Graduating Advice & Strawberries in Cointreau

It’s graduation season. Politicians, celebrities and the wisest among us take to podiums and blather on about one thing or another. In most cases, they offer some kind of advice. These important people extol the virtues of goal setting and hard work. They like to use phrases like dream big, dare to fail and never give up. They hope to inspire the next generation to climb mountains, reach for the stars and seek the truth … or some such thing.

My advice is simpler, much simpler. Learn to cook. In an age of fast food and microwave dinners, it’s tempting to give the kitchen a pass. Don’t. Cooking is both creative and calming. As you gain knowledge and confidence, you will delight in combining ingredients in new and different ways. Plus, the rhythmic stirring and chopping will calm you after a busy day. Knowing how to cook will feed your stomach and your soul. (It will also help you save money to pay off those student loans.)

When I look at life and work, cooking stands out for one particular reason. It can bring almost instant gratification. For so much of what we do, progress is not measured in hours but in weeks, months or years. A book can take years to write, rewrite and write again. A teacher will work for months hoping for a breakthrough with reluctant students. Complicated business projects take weeks or months to complete. As for raising kids, tending a garden, building and maintain strong and happy relationships – these are never-ending works in progress.

But cooking – even Thanksgiving, the biggest of all holiday feasts is prepped, cooked and served in a couple of days. With a little planning, a weekend dinner party can be tossed together in an afternoon and an any-day-of-the-week meal is done in an hour. As for the reward – you will taste it immediately. Better yet, you will see it in the smiles and hear it in the animated chatter and laughter around the table. A good meal with people you love will make your heart sing.

Which brings me to my next point – invite friends and family to eat with you. Food is more than sustenance; eating is a communal rite. A meal is meant to be shared. Food tastes better when served with a side of stimulating conversation, harmless banter and silly jokes.

Perhaps a dinner party, even the idea, scares the bejeebers out of you. Don’t let it. In the words of Julia Child, “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize,” So what if the soup is a little spicy or the dog steals the turkey? If anyone remembers, it will be another great story to tell and retell. Sure, you’ll look back at some of your mishaps with a grimace but, more important, you’ll also look back with a giggle.

To close, I have two utterly practical suggestions. First, get a big bowl. Only the most timid of cooks can make do with one of those nesting sets of three. You won’t use that giant bowl every day but you’ll be happy to have it. I have a couple, a big one at eight quarts and a really big one at fourteen. Cooking requires a lot of tossing and mixing – give yourself plenty of room to do it with gusto.

Second, start every party with an empty dishwasher. Like it or not, even the loveliest of evenings do come to an end. Eventually, you must clear the table. Cleanup is faster and easier if you can immediately stack all those dishes in the dishwasher. Oh, and yes, I know many first (even second) apartments don’t have dishwashers. This rule also applies to the sink. It should be empty of dirty dishes when your guests arrive.

Have a wonderful life filled with happy friends around table. Bon appétit!

Strawberries in Cointreau
Sometimes the simplest of desserts can be the most delicious – especially when local strawberries are coming into season. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered or halved, depending on size
About 2 ounces Cointreau
Zest of 1 orange
Brown sugar to taste
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Place the strawberries in a bowl large enough for tossing. Drizzle with Cointreau, sprinkle with orange zest and gently toss. If necessary, add a little brown sugar and toss again.

Let the strawberries sit for about 10 minutes while you put the dinner dishes in the sink to soak or fill the dishwasher.

Toss again and serve the strawberries with a spoonful of whipped cream or ice cream.

Print-friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – Southwest Turkey Burgers
Two Years Ago – Cherry Cobbler
Three Years Ago – Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction
Four Years Ago – Strawberry Shortcakes with Cardamom Cream
Five Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Six Years Ago – Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet
Seven Years Ago – Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons
Eight Years Ago – The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen
Nine Years Ago – Asian Slaw

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

What advice would you give to this year’s new graduates? Feel free to share!

