Autumn – A Season of Renewal & Resolutions & Pasta with Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes & Feta

This past Saturday marked the autumnal equinox. If you’ve forgotten what that means, well, day and night are each about twelve hours long. For the next few months, with each passing day, the sun will be a little slower to rise and quicker to set. Don’t let the end of summer get you all mopey. The fall is beyond beautiful in New Hampshire.

Most mornings, an enigmatic mist shrouds the lake. On their way south for the winter, geese squawk overhead. The highways and byways become increasingly colorful. Most days, you’ll want to grab a sweater before heading out the door but you can usually shed it by lunch. Speaking of lunch (as well as breakfast, dinner, coffee, cocktails and a snack), pumpkin spice is suddenly in everything from coffee to martinis as well as cheerios, muffins and barbecue sauce. I like pumpkin and I like spice but I think the world has gone a little nuts with this pumpkin spice business.

Anyway, it’s autumn in New England and my favorite time of year. With beautiful weather and foliage, you can’t help but feel good about life. Why not funnel that goodwill into taking another crack at some still unmet challenge? After all, bitterly cold January is hardly a good time to resolve anything. Spring might work but it’s not particularly timely in New England. Then, when it finally comes, it only lasts a few days.

But fall, fall is good. It could be years since you went back-to-school but you still know the joy of new shoes and a fresh start.

What will your fresh start look like? What will you do this fall to renew yourself? You don’t need a total reinvention. How about you work on three things? For instance – try something new that will bring you joy. Next, develop a new habit that will give you peace. Finally, do some good.

Find joy. Besides shoes, where will you find joy this fall? It could be as simple as finally painting the living room that new color. I’m a strong believer in the power of small things. I have made more than a couple big, audacious changes in my life. Most of them worked out very well. More often than not, these life changes were preceded by a considerably smaller step or two.

Discover peace. It could be yoga or meditation or weed wacking the garden – find what brings you peace. You’ll know it when you find it. As if by magic, your overactive brain will relax and you’ll gain new perspective. We are so proud of our ability to multitask that our senses are constantly in overdrive and under attack. Whether it is once a day or once a week, give yourself a break. For one hour, do something that puts your mind at rest and revitalizes you.

Do good. The world can be a harsh place. You can make it better by practicing small acts of kindness. Sure, a huge foundation to end illiteracy or world hunger would be wonderful but small is also good. Rake leaves for a neighbor, hold the door for a stranger and smile. Little things will make the day brighter. A few years ago, someone distributed at least a couple dozen mini pumpkins up and down my street. Perched on stone walls and fence posts, they cheerfully decorated the neighborhood. Those little pumpkins didn’t cure cancer but they made a lot of people smile.

Here’s to a joyful, peaceful and kinder fall. Bon appétit!

Pasta with Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes & Feta
It’s much too early to put the grill away. Pasta with grilled vegetables and fresh herbs from the garden is a wonderful dish to help you transition into fall. Enjoy!
Serves 8

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 red onion, cut in thin wedges
Olive oil
About 1 pound cherry tomatoes
4-6 zucchini (about 2 pounds), trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 pound short pasta – try rigatoni, fusilli, cavatappi or fiorelli
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
About 4 ounces feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano

Put the garlic and vinegar in a bowl, season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the onion in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Put the onion in a grill basket and, stirring from time to time, grill until tender-crisp and lightly caramelized, about 6 minutes. Remove the onion from the grill, add it to the garlic and toss to combine.

Put the tomatoes in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Put the tomatoes in a grill basket and, stirring from time to time, grill until lightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the onion and garlic and toss to combine.

Brush the zucchini halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the zucchini for 4 to 6 minutes per side or until nicely browned and tender. Remove the zucchinis from the grill, chop into bite-size pieces, add them to the other veggies and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions less one minute. Reserving a little pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the vegetables and 1/4-1/2 cup pasta water and toss to combine. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to a large serving dish, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with feta and herbs, toss to combine and serve.

Serve as a main course or side dish with grilled chicken or fish.

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One Year Ago – Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema
Two Years Ago – Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde
Three Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Four Years Ago – Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard
Five Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Six Years Ago – Lemon Rice Cakes with Spinach & Manchego
Seven Years Ago – Apple Crumb Cake
Eight Years Ago – Ginger Scones
Nine Years Ago – Curried Eggplant Soup
Ten Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon

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

Do you have any fall fresh start resolutions? Feel free to share!

