Easter Bonnet & Easter Bunny Carrot Cake

Okay, now we all know that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, Christmas is all about Santa and presents, Halloween is costumes and candy and Independence Day is fireworks. Now, what about Easter? With all respect, Easter is all about hats and dresses. I note with respect because Easter is often considered to be the holiest of day in the Christian calendar.

Easter marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent and the final day of the long Easter weekend. Holy Week commemorates the days and events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. Easter celebrates the resurrection and the triumph of good over evil.

Like many Christian feast days, today’s Easter traditions are a mix and mingle of many ancient cultures. Centuries ago, Europeans celebrated the coming of spring and warm days with great joy. Warmer, longer days were a relief after months of cold darkness. For Anglo-Saxons and Celts, spring was a time of planting, fertility and renewal. As Christianity spread north, its beliefs, symbols, celebrations and rites collided with pagan traditions.

Over time, this collision created a strange combination. On the one hand, you have a history of fasting, prayer and serious worship. On the other, you find vestiges of pagan symbols of renewal with eggs, new clothing to welcome spring, parades, bunnies, lambs and baby chicks.

My mother was among the millions of America’s suburban women who took their children shopping for Easter clothes. I suppose mothers in urban and rural America took their kids shopping too but I didn’t see it with my own eyes. Like clockwork, back-to-school and Easter forced any and all moms to take a deep breath and, then, a hard look at their children’s clothing. More often than not, everyone had jumped a size, if not two.

Like most younger sisters, my wardrobe was mostly hand-me-downs. However, somehow or other, both my sister Brenda and I received a new outfit in time for Easter. Now, Easter is a strange holiday since it pops up anytime between the middle of March and late April. One year it’s a celebration of spring and the next you’re up early shoveling snow before church. Living in New England, our Easter outfits ranged from little wool suits to sweet cotton dresses. With full skirts, puffy sleeves and lace collars, the dresses were far superior to any chic little suit.

Thankfully, regardless of timing and weather, a bonnet was always included in our Easter ensembles. Bedecked with flowers and ribbons, those bonnets were the highlight of Easter shopping. I’m not sure if they were ever worn more than once but they stayed firmly on our heads throughout Easter Sunday.

I credit those bonnets to a lifelong love of hats. Funny enough, except for wool caps in winter, I rarely don one. Perhaps, I should change that this spring. Why, I could throw on a fascinator or wide brim and make every day a parade. Given the miserable weather we’ve been having, it might not be a bad idea.

New duds or not, have a lovely Easter and bon appétit!

Easter Bunny Carrot Cake
For Easter or anytime – carrot cake is always a favorite. Enjoy!
Makes a 9×13-inch cake or about 24 cup cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon dark rum

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan or line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the flour, baking soda and powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Put the carrots, coconut, walnuts and raisins in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.

Put the oil and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined. Add the rum and beat until well combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the carrots, coconut, walnuts and raisins.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan or fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full. Bake the cake for 45-60 minutes (cupcakes for 30-45 minutes) or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Generously slather with cream cheese frosting and serve.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla and beat until well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat to combine. Increase the mixer speed and beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

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

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

How will you celebrate Easter this year? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

Belated Birthday Present & Flourless Chocolate Cake

Mom_JohnnyTomorrow is my birthday. Before you get all excited and plan a surprise (although, who am I to stop you), it’s not one of the big ones. I’m not entering a new decade or even a half-decade. Now, if my birthday is tomorrow, then my brother’s is not far off. I had just turned seven when John joined the family. He was a few weeks early, but lucky for me, he arrived after, not during, my birthday party.

Children’s birthday parties have changed quite a bit since I was seven. We passed from one year to the next without bouncy castles, magicians or adventure parks. When it came to fun and games, pin the tail on the donkey was more or less it. PB&Js and fluffernutters were as haut as the cuisine got. The cakes were homemade or, in our house, homemade with the help of Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. The ice cream came in little paper cups with wooden spoons that looked a lot like mini tongue depressors.

All of that changed the year I turned seven. With Mom ready to pop, Dad magnanimously offered to take my birthday party to the movies. The Community Playhouse showed a children’s film on Saturday mornings. What could be better? Or easier? My birthday fell on a Friday that year so the celebrations were postponed a day.

