A Memorial Day Cookout & Crostini with Red Pepper Tzatziki & Greek Salad

grilled_pork_chopOfficial or not, New England kicks off summer on Memorial Day weekend. The sky can be gray, rain may fall and the black flies can be vicious. It doesn’t matter. We New Englanders are a tough breed. If it’s wet, we’ll throw on a raincoat. If it’s dry, we’ll roll down our sleeves and slather on the bug repellent. Summer is short so please excuse us if we want to get an early jump on the season.

The best way to take a flying leap into summer is a cookout. So what if gale winds are whipping across the lake, it’s time to get your grill on. Call your friends, your family and neighbors and have a ball. Now, it’s been awhile so before you pick up the phone, here are a few essentials to help make your Memorial Day cookout memorable … in a good way.

Check the propane tank or buy a new bag of charcoal. Nothing puts the damper on a cookout faster than charcoal that refuses to light after sitting in a puddle in the garage all winter. Same goes for an empty propane tank. Gas grillers, if you don’t have a spare tank – think about investing in one. It’s a trick that I learned from my dad. That spare has saved the party more than once.

While you are routing around in the garage for the grill, find your cooler and give it a good scrub. Ditto for the outdoor furniture. How’s that for an added bonus? A Memorial Day cookout is a great motivator for getting the porch ready for summer.

Devise your menu. It’s a patriotic holiday so you may opt for traditional burgers and dogs. Even if you do, you can push the envelope with some interesting appetizers, sides and sweets. Sure, you can pick up a container of humus, a quart of potato salad and a sheet cake at the supermarket but it will taste like supermarket humus, potato salad and sheet cake. Perhaps I’m prejudice but I can’t help but believe that homemade not only tastes better; it’s better for you. When you make it yourself, you control the fat, sugar and salt. In addition, your dinner won’t be loaded down with preservatives or artificial ingredients.

While everyone likes them, as far as I know, there is no rule that says burgers and dogs are de rigeur for Memorial Day weekend. Show off your cosmopolitan flair and culinary prowess with dishes from around the world. Perhaps you’d like to try a Provençal picnic, Korean barbecue or even pizza on the grill. After all, we are a melting pot nation.

Take it up a notch. You may be tempted to load a case of America into the cooler. (In case you missed it, America is the temporary new name for Budweiser.) The timing is right; Bud’s newly rebranded cans hit the shelves yesterday. But, c’mon, you know you can do better. New England is the center of the universe when it comes to microbreweries. Okay, maybe not the center of the universe but we have more than our fair share of local, artisanal brews. Splurge a little and serve some of the best beer New England has to offer.

beach_binGo casual, pretty and green. It’s a cookout. There’s no need to break out the good china. Or any china or glassware for that matter. You can find colorful, reusable plastic dishes at your favorite department, discount or craft store. Okay, so maybe it’s not as easy as throwaway plates and glasses. But think of the trees you’ll save not to mention the landfill. Complete your table with a pretty tablecloth and pots of geraniums. You know you are going to buy geraniums anyway. Use them for your picnic table this weekend and plant them by the front door on Tuesday morning.

Enjoy the long weekend and bon appétit!

Crostini with Red Pepper Tzatzik & Greek SaladCrostini_w_Red_Pepper_Tzatzik_Greek_Salad_03
A delicious small bite, these crostini will be even better when local tomatoes are available. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 dozen crostini

1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 roasted red pepper, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon or to taste sriracha
1 pint cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
1-2 cups arugula, roughly chopped
16 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
Red wine vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 baguette, thinly sliced on the diagonal and toasted or 6 small pita, quartered and toasted
About 6 ounces feta, crumbled

Make the tzatziki: put the cucumber in a fine mesh sieve, sprinkle liberally with salt and let drain for about 30 minutes. Rinse the cucumber, drain well and pat dry with a clean dishtowel or paper towels.

Put the yogurt, roasted pepper, garlic, herbs and sriracha in a food processor and process until smooth.

Put the cucumber and yogurt mixture into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Make the salad: put the tomatoes, arugula, olives and scallion in a bowl, drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons each vinegar and olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Assemble the crostini: spread a dollop of tzatziki onto each slice of toasted baguette, top with a generous spoonful of salad and sprinkle with feta. Serve immediately.

You can assemble the crostini and pass or set everything out let your guests assemble.

