Goin’ Shoppin’ … For the Foodies on Your Christmas List

Are you checkin’ your list? Checkin’ it twice … and desperately trying to come up with the perfect gift for all your favorite people? I can’t help with Uncle Bill (the guy who has everything) or that fashionista ‘tween or teen. But maybe I can help with the foodies in your life. A list of favorite finds for foodies could be, should be endless. Unfortunately, I don’t have all day so here are a few quick ideas.

Bits ‘n’ Bobs – hostess gifts, stocking stuffers and cheery tokens of friendship. A beautiful wooden spoon or handcrafted cutting board or a cheery apron or oven mitt, especially my (shameless plug) favorite Susan Nye – Around the Table apron, is always welcome.

Gadgets are good. My favorites include handheld citrus juicers. They come in three sizes and colors for oranges, lemons and limes. I’m also a big fan of microplane graters. Again they come in different sizes – fine, medium and course. These great graters make light work of grating and shredding cheeses and finely zesting lemons, limes and oranges. I know you can’t have too many heatproof silicon spatulas. I’m not kidding – I use them all the time for everything.

The little tool I use at last a couple of times a week, my mini food processor makes a wonderful gift. If you are feeling flush, you can never go wrong with a really good chef’s knife. And if budget is no object, all exotic drink fans secretly or not so secretly covet a Blendtec Blender. Even if it’s not in your budget, watch the video for a good laugh.

Bakers will be happy to receive tools to decorate their fabulous cupcakes, a silicon mat, maybe two, to line their cookie sheets or an incredibly fast and easy apple peeler to make quick work of pies or crisp. If that baker on your list has been extra good or is someone very special, well … I don’t know what I would do without my Kitchenaid Stand Mixer.

Wine lovers will be delighted with an old fashioned screw pull and even more delighted with the deluxe model. Coffee aficionados would love a pound of really good coffee as well as my favorite stovetop espresso maker. If you’ve got a bigger budget you can go for a prettier model!

Edible gifts are always good! Knowing that most foodies already have cupboards and drawers full of gadgets, gizmos and tools, you may want to play it safe. You can still keep it interesting. A fabulous bottle of wine is always appreciated but what about a great bottle of olive or walnut oil or twenty-five year old balsamic vinegar? Or a chunk of absolutely wonderful cheese or a pint of delicious olives.

And if you’re desperate? A gift certificate for their favorite kitchen store, specialty food haunt or restaurant is always a good idea! Then again, if by some chance your foodie is not already a subscriber, you can’t miss with an annual subscription to bon appétit magazine.

Happy holidays and bon appétit!

Oh…and just so you know…no cash or goods passed hands in return for this post. You can find many of these products at your local kitchen or specialty store. If you’re lucky you might find a few of these gadgets for less at a discount store.

More Tips, Tricks & Tools

What are you buying for the foodie on your list? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for 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, 2011

In the Kitchen – A Homemade Christmas

Hostess gifts, a little something for a neighbor, stocking stuffers … the list goes on and on. What are your favorite little gifts for friends and family? A bottle of wine? A bouquet of flowers? How about something from your kitchen?

Everyone loves chocolate so luscious Chocolate Truffles, buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle or a jar of  Death by Chocolate Sauce are sure winners.

Unless your family and friends prefer savory treats. If that’s the case, I’d go with olives. My Spicy Olives or Tapenade both make great gifts.

For the nuts in your life, you can’t go wrong with my favorite Roasted Almonds. For a change of pace you might want to try some Sugar & Spiced Pecans.

Whether you go for sweet, savory or a bit of crunch, don’t hesitate to make up big batches of these treats. You never know when a friend will call with a last minute invitation or a neighbor will stop by with some of her world-famous cookies.

Happy holidays and bon appétit!

Sugar & Spiced Pecans
These toasty nuts have just a touch of sweetness and spice.

3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups pecan halves
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put the salt, cumin, allspice, paprika and cayenne pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Remove from the heat, add the pecans and toss to combine. sprinkle with the spices and toss to combine. Add the brown sugar and toss to combine.

Spread the nuts in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets lined with silicon mats or parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool to room temperature and transfer to airtight containers. Store at room temperature.

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

What are your favorite homemade gifts? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

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In the Kitchen – Cookies for Christmas!

