cheese Souffle
Jacque Pepin’s mother’s souffle recipe is the inspiration for this simple, throw it all together dish. Enjoy!
Serves 4

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, plus more for the ramekins
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups whole milk or half & half or a mix
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled and at room temperature*
4 large eggs, at room temperature*
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon minced chives
1/2 tablespoon minced rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter 4 (1-cup) ramekins, place them on a baking sheet and set aside.

Make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes. Continuing to whisk constantly, add the milk and whisk until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the salt and pepper and set aside for 10-15 minutes.

Put the goat cheese, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer or whisk with a fork until well combined.

Beating constantly, add the béchamel a little at a time and mix until well combined. Pour into the prepared ramekins.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated for several hours. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking until puffed and golden, about 10 minutes more. Serve immediately.

It will be easier to combine the goat cheese and eggs if they are at room temperature. If you forget to take them out of the refrigerator in advance – don’t worry just beat for a minute or two more.

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One Year Ago – Vindaloo Chicken
Two Years Ago – I Love Lime Pie 
Three Years Ago – Quinoa Salad
Four Years Ago – Latkes 
Five Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Six Years Ago – Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
Seven Years Ago – Espresso Brownies
Eight Years Ago – Lemon Scones
Nine Years Ago – Shrimp with Jicama Slaw
Ten Years Ago – Pork Mole

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

Do you have special memories of Paris? Feel free to share!

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

Notre Dame Cathedral photograph – courtesy of Peter Haas, CC BY-SA 3.0

Hidden Beauty & Green Olive Salsa or Tapenade

I always complain about April. Well not just April, I also have this thing about November. As far as I’m concerned, they are the two worst months of the year. They are funky, in-between months. The days pass slowly as we anticipate the new season and next adventure. In November, we anxiously look to sky for enough snow to ski or snowshoe and ice to skate. In April, we anxiously wait for the last of that snow and ice to disappear.

In both cases, the predominant color is gray. We New Englanders love our blazing fall colors but by November the trees are bare. We also love the bright green buds on the trees, the pink and white apple blossoms and the first cheery yellow daffodils of spring.

If anything, April is worst than November. Both are gray but April is just so messy. I’m far from being a clean freak but the mountain of sand that come into the house gets to me every year. As much as I’d like to enjoy a beach right now, I don’t want one in my kitchen.

Speaking of beaches, that’s the other thing about these two in-between months. There’s nothing special to do. Next season’s fun is still a month or two away. The lake is covered with ice but probably not all that safe for skating. The mountain has closed down for the season. Hiking paths are covered with a mix of mud and ice. Perhaps I could take up mah jongg or go nuts with spring cleaning. Both would keep me busy but I’m unsure of the fun factor. That’s not quite true, spring cleaning is low on my list of fun stuff to do.

Then, like the proverbial silver lining, I spied a bright spot in the drab landscape. Maybe the barren countryside isn’t so bad. Without foliage or four feet of snow, I made an interesting discovery on my walk the other day.

Looking out from the sandy edge of the road, I saw evidence of beavers. They’ve been at work in a swampy area near Great Brook. Bands of newly exposed wood were visible at the bottom of several trees. Still others, were mere stumps, chewed to a sharp point. The wind was blowing a gale. The sky had clouded over but none of that mattered. A soothing abstract arrangement of trees in pale gold and gray was etched against the snow. It was beautiful.

beaver_landscape_014

While I have never tried to ramble around back there, I suspect it’s barely accessible. Part of the network of wetlands that surround much of the lake, it would make for a soggy walkabout. Melting snow and any significant rainstorm create a maze of little streams. As soon as it warms up, poison ivy will again be rampant.

For most of year, this magical view is shielded by thick foliage or mountainous snowbanks. Perhaps, that’s the magic. Hidden away, it’s ignored by all but the most curious puppy out for a walk. That combination of light and dark, gray and gold is only revealed for a few days. Soon the snow will melt and the trees will retreat into a muddy backdrop.

Sun or clouds, be sure to spend some time exploring your world and bon appétit!

Green Olive Tapenade or Salsa
Same ingredients – two results. Both are delicious.  Enjoy!
Makes about 2 cups

2 cups pitted Castelvetrano olives or your favorite green olives, rinsed and well drained
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dry vermouth or white wine
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes or to taste
1 bay leaf (optional)

Salsa: finely chop the olives and capers and mince the garlic. Put all of ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Cover and let sit for up to 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator to combine the flavors.

Serve the salsa on crostini with a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano or with grilled fish or chicken or toss with pasta.

Tapenade: working in batches, throw everything but the bay leaf into a small food processor. Process until the mixture comes together in a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl or jar, add the bay leaf, cover and let sit for up to 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator to combine the flavors.

Serve the tapenade with raw vegetables and flatbread crackers or use it to add a bit of punch to sandwiches and pizza.

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One Year Ago – Pasta Primavera
Two Years Ago – Coq au Vin au Printemps
Three Years Ago – Moroccan Baked Cod
Four Years Ago – Artichoke Pesto
Five Years Ago – Quinoa with Sweet Potato & Spinach
Six Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with
Seven Years Ago – Bananas Foster
Eight Years Ago – Tapenade
Nine Year Ago – Lavender Infused White Chocolate Crème
Ten Years Ago – Lemon Tart

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

How do you survivemud season a favorite dog? Feel free to share!

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