Practice Joy & Rhubarb Mousse

On top of the pandemic, a wind whipped through the neighborhood last week. It took down trees and knocked the power out for about twenty-four hours. My first thought was, what’s next? I might have suggested locust but the black flies were already swarming. Alright now, take a moment, take a deep breath. Everything will be fine in the end and we certainly are not without our good days.

Yes, even in a pandemic, most days are good and some are fabulous. Good, bad or fabulous, it has a lot to do with attitude and luck. So, what makes for a good day? I’ll cast my vote for simple things. Sunshine along with time with people you care about, who care about you – that sounds like a a pretty good day to me.

Outside activities are now the best way to see if not touch friends and family. Thank goodness, longer days and warmer weather are making it easier to be out and about. Fresh air and connecting with the people who matter will raise your spirits. Embrace the joy of a beautiful day, the pleasure of conversation, the happiness of movement and exercise.

At my house, we’re doing our best to make the most of the good weather. Dad is back on the links at the local golf course. In spite of a bunch of new rules for golfing during the pandemic, he is delighted. Six feet apart is just fine. After a dreary stay-at-home spring, he’s happy to be out with his buddies. Low score or high, he’s relieved to be back out hitting little white balls up and down the fairway.

By the way, in case you’ve forgotten or maybe didn’t realize, my dad is ninety-three. He doesn’t look it but he is; just ask his knees. Dad now takes a cart and plays nine holes instead of eighteen. Arthritic joints and a pandemic may slow him down but they can’t stop him. 

For all that, I am grateful. Not only is he out of my hair for a few hours; he’s having fun with his friends and exercising. An added benefit, since he plays Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we finally have a better hold on what the heck day it is.

A solitary walk is easy. Or at least, it’s easy for me. I look at my schedule and check the weather forecast to find a good time and, well, just do it. A walk with a friend is more complicated. Along with the weather, two, often conflicting, schedules are in play. It took a few months but the stars, or at least schedules, have finally align for a Wednesday walk date. With two too busy lives, only perseverance could make it happen. Only luck can ensure perfect weather.

For good company and sunshine, I am grateful. These conversation-filled Wednesday walks provide a much-needed break from the humdrum of life with the coronavirus. They are wonderful opportunities to share and build friendship.

A walk, a game of golf, interesting conversations and sunshine, these are simple pleasures. Now more than ever, we need to open ourselves up to the joy of simple things. Each day is filled with opportunities to practice joy. Spotting a blue heron perched on a raft or hearing the call of the loons, these are fleeting moments to embrace with a smile. Bright red and yellow tulips in a garden, the sound of a child’s giggle or the happy wag of a dog’s tail, let’s embrace these moments of everyday life and be grateful for the joy they bring us.

Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Rhubarb Mousse

Rhubarb is the first of the local fruits and vegetables. Take advantage of this early crop with a sweet-tart dessert. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8

  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1 pound rhubarb, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups very cold heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cold, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 2 cups very cold heavy cream
  • Garnish: fresh, sliced strawberries

Prepare an ice bath in a large, shallow bowl and set aside.

Place the rhubarb in a heavy saucepan with 2 tablespoons water, the lime juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until the rhubarb breaks down, about 15 minutes.

While the rhubarb cooks, place 2 tablespoons water in a cup, sprinkle with the gelatin and let stand to soften for 15 minutes. Remove the rhubarb from the heat and stir in the gelatin.

Let the rhubarb cool for about 10 minutes, transfer to a blender and process until smooth.

Put the egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar and the salt in a heavy saucepan and beat with an electric mixer on high until pale yellow. Reduce the mixer speed, slowly add 3/4 cup cream and beat until smooth. Stir in the lime zest and rosemary and cook, stirring constantly, over very low heat until the custard reaches 165 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the pan from heat. Add the butter, 1 piece at a time, and whisk until fully incorporated. Pass through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Add the rhubarb purée and Grand Marnier and whisk to combine. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir frequently until cooled to room temperature. Cover and chill the custard in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Whip the remaining cream until medium-stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard. Divide the mousse among 6 or 8 dessert or wine glasses, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Serve garnished with fresh strawberries.