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One Year Ago – Ginger Shortcakes with Rhubarb Compote
Two Years Ago – Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
Two Years Ago – New Potato Salad Dijon
Four Years Ago – Asparagus Crostini with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Goat Cheese
Five Years Ago – Wheat Berry Salad
Six Years Ago – Not Your Ordinary Burger
Seven Years Ago – Strawberry Rhubarb Soup

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

How will you spend the long holiday weekend? Feel free to share.

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

June – Time to Celebrate & Greek Salad with Grilled Shrimp

And so it begins, June – a month filled with rites of passage, transitions and promise. Pomp and circumstance will fill the air when graduates march from the high school one last time. Bevies of nervous brides will walk down the aisle to meet their just-as-nervous grooms and tie the knot. Families and all their earthly possessions will take to the road for a new life in a new home. Temperatures (and humidity) will inch up and up, proving once again that there really is summer in New Hampshire.

Along with those momentous occasions and wonderful warm weather comes the promise of parties, picnics, freshly squeezed lemonade and local strawberries. But what if there are no smiling graduates or beaming brides in your family this summer? What do you have to celebrate? Hhhmmmm.

Well, today is National Rocky Road Day. This well-loved ice cream got its name soon after the stock market crash of 1929. With the country in depression, the inventor hoped his new flavor would raise a smile on the difficult road to recovery. I suppose an ice cream social would not be amiss; perhaps even obligatory.

National Yo-Yo Day is coming up on Saturday. You could always organize a neighborhood tournament. Unless, you decide to forgo yo-yos in favor of the track, Saturday is also the running of the Belmont Stakes. With American Pharoah two-for-two on his quest for the Triple Crown, it’s a good time to whip up a batch of Belmont Breeze and invite friends over to see if history will again be made. Of course you could combine the two. The race only takes a few minutes, leaving you plenty of time to Walk the Dog and Shoot the Moon.

Sunday is National Donut Day. Although she couldn’t boil water, my father swears that his grandmother was the world’s best donut maker. Although she left a few clues, Nana Slack did not leave her recipe behind. Perhaps I should celebrate the day by trying to recreate her amazing donuts.

Later in the month, we have National Ballpoint Day on June 10th. I suppose we could all go to the bank and make off with a stash of pens. I think I’ll give that one a pass. National Picnic Day on June 18th sounds like a lot more fun. School lets out about that time. Why not celebrate the last day of school with a trip to the coast or lake and a picnic?

On the 21st you can take your pick and celebrate the Summer Solstice or Father’s Day or both. Enjoy the longest day with another picnic. This time, your feast should include Scandinavian delights like gravlax and lingon berries. Fresh lingon berries are more or less impossible to find outside of Scandinavia but you can probably find some jam at IKEA or on line.

If you have little ones at home or visiting, you can’t go wrong with National Fairy Day on June 24th. Spend the afternoon building fanciful Fairy Houses. Start with a walk in the woods to collect twigs, bits of bark and moss, acorns and stones for your whimsical constructions. Find a quiet and cozy spot to build your house (or neighborhood of houses) and put it all together. Finish off the afternoon with a scrumptious tea party with strawberry shortcakes.

Here’s hoping that your June is full of delights and surprises. Bon appétit!

Greek Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Whether your picnic is in the backyard or miles from home, everyone will love this classic summer salad. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 small red onion, cut in half horizontally and then into thin wedges
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
About 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
About 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes (in a mix of different shapes and colors if you can find them), halved
1 European cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
8 ounces feta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
16-20 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2-4 pita breads, quartered

Put the onion and garlic in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with vinegar and toss to combine. Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and toss again. Stirring occasionally, let the onions marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Put the tomatoes and cucumbers in a bowl, sprinkle with the herbs and toss to combine. Add the onions and olives to the tomatoes and cucumbers and toss to combine. Add the feta and gently toss to combine.

To serve: transfer the salad to a large, deep serving platter or individual plates and top with shrimp and a wedge or two of pita.

Grilled Shrimp
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
About 2 1/2 pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes (optional)

Put the olive oil in a bowl, add the garlic, lemon zest and juice and whisk to combine. Add the shrimp, sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes and up to about 30 minutes.

