The First Day of Spring? & Maple Muffins

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. While the concept is not completely foreign, it will be awhile before we see spring in New Hampshire. Or at least the spring depicted in magazines. You know the one I mean. The spring that has flowers gently bobbing in a warm breeze.

Meanwhile, you can measure the snow in my yard in feet not inches. Instead of spring, the vernal equinox kicks off mud season in New Hampshire. In spite of the calendar, mud season more or less began about a week ago. After what may or may not have been the final snowstorm of the season, temperatures began to climb. Giant snowbanks are starting to shrink. Throughout the winter, slabs of sand-embedded ice have managed to cover every shady stretch of road. Those slabs are now crumbling.

Sit quietly for a moment and you can hear the first sounds of a New Hampshire spring. No, not a flock of red red robins bobbin’ bob bobbin’ along, they’re still waiting for the snow to disappear. The sounds you hear are the constant drip, trickle and even rush of melting snow and ice. Every dip in the road and driveway is now home to a murky pool. Run off flows freely into seasonal creeks. Small, usually slow-moving brooks are gushing with icy water.

Of course, sand and mud are everywhere. Otherwise, we couldn’t or wouldn’t call it mud season. Hardy country people, we rarely bother with fancy shoes. Throughout the winter, we make sure we have a good tread to keep from slipping and sliding on the ice and snow. With the snowmelt, those same shoes and boots keep our feet dry. Only problem, that tread picks up everything in its path and then tracks it all into the house. When it’s cold, that’s a little snow. It melts and we mop it up with an old towel. Now, a trail of sand and mud follows us inside.

Let’s face it, in spite of the mud, we love the change of seasons. It doesn’t matter if it’s messy, we still smile when the weather starts to warm. And yes, warm is a relative term. Every day the temperature is above freezing and the sun is out is a good day. Speaking of sun, we applaud every extra minute of daylight. Pun or not, there’s an extra spring in our step as well as some additional cheer to our greetings.

There’s plenty to make you cheerful. If you haven’t been out, the skiing is fantastic. (Or so I hear, my ankle took the winter off.) There’s smoke coming out of the sap house chimney. Who needs flowers when the sweet smell of maple syrup fills the air? Bets are being placed on the day and time for ice out on the lake. Forget the lottery – you could win a bundle on the Ice Out Challenge!

In addition, while I don’t want to jinx it, when it comes to chores, mud season is one of those in between times. The garden and lawn are covered with snow so no weeding or mowing. As for shoveling, there’s a fifty-fifty chance or better that any precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow. And besides, once mid-March comes around, I’ve been known to leave the snow where if falls. After all, why shovel when warmer temperatures and the sun will (eventually) take care of it?

Here’s to the longer, warmer days and bon appétit!

Maple Muffins
Mud season is also maple season in New Hampshire. A batch of maple muffins will make a wonderful addition to an afternoon cup of tea or Sunday brunch. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 dozen muffins

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup currents
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon dark rum

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

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

Put the butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. With the mixer running, slowly add the maple syrup. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and rum and beat until smooth.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 2/3 with batter. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Carrot Salad
Two Years Ago – Irish Lamb Stew
Three Years Ago – Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary
Four Years Ago – Not-Really-Irish and Not-Really-French Potato Gratin
Five Years Ago – Zucchini Pancakes
Six Years Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Seven Three Years Ago – Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Nine Years Ago – Linguine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Roasted Eggplant
Ten Years Ago – Fettuccine with Classic Bolognese Sauce

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

Are you for or against or … the time change? Feel free to share!

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

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Women & Their Stories & Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes

With frigid temperatures one day and icy rain and snow the next, March is a month about fortitude. It’s about marching forward against all odds. How do I know this? I don’t. I made it up but it sounds good. It sounds good because March is Women’s History Month and history is filled with women who moved forward against all odds.