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

Advertisements

Fifty Years Later & Grilled Salmon & Asparagus Salad

Sometimes an event can change you. Sometimes it takes more, a season or even an entire year. You might not notice it at first. It’s only later that you realize that your path diverged. That nice predictable route everyone fully expected you to travel, well, you didn’t.

For me, it’s happened twice. The first time was fifty years ago. It was 1968 and I’m sure I am not alone. I turned thirteen in March. My mother always said the two worst times in a woman’s life was when she was thirteen and when her daughter was thirteen. With two girls, Mom had an extra dose. Anyway, with the first of many pimples sprouting on my forehead and hormones ricocheting, I guess I was primed to be something of a mess.

It would be an understatement to say that 1968 was a tumultuous year. Seismic might still be too tame a label. Between the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement, the US was a powder keg in search of a match. The first match flared in January when North Korea seized the USS Pueblo. Next came the Tet Offensive and event after horrible event just kept piling on. In February, police opened fire on students protesting segregation in South Carolina. Three were killed, twenty-seven were wounded. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April. Throughout the spring and summer, students protested racism and the war. There were strikes and young men burned their draft cards. Some demonstrations were peaceful, too many were not.

On top of everything, it was an election year. As a seventh grader, I was far from riveted by the various campaigns. Who were these old men? They seemed powerless, or maybe just disinterested, to end the war and the multitude of problems that plagued the country. That all changed when Robert Kennedy got into the race. He brought just enough hope to penetrate the psyche of a self-absorbed thirteen year old.

I still remember where I was and how I felt when I learned that Robert Kennedy had been shot. It was 6:00 in the morning. Like most school days, I was the first one up – not by choice but necessity. Stumbling into the bathroom, I flipped on the little radio that kept me company every morning while brushing my teeth and washing my face. Kennedy was ahead in the polls when I was sent to bed the night before. Winning California would most likely make him the democratic nominee for president. Knowing full well that, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” my ears were tuned for a confirmation.

The shooting was not the opening news story on the radio. It was the only story. I’m not even sure if the WRKO played any music that morning. (For anyone too young to remember, RKO, as we called it, was not always a home for conservative talk radio. In the sixties and seventies, it played top forty hits and was the station of choice for many teenagers.)

The news that another Kennedy had been shot was mind numbing. In spite of the already humid heat on that early June morning, the horror of another senselessness shooting left me feeling cold and empty. To make matters worse, the year was only half over and it didn’t get any better. Fifty years later, I only rarely get a pimple. However, morning, afternoon or evening, early June, September or February, senseless violence and prejudice continue to leave me feeling hollow … but now, I can and do vote.

Be sure to vote in the mid-term elections and bon appétit!

Grilled Salmon & Asparagus Salad
A perfect meal for one of those hot and humid June evenings. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 1/2-3 pounds salmon fillet, skin-on
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2-1 lemon
1 1/2-2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
About 8 ounces mixed baby greens
1 pint cherry tomatoes – in a mix of colors if available
1/3-1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seed and chopped
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
Vinaigrette Niçoise (recipes follows)
3-4 tablespoons capers, drained

Preheat the grill to high. Drizzle the salmon with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Place the salmon, skin side up, on the grill. Depending on the thickness of the fish, grill for 5-6 minutes. Carefully turn the salmon with a wide spatula and grill for 3-5 minutes more or until cooked through but not dry.

Arrange the asparagus on the grill and, depending on thickness, cook for 1-3 minutes. Do not overcook, the asparagus should be tender-crisp.

Transfer the fish and asparagus to a cutting board and drizzle with lemon juice. Let the fish rest for about 5 minutes before cutting into thick slices. If you like, chop the asparagus.

To serve: put the greens, tomatoes, cucumber and scallions in a bowl, add enough Vinaigrette Niçoise to lightly coat and toss to combine. Arrange the salad on a large platter or individual plates, top with salmon and asparagus and sprinkle with capers.

