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

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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

On the Border & Pissaladière

I was something of a biking fanatic when I lived in Switzerland. I was still running and cycling once or twice a week gave my knees a break. Either that or the boyfriend who truly was a biking fanatic got me hooked. From the first of May through October, most weekends found me pedaling.

Just a few miles from the center of the Geneva, the office buildings, banks and apartment houses give way to ancient farms and rustic villages. Although I lived there for years, it never ceased to amaze me how quickly you could go from international metropolis to farm country. That said, I had no trouble taking advantage of the open space. As long as the day was warm and the sky clear, I’d hop on my bike and take a spin through the countryside.

That’s when I discovered the leaky borders between Switzerland and France. First, a little lesson in geo-politics. Geneva is more or less surrounded by France on three sides. While Switzerland is part of Europe, it is not part of the European Union. While there are border crossings, there is no great wall to separate the two countries. If you’re out rambling through the fields, you could cross from one country to another without knowing it. As for those border crossings, they look a little like a tollbooth without the basket for your change. Some are manned and some not. If there are any, more often than not, the guards just wave you through.

However, if they are bored, the guards will sometimes make you stop, show your passport and ask if you have anything to declare. As for contraband, I’m not talking about dangerous drugs but a couple of nice, thick steaks, a few kilos of butter or several bottles of wine. All of which are much cheaper in France than Switzerland. Sometimes the guards will go so far as to ask you to step out of the car and open the trunk. According to the aforementioned bike-riding boyfriend, this is particularly true if the driver is wearing a short skirt.

Happily for me, any contraband I may or may not have carried across the border was not detected. I’m pretty sure that the statute of limitations protects me from incarceration for any smuggling that I may or may not have done. However, no need to spill my guts and invite trouble.

Anyway, back to bicycling. Weaving my way by farms, fields and forests, I would head mostly west and just a tad north down to the lake. Although I can read a map, I usually cycled without one. A map offers little help when you travel on narrow, unmarked agricultural roads. Now, my sense of direction is not exactly brilliant. So, you guessed it, on more than one occasion, I unwittingly ended up at the border. I’d slow down, wait for the nod and then sail through with a cheery wave.

That’s assuming the crossing had one of little booths, with or without a guard. On more than one occasion, I’d suddenly realize I wasn’t in Switzerland anymore. Could be a road marker or a maybe a roundabout gave it away. There are lots of roundabouts in France. Sometimes things looked familiar and sometimes not. No need to panic, I would simply keep an eye on the sun or the Salève and work my way down to the lake. At some point, I was bound to cross back over the border.

There is an awful lot of talk about borders and walls these days. Some go so far as to contend that a country can’t truly be a country without a wall. If that’s the case than there are a lot of non-countries out there. I know because I’ve driven, walked, skied and cycled through my fair share of them. I’ve even lived in two.

With longer, warmer days, it’s time for all of us to get out and about. Bon appétit!

Pissaladière
Usually served as an appetizer with a glass of white wine, Pissaladière will be a delicious addition to your French cooking repertoire. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2-2 large onions (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons anchovy paste*
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound your favorite pizza dough
12-16 Niçoise olives, pitted and halved
1-2 tablespoons capers

Put the butter and oil in a large pan and heat over medium-low until the butter melts. Add the onions, sprinkle with thyme and rosemary, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Drizzle with the white wine, cover the pan and, stirring occasionally, simmer until the onions are soft.

Uncover the pan, add the garlic, anchovy paste and vinegar and toss to combine. Continue cooking, uncovered, until any liquid has evaporated and the onions are lightly browned and very tender. Remove from heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven and a pizza stone (if you have one) to 450 degrees.

Cut the dough in 2, 3 or 4 pieces – whatever is easiest for you. Pat or roll each piece of dough out into a thin round and place on a piece of parchment paper. Top with the onions, sprinkle with olives and capers.

Working in batches, transfer the pissaladière to the preheated pizza stone or a baking sheet. Bake the pissaladière until golden, 8-12 minutes with a pizza stone and 12-15 minutes with a baking sheet.

Cut into wedges or squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be made a few hours ahead and served at room temperature.

* If you prefer, use 6-8 anchovies. Instead of tossing them with the onions, cut them lengthwise and decoratively arrange them on top of the Pissaladière before baking.

