Celebrate Cinco de Mayo & Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago Massachusetts and Maine celebrated Patriots’ Day. The day commemorates the first battles of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord. Those of us who grew up in Massachusetts learned a lot about the State’s early history. We spent most of the fall studying the pilgrims. In the spring, we turned to Mad King George’s tyrannical rule and our forbearers’ heroic quest for freedom.

I share this only to point out that, as far as I know, no one in Mexico celebrated Patriots’ Day. Okay, I’m sure that a few of their athletes came north to run the Boston Marathon. However, I can’t imagine that there were lots of parties with baked beans and brown bread down in Cancun or Puebla.

And yet, in a few short days, we’ll be pulling out all the stops for a fun and festive Cinco de Mayo. Before you go making assumptions, no, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t celebrate Mexican independence. It’s the anniversary of the victorious Battle of Puebla against the French in 1862. Just as the Battles of Lexington and Concord were early victories in the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Puebla was an quick win in the Franco-Mexican War.

So why in the world do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo? First of all, it’s a lot easier for Americans to pronounce than Día de la Independencia – Independence Day. And second, Día de la Independencia is in mid-September. Life is good in September. The weather is fine. The leaves are starting to change to red and gold. We’re busy picking apples and showing off our new pencil boxes. We don’t have time for a Mexican fiesta.

Compare that to early May. It’s mud season. There is no red or gold and very little green. The trees are barely in bud. If it’s not raining, it’s cloudy or it will be soon. Sand is everywhere and I could (almost) kill for a mudroom. We could all use a little celebration right about now. Why not shake off the mud season doldrums with a ginormous Cinco de Mayo potluck. Your friends and neighbors will love you for it.

Don’t’ worry, you don’t need to make a huge fuss. The point is to get everyone together and have some fun. Here are a few pointers –

Start with a little color. Track down that sunshine yellow tablecloth and throw it on the table. Use the bright red napkins and add some candles or tea lights. A bowl of lemons and limes will make a perfect centerpiece.

Skip the hokey sombreros and silly mustaches from the party store but encourage everyone to think spring. It’s probably too cold and muddy for flip-flops but take a few minutes to find that bright pink sweater. It’s in the back of the closet somewhere.

Encourage everyone to bring a favorite Mexican-inspired dish. Hopefully, your foodie friends will go one better and create something deliciously authentic.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo y buen provecho!

Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème
Very creamy chocolate with just a touch of Mexican spice, I can’t think of a better dessert for Cinco de Mayo. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 1/3 cups half & half
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon for to taste chipotle powder
8 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon espresso or coffee powder
8 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon Triple Sec
Garnish: unsweetened whipped cream

Put the half & half and cream in a heavy saucepan, add the cinnamon, chipotle and orange zest. Stirring frequently, heat until steaming. Remove from the heat and let the orange zest and spices steep for about 30 minutes.

Put the chocolate and espresso powder in a large measuring cup or bowl. Set aside.

Reheat the cream to steaming.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly add the hot cream to the egg yolks.

Return the egg-cream mixture to the saucepan and set over low heat. Stirring constantly, cook until the custard reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove from the heat, stir in the Triple Sec and immediately strain the hot custard through a fine mesh sieve into the measuring cup with the chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then whisk until smooth and completely melted.

Pour the chocolate crème into 8 small dessert bowls or glasses. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Serve the pots de crème with unsweetened whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Shrimp with Salsa de Cacahuate y Chile de Arbol
Two Years Ago – Puffy Apple Pancake
Three Years Ago – Tostadas with Avocado Crema & Black Bean Salsa
Four Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Five Years Ago – Lemon-Lime Squares
Six Years Ago – Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)
Seven Years Ago – Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt
Eight Years Ago – Black & White Brownies
Nine Years Ago – Rhubarb Muffins

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

How will you celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Feel free to share!

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

A Friendsgiving Potluck Special

gnarly_gourdsAre you going to a potluck this Thanksgiving? Or maybe you’re hosting one? If you’re the host, your job is more or less set. You’re in charge of the turkey and stuffing … and don’t foret the Cranberry Sauce!

If you’re a guest, well, now would be a good time to figure out what to bring … and clear it with your host. Then again, if you’re the host, it’s nice to have a list of possibilities handy when people start to call and ask, “What do you need?” So, here we go … from soup to nuts … here are some of my favorite Thanksgiving and fall dishes to share with family and friends next week:

We’ll start with a few great Thanksgiving appetizers: First, there are the one or two bite wonders:
Butternut Squash Tartlets
Greek Stuffed Mushrooms
Spanish Stuffed Mushrooms
Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction
Mushroom Crostini

Next, a delicious dip or hummus will be very welcome. Here are three tasty choices:
Chipotle Sweet Potato & White Bean Hummus
Roasted Beet & White Bean Hummus
Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts

Finally, pilgrims lived by sea and feasted on its bounty at the first Thanksgiving. Seafood makes a great holiday starter. Perhaps you’d like to try my …
Gravlax with Tarragon-Caper Mustard Sauce
Smoked Salmon Mousse
Roasted Shrimp with Tarragon Aioli 

I’m bring soup to a Friendsgiving this year. Here are three you might like to try.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (my family’s favorite)
Wild Mushroom Soup
Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup

Maybe your group would prefer a salad. Here are some of my favorite fall salads:
Lemony Kale & Radicchio Salad
Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese Salad
Butternut Squash Salad
Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad 

When it comes to Thanksgiving, you cann’t have too many side dishes … can you? If you’ve volunteered to to vegetables. I’m a huge fan of roasting veggies – here are some suggestions:
Thanksgiving_Place_CardsRoasted Beets with Sautéed Greens
Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Pearl Onions
Roasted & Mashed Butternut Squash
Roasted Carrots with Pearl Onions
Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary
Roasted Cauliflower with Parmigiano-Reggiano
Roasted Green Beans & Tomatoes
Roasted Mushrooms, Leeks, Shallots & Pearl Onions
Broccoli Purée

So, maybe you only eat them once or twice a year but you gotta have spuds on Thanksgiving. Here are a couple of possibilities:
Decadent Cheesy Potatoes
Lemon Roasted Potatoes
If you’d prefer a spud alternative, you can always try my:
Quinoa with Sweet Potato & Spinach (a good choice if there will be a vegetarian or two at the party)
Savory Bread Pudding with Butternut Squash & Swiss Chard

And it’s on to dessert. For a whole lot of people, it’s not Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie. Well, I think you just might like some of my alterative just as much … maybe more. Here goes:
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares
Pumpkin Cupcakes
Pumpkin-Ginger Mousse

If you rather fancy an apple pie .. then consiider my
Mini Tarte Tatin
Rustic Apple Croustade
Rustic Apple Tart.
Apple Bread Pudding
Applesauce Cake with Brown Butter Icing
Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp with Cranberry Coulis

Have a wonderful Friendsgiving and bon appétit!

How are your Thanksgiving plans shaping up?  I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2016


Halloween Potluck Special

decorationWith any luck, you’ve been invited to a Halloween Party this weekend. What fun! To relive a favorite childhood holiday with costumes, good food, a bit of cheer and dancing!

Chances are good that it’s a potluck, so here are a few suggestions of what to bring:

If you’re thinking appetizers … try my Chipotle Sweet Potato & White Bean Hummus or Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts. Or go a bit more elegant with these autumnal crostini …my Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Crostini or Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction are delicious.Or bring something hearty like my Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard or Spanish Stuffed Mushrooms.

Your host will be looking for a salad or two … so consider bringing my … Crunchy Salad with Apples & Grapes, Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad or Mixed Greens with Roasted Mushrooms.

What about the main event? A chili or something stew-y is always good for a potluck, especially on a chilly night. My Sort’a Like Jambalaya is always a hit. On the other hand, Pumpkin Chili with Turkey & Black Beans seems particularly appropriate while Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde is one of my latest favorites.

NYE_Halloween_10-11_01If dessert is your specialty … pumpkin anything works for a Halloween bash. You can go all out with my Pumpkin Cheesecake or offer everyone a delicious spoonful of Pumpkin-Ginger Mousse. if you want a dessert with no plate required, well, you can’t beat Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies or Pumpkin-Spice Cookies.

Have a spooktacular weekend and bon appétit!

What’s up with you for the weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2016

Autumn Weekend Special

butternut squash 05Chilly, a little cloudy, chance of rain … yup, autumn is definitely here. Sounds like a good weekend to hang out in the kitchen. Maybe whip up a batch of marinara or Bolognese, put your favorite soup on to simmer or bake some cupcakes, perhaps some muffins. Sounds like a plan.

My favorite fall soup is Butternut Squash . Creamy, flavorful, you can’t beat it on a cold day. While you are roasting all that squash, cook a little extra. Then invite some friends around for my out of this world Ravioli with Butternut Squash.

When your guests inevitably ask, what can I bring? … here are a few ideas:

Gorgonzola_Walnut_Shortbread_Savory_Fig_Jam_02A great dip always works. How about Baba Ganoush, Roasted Red Pepper Dip or White Bean Hummus. Serve the dips with fresh veggies and pita chips.

Savory shortbread is always a hit. Suggest my recipe for Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam or Gorgonzola & Walnut Shortbread with Savory Fig Jam to your baking friends.

If there are a few last ears of corn at the farmer’s market on Saturday, maybe a friend will make up one last batch of Corn Cakes. Serve the corn cakes with a dab of Sun-dried Tomato Pesto.table_set_for_dinner_02

You’ll probably want a salad. Perhaps you can convince your favorite salad maker to give my Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad a try. Unless, she’d rather to toss up my Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes or my colorful Rainbow Salad with Black Olive Vinaigrette.