Vinaigrette Niçoise
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic
1-inch chunk red onion
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
Dash hot sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup or to taste extra-virgin olive oil

Put the vinegar, lemon juice, mayonnaise, mustard, garlic, onion, anchovy paste and hot sauce in a blender or small food processor, season with salt and pepper and pulse to combine and chop the garlic and onion. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth.

Store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

Print-friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – Strawberry Tort
Two Years Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Three Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Four Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Five Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Six Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Seven Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
Eight Years Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Nine Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

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

How do you beat the heat in the early days of summer? Feel free to share!

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

The Costumes We Keep & Savory Smashed Sweet Potatoes

I love a good costume. Maybe that’s why I love Halloween so much. However, you don’t have to wait until Halloween to have fun with dress ups. If you keep your eyes open, there are costumes everywhere. Unfortunately you are most likely to see the under-six set wearing them. Think little girls in fluffy pink, tutus-like skirts and boys in Batman t-shirts.

When he was a little boy, my brother John dressed in costume almost every day. His favorite was Superman. Due to some miscommunication, both grandmothers gave him a Superman suit for his birthday. Not a problem, Johnny was just fine with that. If one was in the wash, he could still suit up.

Along with the man of steel, at least once a week he would appear at breakfast in full Daniel Boone or cowboy regalia. Sporting a coonskin cap or cowboy hat, fringed shirt and jeans, he would swagger into the kitchen. Although it was clearly never first or even second choice, when there were no other options, Batman graced our presence.

Then there was that dreadful day. I’m glad I’d already left for school and didn’t witness the trauma. Whether the story is nothing more than family legend or true, I’ll never know. Anyway, John showed up at his friend Richard’s house in jeans and t-shirt. Since she’d rarely, maybe never, seen him in civilian clothes, Richard’s mom asked him, “Where’s Superman today?” Without missing a beat, Johnny replied, “Both my Superman suits are in the wash. My mother told me I had to be Clark Kent today.”

When he started kindergarten or maybe it was nursery school, John gave up his costumes. There was no particular drama. After hundreds of wearings and washings, I’m guessing they fell apart. Maybe the dog ate his coonskin cap or he lost his cowboy hat at the playground. Then again, he might have simply outgrown them – physically or metaphorically or both. These things happen. While I hope not, it’s possible some school administrator put the kybosh on super heroes in the classroom. Although they later reneged, I can confirm that those very same administrators outlawed miniskirts at the high school.

Maybe we never actually give up costumes. Instead, we change the characters we play. Could it be that a hungry dog or bureaucrat does nothing more than nudge us into the inevitable next rendition of ourselves? Wonder Woman changes into bookish nerd or cool bohemian and then morphs again into corporate lawyer. Batman becomes an athlete and prom king, transforms into a Peace Corp volunteer and changes once more into an engineer.

Whether you’re a teenager in a ratty t-shirt or a Wall Street type in an Armani suit, your clothing sends a message. Admit it; you could just as easily don a pair of jeans as yoga pants, a button-down shirt as a mock turtleneck. Whether it’s true or not, yoga pants tell the world you are sporty and fit – or just so busy you don’t have time to change your clothes after class. The mock turtleneck? It’s your proclamation that you will indeed be the next Steve Jobs.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and my kitchen all but done, it’s time for me to put on my red apron. What does that say about me?

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

Savory Smashed Sweet Potatoes
It’s not too early to start thinking about Thanksgiving. I’ve never been a fan of sweet potatoes with marshmallows. If you are of the same mind, add this savory dish to your Thanksgiving menu. Enjoy!
Serves 8

4 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces plus more for the pan
About 3 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature and cut in small pieces
1/4 cup sour cream
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Generously butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish.

Prick each potato several times with a knife, place them on the baking sheet and in the oven. Reduce the heat and bake at 375 degrees until soft, 1-1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and set aside.

