Rockin’, Rollin’ and Casserolin’ & Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Pasta Bake

As soon as I think it’s time to write about colder weather, a blast of warm tropical air comes rolling up from the south. We keep asking each other, “Can you believe this weather … in October?” If we’d only stop and think about for a minute, we’d realize it’s hardly unexpected. It’s hurricane season. A quartet of mass destruction, Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria have plagued countless lives and ruined even more property. Turning northward, they brought heat and humidity to New England. Fortunately, we were spared high winds and flooding.

Warm weather has postponed my semi-annual changing of the drawers. For those who don’t follow this tradition, it happens twice a year. In the fall, turtlenecks go in the drawer. T-shirts and shorts take their place in plastic storage bins. The reverse happens in the spring.

Anyway, the delay has been a good thing. What with the new kitchen coming together, I needed the extra time to wipe down cabinets and counters, wash dust-covered dishes and find places for everything. You’ll be happy to know, I’m down to the last few strays. The fondue stand needs a good spot by the weekend. Otherwise, it and all the other homeless bits and bobs are going to the freecycle table at the dump. I’ve already filled a couple of boxes.

As soon as that’s done, I can start rockin’ and rollin’ and casserolin’. A classic casserole sounds like the perfect dish to break in my new kitchen. After all, everyone loves them. Casseroles are a part of our heritage. Think back to all those hearty dinners after hiking, biking or skiing. Maybe it was raking leaves and shoveling snow at your house. There was a bit of both at mine.

Fast forward and who could forget all the casseroles we took to potlucks in our twenties? I was living in Vermont and then western Massachusetts. It was cold a good part of the year so a casserole made sense. Besides, let face it, if you are in your twenties, you’re probably broke. A good casserole is as cheap as it is filling and delicious.

Perhaps the best thing about casseroles is their versatility. From classic French or Italian to spicy Tex-Mex, there are no limits to possible combinations. However, there are a few basics when it comes to assembling a great casserole. Start with your starch of choice. They’re all good – spuds, rice, tortillas or my favorite, pasta. Next, you’ll need some protein and veggies. Don’t forget, the end result is a one pot meal. You need to cover all the bases. Think beans for a vegetarian treat; create a delicious surprise with leftover pot roast or sauté up some chicken. You probably have yours but my favorite vegetables to put in a casserole are mushrooms, broccoli and spinach along with the requisite onion and garlic.

You’ll need a sauce. Any of the basics will do – Béchamel or the lighter Velouté, cream sauce, pesto or tomato sauce. Use any one in a multitude of variations or combinations. You can find most of them in a jar but give homemade a try. I promise the result will be worth the extra trouble. Finally, there is the cheese. From the king of cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano, to a humble cheddar, a great casserole is all about the cheese. Goat cheese, feta, ricotta, gruyere and fontina, we love them all.

With the last of the tropical heat and humidity surely gone, there is no excuse … it’s time to get rockin’, rollin’ and casserolin’. Bon appétit!

Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Pasta Bake
Try this warm and cozy casserole the next time you have a crowd over. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
Classic Velouté Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2-1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup dry Sherry
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
About 8 ounces (2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
About 1 ounce (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
12 ounces pasta – cavatappi, penne or rigatoni
1 – 1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut in bite-sized florets

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium-high. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet. Reduce the temperature to medium and cook for 4-5 minutes. Turn the chicken, add the white wine and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place the chicken in a large bowl and reserve.

Make the Velouté Sauce. (Recipe follows.)

Put the sour cream, sherry and herbs in a bowl and whisk to combine. A little at a time, whisk the Velouté Sauce into the sour cream. Return the sauce to the saucepan.

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil, add the onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more. Add the onion and garlic to the sauce.

If necessary, add a little more olive oil to the skillet. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté until golden. Add the mushrooms and 2/3rds of the cheeses to the sauce and, stirring frequently, bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 2 minutes. When the pasta has about 3 minutes of cooking time left, add the broccoli. Drain the pasta and broccoli and add it to the bowl with the chicken.

Add sauce to the chicken, pasta and broccoli and toss to combine. Transfer everything to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses.

