A Kinder New Year & Spicy Shrimp Chowder

New_Years_EveMost pundits agree that 2016 was not a great year. Some would go so far as to call it a horrible, no good, very bad year. Who can blame them? After all, it was the year when a national debate deteriorated into a discussion on the size of a candidate’s hands. It was the year a foreign power hacked the electoral process and the price of an Epipen increased by 500 percent. From terrorist attacks in Brussels, Orlando, Nice and Berlin to the civil war in Syria, the horrors seemed endless.

Now, many of those same pundits are forecasting continued calamity in 2017. Unfortunately, they could be right. Faced with certain ugliness, is there something, anything you or I can do?

I suppose we could all shrug, claim impotence in a harsh world and go about our business. Instead of sitting back, I’d like to take a page or two from my mother’s playbook. I’d like to resolve to make 2017 a kinder year and invite you to join me.

It’s possible that all mothers have super powers. I don’t know. I can only speak for mine and her super power was her kindness. Mom died in early December after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t know if I will succeed in emulating her kind spirit, but it seems fitting to try. Here’s how we can all help create a kinder 2017:

Choose optimism. My mother had a beautiful smile and she wore it often. It’s hard to feel angry or pessimistic when you’re smiling. Unless you are some kind of narcissist or psychopath, it’s even harder to be mean or selfish when you’re smiling.

Be thankful. In an age of unmitigated materialism, it is easy to fall prey to envy. It didn’t matter if her glass was half-empty or half-full; Mom didn’t compare her lot with anyone else’s. She embraced her life and enjoyed it to the fullest.

Connect with people. My mother was a wonderful audience. She listened and laughed with you, cried with you, applauded your victories and commiserated over any setback. Instead of telling you what to do, Mom helped you discover your next, best steps.

Avoid judgments. Mom was full of opinions but was rarely judgmental. When it came to the people she loved, her opinions were overwhelmingly positive. As for strangers, young or old, from near or far, she approached them with an open mind and a warm heart.

Be yourself. Never domineering or condescending, Mom exuded strength and confidence. She encouraged her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to be exactly who they were. She marveled and took pride in the fact that each of us was so different; each our own person. She gave each of us unconditional love and inspired us to be our own best self.

Maya Angelou could have been speaking about Mom when she said,

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Through her kindness, my mother made people feel wonderful. Family, friends and even perfect strangers, she listened to our stories and laughed at our jokes. She encouraged and praised. She filled us with optimism and made our lives better.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and kinder new year. Bon appétit!

Spicy Shrimp Chowder
Although Mom was an unenthusiastic cook, she loved a good meal and an evening around the table with family and friends. Enjoy!
Serves 6

Olive oil
About 8 ounces sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1-2 carrots, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon (or to taste) chipotle chilies in adobo, mashed to a paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry sherry
5-6 cups broth – preferably a 50/50 mix of shrimp and vegetable or shrimp and chicken
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
About 1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
Grate zest and juice of 1 lime
Garnish: fresh chopped cilantro or chives

Heat a little olive oil in a soup kettle over medium heat. Add the sweet potato, onion, celery and carrot and sauté until the onion starts to become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chipotle, season with cumin, salt and pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes more.

Raise the heat to medium-high, stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently until the sherry has reduced by about two-thirds. Stir in the broth and coconut milk, add the herbs and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove the chowder from the heat and cool to room temperature. Being careful to avoid the bay leaf and thyme twigs, remove about 2 cups of vegetables with a little broth and puree in a blender or food processor. Stir the puree back into the chowder and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to mix and meld the flavors.

To serve: bring the chowder to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, add the shrimp, corn and bell pepper and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Stir in the lime zest and juice, ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro or chives.

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One Year Ago – Dhal (Lentils) with Roasted Cauliflower
Two Years Ago – Spiced Chai
Three Years Ago – Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad
Four Years Ago – Old Fashioned Pot Roast
Five Years Ago – Pasta from the Pantry
Six Years Ago – Tartiflette – An Alpine Casserole with Cheese & Potatoes
Seven Years Ago – Four Cheese Lasagna Bolognese with Spinach
Eight Years Ago – Curried Chicken and Lentil Soup

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

What about you? What are your New Year’s resolutions? Feel free to share!