Famous and infamous women fill the history books or should. Women we admire like Jane Austin, Elizabeth Blackwell and Shirley Chisholm. There is also the list we keep close to our hearts. Long or short, it includes all the women who have personally influenced our lives. That one includes our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and aunts, a neighbor, maybe two and a couple of friends plus a few teachers and mentors. Most of these women will never have a Wikipedia page but they helped make us who we are.

If you haven’t been paying attention, don’t worry. It’s a thirty-one day month. You have plenty of time to celebrate the women who have inspired, encouraged and influenced you. Now, the only question is – how to celebrate? Here are a few ideas:

Send a note to a woman who made a positive impact on your life. Perhaps she helped you over a rough patch or led by shining example. Maybe she encouraged you when you were at an impasse or read you the riot act when you were floundering. If you’ve lost touch, she may be wondering how you turned out. Share your story with her, thank her and let her know how much she means to you.

Do a little research and look deeper into the lives of some of the women you admire. We all know the two minute version of our favorite heroines. How about a deep dive? Environmentalist might want to learn more about Rachel Carson. If you’re a numbers person explore the life of Katherine Johnson. Musicians can read up on Aretha Franklin and art lovers research Mary Cassatt.

Share stories about your mother, grandmothers and aunties with your kids and grandkids. Help them understand their roots and family history. You might even try writing some of those stories down. Not as a series of dates and data points; focus on the wonderful, strong, vulnerable, living, breathing human beings who helped make you – you.

Tell your own stories. How exactly did you end up being so terrific and right here, right now? Think your story isn’t all that interesting? Think again. Of course, it’s old hat to you. After all, you were there; you lived it. Take some time to stop and reflect. There must be a thousand little things that make you special.

Gather friends around the table for a meal and storytelling. Throughout history, women have gathered around tables to make quilts. Our stories are like the patches in a quilt. Each piece represents a memory and together they form a brilliant whole. Our personal experiences are set against a background of both ordinary and historic events. Embrace and share the crazy hodgepodge of memories. That wonderful, disorganized mix is a beautiful summary of life.

As Abigail Adams once said, “Remember the ladies” and bon appétit!

Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes
These cupcakes are in honor of my mother. She loved chocolate and she loved raspberries. Enjoy!
Makes about 24 cupcakes

1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature and cut in pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Framboise or raspberry liqueur
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups less 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze (recipe follows)
White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Fresh raspberries for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the jam and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and add the butter and chocolate. Let the butter and chocolate sit and melt for a few minutes and then whisk to combine.

Add the sugar, Framboise and vanilla to the chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly add the chocolate to the eggs. Add the sour cream and whisk until smooth.

Put the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and combine thoroughly.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the batter and combine thoroughly. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.

Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 2/3 with batter. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To assemble: spread warm Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze on the cupcakes. Place the cupcakes in the refrigerator or freezer to cool until the chocolate has set. Use a pastry bag fitted with a large tip to add a hefty dollop of White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting. Top each cupcake with a raspberry.

If making ahead, store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
Pinch salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate or a mix of bittersweet and milk chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut in pieces

Combine the cream, jam and salt in a heavy saucepan and heat to steaming over medium. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate and butter. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then whisk until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

Let the ganache cool for about 10 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
About 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Framboise
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

Put the butter, cream cheese and sour cream in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined.

Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until just combined. Add the Framboise, vanilla and white chocolate, increase mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until smooth.

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One Year Ago – Pork Stew with Beans & Greens
Two Years Ago – Shrimp Curry with Spinach
Three Years Ago – Mini Tarte Tatin
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken
Five Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Six Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Seven Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Eight Years Ago –
Creole Shrimp with Creamy Grits
Nine Years Ago –
Wild Mushroom Risotto
Ten Years Ago –
Swimming Pool Jello

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

Are you for or against or … the time change? Feel free to share!

