Happy Anniversary & Grilled Lamb with Fresh Mint

A few weeks ago, I passed a rather odd anniversary. It got lost in the general busyness of life and thoughts of Mother’s Day. I’m sorry to say that there was no cake or champagne. This is just wrong, especially since there were actually two anniversaries. Although I am not positive of the exact date, the first is simple. I moved to Switzerland on May 10 but it could have been the 8th or maybe the 9th. It was definitely a weekday because the traffic to Logan Airport was awful. The second is the slightly odd one. I have been back in the US for sixteen and a half years. It may seem a funny time to celebrate but this anniversary means that I have been back as long as I was away.

I write often of my time as an expatriate. It started with an internship. After the eight week project, I somehow or other forgot to come home. My repatriation date is easy to remember. It was one day before the 2000 election. Yes, I returned to the recount in Florida and the hanging chad debacle. If that wasn’t enough, for only the fourth time in history and the first time in more than a century, the president did not win the popular majority. So, in case you are wondering, yes, I did scratch my head and think, “What the heck have I come back to!?”

Now, why in the world would I think this odd anniversary is significant? Well, I can no longer say that I have spent most of my adult life living abroad. My time in Switzerland was and forever will be a remarkable experience, one that shaped me to the core. Not only did I live in Geneva but for many of those years, I managed a business that stretched from the tip of Africa to the Sea of Japan. An amazing time, it was the early days of post-apartheid as well as the post-perestroika and glasnost era.

My sales team was a great melting pot bubbling with more than a dozen nationalities, a raft of different languages and a whole host of religious traditions. Some young, some not so young, we were smart and strong men and women from vastly different circumstances with vastly different windows of opportunity. It was a great job. Not just because there were lots of wins (salespeople love wins!) but because it was a team of champions.

Diversity is a wonderful thing. There may be strength in numbers but we are even stronger when those numbers bring a vast and rich variety of experience. Sure, there is a certain comfort in sameness. Why else would we gravitate to mac and cheese or meatloaf and mashed potatoes when we’re feeling low? These are the foods of our childhood and as familiar as a comfortable, old shoe.

This group from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa were not comfortable old shoes. In fact, they were quite the opposite. Together, we embraced change and made things happen. We did our best to exchange ideas and tear down obstacles. We thought strategically and then executed well. We didn’t worry about flawless. Sometimes we stumbled, sometimes we bumbled but we always made good things happen. Together, a group of talented individuals built a winning team. We measured our success in customer delight, revenue, profits, growth and employee satisfaction. Oh, and by the way, I can assure you that this spectacular team never got tired of winning.

As much as I love my life today, I sometimes miss that other half of my adult life. I don’t miss the constant travel or even for the excitement of closing a deal. I miss those remarkable individuals who came together and became a team. But not to worry, the adventures continue! Last November, I celebrated another anniversary. By some strange coincidence, it was overshadowed by another election. Anyway, ten years ago last November, I began a newspaper column that continues to this day.

Thank you for reading and bon appétit!

Grilled Lamb with Fresh Mint
Lamb is popular in and around Geneva as well as throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is great for a celebration of family and friends. Enjoy!
Serves 8

4-5 cloves garlic
1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
3-4 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Dash or to taste Harissa
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
About 2 cups dry red wine
3-4 pounds trimmed, boned and butterflied lamb
1 bay leaf

Put the garlic, onion, fresh chopped herbs, lemon juice and zest, mustard, honey and harissa in the bowl of a food processor or blender, season with salt and pepper and pulse to combine. Add about 1/2 cup wine and process until smooth. Add the remaining wine and process until well combined.

Put the lamb in a large, heavy-duty, plastic, re-sealable bag. Add the marinade and bay leaf and seal the bag, pressing out excess air. Marinate the lamb in the refrigerator, turning every few hours, for at least 6 hours. Overnight is better.

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium high.

Remove the lamb from the marinade and place it on the grill. Turning it once or twice, grill until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers at 120 for rare and 130 degrees for medium, 20 to 30 minutes.

Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Slice the lamb and serve.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Pork Tenderloin
Two Years Ago – Greek Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Three Years Ago – Asparagus & Radish Salad
Four Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Five Years Ago – Asian Noodle Salad
Six Years Ago – Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart
Seven Years Ago – Not Your Ordinary Burger
Eight Years Ago – Strawberry Rhubarb Soup

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

What about you? Do you have an interesting past life? Feel free to share!

Steamy Summer Weekend Special

rain_drops_on_grassThink rain forest, hot and steamy with a very good chance of thundershowers, when you make your plans this weekend. Sounds like a good weekend to laze around in a screened porch or on the sofa with an air conditioner going full tilt. There will be plenty of sports to watch with the Olympics.

No matter how slow and lazy the day, eventually, it will be time for dinner. Why not take a break from the Olympics and get together with a few friends for a cookout?

Grab a beer or a glass of wine and something to nibble. If you can find a bottle of Cachaça you can forget the beer and wine and whip up a batch of Caipirinha. For nibbles, how about Corn Cakes or try some of my Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Avocado Salsa.

grilling_steak_potatoes

When it’s time for dinner – throw a steak on the grill. For a taste of South America, try my Grilled Filets Mignons with Salsa Verde. (Not a beef eater? Try the Salsa Verde with Grilled Chicken.) Add some Grilled Red Potatoes and a great salad. For a great salad, try my Summer Salad with Green Beans, Blueberries & Goat Cheese or Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction.

Ready for dessert? Chocolate sounds good. Stay cool with your favorite ice cream and Death by Chocolate Sauce. Unless you’re like my niece Charlotte and looking forward to my Death by Chocolate Cake. If you prefer cupcakes, try my Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes. All three are positively decadent!

Stay cool and bon appétit!

What are your plans for the 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, 2016

Olympic Fun Facts & Grilled Filets Mignons with Salsa Verde

rio-2016-logoHeld every four years in Olympia to honor Zeus, the ancient Olympics games had a pretty good run. For twelve centuries, athletes ran, jumped, threw javelins and raced chariots. The games went a bit haywire after the Romans conquered Greece. Nero, who is most famous for fiddling while Rome burned, cheated in the 67 AD games. In spite of falling off his chariot mid-race, he declared himself winner. It was downhill from there and the games met their demise at the end of the 4th century AD.

Happily for athletes and sports fans, the games were revived in 1896 with the first modern Olympics. Although there were forty-three different events at the 1896 games, there were no chariot races. The nine-day competition was packed with a multitude of track and field, cycling, fencing, shooting, tennis, weightlifting, wrestling and gymnastics events. Fourteen nations sent athletes to Athens for the games. More than 200 men competed but not a single woman. That omission was rectified at the second modern Olympiad in Paris in 1900.

A lot has changed since the first few Olympics. Here are a few fun facts about the Rio Games:

Rio 2016 is an Olympic first! Rio de Janeiro beat Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo to become the first South American city to host the games.

Part cat, part monkey and bird, Rio’s Olympic mascot has musical roots. He is named for Vinicius de Moraesis, one of the authors of the bossa nova jazz classic “The Girl From Ipanema.” Unlike some of the more bizarre and even downright frightening mascots of the past, Vinicius is cute in a colorful, cartoonish sort of way.

More than 11,000 athletes from 206 countries are expected to participate in Rio. Five hundred and fifty-four of those athletes make up the US Team.

For the first time men and women without a country will compete at the Olympics. A team of ten refugees will compete under the Olympic flag. The team includes runners from South Sudan, swimmers from Syria, judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a marathon runner from Ethiopia.

Gymnastics, track and field, swimming, tennis, wrestling, boxing and weightlifting are just the start. The list of events may seem endless but there are actually 306. From the sands of Copacabana beach to the legendary Maracanã Stadium, the games will be held at thirty-two different venues.

By the way, rugby returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1924 and the US is the defending champion. Golf has waited even longer. It’s returning after more than a century. The last time golf was played at the Olympics was in 1904 in Saint Louis.

Of course, our hopes are high for US victories. Although geopolitics and shifting national boundaries have had an impact, the US is at the top of the charts with an all-time count of 2,681 medals.