Although he was clearly over his head, Dad somehow managed to get seven little girls in party dresses into the family station wagon and a few miles down the road to the theater. Even more miraculous, he singlehandedly secured a box of Junior Mints or Milk Duds and a seat for each of us. Exhausted by the effort, I assume he napped through the film that might or might not have been 101 Dalmatians. I seem to remember seeing Cruella and the puppies at about that time.

After the movie, the house lights jolted Dad awake and he herded us out to the parking lot and into the car. As far as I know, he didn’t lose anyone. After a quick stop at the house to pick up Mom, we headed out to Route 9. While Mom had been happy to let Dad take us to the movies, she was pretty sure that lunch with seven seven-year olds was beyond his pay grade. Okay, make that six seven-year olds; my older sister was part of the party. Regardless of whatever tests of skill or smarts Dad had already mastered, Mom knew that a gaggle of giggling girls could easily take him down. At nine, Brenda might have been a cool number and more than a bit bossy but she and Dad were outnumbered.

With Mom now firmly in charge, we burst into the lobby of Valle’s Steakhouse. The site of countless celebrations, Valle’s was the backdrop for part two of the festivities. Unheard of on Jackson Road, this birthday party was going out for lunch! To a restaurant!

True to form, no sooner had we sat down but all or most of us needed a trip to the ladies room. With her enormous belly pushing us along, Mom guided us through the cavernous dining room. As we chatted and giggled, took our turns, washed our hands and giggled and chatted some more, a kind (and kind of mischievous) woman looked over at Mom and said, “I hope for your sake that this next one’s a boy.”

My brother was born a few days later. It was still dark out when Brenda nudged me awake with the news. She was obviously very excited and asked me if I was too. I told her no, rolled over and went back to sleep. Some children would have welcomed him as a belated birthday present; not me. Yes, his imminent arrival had given me the fanciest party in the neighborhood but that couldn’t make up for two simple facts. He stole my bedroom and made me a middle child.

Bon appétit!

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Big or not, don’t all birthdays call for cake? Enjoy!
Serves 12-16

9 tablespoons butter plus more for the pan
10 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 large eggs, at room temperature and separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cognac
Pinch salt
Garnish: heavy cream, lightly sweetened or not and whipped to soft peaks

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper. Wrap the pan in two layers of heavy aluminum foil.

Put the chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan and, stirring frequently, heat on very low until about 2/3 melted. Remove the pan from the heat, let sit for a few minutes and stir until smooth. Stir in the expresso powder and cinnamon and set aside to cool slightly.

Put the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and frothy. Beat in the vanilla and cognac. Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks and sugar.

Clean the electric mixer’s beaters and beat the egg whites and salt until thick. Add remaining the sugar and continue beating until stiff but not dry.

Stir about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the remaining whites. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and place it in a roasting pan.

Add boiling water to the roasting pan to come halfway up the side of springform pan. Bake at 37 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 and continue baking for 35-40 minutes.

Remove the cake from the roasting pan and place it on a rack to cool completely. Unwrap the foil, remove the side of springform pan and transfer the cake to a serving plate.

Cut the cake into thin wedges and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs
Two Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Three Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Four Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Five Years Ago – Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Six Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Seven 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 a winter vacation? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

April Is National Grilled Cheese Month & Not Your Ordinary Grilled Ham & Swiss Cheese Sandwiches

Susan_Nye_1st_day_schoolSummer has salad days, the dark days of December have cookies and comfort food and April has Grilled Cheese. At least in New Hampshire, a celebration of our favorite comfort sandwich is probably a good thing. While other parts of the country are basking in sunshine and watching the daffodils bob, New England has been enjoying a typical spring. And by typical I mean that delightful combination of brilliant sun and temperatures in the seventies one day and snow, ice and gale force winds the next. With weather like that, we need a little comfort.

More than a sandwich, grilled cheese is an iconic symbol of childhood and the home for lunch bunch. That’s what my mother called us. Long after most schools across the country set up cafeterias and kitchens, the elementary schools in my childhood suburb sent us home at midday.