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What Keeps You Awake at Night? & Peanut Chicken

Uncertainty; it’s that thing that takes hold of my overactive imagination and refuses to let go. In the early days of the stay-at-home order, I admit, I was somewhat nonchalant. Not only was I plenty busy but, ever the optimist, I figured it couldn’t last long. Surely, this would be nothing more than a short interruption from the everyday. It would be over in a month, maybe two. After all, wasn’t it some new strain of flu? It was already March, the tail end of flu season – so, no worries.

Not so fast there, back up that bus Buttercup. Sure, both the flu and COVID-19 are respiratory illness causes by a virus. However, it turns out there are viruses and, then, there are super viruses. Like your great-grandma’s and grandpa’s influenza back in 1918, this particular coronavirus falls into the super, duper category.

Having listened to (what is probably) too many newscasts, I’m now experiencing periodic OH-NO-WHAT-IF moments. Out of nowhere, a new worry pops into my head. Tossing and turning in the middle of the night, I realize freelance gigs could dry up. Plus, there is the gnawing reality that our once plentiful toilet paper supply is dwindling. (Hey, what can I say, we were lucky. I had a coupon and stocked up way before this thing reared its ugly head.)

TP aside, summer is one giant what-if. Hip and trendy cynics might disparage our peaceful New Hampshire summers. Some may call them quaint or out of touch with the twenty-first century. Well, we like them just fine, thank you. Our summer days are filled with trips to the beach and hikes in the hills. Kids take time off from the all-important task of catching frogs to take swimming and tennis lessons. We celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, picnics and parades. We raise money for worthy causes at fairs, 5K runs and community breakfasts. We gather at farmers’ markets and bandstand concerts. Now, many of those simple pleasures have been cancelled or are up for a virtual re-design. Summer, as we know it, is not going to happen.

Each directive from the governor, each cancelled event, each lost job and each test result, positive or negative, provides an answer. Regardless of the answer, there is usually a moment of relief. The worry of not knowing is gone. Unfortunately, that relief is almost always short lived. All too soon, the inevitable ramifications, the intended and unintended consequences are realized along with a whole new set of problems.

Take what may seem like a small thing – the fireworks are cancelled. All right, you’re not happy but now you know. Except, hold on, wait a minute. That’s right, if Fourth of July celebrations are cancelled … well, when will the family gather and celebrate summer? Will this be the summer without cousins, without Meme and Gramps, old friends and new neighbors? The socially distant summer? And what the heck will that be like, feel like? The unimaginable is suddenly reality.

I think I may have already conceded to a home alone summer. Well, almost alone. My senior citizen housemates, Dad and the dog, are still with me. But what about beyond summer? The other day, out of nowhere, my brain fast forwarded to Thanksgiving. In a moment of despair, I was confounded by the thought of the fourth Thursday in November as what? Just another day?

Uncertainty. If we let it; it can have amazing power. For now, I’m doing my best to acknowledge my what-ifs and, then, put them aside with a simple – I don’t know. A table filled with friends and family or a Zoom turkey? I don’t know. While it’s not really okay, it will have to do for now.

Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

 Peanut Chicken

I love the versatility of braised chicken thighs. This time, I combine peanuts with a little spice for a take on a West African classic. Serve with rice or polenta. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon or to taste Ancho or your favorite chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups or more chicken stock or broth
  • 1/2 cup or more dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • About 12 ounces baby spinach
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • About 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, toasted
  • Fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a large, deep cast iron or ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Starting skin-side down, cook the chicken for 3 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve.

Add the carrot, celery, onion and red pepper to the skillet, sprinkle with the spices and thyme, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and jalapeno and sauté 2-3 minutes more.

Put the peanut butter in a bowl, add the crushed tomatoes and whisk to combine. Whisk in the chicken stock and wine.

Return the chicken to the skillet, add the bay leaf, pour the liquid ingredients around the chicken and bring to a simmer. Transfer the chicken to the oven and cook at 375 degrees for about 1 hour. Check the oven after about 45 minutes and add more chicken stock if necessary.