A whole lot of cookin’ wi1l be goin’ on in Rio. Tens of thousands of meals will be prepared in the Olympic village every day. Athletes will discover Brazilian staples like black beans and rice and some of the best grillin’ they’ll ever eat!

Enjoy the games! Bon appétit!

Grilled Filets Mignons with Salsa Verde
Get out the bossa nova records and whip up a flavorful salsa for a jazzy new take on the backyard cookout. Enjoy!  Grilled_Filets_Mignons_w_Salsa_Verde_06
Serves 8

8 (4-6 ounce) filets mignons or your favorite cut of steak
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

Brush the filets with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. (In hot weather, reduce the sitting time.) Preheat a charcoal grill to medium-hot or a gas grill to high.

Place the steaks on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes, turn and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes more for medium-rare. Reduce the cooking time for rare and increase for medium. Transfer the filets to a platter or individual plates, top each with a generous spoonful of Salsa Verde and let rest for 5 minutes before serving with more Salsa Verde.

Salsa Verde
Serves 8

2-3 tablespoons or to taste sherry vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
3-4 cloves garlic
1-2 tablespoons or to taste minced jalapeno or serrano chili
1 teaspoon cumin
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup or to taste extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced
About 1 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
About 1 cup cilantro leaves
About 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

Put the vinegar and lime juice in the bowl of a small food processor, add garlic and jalapeno, season with the cumin, salt and pepper and pulse to chop and combine. Add the olive oil and process until smooth. Add the lime zest, scallions and herbs and pulse to chop and combine. Let sit for 10-20 minutes before serving

Can be made ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

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One Year Ago – Corncakes
Two Years Ago – Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Cheese Quesadillas with Fresh Tomato Salsa
Three Years Ago – Summer Salad with Green Beans, Blueberries & Goat Cheese
Four Years Ago – Shrimp Salad Niçoise
Five Years Ago – Insalata Caprese
Six Years Ago – Mojito Melons
Seven Years Ago – Grilled Antipasto
Eight Years Ago – Nana Nye’s Fish Chowder

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

What are your favorite summer Olympic events? Feel free to share.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to <strong><a href=”https://susannye.wordpress.com/a-thing-or-two-more-to-read/&#8221; target=”_blank”>read, see &amp; cook</a></strong>. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Enthusiasm & Joy & Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Graduation_Caps_02At the end of the week, my niece Charlotte will march down the aisle to the beat of a static laced rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance”. She is the last of the three twirling girlies to collect her high school diploma. Maybe she cares, maybe not but I suppose it is only fitting that I offer up some sage advice. Okay, maybe it’s not so sage but I did it for her sisters. I wouldn’t want her to feel left out.

So, here goes. Be happy and live each day with enthusiasm and joy.

I can’t claim this wisdom as my own. Left to my own devices, I’m prone to a certain cynicism when it comes to exuberant displays of jocularity. I’m still tempted to narrow my eyes, give that happy-go-lucky character the once over, shrug and ask, “Really?” Of course, I’m too polite to actually do any of those things. However, there was a day when I might have come close.

It is my mother, Charlotte’s Meme, who convinced me that happy people live better lives. A doubter might argue that Mom got it backwards; that people with better lives are happier. Nope, that’s not the way works. A new pair of shoes won’t make you happy. Okay, maybe for a few hours or even a couple of days but long-term happiness comes from within. Happiness isn’t a fleeting shot of retail induced dopamine; it’s an on-going, every day state of mind.

My happiness conversion wasn’t easy. It took patience to win me over. It’s unlikely that I will ever emulate Mom’s unbridled spirit of fun. I’ve never danced with a vacuum cleaner while singing “When The Saints Go Marching In”. I doubt I ever will. However, put on some Motown and I will dance with unmitigated enthusiasm. Thanks to Mom, I am unapologetic in my optimism and joy.

Now eighty-six and with severe Alzheimer’s disease, my mother can still teach us a thing or two about happiness. Mom is bedbound and no longer able to speak. That is the reality of this awful disease. The reality of my mother is that happiness is indeed a state of mind; even one that is bruised and embattled.