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

Clocks Forward & Spaghetti with Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Bacon

Don’t forget to nudge your clocks forward an hour this coming Saturday. And by the way, I don’t like it one bit. Daylight is a scarce commodity in my neighborhood during the winter months. December is awful and it doesn’t get a whole lot better in January. Slowly, things improve in February. Finally, by the end of the month, a pale gray dawn peeks through my skylight and gently wakes me. Then BAM, the second Sunday in March plunges early mornings back into darkness.

Let me explain. I was one of those sleepy headed kids. The one that all the mothers in the neighborhood worried about oversleeping and missing kindergarten. That was then. Now, I like mornings and getting up around six. However, perhaps it’s a throwback, but I don’t like getting up in the dark. And by the way, who does? I dare you to name one person who loves their alarm clock.

Anyway, I like having the sun give me a poke and gently prod me out of the Land of Nod. I can stretch, turn on the news and luxuriate for ten minutes or so before bounding out of bed. Alright, okay, some mornings it is more of a shuffle than a bound. But either or, it’s hard to do when it’s still night outside. And yes, I know it stays light later and I should be grateful but it’s no help at six in the morning.

Some blame Benjamin Franklin for daylight saving time but they would be wrong. While living in Paris, Ben wrote a satirical essay entitled “An Economical Project.” After being rudely awakened at six o’clock one morning, he realized that Paris was in full sunshine. The early-to-bed/early-to-rise founding father’s essay promoted the thrifty advantages of working and playing in daylight. However, he never actually recommended a time change, His mocking prose indicates that, while not at all anxious to do so himself, Ben thought the rest of the world should get up with the sun.

Over decades and centuries, various proponents of daylight saving time have lobbied for the cause. It found temporary traction during World War I. It was once again implemented in World War II but discontinued with the armistice. However, this time, there were more than a few holdouts. A number of cities and towns across the country implemented their own daylight saving time, all with different start and end dates. At one point there were twenty-three different daylight saving time schedules … in Iowa alone.

The chaos ended with the Uniform Time Act. While giving states the option to implement or not, the Act standardized start and end dates. After moving around a bit, daylight saving time now runs from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

And by the way, farmers have never lobbied for daylight saving time. The time change upsets the cows. They don’t care if it’s five, six or seven; both farmers and their cows like to wake up with the sun. (Perhaps I was a farmer in a past life.) On the other hand, urban and suburban businesses love it. It seems people shop more when it’s still light after work.

Anyway, there’s always the upside – enjoy the afternoon sunshine and bon appétit!

Spaghetti with Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Bacon
It’s not quite spring yet! There’s still plenty of time for cozy comfort food. Brussels sprout tossed with bacon and spaghetti is a cozy but easy weeknight meal. Enjoy!
Serves 4

Olive oil
About 4 ounces thick-cut bacon, chopped
About 8 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1/4-1/2 cup chicken broth
About 1/4 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8-12 ounces spaghetti
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
About 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly coat a large oven-proof skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the bacon and cook until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel and reserve.

Add the Brussels sprouts to the skillet and toss to coat. Add the chicken broth and roast the Brussels sprouts at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.

Add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with thyme, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Stirring a few times, continue roasting the vegetables until tender and lightly browned, 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to package directions less 1 minute. Reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta.

Add the spaghetti and bacon to the Brussels sprouts plus some pasta water, drizzle with vinegar and toss to combine. Cover and simmer on medium for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to a large platter or individual shallow bowls, sprinkle with walnuts and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve.

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One Year Ago – Pork Stew with Beans & Greens
Two Years Ago – Shrimp Curry with Spinach
Three Years Ago – Mini Tarte Tatin
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken
Five Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Six Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Seven Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Eight Years Ago –
Creole Shrimp with Creamy Grits
Nine Years Ago –
Wild Mushroom Risotto
Ten Years Ago –
Swimming Pool Jello

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

Are you for or against or … the time change? Feel free to share!

