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

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

International Women’s Day & Mini Tarte Tatin

Nana_Grant_Mom_Nana_Westland

Today is International Women’s Day. “What’s that?” you may ask. Well, it’s a day to celebrate women; particularly working women. Although it started more than a century ago in New York, IWD is far from top of mind. Gift shops and pharmacies haven’t put up special racks of IWD cards. It will be business as usual at the post office and the banks. Don’t expect your male colleagues to organize a special lunch, drinks after work or even a cake. Although, this international holiday is celebrated all over the world, you’ll find little if any hoopla in this country. Too bad, there’s a lot to celebrate.

Anyway, fifteen thousand garment workers, many of them newly arrived immigrants, launched the first International Women’s Day. They marched through the Lower East Side and rallied at Union Square on March 8, 1908. Their goal was equal economic and political rights. By today’s standards, their demands seem more than reasonable. Days were long and life was tough for garment workers. They spent sixty, eighty or more hours per week in crowded, poorly lit factories with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. In spite of the long hours and awful conditions, women earned $7 maybe $8 per week; about half of what men earned. On the political side, suffragettes had been asking for the vote for more than fifty years. In 1908, the Nineteenth Amendment was still more than a decade from ratification.

I don’t plan any demonstrations or marches today. Instead, I’d like to celebrate some of the women in my life. First, there is the great grandmother who built and ran her own business. Nana Grant was an immigrant with a few years of elementary school education when she moved to Boston. Widowed at a young age, she had a three-year-old to provide for. She opened a tiny store and sold penny candy, buttons, ribbons, needles and thread. She sold enough buttons and bows to send her daughter to private school and college. My niece Gillian must take after her great-great grandmother. She too runs a small shop but she sells wellness in the form of herbs and tinctures.

Then there is my mother, who battles late stage Alzheimer’s disease. Every day, she provides a lesson in resilience and grace. Quite simply, Mom is the kindness person I know. In spite of her disabilities, and they are significant, she greets everyone with a smile. Her laughter and smile are wonderful medicines. They won’t cure her Alzheimer’s but they always makes me feel better.

Another niece, Michaela, begins her first post-college job this week. It’s not as if she’s never worked. She’s weeded gardens, babysat, served beer in a sports bar but, with this new adventure, she starts her career. And an admirable one at that; Kaela will be working in alternative energy.

Whom will you salute today? What acts of courage and determination, what achievements will you celebrate? Perhaps you will toast women who have risen to the top of their field: powerful CEOs and politicians, talented athletes, actors and musicians or brilliant authors and artists.

Or perhaps, like me, you will raise a glass or word of praise to someone closer to home. The sister who helped a generation of children learn to care for the earth along with their letters and numbers. The grandmother who made jam tarts with you and sparked a lifelong interest in cooking. Our lives are filled with family, friends, teachers and neighbors. They offer support, all kinds of lessons, hugs and reality checks. Some stay a short time, while others are, at least in spirit, with us forever.

Young and old, here and gone, I raise my glass to my women friends and family, may you each thrive and revel in a life well lived. Bon appétit!

Mini Tarte Tatin
While this recipe has its origins in French baking, I’ve made it my own by combining the spirit of my Nana Nye’s jam tarts with my mother’s apple pie. Enjoy!
Serves 8

4 tablespoons butter
8 tablespoons sugar
2-3 pounds apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8ths
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Sweet Pastry (recipe follows)
8 (6-8-ounce) custard cups

Make the Sweet Pastry dough (recipe follows).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put 1/2 tablespoon each butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in the bottom each custard cup. Toss the apples with spices. Arrange the apples in the cups, packing them tightly in concentric circles. It’s okay if the apples stick up above the rim of the cups.

Put the cups on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes (the fruit will settle slightly). While the apples bake, roll out the dough and cut in rounds about an inch larger than the custard cups. Refrigerate the rounds until ready to use.

Remove the tarts from oven and lay a pastry round on top of each. Return the tarts to the oven and continue baking until the pastry is golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer the tarts to a rack and cool for 10 minutes.

To serve: place a plate on top of each custard cup and using potholders to hold the cup and plate tightly together, invert each tart onto a plate. An apple slice or two might stick to the cup; carefully unstick them and place them on the tart. Serve warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream.

Sweet Pastry
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, cold
2-4 tablespoons ice water

Put the flour, sugar and salt a food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and shortening and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Sprinkle with ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.

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One Year Ago – Rainbow Salad with Black Olive Vinaigrette
Two Years Ago – Potato & Cheddar Soup
Three Years Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Four Years Ago – Guinness Lamb Shanks
Five Years Ago – Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Six Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Seven Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding

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

How will you celebrate International Women’s Day? Feel free to share!

