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

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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

A Cozy Dinner Party & Oven Braised Lemon-Rosemary Chicken with Vegetables

When was the last time you hosted a dinner party? Not a potluck or chili and beer on football night and definitely not a mountain of fast food piled up for a championship buffet. No, I’m asking about a real, honest to goodness, sit at the table and enjoy each other’s company dinner party. Perhaps you had the family over for Thanksgiving or Christmas but what about your friends and neighbors? In case it hasn’t occurred to you, winter is a great time for a dinner party.

Here are a few reasons why –

It’s been too long. A few weeks or a few years, I’ll let you define how long is too long since you set your table for an evening of good food, wine and conversation.

Baby, it’s cold outside. There’s been a definite chill in the air lately – as in hovering-around-zero-type chill. Can you think of a better time to spend a few hours in the kitchen?

Slow cooking, comfort foods are perfect for winter and entertaining. These dishes simmer in the oven allowing you to relax with your guests. A cozy classic is perfect on a cold night.

So why the hesitation? Perhaps you have visions of Elizabeth Taylor taunting Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I promise you, most guests are very well behaved. If you run across one who’s not, well then, don’t invite him next time. Or her.

Still hesitating? Don’t. You can do this; you can throw a fabulous dinner party. Here are a few suggestions –

Be realistic. Do you remember when cassoulet was all the rage at winter dinner parties? A big part of the allure was that it took three days to prepare. However, that was then and we are now well into the twenty-first century. Three days toiling in the kitchen is not (and never has been) a prerequisite for fabulous.

Less is more and balance is good. Yes, a beautifully prepared five course dinner is nothing short of spectacular. All those little plates are delightful. However, part of the magic of entertaining in the wintertime is that oh-so delicious and cozy one-pot supper. Keep it simple or simple-ish. When in doubt, pare down the menu. If you make a wonderfully complex stew, don’t follow it with your richest, most complicated dessert.

Make a plan and map out a timeline. Least you forget something – like shoveling the walk – grab a pen and piece of paper and write it done. Make a few notes on what to do when. Be honest. Don’t pretend you can get the stew prepped and in the oven in all of five minutes. Allow yourself ample time to relax and appreciate the Zen of chopping.

Wishing you delicious fun with friends, stay warm and bon appétit!

Oven Braised Lemon-Rosemary Chicken with Vegetables
Chicken simmered with vegetables in wine with lemon and rosemary are sure to become a favorite one-dish wonder. Enjoy!
Serves 8

8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 pounds red potatoes, quartered
8 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
4 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, cut in thin wedges
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups or more chicken stock or broth
3/4 cup or more dry white wine
1 bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer in the oven for 10 minutes.

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

While the chicken cooks, put the vegetables in a bowl, drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly coat and toss to combine. Sprinkle with half of the rosemary and thyme, season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Put the mustard and lemon zest in a bowl, whisking constantly slowly add the lemon juice, stock and wine.

Remove the chicken from the oven, turn the pieces and sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and thyme. Add the liquid ingredients and the bay leaf and scatter the vegetables around the chicken. Return the pan to the oven.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting, adding more wine and broth if necessary, for 45 minutes-1 hour or until the chicken is cooked-through and golden and the vegetables are tender.

Transfer the vegetables to a large platter or individual plates, top with the chicken and serve.

You can time this dish to add the vegetables a few minutes before your guests arrive. Then, let dinner simmer while you catch up and enjoy a glass of wine. Or make ahead, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Adding more wine and broth if necessary, reheat in a 350-degree oven until bubbling and piping hot.

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One Year Ago – Applesauce Muffins
Two Years Ago – Chocolate-Hazelnut Bars
Three Years Ago – Whole Grain Pilaf
Four Years Ago – Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux (Cheese Tartlets with Sausage & Leeks)
Five Years Ago – Chicken, Sausage & Bean Ragù
Six Years Ago – Spicy Tequila Chicken Wings
Seven Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Eight Years Ago – Fettuccine with Escarole, Radicchio & Mushrooms
Nine Years Ago – Cassoulet
Ten Years Ago – Caribbean Fish Stew

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

What are your favorite dishes to cook up on a cold winter day? Feel free to share!

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

All About Christmas Eve Traditions & Lemon Roasted Salmon with Tarragon Sauce

My family has always enjoyed a bit of pandemonium on Christmas Eve. In fact, I think we thrive on it. From one generation to the next, the one constant has been overexcited children. For little kids, the day always seems to move at glacial speed. I generally started the day by jumping up and down and dancing in front of the tree. It didn’t take long for Mom to toss me into my snowsuit and outside. Her message was clear – time to build a snowman or take my sled over to the neighborhood hill. That was fine; I had lots of company. Most of kids on the street had received similar instructions.