Here is what my mother continues to teach me about happiness:

Happy people figure out what is important and make time for those people, places and things. My mother never stressed over keeping up with the Jones or wasted time comparing her lot with others.

Happy people treat family, friends, neighbors and strangers with respect. Mom always assumes the best in people. If I had to name only one, I’d say Mom’s superpower was her kindness.

Happy people get over it. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Mom has never wasted time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she gives her bootstraps a yank, smiles broadly and moves on.

Happy people live life to the fullest. They don’t yearn for past glories or dwell on old mistakes. Instead of worrying about the future, they do their best today. Mom embraces every day with optimism.

Happy people aren’t too cool to smile and laugh – loud and often. My mother’s smile and laugh are infectious.

Congratulations to Charlotte and the class of 2016. I wish you every happiness. Bon appétit!

Grilled Pork Tenderloin
A great party dish, pork tenderloin will make a delicious addition to your graduation celebrations. Enjoy!
Serves 8grilled_pork_tenderloin_01

1/3 cup whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons cognac
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons minced onion
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1/2 teaspoon or to taste sriracha or your favorite chili paste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 (about 1 1/2 pounds each) pork tenderloins

Put the mustard, cognac, olive oil, garlic, onion, brown sugar, herbs and spices in a bowl and stir to combine.

Tuck and tie the narrow end of each tenderloin and then add ties about every 2 inches down the length of the roasts. Put the tenderloins in a dish, slather them with the mustard mixture, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Remove the pork from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Preheat the grill to high.

Arrange the tenderloins on the grill and cook for about 10 minutes. Turn and cook an additional 5-7 minutes or until the pork registers 140-145 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove the tenderloins from the grill and let them rest for 5-10 minutes. Cut the pork into 1-inch slices, transfer to a platter and serve.

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One Year Ago – Greek Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Two Years Ago – Asparagus & Radish Salad
Three Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Four Years Ago – Asian Noodle Salad
Five Years Ago – Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart
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!

What’s your best advice for the class of 2016? Feel free to share.

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

How to Celebrate Easter & Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

Easter_BunniesUp until I was ten, maybe eleven, my family celebrated Easter like everyone else in the neighborhood. We shopped for Easter outfits and bonnets, decorated eggs, went to church and had dinner at one or the other grandparent’s house. Then skiing and a spring vacation or two got in the way. Around that time, Mom’s parents began spending the winter and spring in Florida. So, unlike Thanksgiving, Christmas and Independence Day, Easter became a bit hit or miss celebration in our family; mostly miss.

If you share my haphazard history of Easter celebrations and need help planning your weekend, here are a few suggestions.

Fly a kite. What could be better than a sky full of kites on a breezy early spring day? This tradition began in Bermuda. Legend has it that Easter kite flying began when a teacher was trying to explain Christ’s ascension to heaven. Today, a colorful kite flying festival is held every year on Good Friday. Easter kite flying is also practiced in Guyana but on Easter Monday. I’ll let you, the weather and the wind pick your best day to fly.

Light a fire. Like many rites, this tradition harks back to pagan days. Easter bonfires are an old custom in parts of northern Europe. Usually lit at sundown on Good Friday or Saturday, it is a good way to get the neighborhood together (and burn some of the dead tree limbs that fell over the winter). The fire is meant to chase away the dark and cold of winter. Don’t forget to get a permit!

Start a parade. Early Christian processions where solemn affairs and took place both before and after Easter services. This tradition took on a decidedly festive note on New York’s Fifth Avenue in the late 1880’s. In the spirit of see and be seen, wealthy New Yorkers strolled up and down the avenue in their Easter finest. Whether you dress to the nines with a gorgeous bonnet or don bunny ears, enjoy the fresh air as you parade through the neighborhood.

Decorate eggs. An ancient symbol of new life, the egg played an important role in pagan festivals. Early Christians adopted the practice with a different spin. Eggs were forbidden during Lent so people began to decorate and color them to enjoy at their Easter feasts.