You can make ahead to this point, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Cover and bake the casserole at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until piping hot and golden, about 15 minutes more.

Velouté Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

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One Year Ago – Cheddar Ale Soup
Two Years Ago – Ravioli with Roasted Butternut Squash
Three Years Ago – Gorgonzola & Walnut Shortbread with Savory Fig Jam
Four Years Ago – Soupe de Poisson Provençal
Five Years Ago – Hearty Black Bean Soup
Six Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna
Seven Years Ago – Gingerbread Cupcakes
Eight Years Ago – Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle
Ninet Years Ago – Pork Stew PaprikaOr Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your favorite casserole recipe? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

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Cooking Zen Weekend Special

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Zen of cooking. Like many of our everyday tasks, cooking can provide peace of mind through rhythmic, repetitive activities that provide kind and loving care to others. What with the kitchen remodel, it’s not been particularly peaceful at my house. However, we’re in the tunnel and I can see the light.

The floors, cabinets, appliances and counter tops have been installed. It’s not done but I can cook. There is a bunch of odds and ends; a missing light plus a bag of hooks, towel racks and TP holder waiting to be installed. The last of the dishes, pots, pans and tools still need to find their new homes. Plus, there are a few bigger jobs – installing the back splash and giving the walls a second coat of paint.

I’m not quite ready for the kitchen warming but at least, I can cook dinner. What about you? Are you ready to find some peace through the Zen of cooking this weekend? If cooking is not really your thing, consider raking leaves or sweeping the garage.

In case you need some help with your dinner menu, here are a few suggestions for a tasty fall dinner:

To start –
Enjoy a bowl of Feta Walnut Spread with fresh vegetables and pita chips

Sit down to –
One of my favorite salads – Lemony Kale & Radicchio Salad

Move on to –
Mediterranean Meatballs with Couscous

Finish it off with –
Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp (Cranberry Coulis is optional)

Have a peaceful weekend and bon appétit!!

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

What’s up with you this weekend? 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! © Susan W. Nye, 2017

The Zen of Comfort Food & Mediterranean Meatballs with Couscous

You could blame it on the Columbus Day Weekend but I’ve had meatballs on my mind for several days now. A holiday fraught with controversy, both cherished and despised, Columbus Day nonetheless reminds us of the Italian-American part of our heritage. Although he never set foot in North America, we still claim Columbus as our first Italian-American. Stereotype or not, meatballs are a beloved part of the Italian in America.

That said; meatballs are not just Italian. You will find them all across Europe, the Americas, Middle East and Asia. More than some vague cultural reference, they are pure comfort food. They are one of the many dishes made by hand with love by our Nana, Nonni, Meme or Mormor. That connection to our past elevates them to the top of the comfort food pyramid. Think of meatballs as comfort food with a capital C and capital F.

Of course, they are not alone. Up there at the pinnacle of comfortdom sits mac & cheese, chicken noodle soup and chili. Of course, there is a long list of easy comfort foods. Indulgent snacks like fast food French fries and dumplings from the Chinese take-out come to mind. The quickest way to mend a broken heart is a pint of Rocky Road. Generations of Moms’ have served grilled cheese with a cup of tomato soup after a lost soccer game.

So why are meatballs so special? What puts them at the pinnacle? I have a theory but it may only apply to those of us who like to cook. Here goes. Meatballs provide comfort at both the destination and throughout the journey. In case you haven’t guessed, making them is the journey and enjoying them with family and friends is the destination.

Comfort food is all about love. Preparing a comfort dish is part of the Zen of everyday life. Although comfort food is rarely complicated, its preparation is often time consuming. The very nature of these recipes invites us to slow down.

The day my mother died, I made two batches of chili. It sounds strange, doesn’t it? I had been awake half the night. Sometime in the wee hours, I remembered that two pounds of black beans had been soaking for almost two days. I could have thrown them out. Instead, around five-thirty, I stopped tossing and turning and began making chili. Dad left for the hospital and I promised to relieve him by noon.