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

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Back on Cook’s Corner – Grilled Shrimp Tacos

width=It’s summertime and the grilling is easy. I’m back on Cook’s Corner to demonstrate one of my favorite summer dishes.

You’ll fall in love with my Grilled Shrimp Tacos. With fresh tomatoes, charred corn and a fabulous salsa verde, they take Taco Tuesday to a whole new level. These tacos are fresh and light – the perfect dinner on a hot summer night.

The Cruelest Month & Pasta Primavera

In northern New England, April is truly the cruelest month. It is not, to steal from T.S. Eliot, because the month breeds lilacs and stirs dull roots with spring rain. It is because it doesn’t. April is cruel because the chairlift grinds to a final halt, dirty snow lines the highways and byways and cold rain stirs up sand and mud.

Throughout the northern hemisphere, spring has sprung but not in New Hampshire. Here mud season has arrived with a resounding splat. I suppose I could, I should, embrace mud season. After all, April is also tax season. With all that muck, there is nothing to distract me from the mire of all those tax forms.

Hopefully, your situation is not so complex that you will have your nose in your taxes for the next two weeks. April and all its muddy grayness, shouts for an audacious revolt. And by the way, if your taxes are really that complex, it’s time to call in a professional.

So, how audacious is audacious and what kind of mutiny? If you have enough pennies in your bank, the easiest answer is to pack your bag and go somewhere warm. A trip to Florida would probably count as mutinous but hardly daring. A trip to Morocco could be both and at the very least, very interesting. On the other hand, a trip to Finland wouldn’t solve anything.

However, if you are stuck in the New Hampshire drizzle, April is not without hope. Forget your inclination to hibernate. Or if you do stay in, invite a crowd to join you. I imagine that back in the eighties, Martha Stewart encouraged her fans to chase away the mud season blues with a spectacular party.

Martha would cook a wonderful three, make that five, course dinner. The care and details of her table setting would rival a Buckingham Palace butler. Flowers would fill every room of her grand Connecticut farmhouse. She would dress herself in a fabulous little black dress and then-husband Andrew in an impeccable tuxedo. Champagne would flow. Serious talk and laughter would find the right balance for a stimulating and fun evening.

So you see, April doesn’t have to be the cruelest month. Sure it can be soggy; it can make you groggy and more than a little bit cranky. It doesn’t have to. Gray days and drizzly nights can turn you into a hermit. Don’t let them. Brightly colored rain boots are all the rage with the shop-til-you-drop crowd. Treat yourself; they’re cheaper than a trip to Cabo San Lucas and you’ll need them to go shopping for that dinner.

Yes, dinner! In the spirit of WWMD (what would Martha do), how about you fight the April blues by hosting a spectacular dinner party? Of course, you’ll want to skip the big hair and black tie. Times have changed and no one wants to worry about fancy shoes during mud season. Think wonderful food in a relaxed atmosphere. Maybe you’ll try one of those more complicated recipes, something awe-inspiring that you’ve been dying to try but avoiding for lack of time and courage. Or maybe not!

Happy mud season and bon appétit!

Pasta Primavera (Spring Pasta)
A delightful pasta dish to celebrate spring in relaxed twenty-first century style. Enjoy!
Serves 8 for dinner and twice that as an appetizer

 

1-1 1/2 pounds linguine
Olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2-1 yellow bell pepper, cored and cut into match sticks
1/4-1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed
3 tablespoons roughly chopped basil
2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cook the linguine according to package directions, less 1 minute. Prepare the vegetables while the water heats and the pasta cooks.

Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil and the onion to the pan and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and 1/2 of the lemon juice and continue to cook until almost dry.

 

Add the bell pepper and asparagus to the pan, season with salt and pepper and toss and cook for 2 minutes. Return the mushrooms to the pan and toss to combine.

Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the pasta.

Add the pasta, snow peas, lemon zest, remaining lemon juice and a little pasta water to the skillet and toss to combine. Cover and cook on low for 1 minute. Sprinkle with basil, parsley and scallions and toss to combine.