Heat the grill to medium-high. Place the shrimp directly on the grill or thread them onto the soaked skewers. Grill the shrimp, turning once, until just opaque, about 2-4 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. The shrimp can be grilled in advance, covered and stored in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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One Year Ago – Asparagus & Radish Salad
Two Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Three Years Ago – Asian Noodle Salad
Four Years Ago – Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart
Five Years Ago – Not Your Ordinary Burger
Six Years Ago – Strawberry Rhubarb Soup
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What will you celebrate this month? 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

Is-It-Spring-Yet Weekend Special

chairliftOops! I am more than a bit late posting a menu for the weekend. I couldn’t help it. We’ve just had two beautiful days … blue sky and warm temperatures. I couldn’t help myself, the ski slopes were calling my name. Can you blame? Not only is the mountain closing on Sunday but rain is in the forecast. In fact, the rain has already started.

I’m thinking a Greek-inspired menu would work well with this week’s grilled lamb chop recipe.

How to start? You could try my favorite Spanakopita Triangles. Unless you prefer my Greek Stuffed Mushrooms. Sip ouzo or a dry white wine and ignore the rain.

What about dinner? It’s not too early to drag the grill out of the garage or snowbank. My Grilled Lamb Chops with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce sound good. Serve them with Grilled Asparagus and Couscous.

And dessert? The maple syrup has finally started to flow. It may not be Greek or Greek-inspired but my Maple Mousse with Apple Compote is delicious. Unless you are in the mood for my Chocolate-Orange Tart.

With any luck, the rain won’t wash away the last of the snow and we can have one last ski day on Sunday. If not, well, stay dry and have a great weekend! Bon appétit!

What’s up with you this weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2014

Pranks, Tricks & Scams & Grilled Lamb Chops with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce

susie_brendaApril Fools Day is a fun, harmless holiday, filled with silly jokes and foolish pranks. When we were little, my sister Brenda was the master when it came to practical jokes. From time to time, I assisted her, playing Betty to her Veronica or maybe it was closer to Boo Boo and Yogi. More often than not, I was either oblivious to her antics, caught up in some adventure or misadventure of my own, or her clueless victim.

Brenda is a few years older than I am and, from about the age of eight or nine, was a clever prankster. She had no trouble thinking ahead and meticulously planned her little scams. I, on the other hand, was the ditzy sister. An optimist or romantic might say I was living in the moment; a practical parent might call it living in the clouds.

Not just a planner, Brenda had an uncanny knack for keeping a straight face as she deftly pulled the wool over her hapless victim’s eyes. If I somehow managed to pull off a prank, I was much too excited and pleased with myself to keep it quiet for long. My uncontrolled giggling was a sure sign I had a secret to share. Not my sister, she could think ahead, execute flawlessly and then innocently look her victim in the eye until she decided to unveil her sometimes dastardly, sometimes hilarious deed.

She had a long running prank with our much younger brother. When John was about two, she convinced him that she had a twin sister, Eleanor. Eleanor did not spend a lot of time at home but on boring afternoons when John was being a particularly pesky toddler, she would appear out of nowhere. She calmly sent John all over the house and yard to find first one fictitious twin and then the other. The prank went on for a long time but I never saw my sister snicker, giggle or do anything to give herself away.

Like most children, we had our list of daily chores. We made our beds, cleaned our rooms and set and cleared the dinner table. When we got a little older, we also did the dishes. Brenda hatched a few of her best pranks while stacking the dishwasher. Switching the salt and sugar were standard April Fools fare but she never played her best pranks on April 1st. One spring evening it was much too nice to stay inside so I skipped out of the dish detail. Hours later I discovered Brenda’s sweet revenge; a cold, little nest of spaghetti in the bottom of my bed. And yes, I dreamt of worms, both that night and a few more.

Even under her tutelage, I never developed Brenda’s skill for practical jokes. However, I did develop a bit of talent for tall tales. Tired of being mocked for my little feet, I once I wove an elaborate story of how my parents were missionaries and I grew up in China. I explained that out of respect for local custom my feet were bound as a child. I managed to tell the story with total sincerity and was surprised at how easy it was to dupe my tormentor. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I felt guilty and fessed-up pretty quickly. My childhood, while happy, was far from exotic. I grew up in a Boston suburb and had never been to China. Besides foot binding was outlawed long before I was born.

With winter dragging on and on it looks like Mother Nature has been pulling a prank on us. March came in like a lion and went out like a lion. We can only hope that she is feeling a little guilty and packs April with warm days and sunny skies. And if we can’t have warm days, can we please, at the very least, have sunny skies.

Bon appétit!