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

Belated Birthday Present & Flourless Chocolate Cake

Mom_JohnnyTomorrow is my birthday. Before you get all excited and plan a surprise (although, who am I to stop you), it’s not one of the big ones. I’m not entering a new decade or even a half-decade. Now, if my birthday is tomorrow, then my brother’s is not far off. I had just turned seven when John joined the family. He was a few weeks early, but lucky for me, he arrived after, not during, my birthday party.

Children’s birthday parties have changed quite a bit since I was seven. We passed from one year to the next without bouncy castles, magicians or adventure parks. When it came to fun and games, pin the tail on the donkey was more or less it. PB&Js and fluffernutters were as haut as the cuisine got. The cakes were homemade or, in our house, homemade with the help of Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. The ice cream came in little paper cups with wooden spoons that looked a lot like mini tongue depressors.

All of that changed the year I turned seven. With Mom ready to pop, Dad magnanimously offered to take my birthday party to the movies. The Community Playhouse showed a children’s film on Saturday mornings. What could be better? Or easier? My birthday fell on a Friday that year so the celebrations were postponed a day.

Although he was clearly over his head, Dad somehow managed to get seven little girls in party dresses into the family station wagon and a few miles down the road to the theater. Even more miraculous, he singlehandedly secured a box of Junior Mints or Milk Duds and a seat for each of us. Exhausted by the effort, I assume he napped through the film that might or might not have been 101 Dalmatians. I seem to remember seeing Cruella and the puppies at about that time.

After the movie, the house lights jolted Dad awake and he herded us out to the parking lot and into the car. As far as I know, he didn’t lose anyone. After a quick stop at the house to pick up Mom, we headed out to Route 9. While Mom had been happy to let Dad take us to the movies, she was pretty sure that lunch with seven seven-year olds was beyond his pay grade. Okay, make that six seven-year olds; my older sister was part of the party. Regardless of whatever tests of skill or smarts Dad had already mastered, Mom knew that a gaggle of giggling girls could easily take him down. At nine, Brenda might have been a cool number and more than a bit bossy but she and Dad were outnumbered.

With Mom now firmly in charge, we burst into the lobby of Valle’s Steakhouse. The site of countless celebrations, Valle’s was the backdrop for part two of the festivities. Unheard of on Jackson Road, this birthday party was going out for lunch! To a restaurant!

True to form, no sooner had we sat down but all or most of us needed a trip to the ladies room. With her enormous belly pushing us along, Mom guided us through the cavernous dining room. As we chatted and giggled, took our turns, washed our hands and giggled and chatted some more, a kind (and kind of mischievous) woman looked over at Mom and said, “I hope for your sake that this next one’s a boy.”

My brother was born a few days later. It was still dark out when Brenda nudged me awake with the news. She was obviously very excited and asked me if I was too. I told her no, rolled over and went back to sleep. Some children would have welcomed him as a belated birthday present; not me. Yes, his imminent arrival had given me the fanciest party in the neighborhood but that couldn’t make up for two simple facts. He stole my bedroom and made me a middle child.

Bon appétit!

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Big or not, don’t all birthdays call for cake? Enjoy!
Serves 12-16

9 tablespoons butter plus more for the pan
10 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 large eggs, at room temperature and separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cognac
Pinch salt
Garnish: heavy cream, lightly sweetened or not and whipped to soft peaks

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper. Wrap the pan in two layers of heavy aluminum foil.

Put the chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan and, stirring frequently, heat on very low until about 2/3 melted. Remove the pan from the heat, let sit for a few minutes and stir until smooth. Stir in the expresso powder and cinnamon and set aside to cool slightly.

Put the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and frothy. Beat in the vanilla and cognac. Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks and sugar.

Clean the electric mixer’s beaters and beat the egg whites and salt until thick. Add remaining the sugar and continue beating until stiff but not dry.

Stir about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the remaining whites. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and place it in a roasting pan.

Add boiling water to the roasting pan to come halfway up the side of springform pan. Bake at 37 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 and continue baking for 35-40 minutes.

Remove the cake from the roasting pan and place it on a rack to cool completely. Unwrap the foil, remove the side of springform pan and transfer the cake to a serving plate.

Cut the cake into thin wedges and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs
Two Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Three Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Four Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Five Years Ago – Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Six Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Seven Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding

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

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

Popcorn for Dinner & Easy Microwave Popcorn

susie_kaela_03Everyone has secrets, they’re part of growing up. Of course, you never peed in the lake. No, you don’t know anything about that broken lamp in the living room. The dog must have tipped it over chasing the cat. Sure, you were at the library studying. And that dent on the front bumper?

Yes indeed, we all have our secrets. One of the secrets that every single girl in America, maybe the world, shares is popcorn for dinner. Whether you like to cook or not, whether you admit it or not … each and every one of us has succumbed to the charms and ease of popcorn for dinner.