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

Merry Christmas Mom & Bûche de Noël

mom_xmas_11My mother loved Christmas. As far as I can figure, she loved everything about it. She loved decorating the house, shopping for her family and gathering that family around her. Not too long ago, Mom lost her long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. Her battle gear was her beautiful smile, her infectious laugh and, most important, her kind heart.

I will keep my mother in my heart at Christmas and throughout the year with memories and stories. Here are some of my favorite images of Mom at Christmas:

Baking cookies. I’m sure that other mothers on Jackson Road baked dozens and dozens of cookies in a multitude of varieties. At our house, Mom, my sister Brenda and I rolled out and baked a batch of sugar cookies. If one existed at the time, we probably made them from a mix. We did not turn out a cornucopia of magnificent cookies but the afternoon was filled with laughter and singing. What Mom lacked in enthusiasm for baking, she made up in her enthusiasm for life.

Tree shopping. Mom was quite particular about our Christmas tree. Most years we went tree shopping as a family. The year my brother John was born, she decided to stay home with the baby. She entrusted this critical task to her husband and two little girls. The three of us bought and returned not one tree but two before she gave up. She bundled Johnny into his snowsuit and back we went to the garden shop. She perused, she studied, rejected and perused some more, until, she did indeed find the perfect tree.

The annual lights tour. Dad strung lights in and around the rhododendrons and Mom hung a wreath with a big red bow on the front door. As displays go it was pretty simple; no sleighs on the roof or flashing lights. For that, the Nye family jumped in the car for a rambling tour of the neighborhood. A week or two before Christmas, usually on a Sunday evening, we would twist and turn down one street and then another in search of spectacular lights. Without a doubt, Mom was the world’s best audience. I can still hear her enthusiastic oohs and aahs.

Santa_bookChristmas story time. In early December, Mom pulled out The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to read to Brenda and me. Worn from countless readings, my mother was a tiny girl when Santa left the book under her tree. Its sixteen wonderful chapters chronicle the life of Nicholas the Woodcarver. The story is filled with love, kindness and generosity. It will make you cry, make you smile and fill you with goodwill. At five, I was convinced that it was all true. I still am.

Lipstick and coffee. We were that family. On Christmas morning, our lights were on before the sun began to think about rising. In spite of or maybe because of our predawn start, Mom insisted on two things – lipstick and coffee. Hopping from one foot to the next, we impatiently waited for Dad to make the coffee and Mom to put on her bright red lipstick. It seemed like forever but, finally, we could pile down the stairs.

Dancing with delight. Bows flew, paper ripped and tags were lost. Finally, it was Mom’s turn and Dad handed her an enormous box. She tore in (we were not a save-the-paper family) and let out shriek. Inside, swathed in a thick layer of tissue was a mink stole from Alfred M. Alexander Furs of Boston. It was another time, before it was politically incorrect to wear fur. Mom immediately pulled it from the box, threw it over her shoulders and danced around the living room – red lipstick, bathrobe, slippers, mink stole and all.

I wish you a holiday season filled with peace and wonderful memories. Bon appétit!

Bûche de Noël
I baked my first Bûche de Noël in high school. With little interest in baking, Mom limited her participation to wholehearted encouragement and enthusiastic appreciation. Enjoy!
Serves 12buche_de_noel_06

Parchment paper, butter and flour for the pan
2-3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
White Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)
Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 15-1/2×10-1/2×1-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. Sprinkle a clean dishtowel with 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder.

Beat the egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form, gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Beat the egg yolks and vanilla in bowl on medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat for 2 minutes more.

Put the remaining cocoa into a bowl, add the flour, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk to combine.

Add half the dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture and beat on low speed to combine. Add the orange juice and beat until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until smooth.