Before skiing got in the way, Mom always hardboiled a dozen or so eggs for my sister and I to decorate. I can still smell the vinegar that we used to activate the special dyes. We loved the fun of decorating but neither Brenda nor I liked hardboiled eggs. We brought them with us to Easter dinner and palmed as many as possible off on our grandparents.

Watch the sun rise. Several local churches are holding special sunrise services. These services commemorate the empty tomb that greeted Mary at dawn on Easter morning. Enjoy the hymns and celebration of the resurrection. Alternatively, a quiet, solitary meditation in a favorite place may suit you better. Sunrise is at 6:37 on Easter morning.

Gather friends and family. In spite of my spotty history, I like to invite friends around for an Easter dinner. More often than not, the weather is far from springy so I rummage through my files for festive but cozy recipes. Chocolate bunnies and eggs decorate the table and we at least pretend that spring is here.

However you celebrate, have a lovely Easter and bon appétit!

Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions
I love lamb at Easter and these shanks are a homey favorite. Add a spoonful of creamy polenta for a delicious Easter feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

4 ounces slab or thick cut bacon, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large or 8 small lamb shanks
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with a piece of string
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 carrots, finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes or to taste
2-3 cups dry red wine
4-6 cups chicken stock
Olive oil
2 pounds mushrooms, sliced
1 pound pearl onions, peeled and trimmed or use frozen

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat until crisp and brown. Remove the bacon and reserve.

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper, raise the heat to medium high and, working in batches, brown the lamb in the bacon fat. Remove the shanks and place them in a casserole or roasting pan large enough to hold the lamb in a single layer, sprinkle with the bacon and add the herbs.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with dried chili flakes, salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes more.

Evenly spread the sautéed vegetables over the lamb, add 2 cups wine and enough chicken broth to cover about 3/4 of the shanks. Cover the pan and transfer to the oven. Turning the lamb shanks once, cook at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.

While the lamb is cooking, add a little olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium high. Add the mushrooms and sauté until golden. Turn the lamb shanks again, add the mushrooms and pearl onions and more wine and/or stock if needed. Continue cooking uncovered for 1 hour.

If using large shanks, remove the lamb from the bones. If using smaller shanks, let each of your guests have their own. Transfer the lamb, mushrooms, pearl onions and a few spoonfuls of sauce to a deep serving platter or individual plates and serve. Pass the remaining sauce.

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One Year Ago – New Hampshire Mud Pie
Two Years Ago – White Beans Provençal with Bacon & Baby Kale
Three Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Grilled Lamb with Roasted Eggplant Salsa
Four Years Ago – Linguine with Shrimp, Artichokes Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Olives
Five Years Ago – Roast Chicken
Six Years Ago – Roasted Asparagus with Walnuts
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Eggplant with Peperonata

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

How will you celebrate Easter? Feel free to share!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 pound dried small white or cannellini beans (about 6 cups cooked beans)
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)
1 1/2 large onion, cut the half onion in half again and finely chop the whole
5 stalks celery, cut 1 in thirds, finely chop the remaining 4
4 carrots, cut 1 in thirds, finely chop the remaining 3
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme


2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup dry white wine
3-4 cups chicken broth
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2-2 1/2 pounds cooked garlic sausage or smoked kielbasa

Soak the beans overnight. Drain and rinse the beans.

Put the beans, Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, half onion, celery and carrot chunks, 1 sprig thyme and 1 bay leaf in a large pot, add cold water to cover plus 2 inches and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer until the beans are almost tender, about 1 hour.

While the beans are cooking, put the bacon in a large casserole and cook over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot, drain and reserve. Leaving just enough to coat the pot, drain any excess bacon fat.

Add the chopped onion, celery and carrots to the casserole, season with salt and pepper and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent, 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the mustard and wine, add the remaining thyme, rosemary and bay leaf and simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Add 2-3 cups chicken broth and the crushed tomatoes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El What? & Spanish Stuffed Mushrooms

foggy_morning_PLWell, this certainly is very odd, isn’t it? This time last year, we were shivering and shaking. Not with fear, mind you. It was the unbearably cold polar vortex giving us the shakes. This year El Niño has taken over. I for one am wondering when, if ever, we’ll get some snow. Yes, I know we had a slick and slippery ice- and snowstorm a week or so ago. Call me selfish but I’d like some more. Please.