Mom had been ill for several years. The rhythmic chopping of onions and mincing of garlic helped me find peace. The easy back and forth from cutting board to stove, pantry and refrigerator was steadying. I had space and time alone for quiet reflection. The act of cooking simple comfort food was grounding on a difficult day. The first batch of chili went to a nonprofit fundraiser. The second was for the family.

Mom and I spent a quiet afternoon together. I told her about my peaceful morning, I think she approved. I read to her and then she was gone. After three hurricanes, an earthquake and the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, perhaps we can all find peace in both the journey and destination of cooking and sharing comfort food.

Chili or chicken soup, mac & cheese or meatballs … take comfort in simple food and bon appétit!

Mediterranean Meatballs and Couscous
I like to combine the flavors of different cultures. Here my mother’s Swedish meatballs meet the flavors of North Africa, Turkey and Greece. Enjoy!
Serves 6-8

Mediterranean Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
2 pounds ground turkey
1/2 cup instant oatmeal
1/3 large onion, minced
1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Flour, for dusting
Olive oil
2 cups Israeli couscous

Make the Mediterranean Tomato Sauce.

While the sauce simmers, put the turkey, oatmeal, carrot, onion and garlic in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the herbs, spices, salt and pepper. Put the eggs and vinegar in a bowl and whisk combine. Add the sour cream, whisk again and add the wet ingredients to the turkey. Gently toss and mix to combine. You can use a couple of large spoons but impeccably clean hands work best. Roll the mixture into meatballs.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Dust the meatballs with flour, add them to the pan and brown on all sides. You may need to cook the meatballs in batches; don’t crowd the pan.

Transfer the meatballs to the pot of Mediterranean Tomato Sauce, bring to a simmer and transfer to the oven. Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. If needed, add more chicken stock to the sauce.

While the meatballs braise in the sauce, prepare the couscous according to package directions.

Drain the couscous and spoon into individual shallow bowls, top with meatballs and sauce and serve.

Mediterranean Tomato Sauce
Makes about 2 quarts

Olive oil
2/3 large onion, chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
2 tablespoons or to taste Harissa
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 cup or more chicken stock or broth
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

Lightly coat a heavy casserole with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Add the onion, carrot and harissa, sprinkle with the spices and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until onion is translucent, add the garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes more.

Add the wine and simmer until reduced half. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, stock and herbs, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

Can be made in advance.

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One Year Ago – Pumpkin Chili with Turkey & Black Beans
Two Years Ago – Ravioli with Roasted Butternut Squash
Three Years Ago – Hearty White Bean & Tomato Soup
Four Years Ago – Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti
Five Years Ago – Tagliatelle alla Carbonara
Six Years Ago – Carbonnade á la Flamande – Beer Braised Beef & Onions
Seven Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon
Eight Years Ago – Pumpkin Cupcakes
Nine Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

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

What are your favorite comfort foods? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Columbus Day Weekend Special

For those of you looking forward to a long weekend, enjoy. For the rest of us, well, we can still enjoy some time away from our day jobs. I’ve got a lot of writing to do but hope to spend some time outside too. Although it officially ended on Tuesday, I have an Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday. What about you? What’s up with you this Columbus Day weekend?

Whether you have a long weekend or not, ya gotta eat! Why not invite a few friends over for an Italian feast. (Columbus was from Genoa.) Here are a few suggestions for a delicious, early fall dinner:

Start with a glass of wine and an antipasto platter inspired by the harvest. I noticed beautiful eggplants at the farmstand this week. I think I have a great use for them. Start your antipasto platter with thinly sliced hard sausage, shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, some olives and nuts. Top it off with a bowl of Caponata. Caponata is a wonderful salsa. It is great with fish and just as delicious as an appetizer on an artisanal cracker.

When you sit down to the table, take a tip from the Italians and start the meal with a lovely vegetarian pasta. Again, you’ll want to benefit from the harvest with my Pasta with Pesto, Roasted Grape Tomatoes & Corn . Serve half portions and you’ll have plenty of room for the main course.

Speaking of which, I’d like to suggest my Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc and Roasted Cauliflower or Roasted Parsnips .

For a sweet finish, try my Rustic Apple Tart or the oh so Italian (and delicious) Chocolate Panna Cotta .