Transfer the pasta to a deep serving platter or individual shallow bowls, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

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One Year Ago – Coq au Vin au Printemps
Two Years Ago – Moroccan Baked Cod
Three Years Ago – Artichoke Pesto
Four Years Ago – Quinoa with Sweet Potato & Spinach
Five Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with
Six Years Ago – Bananas Foster
Seven Years Ago – Tapenade
Eight Year Ago – Lavender Infused White Chocolate Crème
Nine Years Ago – Lemon Tart

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

Do you love the snow or are you so over it? Feel free to share!

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

In Defense of the Closed Kitchen & Fettucine with Mushrooms & Kale

I probably should have written this one last summer. That’s when the walls in my 1970’s closed kitchen did NOT come down. Anyone who watches HGTV (and who doesn’t?) knows that an open floor plan and open kitchen are all the rage. Combining the kitchen, living and dining rooms into one large space brings families together. Starting with the post-war housing boom, open concept design picked up momentum and continues to grow.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been plenty of holdouts. My house near Pleasant Lake is one of them. Built in 1973, it’s was a lot like my mother’s closed kitchen on Trinity Court. Although wider than most, both are essentially galley kitchens with a small eating area. Well, mine was and still is. Mom’s kitchen, along with the rest of house, has been torn down and replaced with a McMansion.

With the old cabinets heading to the dumpster and the walls about to go down to the studs, I received plenty of advice. Much of it entailed taking down the wall between the kitchen and the dining and living room. It was time to break down the barriers and enjoy the free flow of open concept living.

I don’t think so.

I listened and smiled politely. This long and relatively narrow space, takes up about half the front of the house. It was enough of a bowling alley already. I felt no needed to extend it. Besides, call me old-fashioned, a nineteenth century holdout but I like a closed kitchen.

I discovered this personal peculiarity years ago when I rented an apartment on a rose farm. Yes, I lived on a rosary. Anyway, my apartment was a three-story corner of an old barn. It had a wonderful farmhouse kitchen. Okay, it was a little dark but the work area was roomy and there was plenty of space for a large table. Signing the lease, I imagined it would be the perfect backdrop for Thanksgiving dinner.

It was fine for small dinner parties but Thanksgiving – no thanks. Any big, complicated meal generates a lot of mess. From my seat at the table, I could see dirty dishes piled high in the sink. A clutter of pots and pans plus the turkey carcass adorned the kitchen counter. Maybe no one else noticed but I did. How could I relax and enjoy my guests with pandemonium reigning in the background? Once was enough, that was my first and only open kitchen.

Post renovation, my shiny new, red kitchen breaks down into four sections. From either side, you enter through a hallway. At one end, a pantry and a powder/laundry room flank the hall. At the other end, there is another pantry (you can’t have too much storage) and a small mudroom. As long as we all like each other, the work area is big enough to accommodate two sous-chefs and me. Since everyone likes to be in the kitchen, I have a small eating area. A handful of friends can watch the cooks while they sip, nibble and enjoy lively conversation.

However, when everything is going wrong or dinner is taking longer than planned, it’s really nice to know I can steer everyone (except maybe the sous-chefs) into the living room. Like Julia, there are times when I need the comfort of knowing, “You’re alone in the kitchen.” Even better is enjoying dinner without a pile of dirty dishes in the background.

Open or closed, I wish you happy cooking in your kitchen and bon appétit!

Fettucine with Mushrooms & Kale
I’ve been going a little nuts with pasta this winter. As long as you have the space, you can make this quick and easy dish with a handful of people looking on and chatting. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive oil
12-16 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch (or to taste) chili flakes and/or smoked paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 onion, cut in thin wedges
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, trimmed and cut in bitesize pieces
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons cognac
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
16-20 ounces fettucine
1 pound baby kale
1 cup (about 3 1/2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus more for serving

Put a large pot of salted water on to a boil. Cook the fettucine according to package directions less 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the bacon and stirring occasionally, cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the onion, sprinkle with thyme, chili flakes and smoked paprika, season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 2 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned.

Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more.

Add the chicken broth and wine and cook until reduced by half. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream and cognac.

Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the fettucine. Return the fettucine to the pot, add the mushroom mixture and kale and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add some pasta water. Cover and cook on low for 1-2 minute. Sprinkle with about 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss to combine. Cover and cook 1 more minute.

Transfer the pasta to a serving platter or individual plates, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve. Pass more grated parm for the cheese lovers.

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

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

Open or closed? What is your idea of the perfect kitchen? Feel free to share!