When cool enough to handle but still warm, halve potatoes and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons butter, the cream cheese and sour cream, sprinkle with the cheeses and season with salt and pepper. Use a masher to smash the potatoes and combine the ingredients. Spread the sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish and dot with the remaining butter.

Can be made ahead to this point, cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated. Bring the potatoes to room temperature before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the sweet potatoes at 350 degrees until piping hot, about 30 minutes.

Print-friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù
Two Years Ago – Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction
Three Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Vegetables & Chickpeas with Couscous
Four Years Ago – Smashed or Mashed Potatoes
Five Years Ago – Apple Muffins
Six Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Warm Roasted Squash
Seven Years Ago – Spinach Ricotta Pie
Eight Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Lentils
Ninet Years Ago – Tomato, Olive & Feta Tart

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

My current costume is the monochromatic look, black in cold weather and white/beige/khaki in warm. What about you? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Halloween on Pleasant Lake & Apple Oatmeal Cookies

What’s Halloween like in rural New Hampshire? Well except for the coyotes, pretty quiet. Yes, I know. There’s plenty going on up on Main Street. But nothing, zip, nada in my neighborhood. Down by Pleasant Lake, we’re a mix of year-round and summer people. By mid-October, most of the leaves have faded, it’s dark before six and more than half of houses are empty. We are not a hub of Halloween festivities, far from it.

It was summer and the neighborhood very busy when I moved into my house several years ago. Up until the Columbus Day, there was still a fair amount of weekend activity. That’s when the summer people closed up their cottages. About the same time, the snowbirds disappeared. That said, down at my end of the road, there were a few kids. Not many mind you but enough to know they were there. From time to time, I’d see them with their heavy backpacks on their way to or from the bus.

Knowing there were kids in the neighborhood, I dutifully bought a bag of fun-sized Milky Way®. About that name, what’s up with that? No not Milky Way, I get that. The candy bar was named after a milkshake. The milkshake was named after the galaxy. Why? Well, the story starts to get murky so that’s about all I can tell you.

No, the part I don’t get is why the teeny tiniest candy bars are called fun size. Where’s the fun in these one-bite wonders? Moreover, and please correct me if I’m wrong, those fun size bars seem to be shrinking every year. Who are the candy manufacturers trying to kid?

The fun moniker would be more appropriate for one of those supersized bars. I ask you, what’s more fun – a teeny tiny drop of chocolate or a big honkin’ bar? Come to think of it, a more fitting label might be fun-while-it-lasted. Eating one of those giant candies in one sitting is an invitation to a tummy-ache. But hey, you’re only a kid once.

All right, enough digressing, let’s get back to my Halloween preparations. Although I dutifully stocked up on miniature Milky Way® bars, I forgot to stop at the bank. So I went through every pocket and purse for loose change for Unicef. I put on my orange t-shirt, the one with the jack-o-lantern. I tasted a couple of the mini-chocolates. (Only a few, I needed to make sure they were safe for the children.) And I waited. Then, I waited some more. And some more. When it started raining, I figured that was that.

About eight-thirty, maybe nine o’clock, I was ready to turn off the outside lights and change out of my silly t-shirt. That’s when a car drove in the driveway. What’s with that, I thought. The parents on Jackson Road never chauffeured their kids around on Halloween. Rain, sleet or snow, we walked from house to house. However, I didn’t judge. Instead, I picked up my bowls of candy and coins and headed to the door.

Hands in his pockets, a hunched over middle schooler shuffled through the rain. He didn’t shout trick or treat and I was none too sure of his costume. However, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was going for subtlety – Clark Kent on casual Friday. Beyond the headlights, I could see the driver’s silhouette and maybe another person. On second thought, maybe it was a simple ploy by his nitwit older brothers to collect candy. You know – send in the kid. After helping himself to a handful of fun, the boy shuffled back to the car. He was my first, last and only trick or treater.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe they were lost or Russian spies trying to figure out this bizarre American custom. I’ll never know. Bon appétit!