Have a great weekend and buon appetito!

p.s. If you think you’d like to go with an Oktoberfest dinner, you can start with my Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard. Then, move on to my Romaine & Radicchio Caesar Salad (not at all German but tasty.) For the main course, enjoy my Roasted Pork Loin with Apples & Onions with sides of Sauerkraut and Smashed Potatoes. And finally, for dessert, try my Cardamom Plum Tort .

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

What’s up with you this weekend? 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! © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Fourteen Hundred & Ninety-two & Pasta with Pesto, Roasted Grape Tomatoes & Corn

As kids, we learned all about Christopher Columbus and his perilous voyage in 1492. Queen Isabella, along with the Niña, the Pinta and Santa María are entrenched in our psyches. Looking back, I might be tempted to think there was a little hanky-panky going on. The benevolent Izzy got a lot of coverage but there was next to no mention of King Ferdinand. That said; there was no mention of hanky-panky either. Then again, you can only share so much with second graders.

Anyway, throughout elementary school we cut galleons out of construction paper and studied maps of Columbus’ journey. As interesting as galleons and maps are, the best part was the day off from school. Why, we’d barely been back six weeks and already a mini vacation. A parade wound its way down Washington Street. My sister and her Girl Scout troupe marched in it one year. I must admit, I preferred jumping in a giant pile of leaves to standing in the cold watching Brenda and her friends parade by.

Come to think of it, it was also a good day to eat birthday cake.You see, my sister was born on Columbus Day. No, not the second Monday of October, that’s the let’s-have-a-long-weekend holiday and not the real thing. Brenda’s birthday was on the actual day Chris discovered America. Well, the actual day plus more than a few hundred years. Of course, CC thought he was in Asia. Columbus had the brilliant idea that the quickest route from Europe to Asia was a short sail west across the Atlantic. He didn’t figure on a bunch of islands, a couple of continents and another ocean standing between him and Japan.

Anyway, when I was in kindergarten, maybe first grade, Brenda tried to convince me that the holiday commemorated her birthday. I knew it wasn’t true but that didn’t stop me from having a double twinge of doubt and jealousy. I’ll also admit to feeling more than my fair share of vindication when the parade and the rest of the hoopla was moved to the second Monday of October.

All these years later and living in New Hampshire, the Columbus Day weekend is a reminder that cold weather is coming soon. Forget parades, it’s time to get my act together. Along with a quest for perfect pumpkin, I’d better take a stab at all those summer-is-over chores. (Is it okay if I just kind of start to think about taking a stab at them?)

Unless you are a weed-whacking aficionado, it’s not a fun list. There is a certain sadness to putting the kayak away, especially when I barely had a chance to use it. Perhaps if I wait another week or two, I’ll find the time for one last paddle. The same goes for the Adirondack chairs. Is it possible that a few hours will suddenly free up? It would be nice to sit in the sun with a good book. Thankfully I have (or hope I have) a few more weeks before the snow tires must go on the Mini.

Truth be told, I’d rather take a long walk and check out the foliage than clean out the garage. True or not, I’ve been assured that the brilliant reds and golds are just a few short days away. People come from miles to see our foliage. Shouldn’t we take some time to revel in the glorious color?

Speaking of color, my red kitchen is getting closer and closer to completion. The big stuff is done – floors, cabinets, countertops and appliances. All that’s left is a list of gnarly little odds and ends. Well, except for a second coat of paint for the walls and trim, that one’s neither odd nor little.

Anyone know a good painter? Bon appétit!

Pasta with Pesto, Roasted Grape Tomatoes & Corn
This dish combines pasta and pesto from Columbus’ native Genoa with tomatoes and corn from the new world. If you like, add a few roasted shrimp. After all, Genoa is a seaport. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Pinch or to taste red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
16 ounces gemelli, cellentari or your favorite short twisted pasta
About 1 cup (1-2 ears) fresh corn kernels
Pesto alla Genovese
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Coat a large skillet with equal parts olive oil and vinegar, add the tomatoes, season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Roast in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. Add the onion, toss to combine and continue roasting for another 10 minutes. Add the garlic, toss and roast for a final 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and begin to brown.