Add 1/4 of the egg whites to the batter and stir to combine. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the bather. Evenly spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake the cake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched in the center. Carefully invert the cake onto the prepared towel and peel off the parchment paper. Immediately roll the warm cake and towel from the narrow end and cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake cools, make the White Chocolate Frosting.

Carefully unroll the cooled cake and remove the towel. Spread White Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cake, leaving a 1-inch border on all edges. Reroll the cake, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

While the cake sets, make the Chocolate Cream Frosting.

Use a serrated knife to cut a 1-2 inch slice of cake from one end. Arrange the cake, seam side down, on a platter. Spread Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cut side of the slice and place it frosting side down on the log. Cover the cake with frosting. Smooth the frosting on the ends and then use a fork to draw concentric circles. Use a spatula or fork to create a bark-like texture on the rest of the cake.

The cake can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving.

White Chocolate Cream Frosting
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
Pinch salt
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the cream, orange zest and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat until it is almost a simmer. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the Grand Marnier and vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until cold.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

Chocolate Cream Frosting
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces dark chocolate (or a 50/50 mix of dark and milk) chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and salt in a heavy saucepan and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the cream. Whisking frequently, heat the cream over low heat until it is almost a simmer and the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

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

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

What about you? What are your favorite family traditions? Feel free to share!

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

Get Out & Vote! & Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù

An open letter to my nieces and nephews,

vote_02Finally, the 2016 election is headed into the homestretch. Fed up with the rancor, some (probably most) Americans are heaving a huge sigh of relief. Few would disagree that the tone of the election is disturbing, even horrifying. It worries me. More than a few people are threatening to skip the whole thing. I’m sure you’d never stay home from the polls but just in case you’re thinking about it … please don’t. Cast your vote, if for no other reason than it will make Meme proud.

Perhaps she is naïve or unduly patriotic but your grandmother believes in voting. The first time I voted, Mom waited to cast her ballot until I got home from school so we could go to the polls together. It has never mattered that our views often differ, that our votes cancel each other out. For Meme, voting is important, an important right and responsibility.

Maybe it is because my grandmother, Meme’s mom, was born before women had the right to vote. Nana was of voting age and shoulda, coulda, woulda voted the year Woodrow Wilson was elected president. Instead, she had to wait another four years for the 19th amendment to pass.

The candidates tell us, “This is the most important election ever.” Maybe they are right, maybe not. Many of the talking heads, pundits and pollsters say that millennials could decide the 2016 election. That’s you and that’s a good thing. Who better to decide the future than the generation who will be around to see it? Don’t forget, a Supreme Court position is at stake. Appointing a supreme is a big deal with long lasting effect. The average tenure on the court is sixteen years. The longest serving justice was on the bench for more than thirty-six years.

Anyway, that’s the argument I used with Gramps. Discouraged by his choices, your grandfather threatened to stay home from the polls. That’s a pretty big deal. As far as I know, Gramps has never skipped an election. Okay, maybe he missed a few of those local elections over referenda that almost no one understands. (Sorry – Mom, I’ve missed a few of those as well.)

And so, I had a heart to heart with your disheartened grandfather. I suggested that he vote for the candidate who best represented the interests and needs of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Especially you, the youngest generation of Nyes. I think it worked. At least, he cast his ballot.

It’s okay to be a little selfish about this. Think of your future, your beliefs and values when you ponder this election. Look beyond the melodrama and vote for the issues that matter to you. Wave away the stunts and theater. Determine what’s best for the economy, foreign policy, health care and education. Reflect on your positions on the environment, gun policy, terrorism and trade. Consider where you stand on immigration, marriage equality, treatment of minorities and women’s rights. It’s not easy. There has never been a perfect candidate. There never will be.

Alzheimer’s disease has robbed Meme of her ability to vote. Go in her stead. Know she loves you and make her proud. I love you too.

Bon appétit!

Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù
For anyone following the election, a little comfort food is probably in order about now. Enjoy!polenta_mushrooms_kale_01
Serves 6-8

4-6 ounces pancetta or bacon
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
Pinch or to taste red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms*, trimmed and sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/4 cup dry Madeira or sherry wine
4 cups chicken stock or broth
1 pound baby kale, stemmed
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 cup instant polenta
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
1-2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/2-1 cup half & half
Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Prepare the mushrooms and kale: Lightly coat a heavy skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the pancetta and sauté until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta and drain.

Add the onion to the skillet, season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté until it starts to become translucent, add the mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon each rosemary and thyme and sauté for 2-3 minutes more.

Add the wine and reduce by half, stir in 1/2 cup stock, add the pancetta and kale and simmer until the kale wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss to combine. Add the butter and stir to combine.

polenta_mushrooms_kale_05While the mushrooms and kale cooks, make the polenta: Bring the remaining stock to a boil in heavy saucepan, add the polenta and remaining herbs and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta thickens, about 3 minutes. Stir in the half & half, add the cheeses and stir until melted and smooth.

To serve: spoon the polenta into shallow bowls, top with mushrooms and kale and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

* If you can find them, use a mix of chanterelles, oyster and shiitake mushrooms.

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

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

Dare I ask … what are your thoughts on the election? Feel free to share.

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

Mothers’ Day Weekend Special

Happy_Mothers_Day_Mom_Susie_Brenda_Summer

Oops! Looking for a fun and festive menu for
Cinco de Mayo? It’s here! Enjoy!

Will you be cooking for Mom this weekend? Breakfast in bed? A cozy family brunch? A tasty dinner? If you need a little help with the menu, here are a few suggestions:

Mothers’ Day Brunch! How about a delicious Asparagus & Goat Cheese Tart? If Mom’s got a sweet tooth, try my Puffy Apple Pancake. Fill out your brunch with some fresh fruit. The strawberries are looking pretty good so how about Strawberries with Yogurt Cream. A bread basket is always welcome – especially if it’s filled with Lavender Scones and/or Rhubarb Muffins.

And don’t forget the Mimosas!

Mimosas

Orange juice – preferably freshly squeezed and chilled
Champagne or Prosecco, chilled
Grand Marnier (optional)
Garnish: orange slice (optional)

Half fill champagne flutes with champagne or prosecco. Carefully top the glasses with orange juice and 1 tablespoons Grand Marnier. Give a gentle stir, garnish with an orange slice and serve.

Mothers’ Day Dinner! For a beautiful start to her special dinner, Mom will love my Artichoke Crostini. Add a few nuts and Spicy Olives.

Sit down to a healthy salad. Perhaps your mom would like my Lemony Kale & Radicchio Salad or my spring favorite Mixed Greens with Grilled Asparagus, Cucumber & Avocado. (Rain is in the forecast but don’t worry. You can grill the asparagus in advance between showers.)

Now, the main course. For cozy, perhaps your mom would like my Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions or Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs. Thinking a bit lighter, how about Moroccan Baked Cod ? Serve the lamb or chicken with Whole Grain Pilaf and the fish with Couscous with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts.

What about dessert? Does your mom have a favorite. Mine loves chocolate. Chocolate Panna Cotta, Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes, it’s all good. Or go wild with my Chocolate-Espresso Cheesecake.

Happy Day Mom and bon appétit!

How will you celebrate Mothers’ Day? 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

Mother’s Day & Puffy Apple Pancake

Mom_Susie_Brenda_SailboatMother’s Day is Sunday. It’s the day when little children clamber out of bed early. They burn English muffins, spill orange juice and deliver both to mom with a big hug. If he’s worth his salt, it’s a day for dads to clean up the OJ and then take everyone out for pancakes. Lucky for my mother, it’s been several years since any of her three burned an English muffin or spilled a glass of orange juice. Okay, maybe once or twice and it was white wine not orange juice. Not nearly as messy!

Mom is well into her eighth decade. Her brood has expanded over the years. Along with my sister, brother and me, she has seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Unfortunately, longevity has not been kind to her. Now in a nursing home in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Mom is bedbound and barely verbal. She’s worn out but not ready to give up. When I stopped in to see her today, she smiled, chuckled softly once or twice and then hummed a little tune. Today and every day, I am grateful for all that she has given me over the years.