It was a nice break for kids and good exercise. We had at least an hour to get home, have lunch and get back again. Since we walked the half mile to school and back again, two round trips kept us pretty fit. That said, it kept our mothers on a very short tether. Within a few short hours of kissing us goodbye, we were back for a sandwich. It wasn’t long after that second kiss that we were home for the day. Mom heaved a giant sigh of relief and did a splendid happy dance when elementary school lunches finally started. My brother was in the third or fourth grade. John was the youngest of three and she’d been rushing home to fix lunch for one kid or another for more than ten years.

Our absolute favorite lunch was a grilled cheese sandwich. We didn’t have them often, so they were all the more coveted and delicious. Although she loved bringing her family together for a meal, Mom was not an enthusiastic cook. Her grilled cheese sandwiches were no frill and devoid of gourmet touches. She dabbed a little butter on some Wonder Bread and added a square of something that only vaguely resembled cheese and fried them up. Mom used those plastic-wrapped squares that came in orange or white. Those little squares melted beautifully and had little if any taste.

In honor of Grilled Cheese Month, it’s time to get out the griddle. You can go with the classic, Wonder Bread and Kraft Singles, if you insist. Not me. Now that I’m all grown up or at least a lot older, I steer clear of foods with labels like Cheese Product. Be it cheddar or brie, gruyere, mozzarella, fontina, Havarti or goat cheese, nothing beats real, honest-to-goodness, natural cheese. Don’t be shy, mix and match a few cheeses. And forget the Wonder Bread; wonderful cheeses deserve a beautiful, artisanal bread. From a lovely baguette to a hearty sourdough, there are lots to choose from for your perfect sandwich. To make it even more delectable, throw in a few grown-up embellishments. Already delicious, it will become irresistible when you make one or two or three spectacular additions. Think bacon, caramelized onions, fig jam, mushrooms, olives, prosciutto, spinach, tapenade or, well let’s face it, the list of possibilities is all but endless.

Oh, and while grilled cheese may be the epitome of the perfect lunch, those gooey on the inside, crunchy on the outside sandwiches will make a fabulous addition to your next cocktail party. Nostalgia will meet scrumptious when you pass around wedges of your favorite grilled cheese sandwich. Or mix it up with a spectacular variety of minis made with different combinations on sliced baguette. Yummmm!

Happy Grilled Cheese Month and bon appétit!

Not Your Ordinary Grilled Ham & Swiss Cheese Sandwiches
llish real Swiss Gruyère and Emmental cheeses with jambon cru and pickled onions for one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches you will ever eat. Enjoy!grilled_swiss_cheeses_proscuitto_05
Serves 2

About 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
About 2 ounces Emmental cheese, grated
1-2 tablespoons dry white wine
Butter, at room temperature
4 slices country bread
Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 thin slices(about 2 ounces) jambon cru* or prosciutto
Garnish: pickled red onions (recipe follows)

Put the cheeses and wine in a bowl and toss to combine.

Generously butter one side of each bread slice. Smear the other side with mustard and place the bread on a large griddle or in a skillet. Evenly distribute the cheese across all four slices of bread and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat until the cheese has melted and the bread is nicely browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Top half of the bread and cheese slices with jambon cru and sprinkle the other half with pickled red onions. Carefully flip one half of each sandwich onto the other, let sit for 2 minutes, cut into wedges and serve.

But what if you want to make grilled cheese for a crowd?

Multiple the ingredients to accommodate the number of sandwiches you want to make. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or foil and set wire racks in the pans.

Generously butter one side of each bread slice. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, cook the buttered side on the griddle until the bread is a pale golden brown.

Transfer the bread, toasted side down, onto the wire racks. (Can do up to 1 hour ahead.)

Put the cheeses and wine in a bowl and toss to combine. Smear the untoasted side of the bread with mustard, sprinkle with the cheeses and season with salt and pepper.

Bake until the cheese has melted, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, top half of the bread and cheese slices with jambon cru and sprinkle the other half with pickled red onions. Carefully flip one half of each sandwich onto the other, let sit for 2 minutes, cut into wedges and serve.

* Similar to prosciutto, jambon cru is a dry cured raw ham and popular in Switzerland and France.

Pickled Red Onions
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf

Combine the hot water, vinegar, sugar, salt and red pepper in glass bowl. Stir until sugar and salt dissolve.

Put the red onion and bay leaf in a clean glass jar. Add the vinegar mixture, cover and shake to combine. If the pickling liquid does not cover the onions completely, add more water and vinegar and give it another shake.