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One Year Ago – Tabbouleh
Two Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Grilled Asparagus, Cucumber & Avocado
Three Years Ago – Grilled Balsamic Vegetables
Four Years Ago – New Potato Salad Dijon
Five Years Ago – Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Vegetables
Six Years Ago – Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Seven Years Ago – Feta Walnut Spread
Eight Years Ago – Bruschetta with Grilled Vegetables & Gorgonzola

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

What about you? How do you get your exercise once spring finally rolls around? Feel free to share!

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

Spring Has Sprung? & Ravioli with Saffron Cream, Grilled Asparagus & Mushrooms

Well, this is all rather odd isn’t it? Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere and just one short week before the first day of spring, snowmageddon dropped in. For everyone out there who is so over winter, I’m sorry. Well no, I’m not really sorry at all. In fact, I’m absolutely thrilled.

Between work, bitter cold, rain, gale force winds and who knows what else, I have not spent nearly enough days on the slopes this year. Then, like a miracle, a good old-fashioned snowstorm roars through the northeast. Just like that, it’s winter again.

If you were really looking forward to an early spring, you might be feeling a bit glum with all this fluffy white stuff. Take heart, there may be snow on the ground but you can revel in twelve wonderful hours of daylight. The long days of summer will be here before you know it.

While I’m skiing, here are a few things you can do to cheer up:

Plant seedlings. With two feet of new snow on the ground, it’s still a tad early to be planting in the garden. However, there is nothing to stop you from creating your own seedlings. Get some peat pots and medium and sow as many flats of seedlings as you have sunny windows. There is something quite cheering about watching little plants sprout and grow.

Listen to Vivaldi. It may be clique but I can’t help myself. Every spring, I find myself rustling through the CDs looking for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It you prefer, you can always listen to Frank Sinatra crooning “It Might as Well Be Spring” or Carly Simon sing “Spring Is Here”. Why not put together a whole spring playlist and dance through the day.

Go snowshoeing. In warmer climates, people will be pulling on their rubber boots and happily splashing in spring puddles. Not here. However, there are lots of beautiful trails open to the public. With the sun high in the sky, the snow will begin to melt faster than you would think. Great Brook will begin to babble and the birds will begin to sing. See, living in New Hampshire isn’t half bad.

Dress like an Easter egg. They’re not for everyone but a few pastels might brighten up your day. Trade in that grey sweater for something lemon yellow or lavender. You might be surprised by what you might find in the bottom of the sweater chest. If nothing else, that chartreuse number will stir up fun memories of your trip to Bermuda. As for that lilac turtleneck, it will remind you of your dear old aunt. Might be because she gave it to you or more likely, she always wore lilac.

Make spring rolls or some other spring-y dish. No, of course the veggies won’t be, can’t be local. It’s New Hampshire; there’s two feet of new snow on the ground. However, you can find artichokes and asparagus, peas and pineapples, mangoes, mushrooms, rhubarb and chives in the market. Add the ultimate early sign of spring – a pinch of saffron. This luxurious spice comes from our favorite spring flower, the ever-bright and cheery crocus. It will bring a taste of spring to your table.

Happy spring and bon appétit!

Ravioli with Saffron Cream, Grilled Asparagus & Mushrooms
Pasta with a creamy saffron sauce and grilled veggies is a perfect dish for our not-really-spring season. Enjoy!
Serves 6

Quick Pickled Red Onion (do ahead – recipe follows)
1-2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced shallots or red onion
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 large pinches saffron
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces whole mushrooms, stemmed
Olive oil
Champagne or white wine vinegar
12 ounces asparagus, trimmed
1 3/4-2 pounds homemade, fresh or frozen ravioli
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Prepare the saffron cream sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, add the shallot, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the cream, saffron, thyme and bay leaf and heat until steaming. Remove from the heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes.

Grill the vegetables: preheat a grill pan or a gas or charcoal grill to medium high.

Toss the mushrooms with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss again. Place the mushrooms on grill, cup-side up, and grill, turning once, until tender, 5–10 minutes. Remove from the grill, cut in quarters and keep warm.

Toss the asparagus with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss again. Grill the asparagus for 1-2 minutes, turn and grill 1 minute more. Remove from the grill, roughly chop and keep warm.

Prepare the ravioli and put it all together: cook the ravioli according to recipe or package directions less 2 minutes. Reserving a little pasta water, drain the pasta.

Remove the bay leaf and thyme twig from the saffron cream. Add the ravioli to the cream with some or all of the pasta water as necessary and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the ravioli to a large platter or individual shallow bowls, top with mushrooms and asparagus, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano, garnish with pickled onions and serve.