As for me, I think it started in graduate school. My days started in the dark, running through quiet, early morning streets. Then it was class, study group, part-time job, the library, the computer lab, another study group, back to the library and finally, the last class of the day. I always seemed to have at least one night class, so two or three times a week I didn’t stumble home until ten o’clock or later. I staggered into the house with weary bones, a tired but still reeling brain and rumbling stomach.

That’s when I discovered the charms of popcorn for dinner. There was not a single leftover in the refrigerator. The salad bin was empty. Bluish fuzz covered the last morsel of cheese and the last cracker was staler than stale.

As a kid, we’d done the breakfast for dinner thing. While many love it, I don’t understand its appeal. First of all, breakfast is not my favorite meal of the day. That aside, it’s hardly instantaneous. Done right, you need to crack eggs, grate cheese, sauté mushrooms, cook bacon and bake muffins or scones. I suppose you should brew a pot of coffee as well. Done right, breakfast takes longer to cook than it does to eat. Seems like a lot of trouble for an exhausted grad student.

But popcorn, it’s ready in five minutes or less. Once made, you can stretch out on the sofa with a glass of wine and the Tonight Show and nibble to your heart’s content. One of the many beauties of popcorn is the prolonged nibbling. That and the sipping help you unwind from a too long, too packed day. Fond memories of childhood afternoons at the movie theater, the wonderful crunch plus the decadent butter and salt sooth your soul and your taste buds.

Through the years, popcorn has continued to be my go-to dinner after a too long day. For many years, I carried a brief case and traveled the world. At least once a month, a meeting, flight delay or a critical presentation kept me from home until it was much too late to cook. When I ditched the corporate world to write, one thing didn’t change. There were still nights when I staggered from the keyboard, tired and hungry with no energy to cook. Even if I had spent the entire day writing about food! Popcorn for dinner was not just for students.

A few years ago, my octogenarian father moved in with me. Popcorn or not, dinner at ten was not part of his plan. With some dismay, I thought that’s it, no more popcorn for dinner. And so, I learned to adapt. Instead of powering through, I took dinner breaks. I cooked and ate a real meal with Dad and then returned to the keyboard. Oh dear, was I finally becoming a real grownup?

Then one gray day, Dad and I went out for a late lunch. It had been a busy morning. Our lunch was leisurely and more than filling. Around eight o’clock, Dad asked about supper. He suggested a cup of soup. That’s when I introduced him to popcorn for dinner. A popcorn lover himself, he’s been all too happy to adapt and adopt. Two, maybe three times a year, after a busy day and a big lunch, we turn on the television, sip a glass of wine and nibble to our hearts content.

And so, now you have it. Proof that you’re never too old to eat like a grad student. Bon appétit!

Easy Microwave Popcorn
Yes, you could buy those packages of microwave popcorn but they are expensive and filled with not-so-funny chemicals. Give the real thing a try, you won’t regret it. Enjoy!
Serves 2 for dinner, more for a snack

1/3-1/2 cup popcorn
Butter *
Sea salt

popcorn_04Put the popcorn in a microwaveable bowl and cover with a plastic colander. If you don’t have a plastic colander, use the insert from the salad spinner. Place everything in the microwave** and hit the popcorn key. Depending on your microwave, you may need to zap the popcorn on high for a few minutes more.

popcorn_12While the popcorn pops, melt some butter (not too much mind you) in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove the popcorn from the microwave as soon as the popping stops. Toss the popcorn with the melted butter and a little sea salt***. Settle down in front of the television with a glass of wine, your favorite drama or football team and relax.

* I suppose the butter should be optional but I won’t tell if you don’t.

** If you don’t have a microwave, you can pop the corn with a hot air popper or on the stove in a heavy pot with a little vegetable oil.

*** Both Dad and I are purists and stick to butter and sea salt but, if you insist, you can raid the spice rack to dress up your popcorn. Trendy foodies add a dash of cayenne, smoky paprika, cinnamon or curry powder along with a sprinkle of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to their popcorn. If you are hungering for something spicy, sweet and salty, forget the cheese and toss with a little sugar, salt and your favorite spice.

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One Year Ago – Bruschetta with Fresh Tomatoes, Goat Cheese & Pesto Oil
Two Years Ago – Lemon Pasta & Shrimp with Olives & Capers
Three Years Ago – Roasted Sausages with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Rabe & Polenta
Four Years Ago – Lobster Mac & Cheese
Five Years Ago – Sausage, Kale & Potato Soup
Six Years Ago – Soupe au Pistou
Seven Years Ago – Mulled Cider

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

What about you? What’s your secret? Let’s start a conversation.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

Back-to-School Shopping & All Grown Up Grilled Cheese

Susie_1st_day_schoolYikes! What happened to summer? Labor Day has come and gone. Except for a stray flip-flop, the beach is empty. Squawking geese fill the sky and the first red leaves are dotting a big maple up by the college. When we were kids, the end of summer meant that it was time to go back to the reality of suburbia and back to school. We traded in long lazy days on the beach, hikes in the woods and fresh air for stuffy classrooms and chalk dust.