My mother raised a noisy bunch. I’m pretty sure that she did it on purpose. Far from reserved, she never hesitates to show her love of life and us. Get us together and before too long, we’re talking all at once. There could be some shouting but don’t worry; the laughter will be even more enthusiastic and contagious.

Under all the noise and laughter are independent thinkers. Mom loves the dialogue and rigorous discussion that comes from carefully thought out opinions. Fortunately (or not for some of the bosses who have hired us), Mrs. Nye didn’t raise no yes-man or women.

I’m not sure why or how but Mom did not pass on her neatness gene. She is a neat neater and I envy her that (and her long legs). In the scheme of things, there are neat neaters, messy neaters, neat messers and messy messers. I may be the worst but, as far as I can figure, none of her children inherited her neatness. I’ll blame it on Dad, he’s a bit of a messer himself.

Thank goodness for Mom’s generous and kind spirit. Mom has always had an uncanny knack for making people feel good about themselves, even special. I think she must have something of a Spidey sense when it comes to who might need a little extra care and attention.

Mom is not exactly an environmentalist but she doesn’t like waste. She’s green in her own, New England sort of way. We learned early that we didn’t own the electric company and didn’t live in a barn. We closed the door, turned off lights and put on a sweater if we were cold.

My mother is an unabashed optimist for herself and for others. Like the little engine that could, Mom believes in hard work and positive outcomes. Whether it is an exam, a special dinner or what to do with the rest of your life, Mom knows that everything will work out just fine in the end.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom and bon appétit!

Puffy Apple Pancake
Forget standing at the stove flipping flapjacks; make one big pancake for everyone to share on Mother’s Day. Enjoy!
Serves 6-8

1-2 tablespoons butter for the pan
1-2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin wedges
4-5 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
Maple syrup or confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Generously butter a 9-inch glass pie plate. Arrange the apple slices in the bottom of the pan.

Combine the brown sugar and spices in a small bowl. Sprinkle about half the sugar mixture evenly over the apples. Place the dish in the oven and bake the apples for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the remaining sugar mix in a blender with the eggs, flour, salt and vanilla and process to combine. Warm the milk in the microwave on high for 15-20 seconds. With the motor running, slowly add the milk to the flour and eggs and process for about 1 minute on medium speed.

Puffy_Apple_Pancake_05Slide the rack from the oven to reach the pie plate, without removing the pan, carefully pour the batter over the apples. Carefully slide the rack and pan back into the oven and continue baking until the pancake is puffed and golden, about 20 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Cut the pancake into wedges and serve immediately with a drizzle of maple syrup or a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

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One Year Ago – Tostadas with Avocado Crema & Black Bean Salsa
Two Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Three Years Ago – Lemon-Lime Squares
Four Years Ago – Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)
Five Years Ago – Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt
Six Years Ago – Black & White Brownies
Seven Years Ago – Rhubarb Muffins

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

How will you celebrate Mother’s Day? Feel free to share.

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

A Casserole – It’s What’s for Dinner & Poverty Casserole

Is it possible that, with this unseasonably warm weather, you’ve neglected winter’s most tried and true culinary delight … the casserole? It’s a favorite at après-ski, skating and snowshoeing parties. Unfortunately, there’s barely been enough snow and ice this winter for après anything.

Don’t worry about it. Before winter slips into spring, get out the glorious casserole dish that you love so much. You know the one. It was a present for your first wedding. You hid it in a bundle of dirty laundry when you and your ex were doing the property division thing. Or maybe it’s the one you bought on a whim, for no other reason than it is beautiful and you deserve it.