It’s raining, it’s pouring and snow is in the forecast.
 It’s a good day to stay in and bake Christmas cookies. This dark day will seem a lot brighter if you fill your house with sweetness and spice. I’ve got three great cookie recipes in Parenting NH magazine this month. Click here to find my recipes for Sugar & Spice Cookies, Snowballs and Double Chocolate Cookies. I’m particularly fond of the Snowballs.

Looking for a few more options? Shortbread is always a holiday favorite. I promise you will love my Macadamia Nut Shortbread. My Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies are a hearty treat on a cold day, the perfect cookies to help Santa on his route.

If you are rushed (and who isn’t), Sweet Dream Bars are quick and easy. If you’ve got a bunch of chocolate lovers at your house, you can’t miss with my Triple Threat Brownies.

Happy baking and bon appétit!

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

What are you baking this year for the holidays? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2011

Midnight, Christmas Eve & Triple Chocolate Parfait

Right after Thanksgiving we start to hear the warnings, only twenty-eight days until Christmas. Soon, there are only fifteen, then ten, five, four, three and two days, until yikes! It’s here! But not to worry, you’ve made your lists. You’ve checked them twice, three times and more. You’ve made new lists and checked them three or four times.

It’s been a long race. There were cookies to bake and a tree to trim. You untangled endless strings of lights and braved the cold to wrap them around trees and shrubs. Even more courageous, you braved the traffic jams at the malls. You shopped ‘till you dropped and somehow managed to accomplish the impossible. You found gifts and gadgets for one and all, from the most finicky teenager to the guy who has everything.

Wonder of wonders in all the rushing around and chaos you didn’t leave a package behind at a checkout counter or in a shopping cart. But the wonders don’t cease. Not only did you get everything home but you waded through a bunch of unintelligible directions and assembled every thing that needs assembly. Finally, and perhaps the most impressive, the most miraculous, you remembered all your secret hiding places. All your gifts are present and accounted for and neatly wrapped under the tree.

Throughout December your afternoons, evenings and weekends have been packed. You survived the annual office holiday party without getting fired or destroying your career. You swapped cookies, sipped eggnog, shared cups of tea, glasses of wine and a nibble or two. You mingled, exchanged harmless banter and chatted with friends and neighbors. You’ve been to pageants and band concerts and dance recitals. You stood in the cold helping the Boy Scouts sell Christmas trees and carpooled kids hither, thither and yon. And since life doesn’t stop for the holidays, you did it all on top of your regular day job, or jobs.

Now it’s finally here. All that hustle and all that bustle is about to come to an end.

You made your last last minute trip to the store (and hope to high heavens that it really is the last). You celebrated in church with readings and carols. A beautiful, festive dinner has been shared, although a few little ones might have been too excited to take a single bite. The kitchen is now back in some semblance of order and the dishwasher softly whirls and hums.

“The Night Before Christmas” has been read, maybe reread. Kisses and hugs have been given all around, at least twice. Children are finally tucked in and dreaming of sugar plums. Or maybe the latest computer game, Lego set or Barbie. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care and a steaming mug of cocoa and a plate of cookies are perched on the hearth for Santa.

At this point you might be tempted to ask yourself, “What have I forgotten?” Regardless of the answer, it is time to put away that never ending to-do list. If it’s not done, it will just need to wait for another day or another year. Grab a mug of tea or a glass of wine, put your feet up, take a deep breath, heave a huge sigh of relief and relax. Feeling guilty? Don’t. In a few hours, all the craziness will start again!

I wish you all a wonderful holiday with family and friends. Enjoy!

Bon appétit!

Triple Chocolate Cream Parfait
This decadent dessert is perfect for a special holiday dinner. It is very easy to prepare but start it early in the day as there is some down time between steps. The parfaits are very rich, so I recommend you serve small portions. Enjoy!
Serves 12

2 1/4 cups heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
Pinch salt
4 ounces of good bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces of good milk chocolate, chopped
4 ounces of good white chocolate, chopped
3 teaspoons Grand Marnier
3/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Heat the cream, orange zest and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat until it is almost a simmer.

2. While the cream is heating up, put each of the chocolates into small mixing bowls.

3. Remove the cream from the heat. Dividing it equally, strain 3/4 of a cup of warm cream through a fine mesh sieve into each of the three bowls. Let stand for a few minutes. Whisk until the chocolate in each bowl has melted and combined with the warm cream. Add 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla to each bowl and whisk to combine. Let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until cold, about 3 or 4 hours.