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

How to Avoid a Power Outage & Chicken Soup Florentine

When we were little kids, an approaching snowstorm was cause for excitement. With any luck, school would be cancelled. Yes, we did love those snow days. As it so happens, I still do. Com’on, who doesn’t like to spend the day in leggings and a ratty, no-longer-allowed-in-public turtleneck?

Now, I grew up in suburbia where power outages were rare. A snow day meant we could hang out in our PJs and watch television or read books until Mom sent us outside to build a snowman. As a would-be grownup, I can still hang out but a movie binge only works if the power stays on.

My neighborhood generally loses power a couple times a year. It happens when heavy snow takes down a tree which in turn takes down a power line. Sometime, instead of snow, a monster wind knocks them down. Or a frigid rain leaves a thick coat of ice on the lines, causing them to snap. Finally, and thankfully less frequently, some yahoo drives too fast and takes out a pole.

Just like a kid with inside-out and backwards PJs and ice cubes down the toilet, I’ve developed a series of rituals to ensure the lights stay on in spite of an approaching storm. I suppose none of this would be necessary if I invested in a generator but what’s the fun in that?

These rituals are not foolproof but, heck, they worked for the last two storms. Feel free to join me. For any hope of success, you must complete all the steps. The order doesn’t matter but completeness does. Just think, you might save your neighborhood from a power outage. Here goes:

Have the power company’s number handy so you’re ready to call the minute the lights go out.

Fill at least three large buckets with water. You’ll need it to refill the toilet after flushing. Fill several jugs or pitchers with water for drinking and cooking.

Run the dishwasher – even half-full. You’ll want plenty of clean dishes if the power goes out.

Do any urgent laundry. Of course, you define urgent but, if it were me and I was down to my last pair of leggings, I’d do a load.

Take a nice long shower. You want to be clean too.

Rummage around and locate every flashlight in the house. Check the batteries and stock up as needed.

Have candles ready as well as matches. Dinner, even in a power outage, tastes better by candlelight.

Don’t be left incommunicado – charge your phone. While you’re at it, charge your tablet and laptop.

Make soup. Whether the snow is gently falling or the wind is howling, there is nothing like curling up in front of the fire with a good book and a mug of soup.

And, just in case the power stays out for a couple of day … have plenty of wine on hand.

It worked last week. Hopefully, it will next time! Bon appétit!

Chicken Soup Florentine
Lights on or off, this delicious soup is great on a cold, winter evening. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive oil
1 1/2-2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch or to taste dried pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 or more quarts chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind* (optional)
1 pound whole mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1 pound baby spinach

Heat a little olive oil in a large soup kettle over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken, 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from the pot and reserve.

If necessary, add a little more olive oil to the pot. Add the onion, celery and carrot, sprinkle with thyme and pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more.

Return the chicken to the pot, add the stock, wine and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut or shred it into bitesize pieces.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a skillet, add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned.

Return the chicken to the pot and add the mushrooms. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

This soup is best when made in advance to this point. If you have the time, cool the soup to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

If the soup is too thick, add more stock. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the spinach and stir to combine and wilt. Simmer for 2-3 minutes and serve.

* Adding a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind will add flavor and richness to your soup.

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One Year Ago – Orecchiette with Cauliflower & Bacon
Two Years Ago – Romaine & Radicchio Caesar Salad
Three Years Ago – Sausages with White Beans
Four Years Ago – Chocolate Panna Cotta
Five Years Ago – Turkey Scaloppini with Prosciutto & Sage
Six Years Ago – Cheese Fondue
Seven Years Ago – Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach
Eight Years Ago – Tuscan White Bean Soup
Nine Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Risotto
Ten Years Ago – Swimming Pool Jello

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

What are your favorite snow day rituals? Feel free to share!