While the tomatoes roasting, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.

Reserving a little pasta water, drain the pasta and return to the pot. Add the tomatoes, corn and about 1/4 cup pasta water and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little more pasta water. Cover and simmer on low for 1 minute.

Add a dollop or two of Pesto alla Genovese to the pasta and toss to combine. Transfer the pasta to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Pesto alla Genovese
Makes about 1 cup

4 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup plus more to cover extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Put half of the basil, the pine nuts, garlic and salt in a food processor and pulse to chop and combine. Add the remaining basil and 1/3 cup olive oil and process until smooth. Add the cheeses and pulse to combine.

Transfer to a small bowl or jar, pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to combine the flavors.

Pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of leftover pesto, cover and store in the refrigerator.

You might like to make a big batch and store in small containers in the freezer. Making pesto is a lot more fun than weed-whacking.

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One Year Ago – Cardamom Plum Tort
Two Years Ago – Easy Microwave Popcorn
Three Years Ago – Bruschetta with Fresh Tomatoes, Goat Cheese & Pesto Oil
Four Years Ago – Lemon Pasta & Shrimp with Olives & Capers
Five Years Ago – Roasted Sausages with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Rabe & Polenta
Six Years Ago – Lobster Mac & Cheese
Seven Years Ago – Sausage, Kale & Potato Soup
Eight Years Ago – Soupe au Pistou
Nine Years Ago – Mulled Cider

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

How will you celebrate the long weekend? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Okay, I think Fall May Finally Be Here Weekend Special

If nothing else, the recent heat wave has allowed us to chime in one last time with “Hot enough for you.” It’s also given me a few delightful evenings down on Pleasant Lake. Unless each and every one of those weather guys are wrong, fall is finally coming this weekend.

Don’t despair the end of hot weather. After all, it’s sweater weather. We won’t need too many layers of down and fleece for a while yet. Take a hike or ride your bike through the countryside. The sunshine is golden and the leaves are starting to turn.

Invite you hiking and biking friends back for dinner. The bounty at the farmstand is fabulous and it promises to be a beautiful weekend. Suggest everyone bring a sweater and enjoy cocktails on the deck before dinner. (You might even sit around the fire pit for an after dinner coffee or cognac.) Here are a few suggestions an early fall dinner:

Start with a glass of wine and an appetizer inspired by the changing season. I don’t know about you but green tomatoes make me think of early fall. Why? Well, early in the summer, I know that they have plenty of time to ripen into big, fat, red tomatoes. As we slip into October, days are shorter, nights are cooler and those tomatoes are running out of time. For a summer’s over (sigh) treat, there is nothing better than Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema. They’re great as a side dish and delicious as an appetizer.

Sit down to the table with a beautiful salad. The farmstand had a virtual rainbow of beets on display yesterday. They will be beautiful in my Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese Salad. However, since I still don’t have an oven, I left them all for you!

 

Now, for the main course. Nothing says cozy on a cool evening like soup. Unlike a traditional New England chowder, my End of Summer Soup with Corn & White Beans takes advantage of two favorite veggies – corn and tomatoes.

Cap your meal with a beautiful dessert. For a sweet finish, try my Applesauce Cake with Brown Butter Icing . Along with the beets, corn and tomatoes, there are local apples waiting for you … to pick or pick up at the farmstand.

 

 

Have a great weekend and bon appétit!

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

What’s up with you this weekend? 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! © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Stuff Happens & Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema

It started about four years ago. I desperately wanted to re-do my kitchen and began saving my pennies. However, since a bathroom renovation had turned into what seemed like an endless saga, I needed reassurance. I needed a timeline. Bruce, my eternally optimistic contractor, provided me, the eternally optimistic client, with the magic number … three weeks.

In case you think these two optimists are crazy, Bruce had a plan and I bought into it 100 percent. Here’s how it worked. Week one Bruce tears everything apart. Week two, he puts it all back together. The cabinets are installed, the appliances arrive and the plumber, electrician and painter make their magic. On Friday of week two, the countertop guy draws up the template. Week three is busy with a long list of odds and ends until the grand finale on Friday. The countertops are installed.