Grilled Lamb Chops with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce
Grilled_Lamb_Chops_Lemon-Mint_Sauce_04Assuming you can dig the grill out of the snowbank, there is nothing foolhardy about these delicious grilled lamb chops and flavorful yogurt sauce. Enjoy!
Serves 6

Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
4 cloves garlic
1 shallot, roughly chopped
About 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1-1 1/2 cups dry red wine
About 3-3 1/2 pounds lamb chops (1-2 large or 2-3 small chops per person)
1 bay leaf
Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce (recipe follows)

Put the citrus juices, garlic, shallot, mint, thyme, mustard and honey in a blender, season with salt and pepper and pulse to combine and chop. Add a little wine and process until smooth. Slowly add the remaining wine and process until well combined.

Put the lamb chops and bay leaf in a large, heavy-duty plastic, re-sealable bag, add the marinade and seal the bag, pressing out excess air. Marinate the lamb in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight, turning a few times.

Remove the lamb from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before grilling. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. The fire should be medium hot.

Shaking off the excess marinade, remove the lamb from the plastic bag and place on the grill. Grill until medium rare, 2-3 minutes per side for small chops and 3-5 minutes for larger. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Serve the lamb with Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce.

Lemon-Mint Yogurt Sauce
1 cup plain yogurt
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 scallion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Cover and chill for an hour or more to combine the flavors.

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

Do you have a favorite practical joke, prank or scam? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

Anticipation Turns to Despair & Zucchini Pancakes

Pleasant_Lake_Winter_Mist_02Oh, that fickle Möûll! Once again, the Viking snow goddess has all but ignored us. To make matters worse, she delivered a beautiful blanket of white to the west and north. For days, meteorologists were almost dancing with excitement. They promised up to a foot, no eighteen inches, wait, make that two feet of snow. Snowmageddon was coming! The news filled skiers with joyful anticipation. The kind of anticipation that makes it difficult to think, read, write, eat or sleep. Restless but with hope in our hearts, we searched the sky for clouds and the first flakes.

Finally, exhaustion took over and we fell into bed. We dreamed of snow but woke to rain. Yes, that steady pitter-patter on the skylight was cold, miserable rain. As the day slipped into midmorning, always the tease, Möûll offers a glimmer of hope. No not sunshine, but the rain turned to big, fat flakes of snow. Optimism and goodwill abounded in this skier’s heart. It didn’t last long, my high hopes were dashed an hour or two later when those big, fat flakes turned back to rain.

Yet again, anticipation turned to despair. During one of the coldest winters in history, it rained and rained some more. Sometime in the middle of the night, the temperature finally plummeted and snow began to fall. Too little, too late, we missed out on the foot or more so eagerly promised by the weatherheads. What little snow we had, piled up into massive drifts under the force of twenty-five-mile-an-hour winds. Yes indeed, after a miserable wet day, the dreaded polar vortex returned.

To summarize, here’s what we got: first lots of rain, followed by not much snow and, finally, adjusting for wind-chill, seriously cold, way-below-zero temperatures. So Möûll, to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan, what did we do to offend you?

And just like that the answer came to me. Obviously, we are not following the six easy steps to ensure a snow day. It’s something that most kids know but do you? Here goes:

1. Do your very best snow dance. Nothing halfway, dance like no one is watching!

2. Do your homework. Whatever the commitment, act like it will happen and prepare as usual. If it’s book club, read the book. If it’s an important sales call, review your pitch. Volunteering at the thrift shop, fill the car with that load of gently worn clothing. If you have kids, make sure they do their homework too.

3. Flush at least six ice cubes down the toilet. More if you are really serious, which you should be. (Stick to six if you have temperamental plumbing. In any case, if you end up with a problem, don’t call me, call your plumber.)

4. Wear your pajamas inside out and backwards. You must do both, inside out and backwards, or the charm doesn’t work. If you work from home, keep those jammies on all day.

5. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand.

6. Sleep with a spoon under your pillow.

I don’t know why or if these steps work but kids across the northeast swear by them. The penalty for not following these six simple rules; the storm will blow to the north or south and miss us or fall as rain. If you hate the snow, don’t worry, we’ll be putting away our skis in early April. After that, we can all beseech Idun or Freya, Artio, Brigit, Flora or Persephone for sunny days and the first flowers.

In the meantime, dream of snow and bon appétit!