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

Valentine Fun Facts & Ruby Sparkler

Happy Valentine’s Day! This week marks our annual celebration of sweethearts and love. But wait a minute – is the middle of winter really the best time for romance? And what’s with the cards, chocolate and roses? Here are a few fun facts to sort out Valentine’s Day:

  • While New Hampshire is still in a deep freeze, February heralds the start of spring in warmer climates. For the ancient Romans, it was a time for love and fertility. Festivals for Juno (the goddess of women and marriage) and Lupercus (the god of health and fertility) were celebrated in mid-February.
  • So then, why not Juno Day? Who was Valentine? Not much is known except that he was an ancient priest, martyr and saint. To add to the mystery, there are a couple of saints by the same name. Their stories are vague and time has mingled and muddled the details.
  • These shadowy figures share one thing – their support of love and marriage. Legend has it that one or the other Valentine boldly defied Emperor Claudius II. In an effort to boost army enlistment, the expansion-minded Roman ruler outlawed marriage. Unable to stand by while young lovers’ hearts were breaking, Valentine performed secret wedding cermonies. He was beheaded for his romantic deeds. Is it a coincident that he was executed on February 14?
  • Legend suggests that Valentine fell head over heels for his jailor’s daughter. On the morning of his execution, the smitten priest sent a note to his sweetheart and signed it, “Love from your Valentine.” Whether the story is true or not, it started something. These days, Americans send close to 200 million Valentine’s Day cards every year.
  • Speaking of cards, the industrious Esther Howland founded the first commercial Valentine’s card company in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1849. Her elaborate, handmade cards helped her grow the business to $100,00 in annual sales.
  • Roses are a lovely Valentine’s Day gift. Perhaps it is because red roses were the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Millions, as in 224 million, roses find their way into bouquets on this romantic holiday.
  • Long considered an aphrodisiac, chocolate is a delicious gift choice. The brilliant idea of selling chocolates in heart shaped boxed began in the 19th century with British chocolatier Richard Cadbury. This year, thirty-six million sweethearts will be happy to receive a heart shaped box of chocolates.
  • Or forget the chocolate. Jewelry ranks high on the list of favorite Valentine’s Day gifts. As for diamonds – they are a girl’s best Valentine. About six million future grooms will pop the question on February 14.

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day and bon appétit!

Ruby Sparkler
Start your intimate evening with your Valentine with a special cocktail and let the sparks fly. Enjoy!
Makes 2 cocktails

2 ounces pomegranate juice, chilled
2 ounces Grand Marnier, chilled
8 ounces champagne or prosecco, chilled

Combine the pomegranate juice and Grand Marnier in small pitcher or mason jar and stir or shake to combine.

Divide the mix between two champagne flutes.

Carefully fill each glass with champagne and serve.

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One Year Ago – Quick Braised Asian Vegetables
Two Years Ago – Scrod Florentine
Three Years Ago – Lemon Risotto with Spinach & Herbs
Four Years Ago – Black Bean & Beef Chili
Five Years Ago – Coq au Vin
Six Years Ago – Crostini with Beef Tenderloin & Stilton
Seven Years Ago – Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach
Eight Years Ago – Lemon Cheesecake
Nine Years Ago – Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms
Ten Years Ago – Raviolis in Broth with Meatballs & Escarole

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

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Feel free to share!

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

’Tis the Season for … Pasta & Gnocchi with Mushroom & Bacon Ragù

Winter is a great time for pasta. So much so that I seem to find a lovely bowl of warm and wonderful spaghetti, gnocchi or tortellini on my table at least a few times a week. I know the anti-carb lobby does not approve but there is something ever-so-cozy about pasta. Admit it, there’s nothing better on a cold winter night. Damp and rainy cold or polar vortex cold, it doesn’t matter – pasta is the answer.

Of course, you’ll never get bored because the variety of shapes and sizes is endless. It’s not just the hundreds of possible choices to throw in the boiling pot. The list of sauces goes on forever as well. Why – I bet you could enjoy a different dish every night for year without a single repeat.