For my part, I insisted that demolition would absolutely, positively not begin until everything was ready to go. Cabinets, flooring and appliances had to be stacked from floor to ceiling in every available nook or cranny. At bare minimum, materials had to be on a truck and headed my way. There would be no delay because the refrigerator was on back order.

As we neared the start date, there were a few hiccups. Throughout the process, a few more setbacks demanded solutions. In spite of our optimism and mostly careful planning, stuff happens and lessons are learned.

Sorry, those floors are no longer available. In fact, the company has gone out of business. Bruce got on the phone and online. His favorite supplier got on the phone and online. Nothing. I got online and then in the car. Nothing until I fell in love with plan B, a kitchen-friendly cork. That said; the lead-time was three weeks. Anyway, stay flexible.

Speaking of floors, that old linoleum is not coming up without a fight. There were actually two layers of linoleum. The first ripped out easily. The second was put down with super glue or some other miracle adhesive invented by a super-secret government agency. In the end, it was no match to Chuck’s resolve. Tenancy is good.

There is working time and waiting time. You see both during a renovation. As promised, it took less than a week to install the new floors and cabinets. The only problem, it didn’t happen until week three. Blame it on the new laundry/half bath and mudroom. Installation was delayed a week while these two, itty-bitty spaces were framed and drywall was installed, mudded and sanded. Be patient.

Wait a minute, that’s a joist exactly where the flange should go. When the plumber went to install the flange for the toilet in the new half bath, he discovered a floor joist in just the wrong spot. However, within minutes, a return/exchange order was in the works for a new toilet to fit the tight space. Yes, a big box store would have taken the return but I’m very glad I didn’t need to cram a toilet in the back of the Mini. Thank goodness, I bought local.

Now, the confession – in spite of my sunny disposition and optimism, I knew from the start that the kitchen would take more than three weeks. You remember my eighty-twenty rule: just when you think you are eighty percent done; you have eighty percent more to do. Well, I figured the first eighty percent would happen quickly, in about three weeks. I was hoping the second eighty percent wouldn’t take more than a week but realized another two, okay maybe three weeks, was more likely.

I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be cooking again this weekend. Bon appétit!

My temporary kitchen – microwave, hotplate and toaster oven on an old door in the garage.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema
With September winding to a close, it’s time for a favorite early fall treat. Fry up some of the green tomatoes that won’t have time to ripen on the vine. Enjoy!
Serves 8

3/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large eggs
Vegetable oil
4-6 large green tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick
Chipotle Crema (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to its lowest setting.

Put the cornmeal, flour, salt, cumin and pepper in a shallow bowl and whisk to combine. Put the eggs in a separate bowl and beat well.

Generously coat a heavy skillet with oil and heat over medium-high.

Dip the tomato slices in the egg and then dredge in the cornmeal mixture. Working in batches, carefully, place the tomatoes in the skillet and fry until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan and place in a warm oven. Adding more oil to the pan if necessary, continue with the remaining tomato slices. Serve hot with a dollop of Chipotle Aioli.

Chipotle Crema
Makes about 1 cup

2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon or to taste pureed chipotle in adobo*
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon cumin
Sea salt to taste
About 1/2 cup or to taste sour cream

Put the mayonnaise, chipotle, garlic, mustard and lime zest and juice in bowl, season with cumin and salt and whisk to combine. Add the sour cream and whisk until smooth. Cover and chill for an hour or more to combine the flavors.

Cover and store leftover crema in the refrigerator.

* Toss a can of chipotle peppers along with the adobo in a small food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a clean glass jar, store in the refrigerator and use as needed.

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One Year Ago – Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde
Two Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Three Years Ago – Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard
Four Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Five Years Ago – Lemon Rice Cakes with Spinach & Manchego
Six Years Ago – Apple Crumb Cake
Seven Years Ago – Ginger Scones
Eight Years Ago – Curried Eggplant Soup
Nine Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon

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

Do you have any reno advice to add? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017