Quick Pickled Red Onion
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
6 pepper corns
1 bay leaf

Put the sugar, salt and vinegar in Mason jar, let everything sit for a minute or two to dissolve and give it a good shake. Add 1 cup of water and shake again.

Add the onion, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaf. If necessary, add a little more vinegar and water to cover the onion. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to two weeks. Drain before using.

Refrigerate the extra onion –it is delicious in salads and on burgers.

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One Year Ago – Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions
Two Years Ago – New Hampshire Mud Pie
Three Years Ago – White Beans Provençal with Bacon & Baby Kale
Four Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Grilled Lamb with Roasted Eggplant Salsa
Five Years Ago – Linguine with Shrimp, Artichokes Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Olives
Six Years Ago – Roast Chicken
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Asparagus with Walnuts
Eight Years Ago – Roasted Eggplant with Peperonata

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

What about you? How do you cope when the calendar says spring but meteorologist says winter? Feel free to share!

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

Spring Skiing & Spaghetti with Cauliflower & Olives

skiing_01Less than a month ago, a furry, little fellow popped out of a hole in Pennsylvania and saw his shadow. According to legend, the shadow meant we were in for six more weeks of winter. However, get this! This little pageant has been going on for more than one hundred years. Over all those decades, an early spring has been predicted all of seventeen times. (Nine years of records are missing so it could be a few more.) Now, some curious weather geeks did a few calculations to see how accurate that furry, little fellow is. Their discovery? Well, the groundhog was correct only thirty-nine per cent of the time.

That’s less than a coin toss!

Anyone living in New Hampshire can predict winter’s end with or without a furry friend or coin to toss. Here in the Granite State, winter hangs around until it’s good and ready to quit. Last week’s glorious few days of spring skiing could be the start of warmer things to come … or not. It’s just as likely that the magnificent spring-like weather was nothing more than a blip in northern New England’s decidedly fickle weather patterns.

New Hampshire skiers live for those wonderfully warm, end-of-the season days. We want nothing more than to ski in a t-shirt, even shorts. However, we all know that there are two sides to an early spring. We love the sun and curse the rain. Although we would happily greet one last blizzard, just the threat of a shower sends skiers into a tizzy.

To make matters worse, I was admittedly spoiled during all those years I lived in Switzerland. Spoiled rotten! Even in a mediocre snow year, the season lasted through the first or second weekend of April. In a spectacular year, skiing went on and on until mid-May. Of course, the elevations are a heck of a lot higher in the Alps; way up above the tree line higher.

This extended ski season did lead to a few misadventures. Most were due to the stubborn determination of my friends and I to ski from top to bottom. Just because the ski season lasted until Easter and beyond, did not mean there was snow cover on the bottom third or half of the mountain. By early April, skiers were advised to take the lift down from the mid-station. After a glorious day in the sun and snow, riding a chairlift to the bottom was nothing short of anticlimactic. A gondola was even worse. (The cliché packed in like sardines would be an apt description.)

I’m not one to let a TRAIL CLOSED sign stand in my way. Neither were my ski pals. After a quick peek left and right, we ducked under the rope and headed down. We had the trail to ourselves and it was fabulous. Well, fabulous until we hit a south facing, mud covered slope. Jumping from one small patch of snow to another, we clamored through trees and over a few rocks. Finally and inevitably, we ran out of snow. Off came the skis; we were in for a long slog to the car in our ski boots.

As the weather warms, on the slopes or not, enjoy some time outside! Bon appétit!

Spaghetti with Cauliflower and Olives
This recipe has its roots in sunny Spain and Sicily. It is a great dish when you are pining for a little sun and warm weather. Enjoy!cauliflower_05
Serves 4-6

1 head (about 2 pounds) cauliflower, cut into small florets
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2-1 onion, cut in thin wedges
1/4 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
8-12 ounces spaghetti
About 1/2 cup pitted and roughly chopped green olives
3 tablespoons capers
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
3-4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Grated pecorino Romano cheese

Toss the cauliflower with just enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and spread in a single layer in a roasting pan. Tossing once or twice, roast at 375 degrees until browned and tender, about 40 minutes.

(If you roast the cauliflower in advance, a delicious dinner will be ready in minutes.)

While the cauliflower roasts, heat a little olive oil in a skillet, add the onion and pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and sauté 2-3 minutes more. Stir in the lemon juice. Add the cauliflower, olives and capers, sprinkle with lemon zest and toss to combine. Cover and keep warm.

spaghetti_cauliflower_olives_03Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving a little pasta water.