When it comes to homemade pasta, I find that one thing leads to another. A batch of ravioli inspires a nest of tagliatelle. The same goes for gnocchi. I’ve no sooner served up a hearty platter of potato gnocchi that my brain starts to spin with new recipes. Spinach, butternut squash or what about roasted beet gnocchi? When was the last time you had a purple dinner?

Anyway, pillowy-soft gnocchi, tantalizing tortellini or a simply delicious fettucine, they all need a fabulous sauce. As kids, the only one to grace our table was a hearty Bolognese. However, we were in no way fancy enough to call it that. To us, it was simply Spaghetti Sauce. And by the way, my mother, who really never liked to cook, simmered up a mean Bolognese.

Eventually, I learned there was more to Italian cooking then a great red sauce. Given my penchant for pasta during the winter months, that’s a good thing, a very good thing. After a long day, if you have an urgent need for a cozy meal, consider pasta and any of the following for a quick and easy sauce:

  • Leftover roasted vegetables topped with browned butter and toasted hazelnuts are a wonderful combination – try butternut squash or cauliflower
  • For an early taste of spring, sauté asparagus, snow peas and spinach and drizzle with fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil
  • Cacio e Pepe – made with butter, cracked pepper and cheese – it’s the minimalist’s answer to Mac & Cheese
  • Sauté your favorite spicy sausage with broccoli rabe and garlic and finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon
  • Simmer garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes in olive oil, wine and lemon and add clams
  • Sauté some onion with lots of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes, add crushed tomatoes and simmer before adding shrimp, olives and a few capers
  • Whirl up a batch of bright green pesto with basil or your favorite herbs plus a sprinkle of cheese and nuts
  • Chop up a green sauce of spinach, herbs, olives and capers – finish with a touch of lemon and garlic
  • Anything with cream including just cream and cheese
  • Anything with bacon

The possibilities are endless. Bon appétit!

Gnocchi with Mushroom & Bacon Ragù
Last week’s column featured homemade Cheesy Potato Gnocchi. For a cozy supper, toss the gnocchi in an easy sauce of bacon and mushrooms. Enjoy!
Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds gnocchi,* homemade or store bought
6 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
Olive oil
1 1/2 pounds whole mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cognac
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4-1/2 cup half & half (optional)
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

If making homemade gnocchi, prepare the gnocchi.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and place over medium heat. Add the bacon and, stirring occasionally, cook until the bacon just starts to brown. Add the mushrooms and onion, sprinkle with rosemary and thyme, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5-8 minutes. When the mushrooms start to brown, add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Add the wine, stir in the mustard and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cognac. Return the skillet to the stove, stir and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add the broth and simmer until reduced by half. Reduce the heat to very low to keep warm.

Cook the gnocchi according to directions.

Use a spider or slotted spoon to add the gnocchi to the mushrooms and gently toss to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add the half & half or a little pasta water and toss again. Cover and cook on medium heat for 1 minute.

Transfer the gnocchi to shallow bowls and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

* if you don’t have homemade gnocchi in the house, the ragù will be just as delicious with tortellini or fettuccine.

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

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

What are your favorite dishes to cook up on a cold winter day? Feel free to share!

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

Winter in New England & Cheesy Potato Gnocchi

Oh yes, we think we are soooo clever when we quote Mark Twain and tell visitors, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” Among ourselves, we don’t find anything funny about below freezing temperatures, fifty mile an hour wind gusts or torrential rain in January. As for those January monsoons, they are particularly unfunny when followed by plummeting temperatures. While many of us like to ice skate, we prefer to do it on a lake or pond; not the post office parking lot.

Now let’s be clear, when it comes to New England weather, you can rant and rave as much as you want. You can complain; you can pout but throwing a tantrum will not change a darn thing. Your childish outburst will have zero influence on Mother Nature. Take note, that’s MOTHER Nature. Mothers have been there and done that. From a meltdown in Macy’s to a tantrum over a Tyrannosaurus Rex t-shirt, mothers have seen it all and are rarely daunted. Save your strength for battling the elements. Your fit of temper won’t phase her.