Zucchini Pancakes
Wonderfully versatile, serve these pancakes as a main course or appetizer. They’re delicious at dinner with pasta or for lunch with a fresh, green salad. Alternatively, make smaller, one or two bite pancakes for your next cocktail party. Enjoy!
Makes about 24 cocktail-sized pancakes or 12-16 large pancakeszucchini_pancakes_01

1 1/2 pounds zucchini, coarsely shredded
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped, fresh mint
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon or to taste hot sauce
Olive oil
Garnish: Tapenade and/or sour cream or yogurt

Make the Tapenade and let is sit for at least a couple of hours to mix and meld the flavors. Click here! for the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Put the zucchini in a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and toss to combine. Let the zucchini sit for 5 minutes, squeeze out as much liquid as possible and transfer the zucchini to a large bowl. Add the scallions, garlic and herbs, season with pepper and toss to combine.

Whisk the baking powder into the flour. Add the flour and cheeses to the zucchini and toss to combine. Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk in the hot sauce. Add the eggs to the zucchini and stir to combine.

Heat a little olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, working in batches add spoonfuls (a small ice cream scoop works well) of zucchini batter to the skillet and fry for about 3 minutes on each side or until golden and cooked through.

Drain on paper towels, transfer to an ovenproof platter and place in a 200 degree oven to keep warm. Serve with small dollops of sour cream or yogurt and/or tapenade.

The pancakes can be made in advance and reheated on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes.

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Print-friendly version of the Tapenade recipe.

One Year Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Two Years Ago – Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons
Three Years Ago – Grilled Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Four Years Ago – Linguine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Roasted Eggplant
Five Years Ago – Fettuccine with Classic Bolognese Sauce
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your thoughts on the record cold and, in some parts of the country, record snowfall? Feel free to share. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2014

Surviving the Gray Days of April & Moussaka

mud_seasonThere is no doubt about it. At least in New Hampshire, April is a crummy month. The ski season ends. Most days the sky is any one of more than fifty shades of gray. The clouds all too frequently open up and dampen more than our spirits with a fine drizzle, torrential rain or even snow. At least in my yard, all but a few spring blooms are hiding under dirty snow banks. Dirt roads are filled with muddy ruts. Paved roads are a roller coaster of pot holes and frost heaves. To add insult to injury, taxes are due.

So how do you lift your spirits when you are surrounded by gray skies, mud and piles of forms and receipts? Here are a few ideas:

1. Put on your rubber boots and slicker and go out anyway. It helps if your rain gear is bright red or yellow, polka dotted or flowered.
2. Find a change of venue. Instead of reading a book in your own cozy living room, grab a comfy chair at the library or coffee shop. Look up periodically; you never know who you might spot to share a cup of tea or coffee and a chat.
3. Do that thing that you’ve been postponing for weeks. It could be a boring piece of paperwork or cleaning out the refrigerator. The dreary weather won’t make it more fun or interesting but you will enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when you are done.
4. Take an afternoon nap.
5. Create a scrapbook for someone special. Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day as well as graduation and wedding season are coming.
6. Read all the Dr. Seuss books. The Cat in the Hat is a good place to start … “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.”
7. Go to the gym. Get your blood pumping with a zumba workout or find serenity with a yoga class.
8. Do a crossword puzzle. And another.
9. Invite your pals over to play poker. Or bridge if you prefer.
10. Rearrange the furniture. You’ll have a brand new room without spending a dime.
11. Buy flowers. They’ll look great in your brand new room! Buy a second bunch and surprise a friend or neighbor.
12. Play with your dog or cat. They’re probably bored too. Make a video of your adorable pet and post it on YouTube. Just don’t let it go to Fido’s head when the video goes viral.
13. Learn something new. Attend a lecture, take a guided tour of an historic landmark or peruse a how-to-fix-anything book and then fix something.
14. Cook one of those dishes that you’ve been avoiding because it takes too long or is too complicated. Fill the house with the warm and wonderful smell of homemade moussaka, simmering soup or braised beef.
15. Invite all your favorite people to dinner to share that dish. We tend to entertain in the summer, on special occasions and holidays so a party for no reason at all in the middle of April will be highly appreciated and memorable.

Before you know it, the ice will be off the lake and the garden will be filled with flowers. Good luck and bon appétit!