Toss the pasta with the vegetables. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water and cook on low for 1 minute. Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve with grated pecorino Romano.

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

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

What about you? Now that the seasons are changing, how will you spend time outside? Feel free to share!

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

There’s Nothing Like a Snow Day & Spaghetti with Mushrooms & Bacon

snowy_day_New_London_02Say what you will, nothing but nothing compares to a snow day. It’s like a gift from the snow gods. Instead of another crazy day, you get to relax, hang out in your PJs and watch the snow fall. If you’re particularly lucky, the snow will stop around 10:30 and you can go play in it. Find your snowshoes and bushwhack through the woods, tour the neighborhood on your cross-country skis or build a snowman. At least that was what it was like when we were kids. No school. No after-school activities. No homework. Of course, there was no internet, so there were no emails sending new assignments our way.

So what’s it like now. Now, that we’re no longer kids with a surprise holiday? Well, the internet came along so we can stay connected. Then, telecommuting was invented to make sure we are always connected and always working. That suggests that there’s no rest for the wicked even if it is a snow day. I suppose for me it doesn’t really matter. I do most of my work from home anyway. So, you’d think that a snow day was no big deal. You’d be wrong.

Don’t ask me why, I can’t explain it. Life just slows down when the snow flies and piles up high on the doorstep. There are fewer cars on the road. Sounds seem muffled. Except for the rumbling of the snowplow that periodically breaks the calm, there is this wonderful quiet. The phone doesn’t ring. Email doesn’t ping. People are too busy shoveling their walks or playing endless card games to bother with you.

Suddenly, you can work on that project, the one that requires at least a little quiet and concentration. The one you never seem to get to because … well, you probably know why. Anyway, all cozy in your jammies with a mug of really good coffee, today is the day. Your brain is prepped and ready to solve one of those big, gnarly problems. Of course, your solution will be nothing short of spectacular.

If you’re not careful, you might start to think you’re a genius. You’re not. You just have time to breathe and think things through – logically, creatively, thoughtfully. Your brain hums. You get another cup of really good coffee. You might even find a muffin in the freezer to warm up. Another piece falls into place. The snowplow passes again and then peace and calm. A few more pieces fall into place.

Eventually the snow stops and wonder of wonders the sun comes out. You grab a shovel and clear the walk. The air is fresh and clean and a few more ideas hit you. Back at the keyboard or drawing board or whatever board, still a few more pieces fit into the puzzle. You’re really humming along.

With the sun high in a blue sky, you better grab those snowshoes and go for a hike, ramble down to the beaver dam on your cross-country skis or build a snowman. If anyone asks, it’s important to clear your head periodically. You’ll be brilliant when you get back to that project.

All that work and play will build an appetite. Brilliance in the kitchen should not be problem. Even if you didn’t have a chance to get to the store, you can create a beautiful supper with whatever’s on hand. Pasta from the pantry always works. Add some sundried tomatoes, olives and capers or toss that spaghetti with a few veggies and sprinkle with cheese. Maybe you are a genius!

Have a happy snow day! Bon appétit!

Spaghetti with Mushrooms & Baconspaghetti_mushrooms_bacon_06
I always have a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the refrigerator. The last time it snowed, I also found some bacon, a few mushrooms and cream. Dinner was ready in about 20 minutes. Enjoy!
Serves 2

2-4 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
About 1/2 teaspoon thyme
About 1/3 onion, cut in thin wedges
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-6 ounces whole mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cognac
4-6 ounces spaghetti
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Put the bacon in a skillet and place over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, cook until the bacon releases some fat and starts to brown. Add the onion, sprinkle with thyme, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushroom and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half.

Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and cognac. Place the mushrooms over very low heat to keep warm and stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to directions less 1-2 minutes.

Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the spaghetti, add it to the mushrooms with a little pasta water and toss to combine. (If you have it, feel free to add a handful of baby spinach!) Cover and cook on low for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to shallow bowls, sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

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One Year Ago – Oven Braised Chicken with Mushrooms, Onions & Garlic
Two Years Ago – Capellini with Lobster & Caviar
Three Years Ago – Sour Cream Cupcakes with White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
Four Years Ago – White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis & Fresh Raspberries
Five Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Beets & Lentils
Six Years Ago – Chicken Niçoise
Seven Years Ago – Greek Pizza
Eight Years Ago – Triple Threat Brownies

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

What about you? What’s the change you want to make this Groundhog Day? Feel free to share!

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