Cover and chill overnight.

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One Year Ago – Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two Years Ago – Thai Curried Shrimp and Green Beans
Three Years Ago – Asparagus Risotto
Four Years Ago – Fennel & Feta Salad
Five Years Ago – Dandelion Salad with Grilled Steak, Potatoes & AsparagusOr Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite Grilled Cheese combo? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2014

A Trip to Fenway Park & Confetti Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

fenway_park_02April means many things. Spring arrives and we put away our skis and snowshoes.
There are April showers or rather downpours. The roads are a sea of mud or an obstacle course of pot holes and frost heaves or both. And of course, baseball season begins. Yesterday was opening day and next week Fenway Park will throw open its doors for the first home game.

Growing up outside of Boston, I was raised on the Boston Red Sox. However, I was not exactly a diehard fan. Not like my seventh grade math teacher. She was the one who struggled with new math but taught it anyway. On game days, she stopped class every ten minutes or so to turn on the radio for an update. I was more of the nothing-else-is-going-on type of fan. I was more than happy to watch the Red Sox play as long as the game didn’t interfere with something important … like a trip to the beach or the mall. Still and all, I read the sports page once or twice a week, understood the rules of the game and some of the strategies and followed all the players (particularly the handsome ones).

Although I was never quite so devastated as my math teacher, like most of the population in and around Boston, the Red Sox broke my heart countless times. They even lost the first time I watched a game live and in person in Fenway Park.

Back in the days before retirees put on reflective vests and held up stop signs, sixth graders manned the crosswalks. Or at least they did in my quiet suburban town west of Boston. An invitation to join the Safety Patrol was supposed to be some kind of honor or recognition of the town’s future leaders. Our teachers liked to pretend it was a role reserved for the best of the best.

It was a myth that only the top students were invited to guard the safety of their classmates. At eleven, I was not a brilliant student. As far as I know, I did not show great promise as a future leader of industry, government or academics. I was a sweet little girl who turned in her homework on time and got along with both her classmates and teachers. In other words, I was a bit of nerd, cheerful and well behaved with decent if not spectacular grades. Evidently, that was enough to qualify for the prestigious mantle of Safety Patrol. By year’s end, about half of the sixth grade had put in their time keeping younger siblings and neighbors from harm’s way.

The reward for the onerous duties of Safety Patrol was a trip to Fenway Park. Not opening day mind you but we did get to play hooky. Sometime before school let out at the end of June, yellow school buses circulated through the town picking up a couple hundred sixth graders and then headed into Boston. As field trips go, it was better than Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, much better.

It was all very exciting. The day was perfect, bright and sunny. One of the announcers proclaimed it Safety Patrol Day or some such thing and welcomed us over the loud speakers. We sat in the bleachers, stared at the regulars, ate popcorn for lunch, drank cokes and felt very grown up. There’s nothing like a ball game under sunny skies. Especially on a school day and even when the Red Sox break your heart.

Enjoy the start of baseball season and bon appétit!

Confetti Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Win or lose, enjoy a festive salad after the game!
Serves 4

6 ounces baby mixed greens
1/2 small head radicchio, thinly sliced
4 radishes, chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 avocado, diced
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 carrot, cut in curls with a vegetable peeler
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
Citrus Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled


Put the vegetables and herbs in a large bowl and toss to combine. (If preparing ahead, prepare and add the avocado just before serving.)

Drizzle the salad with enough Citrus Vinaigrette to lightly coat and toss to combine. Put the salad on a serving platter, top with crumbled feta and serve.

Citrus Vinaigrette
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4-inch slice red onion, chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1-2 teaspoons honey
1-2 teaspoon anchovy paste
Pinch cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Put all of the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a blender and process until smooth. With the motor running on low, slowly add olive oil to taste and process until smooth.

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One Year Ago – Magret de Canard Provencal
Two Years Ago – Strawberry & White Chocolate Fool Parfaits
Three Years Ago – Grilled Lamb & Lemon Roasted Potatoes
Four Years Ago – Spicy Olives
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite spring sport? Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree & Braised Short Ribs

For many the first weekend of December can only mean one thing. It’s time to deck the halls and put up the tree. Many families will spend next Saturday afternoon wandering through the snow, saw in hand, looking for the perfect specimen to hang their baubles and bows.