Moussaka
Rich and hearty after a dreary day, this Greek dish is great for casual dinner parties. Enjoy!
Serves 12moussaka_04

About 3 pounds (3-4) small eggplants, trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8-10 ounces each ground pork and turkey
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch allspice
2 tablespoons butter and more for the baking dish
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
8 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and pepper and bake until tender and browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the meat sauce. Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the meat and season with salt and pepper. Breaking the meat up into bite-size pieces, sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the crushed tomatoes, herbs, cinnamon and allspice and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

While the meat sauce simmers, make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk, bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, season with salt and pepper and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens about 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep 9×13-inch baking dish.

Put the cheeses in a bowl and toss to combine.

Layer half the eggplant in the bottom on the prepared dish, top with half the meat sauce and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Repeat. Top with béchamel and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses.

Bake for 40 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Let sit for 10 minutes, cut into squares and serve.

* Moussaka can be prepped and assembled in advance. Cover and store in the refrigerator. It will take longer to cook if it goes into the oven cold.

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One Year Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Two Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Three Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Four Years Ago –
Chicken Provençal
Or
Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite way to spend a rainy, gray or otherwise miserable day? Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013

Christmas Carols & Greek Stuffed Mushrooms

Reindeer_CandlesI love Christmas carols. A church choir or flash mob making a joyful noise. Nat King Cole warbling. Bruce Springsteen rocking out. Or my own off-key hum. It doesn’t matter, they are all good. Okay, I do have one caveat, a big one at that. Note to radio stations, elevators and stores everywhere, I don’t want to hear Christmas songs before Thanksgiving. Or Halloween for that matter!

Whenever I think of Christmas carols, I can’t help but think of my friend Julie. She’s the pianist. We met when we were both twenty-something at election night celebrations at the Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva. Even though we voted for different candidates (and her team won), we became friends. And we have stayed friends, in spite of the many changes in our lives and, now, more than 3,500 miles.

In the last few years of my almost two decade stay in Geneva, we were almost neighbors. It was a quick trip over the fields and through the woods to reach to the house she shared with her husband and kids. They are still there, on the edge of the vineyards, looking out at the Lake of Geneva and the French Alps. I lived in the next village and enjoyed that same view from my apartment on the third floor of a beautiful, old stone barn. I passed her house on my morning run and we spent many a Sunday afternoon walking in the vineyards. Sometimes with a stroller, sometimes not.

While I miss having her close by for a chat, a walk and a cup of tea, I particularly miss Julie during the Christmas season. Always effervescent, Julie embraces the holidays with enthusiasm. Her Christmas decorations rival the displays in Macy’s famous windows. She loves to bake and throughout December her house is filled with the warming perfume of sugar and spice. And maybe best of all, she shares my love of Christmas carols.

julie_pianoEvery year Julie kicks off the holiday season in early December with a party. It’s a jolly event with people coming and going and a few, like me, probably staying too long. The tradition started with her parents when Julie was just a little girl and the party does double duty. It welcomes the holidays and celebrates her birthday. About halfway through the evening, Julie settles down in front of the piano and leads us all in song. I’m not sure if we ever get around to a rousing chorus Happy Birthday but we do sing a lot of Christmas carols. As far as I can figure, we more or less sing every carol that has ever been written. I must admit, my caroling is no match to her skill at the piano. Thankfully, she puts up with me anyway. I guess that’s what good friends are for.

Julie’s party has always been one of my favorite holiday celebrations. I miss it now that I am in New Hampshire. However, I promise I will be there in spirit. Maybe, no certainly, I’ll hum a few carols throughout the day and evening of the party.

I hope that you have lots of opportunities over the next few weeks to raise you voice in joyful song and good cheer. Bon appétit!

Greek Stuffed Mushrooms
Greek_Mushrooms_01One or two bites, these hors d’oeuvres will be a big hit at your holiday (or any) party. Enjoy!
Makes about 3 dozen

Olive oil
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
Dash hot sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound frozen spinach
About 36 whole 1-2 bite-sized mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
1/2-3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1-2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Put the spinach in a colander to thaw and drain.

Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the shallot, herbs and hot sauce, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 3-5 minutes or until the shallot is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more.

Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes to remove any excess liquid. Turn off the heat and cool to room temperature.

Add the feta to the spinach, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.Greek_Mushrooms_03

Put the breadcrumbs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano in a small bowl and toss to combine.

Generously fill each mushroom cap with spinach and feta, sprinkle with the panko-parm mix and place on an oiled baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until piping hot and golden brown.

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Four Years Ago – Chicken with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Penne

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

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol? One you can’t stop humming? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012