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

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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

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