The Nye’s were never one of those families. Yes, we did have a tree. Yes, we did spend a wonderful Sunday afternoon decorating it. But we didn’t trudge through the woods or a tree farm with a saw. We took (what should have been) the easy route. We bought our tree at the local garden shop.

One year was particularly memorable. Staying at home with my-then baby brother, my mother sent my dad, my sister Brenda and I to buy the tree. It was not without some trepidation. Convinced that Dad would just grab the first tree he saw, she put her two little girls in charge. As we tumbled into the backseat of the station wagon, she rattled off a list of instructions. We should buy a Douglas fir. Or was it a Blue spruce? Make sure it’s not too tall or too short. It should be plump and full and fit in the bay window in the living room. Mom’s instructions went in one ear and out the other. I was only seven. Brenda could handle it. After all she was in the fifth grade.

Most years we arrived at the garden shop just as the winter sun was fading and the temperature dropping. This one was no exception. We wandered through the rows of trees. Dad pulled out a likely candidate for our inspection. We checked for bare spots and tried to guess if it would pass Mom’s critical eye. Tree after tree was rejected, until finally the most perfect evergreen was found. Or maybe we were just chilled to the bone and ready for our warm house and a cup of hot chocolate.

Our beautiful new Christmas tree was quickly purchased and tied to the roof of the car. Before the motor was turned off, Mom was out the door and in the driveway to inspect our purchase. Hugging her sweater for warmth, she watched it come off the car. In seconds she’d sized up all of the tree’s flaws. First there was the big bare spot half way up one side. Then there was crooked trunk that would make the tree lean like the Tower of Pisa. Plus it was too tall to fit in the living room. Or maybe it was too small. I’m not really sure except that it was proclaimed far from perfect.

The tree was returned to the roof of the car and back we went to Diehl’s. By now, it was probably 4:30, a lot colder and dark. A few bare bulbs feebly lit the stacks of trees. Again, we wandered around, inspecting and rejecting until finally, we were sure. Yes indeed, this time we had really, truly found the perfect tree. Either that or we were really, truly freezing and really, truly in need of a hot chocolate.

Again, Mom heard the car pull up and was out the door in a flash. In less than a minute she was back in the house to grab her coat and bundle the baby into his snowsuit. Dad tied the second tree back onto the car.

Back at Diehl’s we watched the master as she carefully inspected and rejected tree after tree. Too skinny. Too short. Too prickly. Oops, too expensive. Too who-knows-what. Christmas is her favorite of all the holidays and Mom was filled with purpose. The Nye’s would have a beautiful tree. A perfect tree.

And of course, in spite of the cold and the flickering twenty watt bulbs, she found it.

Wishing you and yours a joyful holiday season, filled with wonderful family memories. Bon appétit!

Braised Short Ribs
Whether you spend the afternoon cutting your own or wandering through the garden shop in search of the perfect Christmas tree, these hearty ribs will warm you up! Enjoy!
Serves 6

2 ounces slab or thick cut bacon, roughly chopped
4-5 pounds beef short ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
Garnish: fresh chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the bacon in a heavy casserole over medium heat until crisp and brown. Remove the bacon and reserve. Pour off any excess bacon fat, leaving just enough to lightly coat the pan and reserve.

Season the beef with salt and pepper and, working in batches, brown the beef over medium-high heat. Remove the beef and add to the reserved bacon.

Reduce the heat to medium. Drain any excess fat from the pan, leaving just enough to lightly coat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with paprika, salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Stir the vinegar, mustard and tomatoes into the vegetables. Slowly add the wine and chicken stock, stirring to combine. Raise the heat to high, bring to a simmer and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add the herbs, return the beef and bacon to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until the beef is tender. Add more wine and/or stock if needed.

Carefully transfer the beef to a deep serving platter. If necessary, bring the sauce to a boil over high heat to reduce. Ladle the sauce over the beef, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

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One Year Ago – Mushroom Crostini
Two Years Ago – Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels
Three Years Ago – Braised Beef with Root Vegetables
Four Years Ago – Macadamia Nut Shortbread

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

Where do you get your annual tree? In the woods? A tree farm? Or garden shop? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

Feel Big and Strong – Vote & A Chicken in Every Pot

Is it possible that Election Day is only a week away? It seems like the campaigns have been going on and on forever. Well, maybe that’s because they have, or at least almost. After all New Hampshire is both the first in the nation primary and a swing state. In hopes of capturing our hearts, minds and votes, politicians have spent the last few years trudging through snow, rain, blistering heat and autumn leaves to shake our hands and kiss our babies.