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

Winter Carnival & Penne alla Vodka

It’s that time of year again. We hold our breath and do our sun dance. Okay, we do that more or less every day but this time with a purpose. It’s Winter Carnival in small towns and at colleges throughout the northeast. Midwinter festivities aren’t just popular here; you’ll find them around the world. Mardi Gras, Karneval, Fasnacht and Carnaval are celebrated right before Lent. Perhaps our wintery celebrations are somehow connected. Then again, maybe these northeast revelries are nothing more than an excuse to ski, skate and drink too much beer.

About the beer, Winter Carnival makes me think of my college days. That said, I’m not altogether certain we had one at St. Lawrence. Way up there just a few miles from the Canadian border, it makes sense that we did. Then again, I might have only seen Winter Carnival in a movie. I can just picture it – watching the movie that is. I’m probably thirteen or fourteen. Outside it should be snowing, but instead, it’s raining or twenty below zero. Inside, I’m cuddled up on the sofa in front of an ancient black and white film. Attractive boys in letter sweaters run around in the snow and flirt with pretty girls. At some point someone shouts, “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” or “let’s build an ice sculpture” or “climb Moose Mountain” or something like that.

There actually is a movie called Winter Carnival. It takes place up the road in Hanover at Dartmouth College. It seems that F. Scott Fitzgerald was involved but his name does not appear in the credits. Legend has it that F. Scott was falling down drunk before filming even began. Irritated, the producer kicked the Princeton dropout out of Hanover. Or maybe it was the police. When I was at St. Lawrence, I wrote a paper on Zelda Fitzgerald. From the little I remember of my research, F. Scott on a bender sounds more than plausible.

Anyway, the movie did get made in 1939. That’s the same year as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Unlike Scarlett, Rhett, Dorothy and her pals, Winter Carnival was not received with acclaim and wild applause. In the words of critic Leonard Maltin, Winter Carnival was contrived romance. Even Ann Sheridan in the lead couldn’t save it. That’s saying something since she was the girl with the most oomph that same year. Perhaps she forgot the oomph when she packed her bags for Hanover.

After reading the plot synopsis, it’s possible, even likely that I did indeed see the movie. I watched a lot of old movies on rainy afternoons when I was a kid. I also took a film course in college but I don’t think I would have seen it then. The professor mostly stuck with noteworthy films not harmless, easily forgotten froth.

Winter Carnival in our little town is family-friendly. Attractive boys in letter sweaters will not guzzle beer on the town green. A beautiful girl in an evening gown will not be named Queen of the Snows. Furthermore, it’s highly unlikely that our chief of police will kick a once-famous novelist out of town. We’ll have to settle for dog sleds, ice fishing and snowshoeing. And don’t forget dinner on the green, fireworks and s’mores.

Have fun in the snow and bon appétit!

Penne alla Vodka

 

Invented in Rome in the 1960’s, Penne alla Vodka is a delightfully retro dish. It seems like the kind of a recipe that hungry boys in letter sweaters would like. With or without a pack of fraternity boys, it’s perfect for a weekend filled with outdoor activities. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive Oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
Pinch or to taste crushed red pepper (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup) plus more for passing
2 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
1 pound penne
Fresh chopped basil and/or parsley

Set a large pot of salted water on the heat to boil.

Lightly coat a saucepan with olive oil and heat on medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot, sprinkle with herbs and pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Optional: Let the sauce cool slightly, remove the bay leaf, transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan.

Cook the penne in rapidly boiling water according to package directions less 1 minute.

While the penne cooks, add the vodka to the sauce and continue to simmer on very low. When the pasta is just about ready, whisk the cream, Parmigiano-Reggiano and butter into the sauce. Continue to simmer and whisk until the cheese and butter have melted and the sauce is piping hot.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pot, add enough Vodka Sauce to generously coat and toss to combine. Cover and simmer on low for 1 minute.

Transfer the pasta to a large, deep serving platter or individual shallow bowls, sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve. Have more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano ready to pass to the cheese lovers.

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One Year Ago – Oven Braised Chicken Cacciatore
Two Years Ago – Poverty Casserole
Three Years Ago – Roasted Cauliflower
Four Years Ago – Savory Blinis
Five Years Ago – Lettuce Cups with Shrimp & Noodles
Six Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Seven Years Ago – Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower & Bacon
eight Years Ago – Chocolate Mousse
Nine Years Ago – Shrimp & Feta

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

Do you have a winter carnival story? Feel free to share!