Apple Cookies
Loaded with fruit, nuts and oatmeal, if you like you can pretend these cookies are good for you. Enjoy!
Makes about 5 dozen cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup instant oatmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and ginger
1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and allspice
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-2 apples, about 1 cup finely chopped or coarsely grated
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Set 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with silicon liners or parchment paper.

Put the flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and soda and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. Turn the mixer down to low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Fold in the apple, raisins, nuts and chocolate chips

Drop tablespoons of dough about 3 inches apart (a mini ice-cream scoop works great) onto the prepared baking sheets. If you like, you can flatten the cookies slightly with moistened fingers. Switching racks and turning the pans midway through baking, bake the cookies until they are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies set for a minute and then transfer to a rack to cool.

Print-friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – Chipotle Sweet Potato & White Bean Hummus
Two Years Ago – Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares
Three Years Ago – Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Four Years Ago Ago – Pumpkin Spice Cookies
Five Years Ago – Chicken in Every Pot
Six Years Ago – Roasted Carrots & Pearl Onions
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Eight Years Ago – Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions
Nine Years Ago – Mexican Chicken Soup

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

How many trick or treaters will be at your house on Halloween? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

First Day of School & Dilly Beans

Susie_1st_day_schoolOver the past few weeks, the pages of Facebook and Instagram have been filled with first day of school pictures. It started with the big kids who were off to college. With anxious smiles, freshmen posed in front of their new dorms and bravely waved goodbye to mom, dad and the dog. Next, there came a flood of photographs with everyone else. This jumble included everything from sweet little kindergarteners to confident fifth graders, nervous middle schoolers and bored high school seniors.

Since I didn’t have an innocent, confident, anxious or bored student in my house, I didn’t take any pictures. Rather than mope or feel sorry for myself, I posted my first day of school photograph. At least I’m pretty sure that it was my first day of kindergarten. In the days before cameras-ready cell phones and easily posted digital images, most moms, mine included, didn’t document all of their children’s comings and goings. If for no other reason than they couldn’t find the camera. Or maybe they ran out of film. You remember film don’t you?

Anyway, I’m standing on our front step on Jackson Road looking adorable in a smocked dress and Buster Brown shoes. My smile is sweet and only a tad anxious. Brenda, my older sister, was already in the third grade. Since she seemed to be doing okay, I must have figured there wasn’t too much to worry about.

Nowadays, most schools teach kindergarteners a few reading fundamentals and a little arithmetic. Not my teacher, she focused on the basics. If nothing else, it reinforced much of what Mom and Dad were already trying to teach their two little girls.

So, in the spirit of Robert Fulghum and his legendary book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten here are ten things I learned in kindergarten:

Be nice.
Share.
Play fair.
Tell the truth.
Put things back where you found them.
If it’s not yours, don’t take it.
Don’t hit.
Wash your hands.
Look both ways.
Don’t wander off.

I’m doing pretty well with the majority of these lessons. Okay, I admit it; I’m terrible at putting my things away. And while I generally look both ways when crossing the street, I’ve made several metaphorical leaps without really looking. But no, I don’t regret them. Otherwise, I’d be in an office somewhere right now. Instead, I’m delight to be writing at my messy desk in my messy upstairs hall.

As for wandering off, all I can do is shrug and admit to being guilty. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on a lot of fun, frustrating, interesting, challenging and wonderful times. Just think; I never would have wandered over to Switzerland. I can’t imagine my life without that fun, frustrating, interesting, challenging and wonderful chapter.

Here’s to the first day of whatever is next for you and bon appétit!