My mother has always taken voting very seriously. She grew up close to Boston, birthplace of four presidents and home of the Tea Party. That’s the original Tea Party. The one in 1773 when patriots threw overtaxed tea into the harbor. She loved history, particularly early American history. For more than a few years she guided tourists and school children through the Massachusetts State House. She loved sharing the buildings’ art and architectural details. Even more she enjoyed sharing some of Boston’s well- and not-so-well known history. Her favorite story was of a patriotic Nye ancestor who took part in the famous harbor tea fest. Family legend says that he pilfered a handful of the precious tea and brought it home to his mother in New Bedford.

When it came to politics my sister, brother and I were encouraged to have opinions and voice them with enthusiasm. But there was a but. If we wanted to take part in the discussion we had to participate in the process. My mother firmly believes that getting out the vote should start at home. As soon as we turned eighteen, she whisked us down to the town hall to register. Why, we barely had time to open our presents and finish our birthday cakes. She didn’t care if we shared her political leanings. It didn’t matter if we registered Republican, Democrat or Independent. We mattered and therefore our votes mattered.

No sooner had I joined the voting rolls than a local election took me inside one of those mysterious voting booths. Voting was held in school gyms throughout town, so I’d seen the red, white and blue mini cabanas many times. Mom waited for the school bus to bring me home that day so we could cast our ballots together. It was not a major election, just a few local statutes or amendments were on the ballot. As far as I could tell they were written is some foreign language which pretended to be English but didn’t wholly succeed. I don’t remember what they were about or how I voted. All I remember is my mother’s pride and excitement as I voted for the first time.

With her voice in my ear, I have managed to vote in most but (sorry Mom!) not all major elections. Even when I lived in Europe, I voted absentee. It was sometimes touch and go but I usually managed to meet the deadline. While many of my expatriate friends let it slide, I always felt quite virtuous for voting. Even if I was an ocean away.

I moved back to the US on the eve of the 2000 election. Unsure that my absentee ballot had been mailed in time, I watched the results late into the night, early the next morning and on and on for days and days. Jetlagged and reverse-culture shocked; I wondered if my one little vote could make a difference. As always, my mother categorically insisted that it did. Given that the election was finally won by only 537 votes in Florida, she was pretty close to right.

2012 promises to be another squeaker so regardless of your political leanings, don’t forget to vote! Bob Schieffer, the moderator in the final presidential debate put it beautifully when he closed the evening with a quote from his mom, “Go vote, it makes you feel big and strong.”

My mother would wholeheartedly agree.

Bon appétit!

A Chicken in Every Pot
In the old days politicians promised a chicken in every pot. Try this flavorful dish while you wait and watch the returns on Election Night. Enjoy!
Serves 6
About 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 – 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts
6 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons cognac
1/4 cup heavy cream
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the flour with the paprika and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pat the chicken dry and dredge it in the flour, shaking off the excess. Heat a little olive oil a large casserole over medium-high heat. Sauté the chicken until golden, 1-2 minutes per each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve.

Add the garlic, carrot, celery and onion to the pan and season with herbs de Provence, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium and sauté until the onion is translucent, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the mustard and then slowly stir in the white wine and chicken stock. Add the bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan with any juices and wiggle the pieces down into the vegetables. Bring everything to a simmer, cover and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan and cover to keep warm.

Remove the casserole from the heat and stir in the cognac. Whisk in the cream and simmer on low for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Carrots & Pearl Onions
Two Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

Three Years Ago – Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions
Four Years Ago – Mexican Chicken Soup
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you spend Election Night? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

Back to the Burbs & Chicken Parmigiana with Spaghetti Marinara

Like all good things, summer must end. When we were kids, that meant packing up the station wagon and heading back to the burbs. As sad as my sister, brother and I were to see Labor Day come around, I think our return hit my mother the hardest. After all, we had new classes, teachers and classmates to excite us, unnerve us or bore us.

