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

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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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One Year Ago – Cheddar Ale Soup
Two Years Ago – Ravioli with Roasted Butternut Squash
Three Years Ago – Gorgonzola & Walnut Shortbread with Savory Fig Jam
Four Years Ago – Soupe de Poisson Provençal
Five Years Ago – Hearty Black Bean Soup
Six Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna
Seven Years Ago – Gingerbread Cupcakes
Eight Years Ago – Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle
Ninet Years Ago – Pork Stew PaprikaOr Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

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

Fourteen Hundred & Ninety-two & Pasta with Pesto, Roasted Grape Tomatoes & Corn

As kids, we learned all about Christopher Columbus and his perilous voyage in 1492. Queen Isabella, along with the Niña, the Pinta and Santa María are entrenched in our psyches. Looking back, I might be tempted to think there was a little hanky-panky going on. The benevolent Izzy got a lot of coverage but there was next to no mention of King Ferdinand. That said; there was no mention of hanky-panky either. Then again, you can only share so much with second graders.

Anyway, throughout elementary school we cut galleons out of construction paper and studied maps of Columbus’ journey. As interesting as galleons and maps are, the best part was the day off from school. Why, we’d barely been back six weeks and already a mini vacation. A parade wound its way down Washington Street. My sister and her Girl Scout troupe marched in it one year. I must admit, I preferred jumping in a giant pile of leaves to standing in the cold watching Brenda and her friends parade by.

Come to think of it, it was also a good day to eat birthday cake.You see, my sister was born on Columbus Day. No, not the second Monday of October, that’s the let’s-have-a-long-weekend holiday and not the real thing. Brenda’s birthday was on the actual day Chris discovered America. Well, the actual day plus more than a few hundred years. Of course, CC thought he was in Asia. Columbus had the brilliant idea that the quickest route from Europe to Asia was a short sail west across the Atlantic. He didn’t figure on a bunch of islands, a couple of continents and another ocean standing between him and Japan.

Anyway, when I was in kindergarten, maybe first grade, Brenda tried to convince me that the holiday commemorated her birthday. I knew it wasn’t true but that didn’t stop me from having a double twinge of doubt and jealousy. I’ll also admit to feeling more than my fair share of vindication when the parade and the rest of the hoopla was moved to the second Monday of October.

All these years later and living in New Hampshire, the Columbus Day weekend is a reminder that cold weather is coming soon. Forget parades, it’s time to get my act together. Along with a quest for perfect pumpkin, I’d better take a stab at all those summer-is-over chores. (Is it okay if I just kind of start to think about taking a stab at them?)

Unless you are a weed-whacking aficionado, it’s not a fun list. There is a certain sadness to putting the kayak away, especially when I barely had a chance to use it. Perhaps if I wait another week or two, I’ll find the time for one last paddle. The same goes for the Adirondack chairs. Is it possible that a few hours will suddenly free up? It would be nice to sit in the sun with a good book. Thankfully I have (or hope I have) a few more weeks before the snow tires must go on the Mini.

Truth be told, I’d rather take a long walk and check out the foliage than clean out the garage. True or not, I’ve been assured that the brilliant reds and golds are just a few short days away. People come from miles to see our foliage. Shouldn’t we take some time to revel in the glorious color?

Speaking of color, my red kitchen is getting closer and closer to completion. The big stuff is done – floors, cabinets, countertops and appliances. All that’s left is a list of gnarly little odds and ends. Well, except for a second coat of paint for the walls and trim, that one’s neither odd nor little.

Anyone know a good painter? Bon appétit!

Pasta with Pesto, Roasted Grape Tomatoes & Corn
This dish combines pasta and pesto from Columbus’ native Genoa with tomatoes and corn from the new world. If you like, add a few roasted shrimp. After all, Genoa is a seaport. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Pinch or to taste red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
16 ounces gemelli, cellentari or your favorite short twisted pasta
About 1 cup (1-2 ears) fresh corn kernels
Pesto alla Genovese
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Coat a large skillet with equal parts olive oil and vinegar, add the tomatoes, season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Roast in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. Add the onion, toss to combine and continue roasting for another 10 minutes. Add the garlic, toss and roast for a final 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and begin to brown.

While the tomatoes roasting, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.

Reserving a little pasta water, drain the pasta and return to the pot. Add the tomatoes, corn and about 1/4 cup pasta water and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little more pasta water. Cover and simmer on low for 1 minute.

Add a dollop or two of Pesto alla Genovese to the pasta and toss to combine. Transfer the pasta to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Pesto alla Genovese
Makes about 1 cup

4 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup plus more to cover extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Put half of the basil, the pine nuts, garlic and salt in a food processor and pulse to chop and combine. Add the remaining basil and 1/3 cup olive oil and process until smooth. Add the cheeses and pulse to combine.

Transfer to a small bowl or jar, pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to combine the flavors.

Pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of leftover pesto, cover and store in the refrigerator.

You might like to make a big batch and store in small containers in the freezer. Making pesto is a lot more fun than weed-whacking.

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

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

How will you celebrate the long weekend? Feel free to share!

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

Le Premier Août & Szechuan Noodle Salad

Flipping the calendar from July to August sends the message home. Holy smokes, summer is half-over. I suppose some might say it’s more than half. In a few weeks, life in our little town will begin to get very quiet again. Moms, Pops and their kids will head south for pre-school soccer practice and back-to-school buying binges. But that’s them. For me, the first of August will always be summer’s midpoint.

Of course, I may be confused but I seem to remember that summer vacation always began the last week in June. I think the final school bell rang on Wednesday but it could have been Tuesday or Thursday. Ten weeks later, on the day after Labor Day, we returned to cinderblock walls and linoleum floors. By the way, if this description suggests that I attended reform school or kiddie lockup, I can assure you that is not the case. Most of the schools in my suburban town were built quickly during the post-WWII baby boom. They weren’t pretty but they went up fast. In any case, August 1 was more or less the midpoint of our summer vacation.

The first day of August also commemorates the founding of the Swiss federation. Having lived there for almost two decades, La Suisse will always be my second home. Le Premier Août (translation the first of August) is Fête Nationale Suisse or Swiss National Day. You might want to think of it as the Swiss equivalent of our Independence Day. You might but you’d be a bit off base. The day commemorates the peaceful start of the Swiss federation not the start of a revolution.

The hoopla (or lack-of) dates back to 1291. Maybe things have changed but to say that Le Premier Août festivities are understated would be an extreme exaggeration. At least when I lived in and around Geneva, celebrations were pretty low key. Then again, so are the Swiss. As a tourist wandering through, if you didn’t know something was happening, you’d probably miss it.

If you can believe it, Fête Nationale Suisse was more or less ignored until 1891. (America held its first birthday party one year to the day of signing the Declaration of Independence.) For most of the time I lived in Switzerland, August 1 was business as usual. You might see a flag or two waving in a window box but not much more. (The flags did lend a cheery, patriotic air to the geraniums.)

Now admittedly, there was at least a modest amount of enthusiasm for the seven hundredth anniversary in 1991. Low keyed as they were, those celebrations triggered something. I’m guessing someone in Bern realized that a few festivities were good for the economy. So with very little fanfare, Fête Nationale Suisse was finally declared an official holiday in 1994.

Now, I seem to remember celebrating Le Premier Août at least a time or two. If nothing else, it was a nice excuse to spend an evening by the lake. We’d reserve a table at one of the lakeside, seasonal cafés and enjoy filet de perche or pack a picnic and head to the town beach.

One year, it might have been 1994, I returned home to find a cheerful crowd gathered in the field across the road. At the time, I was living in the countryside outside of Geneva. I loved that apartment. It was one of three in an ancient barn renovation. The apartment was huge with a view of fields and hills on one side and the Alps on the other. As I got ready to call it a night, I paused to watch several families celebrate. The kids danced around and their dads helped them set off fireworks. It was a jolly gathering, filled with fun … and a bit of excitement. No ambulances were called but more than one fire was stamped out amid shrieks of glee.

Wishing you bonne fête and bon appétit!

Szechuan Noodle Salad with Chicken or Pork
So, no – this recipe is not Swiss. However, it was one of my favorite summer dishes to take along to a lakeside picnic when I lived in Geneva. Enjoy!
Serves 8

8-12 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon or to taste chili sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2-2 pounds cooked chicken or pork, thinly sliced or shredded
6-8 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Put the vermicelli in a bowl, cover with hot water and soak for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again.

While the noodles soak, put the garlic, ginger, soy, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil and chili sauce in a small food processor or blender, season with salt and pepper and process until the garlic and ginger are finely chopped. Add the olive oil and process until smooth.

Put the well-drained noodles in a bowl, add enough sauce to lightly coat and toss to combine. Let the noodles chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Add the vegetables and chicken or pork to the noodles and, adding more sauce if necessary, give everything a toss. Add half of the herbs and toss again.

Transfer the noodles to a serving platter or individual plates, garnish with the remaining herbs, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Feel free to add more veggies – thinly sliced red pepper, carrot curls, peapods, thinly sliced Napa cabbage and bean sprouts will all make great additions.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beet & White Bean Hummus
Two Years Ago – Cucumber-Mint Agua Fresca
Three Years Ago – Double Corn & Cheddar Muffins
Four Years Ago – Blueberry Clafouti
Five Years Ago – Blackberry Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt
Six Years Ago – Brown Sugar Yogurt Gelato
Seven Years Ago – Red Pepper Dip
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Chicken, Shallots & New Potatoes
Nine Years Ago – Barbecue Chicken

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

What about you? Do you have a camp story to tell? Feel free to share!

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