Remove the chicken from the skillet, add the spinach and toss and stir until wilted and well combined. Stir in the lime zest and juice.

Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a large platter or individual plates, sprinkle with cilantro and peanuts and serve with a spoonful of rice or polenta.

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You’ve Got This & Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are uncertain times. As New Hampshire begins coronavirus stay-at-home 2.0, many of us are feeling daunted by concerns about our health, safety and economic wellbeing. Uncertainty will do that. In spite of whatever questions and doubts, you’ve got this. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Whether the coronavirus is causing you huge problems and complications or is simply an annoying inconvenience, you can do it. You can get to the other side of this pandemic. After all, you’ve proven your moxie hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times. Need a few reminders of your strength and resilience; here goes …

The moms in the neighborhood weren’t sure you could get up and out in time to make it to kindergarten. You did. Moreover, you graduated not only from kindergarten but from every other course of study, internship or apprenticeship you set your mind to.

Remember that time when you went toe-to-toe with the class bully to defend your best friend. How old were you? Maybe ten? You may have been shaking in your sneakers but you stood up for your friend and yourself.

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Don’t forget the move you made to a new job in a new city. All by yourself, you didn’t know a soul but you did it. You found an apartment. You tackled your new responsibilities with aplomb. You roamed the town, exploring each and every neighborhood. Before long, you knew your favorite streets, parks and places to eat, shop and be entertained. You made friends; indeed, you made a life.

You didn’t only meet and survive a weekend with your future mother-in-law; you charmed her. Now, no one is sure who she loves best – you or your spouse? You won her over.

You try to forget it, but there was that time when you were laid off. We’ve all been laid off; or at least most of us have. Some of us have even been fired. You figured it out and went on to something better.

You have coped with the unmitigated fear of seeing a loved one fall ill. You have coped with the utter sadness of losing a loved one. Fear and loss have made you more human, a deeper, kinder person.

In classrooms, on playgrounds and at home, in workplaces, hospitals and maybe even a courtroom and/or police station, time and time again, you have stood your ground or lent a hand or made what many would consider a miracle happen.

You are stronger than you think. Take a deep breath and let it out. Try a few more, in and out. It’s okay to let your friends and family know what you’re feeling. It’s okay to voice your concerns out loud, to share your fears and anger. Chances are pretty good that the people who love you, will offer some sense of reassurance or share a different perspective. They’ll give you a hug or, maybe, a kick in the pants. And if they can’t be with you, well, they’ll give you a virtual hug or kick.

It may not always feel like it but you’ve got this. Don’t let anyone tell you different. After all, you’ve run marathons, climbed mountains and cooked dinner for one hundred. If not literally, then figuratively. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine it’s not the end.”

Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

 Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

You’ve got this but when in doubt – have a cookie. If you can’t find them so be it but mini chocolate chips work best with this recipe. Enjoy!

Makes 48 cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 ounces mini semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

Set the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

Put the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.

With an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, butter and sugar on medium-high speed until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop tablespoons of dough (a mini ice-cream scoop works great) about 1-inch apart onto the prepared baking sheet. Turning the baking sheet at the midpoint, bake the cookies at 350 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes.

Cool slightly and eat the first cookie while it is still warm.

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What Day Is It? & Pork Tacos with Cucumber-Radish Salsa

Now, it happens all the time, as in every day. Sometimes, it happens more than once in the same day. Midmorning or afternoon, I have no idea; is it Sunday or Thursday? So, I ask the dog. She smiles and wags her tail. After all, she is a dog. She may not know the days of the week but she’s figured out that I’m a sucker for her cute antics. In about a nanosecond, I’m scratching behind her ears or taking her for a walk … and still wondering what the heck day it is.

It’s one of those things that happens to all of us. Or at least, it happens to me, not a lot but from time to time. Suddenly, I realize, holy smokes, it’s Sunday. What happened to the weekend? Or, it feels like it must be Friday until I figure out it’s only Tuesday and wonder – will this week ever end?