4. With an electric mixer, beat each bowl of cold chocolate cream until it holds soft peaks. Carefully spoon a layer of bittersweet chocolate cream in the bottom of small dessert or wine glasses. If necessary, give it a soft tap to settle the chocolate cream. Repeat with the milk and white chocolates. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Do you have a question? An idea, a few thoughts or an opinion you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my other, cleverly named blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010

Deck the Halls & Chicken with Penne

The holidays are a wonderful time of year. We bring out the decorations and fill our houses from floor to rafters with greenery, sparkling lights and colorful balls and baubles. Our houses aren’t just beautiful with shiny decorations, they also smell wonderful. With greens on the mantle and a magnificent tree in the corner, the house is filled with the fresh scent of pine.

Throughout December the kitchen bustles with activity. We track down stained and faded index cards with treasured family recipes. Or in need of a little change, we scour foodie magazines for new ideas to delight our family and friends. From spicy gingerbread to savory roasts and succulent stews, glorious aromas waft their way out of the kitchen through the house.

More than any other month, December is filled with holiday parties from intimate gatherings to big open houses. Office parties, cookie swaps, fundraising events and neighborhood and family get-togethers fill the month. While my claim to fame and tradition has always been Thanksgiving Dinner, my friend Julie is famous for kicking off the holidays. Her birthday falls in early December and throughout her childhood her family celebrated the start of the season with a combined birthday and Christmas party.

Even after she moved to Switzerland, Julie continued this family tradition and has made it her own. I met Julie when we were young, single and lived in apartments the size of shoe boxes. Early on her party was a table of eight or twelve friends in a restaurant. As she gradually moved to bigger and better digs, Julie moved the party home.

Over the years the party has expanded from a small band of revelers to thirty or more. Not to worry, Julie is in her element when it comes to throwing a Christmas Party. She takes decking the halls very seriously and her home sparkles. An enthusiastic baker, Julie pulls out all the stops for her yuletide gathering. She also has an able crew to assist her. Her two children pose as pastry sous-chefs and help her sift, stir and roll out dozens of cookies. Her husband makes a knock-you-out-of-your-socks eggnog.

But forget the food, forget the eggnog, the best thing about celebrating the season with Julie is the piano. An accomplished pianist and teacher, she has a grand piano tucked at one end of her living room. Scrooges and blasé sophisticates may find it boring or trite, but I love to sing Christmas carols. I am tone deaf and can not sing a single sweet note, but what I lack in quality I make up in enthusiasm. I take pride in knowing that I can still remember the first verse of every carol ever written.

These are difficult times. Many of us are looking for ways to economize this holiday season and throwing a party might just slip off our list of priorities. Looking on bright side, tough times free us to ignore all the stuff and focus on what’s really important: family, friends and togetherness. Forget the fuss and bother of an extravagant party. Why not gather everyone together for a comfortable and cozy potluck? Need entertainment? Singing, on key or off, is a cheap and cheerful way to celebrate family, friendship and the spirit of the season.

I wish you a wonderful holiday and may all your celebrations be filled with joyful noise! Enjoy!

Bon appétit!

Chicken with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Penne
This economical dish is great for a party. You can easily double it for a larger group. Enjoy!
(Serves 12)

2 onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
4 cups crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 pound penne pasta
Grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil

1. Heat a little olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the onion, bell pepper and mushrooms, sprinkle with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté for 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Add the red wine, crushed tomatoes and chicken stock and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, season the flour with salt and pepper. Lightly dust the chicken with seasoned flour. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, sear the chicken in batches in a little olive oil until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.

3. Add the chicken to the tomato sauce and simmer for about 20 minutes on low heat.

4. While the chicken is simmering, cook the penne according to package directions.

5. To serve, remove the chicken from the sauce and cut in thick slices. Stir the basil into the sauce. Drain the pasta and put it in a large serving bowl, add a little sauce and toss to combine. Arrange the chicken on top of the pasta, spoon a little sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with extra sauce and a little grated parmesan cheese.

This chicken can be made a day or 2 s ahead through step 3. Let cool to room temperature, keep covered and refrigerate. To reheat, bring the dish to a simmer on top of the stove and cook until the chicken is warmed through.