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

The January Thaw & Dandan Noodles

Is there anything more frustrating that day after day of subzero weather? Ask any skier. You look out the window and it’s a winter wonderland of beautiful snow. Wonderland until you venture out. That’s when you realize that the bitter cold could rival Siberia. Of course, there are a lot of tough dudes and dudettes. They go out anyway but not me. I’ve been there and done that.

Now, don’t get confused here. I don’t stop exercising, I’m too much of a fanatic to quit cold turkey. You can still see me out and about walking around the lake or stomping up a hill on snowshoes. However, no way, no how, will you find me on a chairlift.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried it. I did, my first winter back in New Hampshire. It was one of the coldest Januarys on record. I figured I better get used to my new normal. Dressed like an onion, I threw my skis and boots in the car and headed for the mountain. It was awful. Not only was the temperature on the wrong side of zero but the wind gusts were so strong, I was literally stopped in my tracks. Two runs and I was out of there.

While some have tried to tempt me, I stand firm on my decision to stay close to home on the coldest days. Every time I hear about a chairlift breaking down, I know I made the right choice. Can you imagine the nightmare of being stranded midair in gale force winds and frigid temperatures? Just the thought creates uncontrollable shivers.

All that said, there is something even worse than a month of subzero temperatures. That something is the infamous January Thaw. No, that’s not a typo. It definitely thaw with a capital T. The only thing more heartbreaking than beautiful snow in bitter cold temperatures is watching it dissolve in a drenching downpour.

Not only does the January Thaw wreak havoc with the snow on the mountain, it creates a mess at home. Several years ago, I lost a porch to the Thaw. The weight of the water-drenched snow caused it to cave. On top of that, water tends to seep under the door of the garage in any heavy rain. Add melting snow and, armed with a push broom, I’m on flood watch.

Then again, the Thaw doesn’t stay long, not even a week. It tends to follow a set agenda. First, there’s the buildup. For a day, maybe two, the sun is brilliant in a bright blue sky. Still cold at night, daytime temperatures slowly inch up to maybe twenty-five. Then, there’s the tipping point. Warmer still, the skies cloud over. In spite of the thermometer’s mild reading, there is a chill dampness in the air. A foreboding fog rolls in; that’s when you know. Rain is imminent. Find the rubber boots and get out the push broom.

In less than twenty-four hours, the drenching downpour starts to taper off. Temperatures plummet as the heavy rain winds down. Roadways freeze over. Ski trails become downhill skating rinks. I don’t know about you but I start to wonder, “What did I do to deserve this? Tell me and I’ll never do it again.”

I need some serious cheering up. Bon appétit!

Dandan Noodles
Throughout the winter, frigid cold or chilly rain, I gravitate towards noodles. Far East flavors or Mediterranean flair, I love them all. Add these spicy Asian noodles to your quick supper list. Enjoy! 
Serves 4

8-12 ounces Chinese or udon noodles
Vegetable oil
1 pound ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1-inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons or to taste sriracha 2 tablespoons tahini or smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
1 cup chicken stock
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds or peanuts, toasted and finely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions and/or cilantro

Lightly coat a large heavy skillet with vegetable oil and heat over medium-high. Add the pork, season with salt and pepper, and cook, breaking the meat up into small pieces, for about 2 minutes. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and sriracha and continue cooking until the pork is cooked through, about 5 minutes more.

Add the tahini, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar and stir to combine. Stir in the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens, 5-10 minutes.

While the pork simmers, cook the noodles according to package directions and drain well.

Transfer the noodles to a large platter or individual bowls. Stir the sesame oil to the pork. Top the noodles with pork, sprinkle with sesame seeds, scallions and/or cilantro and serve immediately.

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One Year Ago – Sweet Potato & Red Lentil Soup
Two Years Ago – Tomato Soup
Three Years Ago – Savory Galette with Spinach, Mushrooms & Manchego
Four Years Ago – Mac & Cheese with Roasted Broccoli & Sun-dried Tomatoes
Five Years Ago – Red Bean Chili with Pork & Butternut Squash
Six Years Ago – Piri Piri Prawns
Seven Years Ago – French Lentil Soup
Eight Years Ago – Spicy Chicken (or Turkey) Noodle Soup
Nine Years Ago – My Favorite Chili

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

How are you coping with the cold, rain, ice and snow? Feel free to share!