If the coronavirus has left you unmoored from day, date and time, you aren’t alone. Our days, weeks and months have lost their normal rhythm. Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning workouts at the gym are a thing of the past. Tuesday afternoon Mah jongg is cancelled. Your longstanding, Thursday afternoon tradition of group hikes (weather permitting) or movie outings (Plan B) is not happening. Friday date night (home edition) isn’t cutting it. In or out, Saturday night dinners with friends are no more. As for Sunday, the churches have locked their doors. No wonder we’re at loose ends.

Set down in black and white, our lives may look a bit staid and repetitive. However, our schedules ground us. Now, many, maybe most, of the activities that kept us busy and engaged are cancelled. We’re untethered; lost. Like it or not, accept it or not, it’s time to create some new structure, a new rhythm to our days and weeks.

Monday Zumba is cancelled, so, how about walk-with-a-friend Monday. Find a quiet loop and, walk six feet apart. By facing the traffic, you’ll see cars in plenty of time to jump out of the way.

I don’t know who invented Taco Tuesday but homemade tacos sound pretty good. If you think out of the red and yellow box, the possibilities are endless. Or close to it.

When we were kids, Wednesday was Prince spaghetti day. While it’s still chilly, make up a batch of marinara sauce and freeze it. From now until summer’s eventual arrival, use the sauce for traditional North End dinners. From spaghetti and meatballs to lasagna, everyone loves the classics.

Let Thursday become laundry day or vacuum the house day or both. It may not be fun but it will save you from empty sock and underwear drawers and billowing clouds of dog hair.

A Zoom cocktail party sounds like a good idea for some Friday fun. Get your book club, old school chums or family together through the magic of video conferencing.

How about a Saturday morning doggie play date? The dogs can run around and sniff each other’s buts while their humans sit on the deck and sip BYO travel mugs of coffee. And yes, of course, all chairs should be placed six feet apart, no hugs or handshakes and skip it one week if you aren’t feeling well.

Many Sunday morning church services are streamed live allowing you to watch in safety and your pajamas. For those that prefer the newspaper and an extra cup of freshly brewed coffee, both are still available. And BTW – coronavirus be dammed – Sunday night is still pizza night at my house.

It may not feel like it but you’ve got this. Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Pork Tacos with Cucumber & Radish Salsa

It’s taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo! Add a little spice and crunch to the week with pork tacos topped with a crispy salsa. Enjoy!

Serves 4-6

  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or your favorite ground chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Olive oil
  • 1 (about 1 1/2 pounds) pork tenderloin
  • Small flour tortillas
  • Cucumber-Radish Salsa (recipe follows)
  • Crumbled feta

Put the spices and thyme in bowl and whisk to combine. Add the lime juice and 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and whisk again. Pat the pork dry, slather with the marinade and let it sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes or longer in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium high. Add the tenderloin and sear until nicely browned, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes or until the pork’s internal temperature reaches 140-145 degrees. Remove the pork from the pan and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Wrap the tortillas in foil and place in the oven to warm.

Thinly slice the pork. Fill warm tortillas with pork, top with salsa and crumbled feta and serve.

Cucumber-Radish Salsa

  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2-3 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts separated from the dark green
  • 1 tablespoon or to taste minced serrano or jalapeno pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 radishes, stemmed and chopped
  • 3-4 Persian cucumbers, peeled (optional) and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Put the lime zest and juice in a bowl, add the olive oil, season with salt and whisk to combine. Stir in the white and light green scallion, the chili pepper and garlic. Let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes to combine the flavors.

Add the cucumbers and radishes and toss to combine. Sprinkle with the cilantro, mint and dark green scallion slices and toss again.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

 

 

 

Different Boat & Baked Tortellini with Sausage, Eggplant, Spinach & Mushrooms

As the coronavirus rages across the country and around world, there’s a lot of talk of solidarity. You know the clichés – united we stand, we’re all in this together and we’re all in the same boat. These strong words help us feel better and less alone. But here’s the thing, we’re not all in the same boat. We’re not even in the same ocean. I’d venture to say we’re weathering different storms.