My grandparents would arrive in the late afternoon and whisk us into the back of their car for church. My sister Brenda and I never missed the opportunity to ride in Grandpa’s Lincoln with the fancy electric windows. Those rides might have been Grandpa’s greatest gift to his only daughter. With my baby brother snoozing in his car seat and Dad behind the wheel, Mom could sink into the passenger seat of the family station wagon, close her eyes and enjoy a few blessed minutes of peace.

After church, excitement rose to a fevered pitch. Nana and Grandpa would stay for a quick visit but usually begged off dinner and headed home. They knew what was coming. For some unknown reason, or at least unknown to me, about half way through dinner, Santa stopped by. It was a neighborhood tradition. Each child received a small present and Santa’s promise that he’d be back with more if we cleaned our plates and went right to bed. The visit did nothing to slow down the dancing and prancing of the Nye sisters. After swallowing one or two more mouthfuls, Mom gave up and urged us into our jammies. Dad read the Night Before Christmas and we were off to bed.

My family is now in one of those in-between periods. In fact, we’ve been here for a while. There are no small children or babies to dance and prance with unbridled excitement and anticipation. That said, even without small children around, we do find ways to keep things hopping. Last year, it was a trip to the emergency room. Dad, I hope you’re listening when I suggest we skip the ER this year.

(By the way – the white haired gent is my dad … he had no interest in helping but couldn’t stay away from the fun.)

I think it was three maybe four years ago that we began a wonderful new Christmas Eve tradition. My twenty-something nieces come over to help me cook. I’m guessing Kaela’s move from the dorm to an apartment might have been the initial instigator. Her sister Emily did not want to be left out and joined the party. It is wonderful fun and, with two sous-chefs, the dinner is extra special. 

I love the idea of bonding in the kitchen – of passing recipes and stories from one generation to the next. The girls arrive around four, still a bit jet-lagged but filled with enthusiasm. We agree tasks and claim work spaces. There is a lot of laughter and more than a few questions. Music fills the air and, in keeping with the occasion, there is a little dancing and prancing plus a glass of wine or two.

When we started, Kaela described our time together as a cooking lesson. However, in just a few short years, both nieces have become quite accomplished. More than a lesson, it is a special time for us to share news and retell old stories.

Until the rest of the family arrives. Then we all we go into host mode. Kaela and Emily pass fresh-from-the-oven hors d’oeuvres and pour glasses of wine while I take care of any last minute dinner details. There is more laughter and lots of chatter. While there is no rush, dinner is served with plenty of time for everyone to get home and into bed before Santa arrives.

Have a wonderful holiday and bon appétit!

After dinner – Gramps and the Girlies

Lemon Roasted Salmon with Tarragon Sauce
Although I fall far short of seven fishes, I like seafood on Christmas Eve. I usually start with gravlax or smoked salmon and then serve shrimp for the main course. It’s time to switch it up! Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 (about 3 pounds) salmon fillet
2 tablespoons butter
2-3 lemons, each cut into 4 wedges
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Tarragon Sauce

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

Melt the butter and whisk in the juice of 1-2 lemon wedges. Let cool for a few minutes.

Place the salmon skin side down on a sheet pan and brush with lemon-butter. Arrange the remaining lemon wedges around the salmon, season everything with salt and pepper and slide the pan into the oven.

Roast the salmon at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until it is almost cooked through. Slip a spatula between the fish and the skin and, leaving the skin behind, carefully transfer the fish to a serving platter and loosely cover for 10 minutes. The fish will continue cooking while it rests.

Return the lemons to the oven and continue roasting while the salmon rests.

Serve the salmon with roasted lemon wedges and Tarragon Sauce.

Tarragon Sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot or red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the sour cream, mayonnaise and mustard in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the tarragon, shallot, garlic and lemon zest, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Best if made ahead, covered and refrigerated for a few hours. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.

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One Year Ago – Gingerbread Decorations
Two Years Ago – Sticky Buns
Three Years Ago –
Cranberry Coffee Cake

Four Years Ago –
Fish Stew Provençal

Five Years Ago –
Twice-Baked Potatoes

Six Years Ago – Baked French Toast
Seven Years Ago –
Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta

Eight Years Ago –
Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce

Nine Years Ago – Potato, Leek & Kale Soup
Ten Years Ago – Salmon & Lentils

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

What are you serving this Christmas Eve? Feel free to share!