Unfortunately, calm negotiations won’t either. Mother Nature is a stubborn sort when it comes to winter in the northeast. So, what to do? How about …

Live in layers. Make every day Throwback Thursday and channel Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Hey, it was a look and I for one was a big fan. I think I may still have a bowler hat somewhere. Anyway, start with a turtleneck, layer on flannel shirt, top with a sweater of some sort and finish it off with a big, wooly cardigan. Add a pair of long johns, sometimes two, underneath your trousers to keep your legs warm. For those feet, leave the city boots in the closet. You’ll want heavy snow boots and wool socks. Don’t forget your hat and gloves.

Latch on to a winter hobby. Indoors or out, find something that is best done in winter. Something like, setting a goal to become the world’s greatest baker. Winter is the perfect time. Who wants to turn on the oven in the middle of summer? No one. Or take up snowshoeing and enjoy the peace and quiet of the woods after a storm. Start a movie club and vow to see all the nominees before Oscar night. Then, host an Oscar party.

Stay in shape. Who knows, maybe an old friend will surprise you with a free trip to Hawaii. You’ll want to be ready to don a swimsuit at a moments notice. Besides, you’ll feel much better, mentally and physically, if you get some exercise. If you hate the cold, switch it up and try an aerobics class or climb a rock wall. Your mood and your thighs will thank you.

Beware of ruts and doldrums. A change of scenery will do you a world of good. Get out of town and visit an ice castle, see a show or spend an afternoon wandering through a museum. You don’t need to travel far. Up to Hanover or down to Concord should do it. Before or after your adventure, treat yourself to a lovely lunch or dinner.

Make something warm and wonderful. If you are yarn person, knit a magnificent hat. A foodie? Try something new in the kitchen. Want a cozy spot to relax and read? Make your living room more inviting by rearranging the furniture and adding a few homey accessories.

And remember, spring will come eventually. Stay warm and dry. Bon appétit!

Cheesy Potato Gnocchi
There is nothing better than delicious comfort food at the end of a dreary winter day. Serve the gnocchi with your favorite sauce or roasted vegetables and browned butter. Enjoy!
Makes about 1 1/2 pounds (5-6 servings)

1 large (about 12 ounces) baking potato
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 large egg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4-1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prick the potato 3-4 times and bake at 375 degrees until tender, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, put the ricotta and egg in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses, sprinkle with thyme, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Let the potato cool for about 10 minutes. Cut the potato in half and scoop out the flesh. Run the potato through a ricer. If you don’t have a ricer, mash with a fork.

Put the riced potato in bowl and fold in the cheeses and egg mixture. Add the flour and stir until a soft dough forms. Gently knead the dough on a floured surface.

Divide the dough into 4 balls. Working on a floured surface, roll the dough balls into ropes about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the ropes into pieces 3/4-1-inch long. Place the gnocchi on baking sheets lined with parchment or wax paper.

Can be made a few hours ahead, covered and refrigerated until ready to cook. Or freeze on the baking sheet, transfer to a container or resealable plastic bag and store in the freezer. Do not defrost before cooking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, simmer until they rise to the surface and then continue simmering for 2 minutes.

Serve the gnocchi with your favorite sauce and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese.

Print-friendly version of this recipe.

One Year Ago – Penne alla Vodka
Two Years Ago – Oven Braised Chicken Cacciatore
Three Years Ago – Poverty Casserole
Four Years Ago – Roasted Cauliflower
Five Years Ago – Savory Blinis
Six Years Ago – Lettuce Cups with Shrimp & Noodles
Seven Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Eight Years Ago – Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower & Bacon
Nine Years Ago – Chocolate Mousse
Ten Years Ago – Shrimp & Feta

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

What are your favorite dishes to cook up on a cold winter day? Feel free to share!

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