If you grew up in New England or have lived here a while, you know about hurricanes. They generally wreak havoc in the Caribbean and down along the southern Atlantic and the Gulf coasts. Every few years, a hurricane will wind its way up north. However, by the time they reach us, they are a different storm. More often than not, they bring a little wind and a fair amount of rain. We spend the day in our cozy houses playing Scrabble and feeling grumpy because it’s too wet to walk.

That said, there are exceptions. My dad has been known to reach into his bag of stories and reminisce about the 1938 hurricane. Irene and Sandy are more recent reminders that not all tropical storms blow themselves out before reaching the northeast. For now, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts are among those caught deep inside the covid hurricane. New Hampshire is on the fringe.

The coronavirus thrives in densely populated areas. The population in our little corner of rural New England is far from dense. Big cities and the suburbs that surround them have been thrashing about in open seas while we’ve been hunkered down in a quiet cove. Now is a very good time to live far from crowded subways and teaming streets. Next time I start to complain about the lack of public transportation or limited entertainment options, I hope I remember these days and stop grumbling.

Anyway, it’s a lovely thought, that we’re all in this together. However, whether you’re in the thick of the coronavirus storm or tucked in a safe harbor, the boats are different. The lucky ones are strapped into life jackets and safely ensconced in well-built, seaworthy vessels. Their pantries are stocked. Telecommuting may be inconvenient but their jobs are secure. Everyone who needs one has a laptop. They’ve been catching up on Netflix, putting jigsaw puzzles together and walking three miles a day. The family may be a little bored with each other’s company but cabin fever is rarely life threatening.

The less fortunate are crammed into leaky dinghies. These decrepit little boats are filled with people who live paycheck to paycheck. Except there is no paycheck because they’ve been laid off or furloughed. Now, they’re scrambling to get signed up for unemployment and figure out how to get and pay for health insurance. All the while, the kids are home and mom or dad or both are frantically trying to remember the definition of a parallelogram and how Pythagoras’ theorem works.

Another batch of dilapidated boats are filled with people with pre-existing conditions. Maybe they’re old or immune compromised, have a heart condition or asthma. Could be they are overweight or have diabetes. The coronavirus is a whole lot scarier if you’re in one of these boats. A strong, healthy young person with covid-19 might suffer the inconvenience of a cough and fever for a week or so. However, the virus can be deadly for anyone weakened by age or an underlying illness.

By the way, it’s also terrifying to have a family member or dear friend with a pre-existing condition. Here’s the reality that fills me with dread – if a loved one ends up in the hospital; they’ll be alone. Nurses, assistants, technicians and doctors will be with them but, as caring and wonderful as they are, they’re not family.

One last bit for locals – I was introduced to a new community organization last week. Kearsarge Neighborhood Partners (KNP) is dedicated to building a community of neighbors helping neighbors. If you need help or know someone who needs help – reach out. If you are looking for opportunities to volunteer – reach out.

That’s all for now. Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Baked Tortellini with Sausage, Eggplant, Spinach & Mushrooms

There must be a million different, delicious ways to prepare a wonderfully comforting pasta feast. I hope you enjoy this one!

Serves 4-6

  • Olive oil
  • 1 small-medium eggplant, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and sliced or chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8-12 ounces your favorite precooked chicken sausage, cut in 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen tortellini
  • About 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • About 6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil or butter a large baking dish.

Lightly brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and, turning once, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until tender. Cut into bite-sized pieces and reserve.

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium high, add the mushrooms and onion, sprinkle with the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes more. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Add the sausage to the skillet with a little more olive oil if necessary. Sauté until lightly browned. Reserve.

Cook the tortellini according to package directions.

Drain the tortellini and return it to the pot. Add the sausage and vegetables, including the spinach, toss to combine and transfer to the prepared dish.

Combine the marinara sauce, half & half and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Pour the sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minute or until bubbling and nicely browned.

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Be Well. Be Safe. Be Kind. & Braised Pork Ribs

Sitting here in northern New England, we are away from the coronavirus madness. So far north that, if we’re not careful, we could fall prey to one of those rumors that, somehow or other, it’s not all that big a deal. But it is a big deal. The pandemic doesn’t have to be in our neighborhood or on our street to be a big deal. Like most things in life, it’s not all about us.