When first my sister and then I started kindergarten, an annual ritual began. Mom took us downtown for school clothes and shoes. We would visit Filene’s in search of that perfect first day of school dress. Although more often than not, the first day of school had come and gone by the time we embarked on our back-to-school shopping. It was simple physics, the space–time continuum. We couldn’t be in two places, the beach and suburbia, at the same time.

Anyway, these shopping trips were early lessons in dress for success. What is it about a new outfit? Or an old favorite for that matter? When it fits well and the color is right, it just inspires confidence. Whether we’re striding across the playground or the boardroom, our back’s a little straighter and our step’s a little surer when we know we look good. Don’t be modest, go ahead and admit it. Every closet has its stash of superhero garb. Maybe it’s your lucky jeans or a favorite power suit but once you put them on, you are invincible.

As any baby boomer knows, a Polly Flinder is the perfect dress to start kindergarten or the first grade. These cotton dresses were pure confection with smocking across the front, puffed sleeves, Peter Pan colors and full skirts that swirled when you twirled. At Easter, the dresses came in soft flowery pastels. For back-to-school, they came in darker, fall colors and tartans. Between a few of my own and my sister’s hand-me-downs, I had several. And yes, I looked absolutely adorable.

If we didn’t lollygag or misbehave, Mom took us to Bailey’s for a post-shopping ice cream. Bailey’s was part of a long-standing back-to-school tradition. When my grandmother outfitted Mom for back-to-school, she included both Filene’s and Bailey’s on their itinerary. Bailey’s was always cool on a warm Indian summer afternoon and the hot fudge sauce was thick and devilishly rich. Our little town’s premier ice cream emporium, Bailey’s was reserved for the special-est of occasions. The new school year definitely merited a trip to Bailey’s.

You can imagine my surprise when, bought out or gone bust, all three of these venerable companies from my childhood upped and vanished. Yes, Filene’s, Polly Flinder and Bailey’s are now nothing more than a fond memory and a few lines in Wikipedia. It’s a good thing that after some trial and error, I developed my own decadent chocolate sauce. As for sweet little dresses with smocking and Peter Pan collars, I think I’m more of a jeans and turtleneck kind of girl these days.

Okay, it may have been years since we graduated from anywhere but we can still celebrate September with any and all of our favorite back-to-school traditions. Bon appétit!

All Grown Up Grilled Cheese
Even if it’s been a decade (or more!) since you spent your days in stuffy classrooms, celebrate back-to-school with this grown up version of every kid’s favorite lunch! Enjoy!
Serves 4

8 slices really good artisan bread
Butter, at room temperature
Arugula Pesto (recipe follows)
About 4 ounce fontina cheese, grated or thinly sliced
4-8 thin slices Prosciutto de Parma ham
Pickled Onions*(recipe follows)

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Generously butter one side of each bread slice. Smear the other side with a generous dollop of Arugula Pesto and place the bread butter side down in a large skillet(s). Evenly distribute the cheese across the bread. Cook over medium-low heat until the cheese has melted and the bread is nicely browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Top half the bread with prosciutto and sprinkle the other halves with pickled onions.

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Carefully flip one half of the sandwich onto the other, let sit for a minute, cut into wedges and serve.

* I always add some onion to my homemade pickles. If you do too, use them in sandwiches, including this one. Otherwise, my Quick Pickled Onions will do the job.

Arugula Pesto
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
5-6 ounces baby arugula
Extra virgin olive oil
About 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Put the walnuts, garlic and vinegar in a small food processor, season with salt and pepper and pulse until finely chopped. Add the arugula in batches and pulse until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add olive oil and process smooth. Add the cheese and pulse to combine.

Cover and refrigerate the leftover pesto. Try it with pasta or spread it on pizza or sandwiches.

Quick Pickled Onions
1/2 Vidalia or red onion, halve the onion length-wise and then cut in thin wedges
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Put the onion and thyme in a small bowl.All_Grown_Up_Grilled_Cheese_08

Put the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a saucepan. Stirring until the sugar and salt dissolves, bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover the onions with pickling liquid. Let the onions sit for at least 20 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Cover and refrigerate the leftover pickled onions. Try them on any and all of your favorite sandwiches.

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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 is your favorite back-to-school shopping story? 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