Now as I understand it, El Niño means the boy in Spanish. Since this funny weather generally starts in the weeks leading up to Christmas, some say it refers to the birth of Christ. I don’t believe it. For snow- and ski-loving New Englanders, El Niño is hardly a benevolent spirit. Schoolyard bully would be a more fitting description.

Beyond the simple translation, El Niño refers to a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean and the meteorological havoc it causes. The warm Pacific waters lead to above average temperatures out west. Both California and the Gulf Coast tend to be wet; as in very, very wet. Temperatures are also higher to the north, including New England. Doubters may protest, noting the handful of cold days over the last month or so. However, it’s only been a handful and even the chilliest days have been far from the blistering, don’t-even-think-about-going-outside-bitter-cold of last winter.

Anyway, my California nieces are happy for rain after four years of drought. On the other hand, my snowbird, golf-playing dad in Florida is not so tickled. Frankly, I’m a jumble of mixed emotions. Our local ski areas are doing their best to make snow but almost balmy temperatures and worst, rain, continues to thwart them.

However, in the spirit of living on the bright side, this strange and unseasonable weather is certainly good for …

My daily walks are definitely more pleasant, especially when the sun is shining. Without needing to don layer after layer to keep warm, I’m out the door faster. Why, I even wore shorts (bright red of course) on my walk around Pleasant Lake on Christmas day. The roads are clear so no worries about an inelegant slip or fall. Why there is hardly enough ice to cover the lake! Could a midwinter cruise in the kayak be next?

Paying the propane bill is no longer a cause for nightmares. And no, it’s not because I’m wearing my ski parka and three pairs of sweatpants in the house. Yes, I know that oil and gas prices are down but it’s more than that. A warmer winter means we need fewer gallons of propane to stay nice and toasty.

Finally, after pushing the snow blower around my driveway for ten years, I decided to take a break this winter (and every other winter from now on). Yes, I threw my usual frugal caution to the wind and hired someone to plow the driveway. Far from a budget buster, the plow has only been by twice. Since he cleared out a messy mix of snow, ice and rain, I was very happy to stay inside, safe and warm. An added bonus: my brand new, bright yellow, hardly-used shovel is sure to last an extra season, maybe two.

Think snow and bon appétit!

Spanish Stuffed Mushrooms
In case you are planning an El Niño themed celebration, these stuffed mushrooms will make a great addition to your next tapas or dinner party. Enjoy!


Makes about 3 dozen

About 6 ounces Spanish chorizo*, casings removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
About 3 1/2 ounces (1 cup) finely grated Manchego cheese
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
36 mushrooms (large enough for 1-2 bites), wiped free of dirt and stems removed
Freshly chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil 1-2 baking sheets.

Put the chorizo in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium high. Add the onion to the skillet and sauté until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Add the onion and spinach to the chorizo and toss to combine. Let sit for a few minutes for the onion to cool. Add 3/4 cup grated Manchego and toss again.

While the onion cools, put the breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup Manchego and thyme in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add 1-2 teaspoons olive oil to the breadcrumb mixture and stir to combine.

Assemble the mushrooms: season the mushrooms with salt and pepper. Generously fill the mushrooms with the sausage mixture. Set the mushrooms on the prepared baking sheets and sprinkle with the cheesy breadcrumbs.

Can be done ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake at 400 degrees until the mushrooms are tender and the tops are lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a serving platter, let sit for about 5 minutes, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

* You can use hot Italian sausage if you cannot find Spanish Chorizo. Remove the casings, put the sausage in a small ovenproof skillet with a little water, chicken broth or white wine. Roast the sausage at 375 degrees, turning once or twice, until cooked through and lightly browned, 20-30 minutes. Cool completely before pulsing in the food processor.

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

What about you? What do you think of this crazy El Niño? Feel free to share!

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