I guess I’m one of the lucky ones – one of those people who rarely gets sick. By the way, that’s rarely, not never. I’ve suffered through a bout or two of the flu and caught more than one of those mother-of-all-colds. The kind that digs deep into your chest and hangs on for days. That said, once I stopped hopping on and off airplanes two, three or four times a week, I’ve been remarkably healthy.

It might be tempting to call it a miracle or convince myself that I’m invincible. I can only hope that I’m never that foolish. I’m healthy because my current rendition of life keeps me away from places that one might best describe as a petri dish. There are no crowded subways in rural New Hampshire. It’s been years since I spent the day in a classroom. I take the stairs, not the elevator. On top of all that, much of my day is spent alone in front of a computer writing or walking and thinking in the fresh air. Then again, before lockdown, I did frequent restaurants, sit in crowded theaters and ride chairlifts with strangers. After all, I’m a writer – not a hermit.

As for this coronavirus, it may not be on our doorstep but we still need to be vigilant. To be well, to be safe, we need to take care of ourselves and take care of others. Cruising through the supermarket the other day, I was surprised at how many people were not wearing masks. I get it. It’s only a recommendation and, yes, you do feel a little silly wearing one. Plus, there’s all that controversary over their effectiveness.

But here’s the deal; nothing’s perfect and I’m okay with that. Some protection is better than none. And by the way, it takes two to make the whole mask thing a little less imperfect. That’s right we both need to wear one. My mask doesn’t protect me. My mask protects you if I happen to sneeze or cough. Instead of flying all over the store and the people in it, my sneeze gets caught in my bandanna. Or at least most of it or some of it. In turn, your mask protects me.

It’s a nice idea, this notion of protecting each other. You stay well and safe and so do I. More important, masks protect my dear old dad, my sister and a couple of friends who are immune compromised and another who is pregnant. Together, we can keep ourselves and our at-risk family and friends well and safe.

Now, a lot of us are feeling more than a little stressed. The news coverage is constant and I, for one, am pretty much addicted. And so, we worry. We worry about our loved ones. We worry about ourselves. We worry about our next paycheck. With all this quarantine cooking and baking, we worry about fitting into our favorite swimsuit when it’s all over.

In this stressful time, let’s all make it a point to be kind to one another. Pick up the phone, send an email, use social media – anything and everything to connect with family and friends. Smile at passersby. Hug your dog. If you don’t have a dog; I can highly recommend fostering or adopting one. Thank essential workers. Most important, remember, you are loved. You matter. Know that you will be okay in the end. If you’re not feeling anything close to okay; it’s alright. It’s not the end.

That’s all for now. Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Braised Pork Ribs

A perfect dish when you or your family are feeling a little stressed out. Braised ribs fill the house with warmth and comfort. Serve the ribs with creamy polenta, smashed potatoes or a hunk of crusty bread. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • 2 ounces slab or thick cut bacon, roughly chopped
  • About 6 pounds thick cut, country style pork ribs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • About 2 cups chicken stock
  • About 2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

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 pork with salt and pepper and, working in batches, brown the pork over medium-high heat. Remove the pork and reserve.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the celery, carrot and onion, sprinkle with the herbs and spices, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the jalapeno and garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes and 1 cup stock. Return the bacon and pork to the casserole, raise the heat to high and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for about 2 hours.

While the pork braises, heat the remaining bacon fat or a little olive oil in skillet, add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned.

Put the sour cream in a bowl. A little at a time, stir 1 cup of hot braising liquid into the sour cream. Stir the mixture back into the pot, add the mushrooms and more chicken stock if necessary. Return to the oven for about 30 minutes or until the pork is very tender.

Transfer the pork to a deep platter or individual plates and smother with vegetables and sauce.

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Trivia in the Time of the Coronavirus & Turkey & White Bean Pumpkin Chili

Schools have now been closed for just over a month and we’re in the third week of the governor’s stay-at home order. So, in case you’ve been wondering – here’s the update from my house –

The dog is in the best shape she’s ever been. Or at least the best shape since she took over the household on January 3. She still can’t climb the stairs to my office but she hippy hops out the door every morning to do her business and then runs home when she’s done. She has a distinctive smile of self-satisfaction when hippy hopping or running.