Dilly Beans
A little spicy and a little tart, these beans are a great addition to a late summer cookout … or anytime. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 quarts

About 2 pounds green beans, trimmed
1 red onion, cut in half length-wise and then in thin wedges
1 clove garlic for each mason jar, smashed and peeled
1-2 bunches dill
1 bay leaf for each mason jar
2 sprigs thyme for each mason jar
3 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons dill seeds
2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water

Standing them up, pack the beans into pint or quart mason jars, adding the onion, garlic and herbs as you go.

Put the salt, sugar, mustard seeds, dill seeds and peppercorns in saucepan. Add the vinegar and water and, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Ladle the pickling liquid and spices into the jars and cool to room temperature. Cover the jars tightly and refrigerate for one week before serving.

The beans can keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 months.

Print-friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – All Grown Up Grilled Cheese
One Year Ago – Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam
Two Years Ago – Watermelon-Limeade
Three Years Ago – Curried Green Bean Pickles
Four Years Ago – Grilled Ratatouille Stacks
Five Years Ago – Apple Crisp
Six Years Ago – Ravioli with Sage Pesto
Seven Years Ago – Brie & Sun-dried Tomato Omelet

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

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

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

Pizza Party Weekend Special

If there are kids in the house, there is nothing better than a Spinach_Pizza_03pizza party. Make your own and you’ve got dinner and entertainment all rolled into one. BTW, it’s also fun for the young at heart. After all, who doesn’t love a good pizza?

Nibble while you work. Set out some raw veggies and a dip or two before you start. You can’t go wrong with White Bean Hummus or Roasted Red Pepper Dip.

Add a tasty salad. Set out some raw veggies and a dip or two before you start. You can’t go wrong with Asparagus & Radish Salad has a light and bright citrus vinaigrette which is sure to please. If you don’t mind firing up the grill, Mixed Greens with Grilled Asparagus, Cucumber & Avocado is a wonderful combination. Fussy kids? How about mixed greens with a Classic Vinaigrette?

Sausage_Pizza_03Now, what about the pizzas? Buy or make up a batch of your favorite pizza dough and let everyone have a whirl and twirl with Make Your Own Personal Pizzas. For those that can’t be bothered (and what fun are they), whip up a Greek Pizza. Or, for a bit of a change, try pizza’s favorite cousin and my Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach.

For dessert, think ahead and spend part of the afternoon keeping the kids happy and busy baking cookies. Perhaps you’d like to try my Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies or my Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies. Both are terrific. For something a little more special, try my Mini Chocolate-Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies.

Have a wonderful weekend and a great pizza party. Bon appétit!

What are you cooking 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, 2016

Spring Vacation & Homemade Personal Pizzas

dreary_day_Elkins_DamApril vacation is upon us. As a kid, I never quite got the point of a week off in early spring. Yes, in New England mid to late April still qualifies as early spring. In northern New England, it often qualifies as late winter. Anyway, it always rained. Not just for a day or two, it seemed like it rained every day for the entire week.

Although, I didn’t complain about the extra hour or so of sleep in the morning, the week was filled with a fair amount of grumbling. The weekend-to-weekend, nine day stretch could best be described as boring. It’s a pretty sure bet that I complained about being cooped up inside. I would have much preferred two weeks in February for skiing. Alternatively, it would have been nice to leave our stuffy classrooms a week early in June.

Of course, lots of kids embraced April vacation. They’re the ones who hopped on a plane and spent the week in the pool at their grandparents’ condo in Boca or West Palm Beach. My grandparents were smart enough to live in a one-bedroom apartment and so avoided the onslaught of three boisterous children.

Mom countered any attempt at a pity party with a reminder of our wonderful February ski vacation in New Hampshire. No, we were not exactly deprived. And yes, at least deep down inside, we knew how lucky we were. Still and all, it was hard to feel your good fortune when each day dawned rainy and you’d already seen “It’s a Mad, Mad World” and “Sword in the Stone” … twice. By Wednesday, Mom was probably more than ready to throw the three of us into a packing crate and ship us to her mother in Florida but she refrained.