Not to be confused with stews or soups, a casserole is good for a particularly homey feast. When I was a kid, there were two kinds of casseroles. There were the casseroles your mother made on purpose. She shopped for a long list of ingredients, threw them together with some magical sauce and served it to the delight of one and all. Leftovers and a few tired carrots or a box of frozen vegetables went into the second kind of casserole. Mothers who liked to cook made both kinds. However, I’m guessing that their carrots still had some snap to them and the broccoli was fresh. Those that didn’t like to cook, like my mother, pretty much stuck to the leftover type.

To be fair, Mom’s leftover casseroles were made in the days when the Sunday dinner ritual was still in full play at our house. Pot roast, roast pork or leg of lamb graced the family table on Sunday. It would then reappear in various forms on three or four nights.

Mom had different names for her concoctions. Bread and with-it, Mrs. Slusser’s Delight and slumgullion were her favorites. The names were interchangeable. All referred to any combination, ridiculous or sublime, of leftover roast, a starch of some sort, a can of cream-of-something soup and whatever else she could find in the refrigerator or freezer. Minute Rice was her starch of choice and cream of mushroom was her go-to soup. Her secret ingredients were a dollop of sour cream and a splash of dry sherry.

Once we gave up Sunday dinners in favor of a day on the ski slopes, a different type of casserole began to appear on our table. Although she was still partial to sauces made from cream-of-something soup or direct from the jar, Mom took her casseroles up a notch. Her baked pasta and chicken divan became favorite Saturday night suppers after a hard day on the slopes. (On Sunday night we were in the car heading back to the ‘burbs. Dinner was a stop at Howard Johnson’s or, once we got home, frozen pizza or potpies.)

My earliest forays in the kitchen involved casseroles. Whether I was playing gracious host or needed something for a potluck, a casserole is what I made when funds were low. And let’s face when you’re twenty-something, you are always low on funds. When tossing these recipes together, I didn’t channel Mom’s leftover pot roast with Minute Rice and frozen peas but her Saturday night après-ski meals.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that you don’t have to be twenty-three and broke to make a mean casserole. More important, pretty much everyone loves them, especially if baked pasta and cheese is involved.

Here’s to casseroles and bon appétit!

Poverty Casserole
I’ve made this dish for hordes of hungry college students. They wolf it down. Remembering similar dishes from his twenties, my brother has dubbed it Poverty Casserole. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage*; hot, sweet or a mix, casings removed
Olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
Pinch or to taste crushed red pepper (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups (28 ounce can) crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 cup sour cream
Butter
About 12 ounces mozzarella, shredded
About 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 – 1 1/2 pounds frozen chopped spinach
About 12 ounces ricotta cheese
1 pound pasta – cavatappi, penne or rigatoni

Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, breaking up the meat into bite-size pieces, cook until nicely browned. Remove from the pan. Drain the fat and reserve.

Add a little olive oil to the saucepan and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, sprinkle with Italian herbs, pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half.

Return the meat to the saucepan, add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Cool to room temperature and stir in the sour cream.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole. Put the mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a bowl, toss to combine and reserve.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 2-3 minutes. Saving a little of the pasta water, drain the pasta and then rinse under cold water. Drain well.

Put the pasta to a large bowl, add the sauce, ricotta and spinach and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add some pasta water. Sprinkle the pasta with 2/3 of the cheese and toss again. Transfer the pasta to the prepared casserole dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

You can make ahead to this point, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Cover and bake the casserole at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 15 minutes more or until piping hot and golden.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Cauliflower
Two Years Ago – Savory Blinis
Three Years Ago – Lettuce Cups with Shrimp & Noodles
Four Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Five Years Ago – Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower & Bacon
Six Years Ago – Chocolate Mousse
Seven Years Ago – Shrimp & Feta

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

How are you doing with your resolutions? Are you resolute or not? Feel free to share!

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

Getting Out of a Hammock & Other Trials of Middle Age & Spicy Cucumber & Radish Salad

mom_80sI remember vividly the day my mother discovered she was middle aged. Well maybe not the exact day, I was away at college. Anyway, it was Monday, September 22, 1975. Mom told me about the distressing revelation during our weekly Sunday night phone call. Heck, she was still talking about it at Thanksgiving.