Fall may be my season but summer is hers. As a girl Mom loved spending the summer on the Cape. If it were possible, I’d say she loved summers on Pleasant Lake even more. To use Mom’s words, she was absolutely bereft when it was time to leave paradise for the reality of home.

School always started bright and early on the Tuesday after Labor Day. Unlike many families, we always stayed in New Hampshire until the last possible minute. Most all of our friends were long gone by the time we packed up the car and headed south late Labor Day afternoon. Looking back I’m a little surprised that we didn’t leave at dawn on Tuesday morning.

The other kids showed up looking sharp and ready to go on the first day of school. I still had sand in my hair. My friends’ book bags were filled with shiny new notebooks, pencils and pens. Unless I somehow managed to scrounge up a scruffy old notepad and a stubby pencil, I arrived empty-handed.

Returning home from school that first afternoon, I did my best to convince my mother that I not only needed school supplies but speed was of the essence. Mom was never particularly sympathetic. With melodramatic flair, I insisted my teachers were threatening failure, detention or worse. Still in relax mode and with sand in her hair, Mom insisted the public school system would not, could not expel me because I didn’t have a new pencil. I was not convinced.

Eventually, my pleas wore her down. Off we went to the Five & Dime to pick up middle school flotsam and jetsam.

Of course all the good stuff was long gone. The back-to-school aisle looked like a hurricane had blown through it. While I was swimming, sunning and waterskiing my friends had cornered the market on cool and cute school supplies. I was lucky to find a boring Bic pen and a dull and dreary black notebook. And forget book covers. My mother was too forlorn to understand why I would die before I’d let The Beverly Hillbillies cover my books. In lieu of hari-kari, I became quite expert at cutting and folding paper bags and made my own. My drawings might not have been the envy of the sixth grade but I thought I did okay. Perhaps that’s why I ended up as an art major in college!

Not all gloom and glum, our return to the burbs also meant dinner at the Villa. Never a particularly enthusiastic cook, Mom was too blue that first day or two home to rattle her pots and pans. The Villa was a family favorite and we three kids were more than happy to go along. The noise level was a dull roar, the waitresses were bossy and the food was traditional Italian-American. It was wonderful. The Villa took some of the edge off the pain of being back in the burbs.

Whatever your post-Labor Day reality; I hope you are enjoying all that cooler weather brings. Bon appétit!

Chicken Parmigiana with Spaghetti Marinara
A family friendly dinner for kids from five to ninety-five! My brother always ordered veal or chicken parmagiana when we went to the Villa. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
Olive oil
3-4 cups Marinara Sauce (recipe follows)
About 4 ounces mozzarella, shredded
About 4 ounces fontina, shredded
About 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
About 1 ounce Pecorino Romano, grated
8 ounces spaghetti
Additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano for the spaghetti (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and put a large pot of water on high heat to boil.

Put the flour, salt, pepper, paprika and thyme in a shallow bowl and whisk to combine. Lightly coat both sides of the chicken with the seasoned flour.

Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Working in batches, cook the chicken 2-3 minutes per side or until golden. Transfer the chicken to a non-stick, rimmed baking sheet. Top each chicken thigh with 2-3 tablespoons Marinara Sauce and sprinkle with the cheeses. Bake the chicken at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked through and the cheeses are bubbling.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot with enough Marinara Sauce to coat. Don’t drown the pasta in sauce. Cover the pot and let the spaghetti sit for about 1 minute to absorb some of the sauce.

Divide the spaghetti among 8 shallow bowls, top each with a chicken thigh and serve. Pass additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano for the pasta.

Traditional Marinara Sauce
Makes about 3 quarts*

Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1-2 carrots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch or to taste dried chili pepper flakes (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
9-10 cups (three 28-ounce cans) crushed tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons each chopped, fresh basil and parsley

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the crushed tomatoes, thyme and bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the basil and parsley and simmer for a minute or two more.

* You’ll want to make plenty of sauce. It freezes beautifully and will come in handy throughout the fall and winter.

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One Year Ago – Croûtes au Fromage
Two Years Ago – Tex-Mex Braised Beef
Three Years Ago – Spicy Chicken Stew
Foure Years Ago – Chicken Chili
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite Italian-American dish? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012