If you’re stuck at home with kids or grandkids on a rainy day or, heaven forbid, week, here are a few ideas to keep them happy and you sane:

Bake cookies. Sure, it’s the go-to standby for rainy day entertainment but baking never gets old. Everyone but everyone loves cookies, especially if they are loaded up with chocolate chips.

Host a tea party. You don’t want to eat all those delicious cookies by yourself – do you? Share them with family, friends and neighbors.

Organize a film festival. Forget going out in the cold and wet; cuddle up on the sofa with your favorite on-demand provider or a stack of DVDs. Don’t forget the popcorn.

Get moving. After all those cookies and popcorn, you’ll want to get some exercise. Turn on your favorite tunes and dance or crank up the karaoke machine to sing and dance. Next, play charades, Mother May I or Pictionary, extra points for exaggerated gestures and enthusiasm!

Tackle that craft project. Turn a color copy of a favorite photo into a jigsaw puzzle, make a video or build fairy houses. When in doubt, Google rainy day crafts with kids!

Make your own pizza. Get everyone involved. Cut the dough for individual sized pizzas, offer a variety of toppings and let everyone assemble their own delicious pie.

Stay dry, have fun and bon appétit!

Homemade Personal Pizzas
More than dinner, homemade pizza is a great project to share with kids. Enjoy!
Serves 4-6

personal_pizza16-20 ounces pizza dough (your favorite recipe, store-bought or from your favorite pizzeria)
Marinara Sauce (recipe follows)

Your favorite cheese(s)

Mozzarella
Fontina
Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano
Feta
Goat cheese
Gorgonzola

Your favorite toppings

Caramelized onions or onions and peppers
Sautéed mushrooms, zucchini and/or eggplant
Sliced artichokes, sundried tomatoes, jalapenos, olives or capers
Pesto (spoon over a freshly baked pizza)
Fresh spinach tossed with a dash of olive oil and hint of balsamic vinegar
Crumbled sausage, pepperoni and/or chopped and cooked bacon
Sliced or cubed cooked chicken
Shrimp (to avoid over cooking, add after 3-4 minutes)
Thinly sliced prosciutto (drape over a freshly baked pizza)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. If you’re using one, place your pizza stone in the oven before turning on the heat. A pizza stone will cook your pizza evenly and give you a nice crispy crust.

Cut the pizza dough into 4-6 pieces. Let everyone stretch a piece of dough, give it a spin or roll out into rounds. Place the rounds on parchment paper.

Invite everyone to spread a little sauce to their pizza and then sprinkle with their favorite cheese(s) and toppings. Transfer the pizzas, parchment and all, to the baking stone or to baking sheets and slide the pizzas into the oven.

Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly, about 10 minutes with a baking sheet and about 8 minutes with a pizza stone. The crust’s thickness and the toppings determine how long it takes.

Marinara Sauce
Makes about 4 cups of sauce – you’ll need 3-4 tablespoons for each individual-sized pizzaSausage_Pizza_01

Olive Oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 small carrot, finely shredded
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes or to taste
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 cups (28-ounce can) crushed tomatoes

Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot, season with salt and pepper and cook until the onion is translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the herbs, garlic and pepper flakes and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add the wine and reduce by half. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Optional – cool the sauce for about 20 minutes and put it in the blender and process until smooth.

Freeze leftover sauce for the next rainy day pizza party.

Print-friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – Grilled Swordfish with Chimichurri
Two Years Ago – Not Your Ordinary Grilled Ham & Swiss Cheese Sandwiches
Three Years Ago – Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
Four Years Ago – Thai Curried Shrimp and Green Beans
Five Years Ago – Asparagus Risotto
Six Years Ago – Fennel & Feta Salad
Seven Years Ago – Dandelion Salad with Grilled Steak, Potatoes & Asparagus

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

What’s your favorite combinations of cheese and toppings on a pizza? Feel free to share.

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