How did it all come about? Well, Sara Jane Moore tried to shoot the president and the story hit the airwaves immediately and nonstop. According to Mom, the reporters insisted on describing Sara Jane as a forty-five year old, middle-aged woman. Not once or twice, this horrifying phrase was repeated constantly in newscasts and special reports that, of course, went on for days. Mom had just turned forty-six but it had never occurred to her that she was middle aged. No self-respecting forty-six year old would.

I’m not sure how or when I discovered I was middle aged. In fact, I’m not convinced that I’ve discovered anything of the sort. In spite of my research or maybe because of it, middle age seems a nebulous concept at best. What research you ask? Well, I looked up the average life expectancy for women and discovered it was eighty-one. Therefore, the middle is, oh heck, you do the math.

Although I never lie about my age, I routinely think of myself as decades younger than what’s indicated on my driver’s license. In spite of this denial (or self-delusion), there are some ever so subtle and other not-so subtle indications that it’s happened. Welcome or not, I think I may have slid into the middle years.

Perhaps you too are wondering if you’ve somehow managed slipped into middle age. Well, there are clues. With warm weather, the menacing signs of aging seem constant. Kind of like those newscasters who assaulted my mother’s sensibilities back in 1975. For anyone pondering the possibility that they have reached their middle years, here are a few clues to consider:

Are you longing to spend a lazy afternoon in a hammock but fearful that once in you will never get out? You imagine the nightmare of waiting helplessly for someone to come along and tip you out like sack of potatoes. Don’t dwell on the negative; buy an Adirondack chair instead. A classic, it will look great in your yard and last forever. At eighty-eight, my dear old dad can still get out of one.

You exercise. You eat right. You have no problem slipping into a little black dress, skinny jeans or hiking shorts. But a bathing suit! Just the thought of it makes your blood run cold. Perhaps it’s time to consider a solitary sunrise swim or midnight skinny-dipping.

If you are worried about swimming without a lifeguard, haven’t you noticed? Somewhere along the line, the lifeguards got younger, a whole lot younger. Too young to buy a beer, vote or shave. Moreover, should the need arise, they are much too busy flirting with other cute, young things to save you.

Then there is summer music. You realize that, except for a couple of new crooners, you know nothing, NOTHING, in the top 100. Okay, you’ve heard of Taylor Swift; even middle-aged people have heard of Taylor Swift. On the other hand, you know all the words to Heat Wave by Martha and the Vandellas, School’s Out for Summer by Alice Cooper and every song the Beach Boys ever sang. Plus, you can Walk Like an Egyptian and do the Macarena. Proving once again that, even if you are middle aged (and I’m not saying you are), life is good.

Have a great summer, stay young or at least young at heart and bon appétit!

Spicy Cucumber & Radish Salad
Perfect on a hot night – add this salad to the list for your next cookout or beach picnic. Enjoy!
Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon or to taste sambal oelek*
12 radishes, stemmed and chopped
6 small cucumbers, peeled and chopped
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Put the vinegar, both oils, fish sauce, brown sugar, garlic and chili paste in a bowl and whisk to combine. Let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes to combine the flavors.

Add the radishes, cucumber and scallions and toss to combine. If serving immediately, sprinkle with mint, cilantro and sesame seeds and toss again. If serving in a few hours, sprinkle with mint and cilantro, toss, cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, sprinkle with sesame seeds and give the salad a final toss.

* Sambal Oelek is an Indonesian chili paste. You can find it in specialty stores, on-line and in some supermarkets. If you can’t find Sambal Oelek, use your favorite chili sauce or paste.

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One Year Ago – Watermelon Sorbet
Two Years Ago – Caramel Sundaes with Sweet & Salty Pecans
Three Years Ago – Gazpacho
Four Years Ago – Mousse au Citron
Five Years Ago– Thai Salad
Six Years Ago – Sweet Dream Bars
Seven Years Ago – Lobster Salad

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

No matter how old you are, wear your age with pride. What is your favorite telltale sign that you’ve hit the next stage? 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