Dad is still bored as could be. However, exciting tech news – he took part in his first video call. He’s been talking about it for days and thinks he’s George Jettson.

The dog is fascinated by the hordes of people that continue to stroll by the house. Families are out getting fresh air and burning off excess energy. Friends are catching up while staying six feet apart. My only concern is the novice walkers. They are easy to spot because they walk on the WRONG SIDE of the road. So, here’s my public service announcement: always face the on-coming traffic. That way, if a car doesn’t see you; you’ll see it and can jump out of the way if necessary.

As New Hampshire plods through week three of lockdown, I remind myself that Anne Frank spent 761 days in the secret annex. With seven other people. She was only thirteen years old. She couldn’t go outside for anything. Not a walk, not a trip to the post office or supermarket or hardware store.

Anyway, to kill some time, I decided to put my cracker jack research skills to work investigating the toilet paper shortage. (In other words, I googled, “What’s with the coronavirus toilet paper shortage?) After the initial panic buys, you would expect the shelves to return to normal. They haven’t. Is it hoarders? Opportunists selling on e-Bay? No, it’s logistics.

It turns out there are two kinds of toilet paper. The nice kind you have at home and the flimsy one-ply stuff you find at schools, offices, airports, restaurant chains, movie theaters and shopping malls. So, here’s the problem. Suddenly, Mom, Dad and their 2.3 kids are at home. All day, every day and using toilet paper like it grew on trees, which it sort of does. Meanwhile, those flimsy rolls, the ones that you can’t buy at the supermarket even if you’re desperate, they’re sitting unused in stalls across the country and collecting dust in warehouses.

Having solved that mystery, I decided a few more fun facts might be of interest. Did you know that –

  • The hashtag symbol is actually called an octothorpe.
  • The first high heels can be traced back to 15th century Persia and were worn by men.
  • A group of vultures is a volt. Except in flight; then, they’re a kettle. Or feeding together on a carcass, that’s when they are called a wake.
  • A shrimp’s heart is located in its head.
  • A baby puffin is called a puffling and a baby porcupine is a porcupette.
  • Barry Manilow’s hit, “I Write the Songs” was written by Bruce Johnston.
  • Aulophobia is an exaggerated or irrational fear of flutes.
  • The Oreo, America’s favorite cookie, was introduced in 1912.
  • Only female mosquitoes bite. Same goes for black flies.
  • About one in every 4 million lobsters is born blue.

That’s all for now. Stay well and bon appétit!

Turkey & White Bean Pumpkin Chili

Now is a good time to make homey, comfort food. This morning, I found ground turkey in the freezer and pumpkin purée and beans in the pantry. Chili seemed like a perfect plan. Serve the chili with a square of cornbread or a spoonful of rice or both. Enjoy!

Serves 4-6

  • Olive oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2-1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon or to taste finely chopped jalapeno pepper
  • 1 tablespoon or to taste chipotle purée *
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • About 2 cups cooked small white beans (15 ounce can)
  • About 2 cups pumpkin purée (15 ounce can)
  • 3-4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • Garnish: grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat a casserole with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the carrot, onion, bell pepper, jalapeno and chipotle purée, sprinkle with the spices and herbs and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent, add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the casserole, add the turkey, season with salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned. Return the vegetables to the pot, add the beans and stir to combine.

Stir in the pumpkin purée, 3 cups broth, the wine and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Transfer to the oven and cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Put the sour cream in a bowl. A little at a time, stir 1 cup of chili into the sour cream. Stir the sour cream mixture back into the chili, add more chicken stock if necessary and return to the oven for about 30 minutes.

Ladle the chili (over rice) into bowls and sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese.

Best if made ahead, cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated for serval hours or overnight. To reheat: bring to a simmer over low heat on the stovetop or in a 350-degree oven.

*   To make chipotle purée – take a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and toss them, sauce and all, in a small food processor. Process until smooth and transfer to a clean glass jar. Store the chipotle purée in the refrigerator and use as needed.

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

Do you have a fun fact or two? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020