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Do you have a question? An idea, a few thoughts or an opinion you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my other, cleverly named blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010

Yes, Susan There Is a Santa Claus & Macadamia Nut Shortbread

When I was little the holiday season began when we picked our Secret Santas. Sometime after Thanksgiving, I lined up with my classmates at Fiske School and picked a name from the hat. In the days leading up to Christmas vacation we would surprise each other with small gifts. It was never anything elaborate. You might discover a fresh baked Christmas cookie or a Hershey’s kiss hidden in your desk after recess. At the end of the school day when you bundled up to head home, there might be some Play-Doh or a yoyo tucked in your coat pocket.

This tradition of leaving small, anonymous gifts is part of the legacy and legend of Saint Nicholas. (Say it three times fast and Saint Nicholas begins to sound like Santa Claus!) And yes there really is a Saint Nicholas. He lived about 1,700 years ago in what is now Turkey. The son of wealthy Greeks, he became a Christian bishop and dedicated his life and his fortune to helping others.

Known to some as Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker, his long list of miracles includes raising children from the dead and saving sailors from stormy seas. He is renowned for his generosity. Never wanting to embarrass struggling families, the good bishop secretly dropped coins into children’s shoes during the night. It is rumored that he surreptitiously supplied dowries for at least three poor damsels. The bags of gold saved the girls from a life of spinsterhood and destitution.

But Saint Nicholas doesn’t limit his protection to children and sailors. He is also the patron saint of merchants, archers and pawn brokers. Who could have guessed that pawn brokers needed a patron saint? Greece and Russia hold him dear. Cities as diverse as Amsterdam, Liverpool and Beit Jala on the West Bank have adopted Nicholas as their patron saint.

Saint Nicholas Day, December 6th, is celebrated in more than thirty countries around the world. Children leave their boots or shoes out in anticipation of little gifts and treats. It is a fun time for families with a festive dinner and lots of cheer. While Saint Nicholas Day starts the yuletide season with a little family fun, the spirit of Saint Nicholas is cause for celebration all year long. On almost any given day we can find wonderful examples of kindness and generosity, from the grandest gestures to the simplest acts.

Last year I discovered a sweet way to celebrate the spirit of Saint Nicholas and spread a little holiday cheer. Cookies, yes, cookies. Far from grand or grandiose, Christmas cookies are one of life’s little pleasures and a cheerful sign of the season. Five or six years ago a woman in Rhode Island came up with a simple idea: bake up a big batch of cookies and invite people to stop by and help decorate them. Then unlike your typical cookie swap or party, the cookies are donated to a local food pantry, emergency shelter or senior center. From the first get-together in Rhode Island the concept quickly spread and Drop In & Decorate® cookie parties* have sprouted up all around country.

A cheery reminder of Christmas’ past, cookies are a sweet way to give a little something to the community. A cookie party is wonderful excuse to spend some time with family and friends. I held my first cookie party last year and hope to make it one of my annual traditions. In spite of all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I’m juggling my calendar to set a date and do it again this year.

The holiday season is a great time to practice small acts of kindness. Whether you choose to donate to your favorite charity, volunteer your time to a worthy cause or lend a friend a helping hand or listening ear, the need has never been greater. Enjoy Saint Nicholas Day and the spirit of giving,

Bon Appétit!

*For more information on Drop In & Decorate® parties www.dropinanddecorate.org

Macadamia Nut Shortbread
Shortbread is one of my favorite holiday cookies. Enjoy!

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
7-8 ounces macadamia nuts; finely chopped
White chocolate ganache (optional – recipe follows)

1. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

2. Add milk, vanilla and salt; beat until just combined. Gradually add the flour and macadamia nuts. Mix on low speed until fully combined.

3. Divide dough into 3 or 4 pieces. Shape each piece into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5. Using a sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange the cookies on un-greased baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake until edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

6. When the cookies have cooled, frost with warm white chocolate ganache. The cookies can be stored for up to 2 weeks in a single layer in an airtight container.

White Chocolate Ganache
6 ounces white chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a heavy sauce pan over low heat. Add the cream and confectioner’s sugar. Whisk until smooth. Cool for a few minutes before frosting the cookies.

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Do you have a question? An idea, a few thoughts or an opinion you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my other, cleverly named blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010