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

Rockin’, Rollin’ and Casserolin’ & Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Pasta Bake

As soon as I think it’s time to write about colder weather, a blast of warm tropical air comes rolling up from the south. We keep asking each other, “Can you believe this weather … in October?” If we’d only stop and think about for a minute, we’d realize it’s hardly unexpected. It’s hurricane season. A quartet of mass destruction, Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria have plagued countless lives and ruined even more property. Turning northward, they brought heat and humidity to New England. Fortunately, we were spared high winds and flooding.

Warm weather has postponed my semi-annual changing of the drawers. For those who don’t follow this tradition, it happens twice a year. In the fall, turtlenecks go in the drawer. T-shirts and shorts take their place in plastic storage bins. The reverse happens in the spring.

Anyway, the delay has been a good thing. What with the new kitchen coming together, I needed the extra time to wipe down cabinets and counters, wash dust-covered dishes and find places for everything. You’ll be happy to know, I’m down to the last few strays. The fondue stand needs a good spot by the weekend. Otherwise, it and all the other homeless bits and bobs are going to the freecycle table at the dump. I’ve already filled a couple of boxes.

As soon as that’s done, I can start rockin’ and rollin’ and casserolin’. A classic casserole sounds like the perfect dish to break in my new kitchen. After all, everyone loves them. Casseroles are a part of our heritage. Think back to all those hearty dinners after hiking, biking or skiing. Maybe it was raking leaves and shoveling snow at your house. There was a bit of both at mine.

Fast forward and who could forget all the casseroles we took to potlucks in our twenties? I was living in Vermont and then western Massachusetts. It was cold a good part of the year so a casserole made sense. Besides, let face it, if you are in your twenties, you’re probably broke. A good casserole is as cheap as it is filling and delicious.

Perhaps the best thing about casseroles is their versatility. From classic French or Italian to spicy Tex-Mex, there are no limits to possible combinations. However, there are a few basics when it comes to assembling a great casserole. Start with your starch of choice. They’re all good – spuds, rice, tortillas or my favorite, pasta. Next, you’ll need some protein and veggies. Don’t forget, the end result is a one pot meal. You need to cover all the bases. Think beans for a vegetarian treat; create a delicious surprise with leftover pot roast or sauté up some chicken. You probably have yours but my favorite vegetables to put in a casserole are mushrooms, broccoli and spinach along with the requisite onion and garlic.

You’ll need a sauce. Any of the basics will do – Béchamel or the lighter Velouté, cream sauce, pesto or tomato sauce. Use any one in a multitude of variations or combinations. You can find most of them in a jar but give homemade a try. I promise the result will be worth the extra trouble. Finally, there is the cheese. From the king of cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano, to a humble cheddar, a great casserole is all about the cheese. Goat cheese, feta, ricotta, gruyere and fontina, we love them all.

With the last of the tropical heat and humidity surely gone, there is no excuse … it’s time to get rockin’, rollin’ and casserolin’. Bon appétit!

Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Pasta Bake
Try this warm and cozy casserole the next time you have a crowd over. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
Classic Velouté Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2-1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup dry Sherry
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
About 8 ounces (2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
About 1 ounce (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
12 ounces pasta – cavatappi, penne or rigatoni
1 – 1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut in bite-sized florets

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium-high. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet. Reduce the temperature to medium and cook for 4-5 minutes. Turn the chicken, add the white wine and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place the chicken in a large bowl and reserve.

Make the Velouté Sauce. (Recipe follows.)

Put the sour cream, sherry and herbs in a bowl and whisk to combine. A little at a time, whisk the Velouté Sauce into the sour cream. Return the sauce to the saucepan.

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil, add the onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more. Add the onion and garlic to the sauce.

If necessary, add a little more olive oil to the skillet. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté until golden. Add the mushrooms and 2/3rds of the cheeses to the sauce and, stirring frequently, bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 2 minutes. When the pasta has about 3 minutes of cooking time left, add the broccoli. Drain the pasta and broccoli and add it to the bowl with the chicken.

Add sauce to the chicken, pasta and broccoli and toss to combine. Transfer everything to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses.

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 until piping hot and golden, about 15 minutes more.

Velouté Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

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What are your favorite casserole recipe? Feel free to share!

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