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

Twinkle, Twinkle Lights So Bright & Hearty Sausage Soup with Beans & Greens

When I was little, the holiday decorations in our yard never stopped traffic. Like the rest of the neighborhood, our display was pretty modest. A life-size Santa did not peek down our chimney. The entire house was not outlined in flashing bulbs. Instead, Mom put electric candles in the windows and hung a wreath with a big red bow on the front door. Then, under the watchful eyes of his two little girls, Dad untangled strings of colored bulbs. He carefully wound them around the rhododendrons that flanked the front stoop. Dad completed the tableau with a spot light aimed at Mom’s wreath. My sister Brenda and I generally pleaded for bigger and better but it was not to be.

My childhood fondness for holiday decorations was not limited to our front yard. One of my favorite Christmas rituals was driving around town to see the lights and decorations. Of course, I wasn’t doing the driving; I was only five. I was in the back seat with Brenda, our noses pressed against the windows A week or two before Christmas, usually with little or no warning, Mom and Dad loaded us into our big blue station wagon and the treasure hunt began.

After circling the neighborhood, we’d widen our net. Never satisfied, we’d twist and turn away from familiar streets in search of the best and the brightest. Our philosophy was the bigger the better. We gave no points for subtlety or quiet, tasteful decorations.

Bouncing from one side of the car to the other for a better view Brenda and I giggled, oohed and ahhed. Most houses sported a few strings of lights wrapped around bushes or a tree. Others were more extravagant with lights wound around front porch railings or along roof lines. We drove all over town in search of spectacular. The truly remarkable displays combined a ton of lights with life-size wooden cutouts of snowmen or Santa in his sleigh.

When it came to lights, we all had our favorites. Brenda and I preferred the big, fat multicolored bulbs. Big and brash we loved all that color. On the other hand, Mom liked the icy glow of all blue lights. Dad drove and more or less agreed with everyone.

To blink or not to blink was an annual topic of conversation. Far from a debate, we were all in agreement. To our shock and dismay, we’d turn the corner and face a riot of flashing color. To our New England eyes, there was done and overdone. Santa and eight reindeer on the roof elicited enthusiastic applause. Flashing lights got nothing more than a disgusted ugh.

About the time I started high school, I stumbled down the path of discreet, good taste. I no longer dreamed of a plywood snowman on our front lawn. I had no desire to encourage Dad to bring out the extension ladder and hang colorful bulbs along every edge of the house and roof.

Instead, I clamored for little white twinkle lights and was more than happy with the spot lit wreath. At about the same time, I noticed a few big, old colonials with small wreaths on every window. Oh my goodness, l thought they were fabulous. That said, I didn’t want to press my luck and kept my eye on the prize of little white lights. It took a few years to convince my parents. After all, what self-respecting frugal Yankee is going to toss out perfectly good decorations in order to replace them with some newfangled invention?

Enjoy the lights and bon appétit!

Hearty Sausage Soup with Beans & Greens
A hearty soup is the perfect supper after your lights tour or tree trimming, Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
2 pounds precooked garlic sausage or smoked kielbasa, cut in bitesize pieces
About 3 cups cooked small white beans – 2 (15 ounce) cans or 8 ounces dried
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind* (optional)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
6-8 or more cups chicken stock or broth
1 pound baby kale or spinach
Parmesan Crostini (optional)
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)

Lightly coat a soup pot with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion, carrots and celery and season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent, add the garlic and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer until reduced by half.

Add the sausage, beans, Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Add more or less stock depending how you like your soup – more like a stew or nice and soupy.  Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

If you have the time, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Stir in the spinach and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the greens wilt, about 5 minutes. Remove the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, thyme twigs and bay leaf, ladle into bowls or mugs, top with Parmesan Crostini, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

* Adding a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind will add flavor and richness to your soup. 

Parmesan Crostini
1/2-1 baguette, thinly sliced
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly brush both sides of each baguette slice with olive oil. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Shrimp with Rémoulade Sauce
Two Years Ago – Bûche de Noël
Three Years Ago – Roasted Beets with Sautéed Greens
Four Years Ago – Very Ginger Gingerbread Muffins
Five Years Ago – Ginger Shortbread
Six Years Ago – Baked French Toast
Seven Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Eight Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes
Nine Years Ago – Savory Bread Pudding
Ten Years Ago – Triple Chocolate Parfait

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

What are you serving this Thanksgiving? Feel free to share!

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