For dessert, well, there must be a few more bakers in your crowd. So speaking of cupcakes, I can recommend Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes. On a more seasonal note, you can’t beat Pumpkin Cupcakes. Or try my Ginger Shortcakes served with Apple Compote. Be sure to add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla or ginger ice cream.

If you have a couple of friends who hate to cook, ask them bring a nice bottle of wine or a great loaf of bread. My favorite is the olive bread from Red Hen Baking Company.

Enjoy your time in the kitchen and bon appétit!

What are your plans for the weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2015

More Girls’ Night Out & Rainbow Salad with Black Olive Vinaigrette

table_set_for_dinner_02March is perfect for a potluck and a Girls’ Night Out. After all, it’s Women’s History Month. Can you think of a better excuse to get together with friends and create a little history of your own? Last week I gave a few tips for a Girls’ Night Out Potluck. “Okay for the host,” you say, “but what about the potluckers who join in the fun? How about some advice for the guests?” All right then, here goes!

Follow your host’s lead. I admit it; I’m of those. A host who tries to bring a little order to the potluck clutter and chaos. It’s not that I don’t understand your frustration. I hear you when you extoll the deliciousness of your recently perfected Korean short ribs recipe. In spite of my empathy for you and your ribs, I’m declaring a theme and it’s not a Korean banquet.

When your host declares a soup and salad night (or tapas or an Italian feast or …), can you, should you ignore the theme? Remember, you love your friend, even if she is a certifiable control freak. Go with flow; toss a salad, roast some shrimp or whip up your world-renown brownies. Instead of the usual potluck hodgepodge, you may very well enjoy one of the best dinners of your life! And by the way, I’m free for ribs on Friday!

Come prepared. We’ve all heard the ancient saying about too many cooks in the kitchen. Don’t be one of them. If at all possible, your dish should be ready to serve when you arrive. And by ready, I mean on a serving platter with utensils. Your host has enough to do without hauling out the stepladder and pawing through the upper reaches of her cupboards for another platter. And it’s definitely not okay to arrive straight from the market with a bag of fresh veggies to wash, spin, chop and toss.

If you are going to need oven or stove space, call in advance. Or try my favorite trick. When you pull your casserole out of the oven or chili off the stove, wrap the dish in one, maybe two, old (but clean!) beach towels. Slide the whole thing into a cooler and it should stay piping hot for at least an hour.

We’re all busy and it’s okay. A Girls’ Night Out potluck is a wonderful opportunity to take a break and relax. That said, everyone will understand if you have to work late. Just don’t volunteer to bring an appetizer. Your fabulous artichoke dip is not so fabulous for dessert. Come when you can, we do want to see you but, if you know you will be late, sign-up for cupcakes.

And what if you need to leave early? Again, we get it; your babysitter has a Spanish test and must be home by 8:00. We’ll be delighted to see you, even for a short time. Bring an appetizer, grab a glass of wine and stay as long as you can.

“Ha!” you bark. You only wish it was about arriving late or leaving early. We all have days, weeks, months, when there’s no time to cook. Not even one, little dish for a potluck. Instead of turning down the invitation or showing up with a half-empty bottle of ketchup, be clever. Beautiful dishes don’t have to be complicated or homemade. Hint: a beautiful box of artisanal chocolates will be the hit of the party. Another hint: tired looking baby carrots with dried out hummus will not.

Have a fun. It’s been a cold and snowy winter. Although it’s not over yet, we’ve changed the clocks and temperatures are creeping upward. Give a good stretch and a big yawn and kiss the weeks of hibernation goodbye. It’s time to spend an evening with old friends, new friends and soon-to-be friends.

Bon appétit!

Rainbow Salad with Black Olive Vinaigrette
A salad is always welcome at a potluck. This one has an interesting combination of bitter greens, salty feta and olives, sweet cherries and crunchy peppers, cucumber and almonds. Enjoy!
Serves 12Rainbow_Salad_Olive_Vinaigrette_01

5 ounces baby arugula
1 small head radicchio, cut in ribbons
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 European cucumber, peeled and chopped
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
Black Olive Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
4 ounces feta, crumbled
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup dried cherries

Combine the arugula, radicchio, bell pepper, cucumber and scallions in a large bowl and toss to combine.

If you are bringing the salad to a potluck, put the feta, almonds and cherries in separate containers or plastic bags.

Just before serving: add enough Black Olive Vinaigrette to lightly coat and toss. Sprinkle with feta, almonds and dried cherries and serve.

Black Olive Vinaigrette
12-15 black oil cured Greek olives, pitted
1 clove garlic
About 1-inch chunk red onion
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup or to taste extra virgin olive oil

Put the olives, garlic, onion, mustard, anchovy paste and vinegar in a mini food processor, season with pepper and pulse to combine and finely chop. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth.

Cover and store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Potato & Cheddar Soup
Two Years Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Three Years Ago – Guinness Lamb Shanks
Four Years Ago – Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Five Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Six Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have any special plans for Women’s History Month? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

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