The Costumes We Keep & Savory Smashed Sweet Potatoes

I love a good costume. Maybe that’s why I love Halloween so much. However, you don’t have to wait until Halloween to have fun with dress ups. If you keep your eyes open, there are costumes everywhere. Unfortunately you are most likely to see the under-six set wearing them. Think little girls in fluffy pink, tutus-like skirts and boys in Batman t-shirts.

When he was a little boy, my brother John dressed in costume almost every day. His favorite was Superman. Due to some miscommunication, both grandmothers gave him a Superman suit for his birthday. Not a problem, Johnny was just fine with that. If one was in the wash, he could still suit up.

Along with the man of steel, at least once a week he would appear at breakfast in full Daniel Boone or cowboy regalia. Sporting a coonskin cap or cowboy hat, fringed shirt and jeans, he would swagger into the kitchen. Although it was clearly never first or even second choice, when there were no other options, Batman graced our presence.

Then there was that dreadful day. I’m glad I’d already left for school and didn’t witness the trauma. Whether the story is nothing more than family legend or true, I’ll never know. Anyway, John showed up at his friend Richard’s house in jeans and t-shirt. Since she’d rarely, maybe never, seen him in civilian clothes, Richard’s mom asked him, “Where’s Superman today?” Without missing a beat, Johnny replied, “Both my Superman suits are in the wash. My mother told me I had to be Clark Kent today.”

When he started kindergarten or maybe it was nursery school, John gave up his costumes. There was no particular drama. After hundreds of wearings and washings, I’m guessing they fell apart. Maybe the dog ate his coonskin cap or he lost his cowboy hat at the playground. Then again, he might have simply outgrown them – physically or metaphorically or both. These things happen. While I hope not, it’s possible some school administrator put the kybosh on super heroes in the classroom. Although they later reneged, I can confirm that those very same administrators outlawed miniskirts at the high school.

Maybe we never actually give up costumes. Instead, we change the characters we play. Could it be that a hungry dog or bureaucrat does nothing more than nudge us into the inevitable next rendition of ourselves? Wonder Woman changes into bookish nerd or cool bohemian and then morphs again into corporate lawyer. Batman becomes an athlete and prom king, transforms into a Peace Corp volunteer and changes once more into an engineer.

Whether you’re a teenager in a ratty t-shirt or a Wall Street type in an Armani suit, your clothing sends a message. Admit it; you could just as easily don a pair of jeans as yoga pants, a button-down shirt as a mock turtleneck. Whether it’s true or not, yoga pants tell the world you are sporty and fit – or just so busy you don’t have time to change your clothes after class. The mock turtleneck? It’s your proclamation that you will indeed be the next Steve Jobs.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and my kitchen all but done, it’s time for me to put on my red apron. What does that say about me?

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

Savory Smashed Sweet Potatoes
It’s not too early to start thinking about Thanksgiving. I’ve never been a fan of sweet potatoes with marshmallows. If you are of the same mind, add this savory dish to your Thanksgiving menu. Enjoy!
Serves 8

4 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces plus more for the pan
About 3 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature and cut in small pieces
1/4 cup sour cream
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Generously butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish.

Prick each potato several times with a knife, place them on the baking sheet and in the oven. Reduce the heat and bake at 375 degrees until soft, 1-1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and set aside.

When cool enough to handle but still warm, halve potatoes and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons butter, the cream cheese and sour cream, sprinkle with the cheeses and season with salt and pepper. Use a masher to smash the potatoes and combine the ingredients. Spread the sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish and dot with the remaining butter.

Can be made ahead to this point, cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated. Bring the potatoes to room temperature before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the sweet potatoes at 350 degrees until piping hot, about 30 minutes.

Print-friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù
Two Years Ago – Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction
Three Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Vegetables & Chickpeas with Couscous
Four Years Ago – Smashed or Mashed Potatoes
Five Years Ago – Apple Muffins
Six Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Warm Roasted Squash
Seven Years Ago – Spinach Ricotta Pie
Eight Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Lentils
Ninet Years Ago – Tomato, Olive & Feta Tart

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

My current costume is the monochromatic look, black in cold weather and white/beige/khaki in warm. What about you? Feel free to share!

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

Advertisements

Halloween Potluck Special

decorationWith any luck, you’ve been invited to a Halloween Party this weekend. What fun! To relive a favorite childhood holiday with costumes, good food, a bit of cheer and dancing!

Chances are good that it’s a potluck, so here are a few suggestions of what to bring:

If you’re thinking appetizers … try my Chipotle Sweet Potato & White Bean Hummus or Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts. Or go a bit more elegant with these autumnal crostini …my Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Crostini or Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction are delicious.Or bring something hearty like my Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard or Spanish Stuffed Mushrooms.

Your host will be looking for a salad or two … so consider bringing my … Crunchy Salad with Apples & Grapes, Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad or Mixed Greens with Roasted Mushrooms.

What about the main event? A chili or something stew-y is always good for a potluck, especially on a chilly night. My Sort’a Like Jambalaya is always a hit. On the other hand, Pumpkin Chili with Turkey & Black Beans seems particularly appropriate while Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde is one of my latest favorites.

NYE_Halloween_10-11_01If dessert is your specialty … pumpkin anything works for a Halloween bash. You can go all out with my Pumpkin Cheesecake or offer everyone a delicious spoonful of Pumpkin-Ginger Mousse. if you want a dessert with no plate required, well, you can’t beat Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies or Pumpkin-Spice Cookies.

Have a spooktacular weekend and bon appétit!

What’s up with you for the weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!

© Susan W. Nye, 2016

Halloween & Gingerbread Cupcakes

As far as I can figure there are ten official holidays in the United States. That’s when the post office and banks close their doors. But really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on your point of view there are scores, even hundreds more. Almost everyday’s a holiday if you observe the likes of Bubble Bath Day and Fibonacci Day. (Perhaps only columnists desperately looking for inspiration pay much attention to these last two and others like them.)

Somewhere between the paltry ten and the daily excuses for celebration are what I fondly call the Cupcake Holidays. You should remember them from your days in elementary school. Hopefully you don’t refer to them as B-list celebrations because they are definitely red carpet worthy. Businesses more or less plug along as usual. Schools are still in session but forget the milk and graham crackers at snack time. Instead, someone’s mother waltzes in around 9:30 with a box of gaily decorated cupcakes for a sweet break between reading and arithmetic. Or at least they did when I was in elementary school.

Someone’s mom, never mine, always brought sweet treats on Valentine’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day. The First of May sometimes made the cut but it was graham crackers as usual on Sadie Hawkins Day. Same held true for Ground Hog Day, Flag Day and United Nations Day.

But the top of the heap, the cupcake day to beat all cupcake days has got to be Halloween. Truth be told, I can’t understand why Halloween doesn’t have equal status with Labor Day and the 4th of July. It’s certainly in my top five favorite holidays. In spite of my fervent support, it doesn’t look like Halloween will be declared a national or state holiday anytime soon.

However, Halloween is more than the perfect excuse for a cupcake, much more. Costumes and a parade are definitely in order. As a little girl, one of my favorite games was dress-up. Then and now, I adore costumes, especially when boas or capes are involved. Perhaps I was Batgirl or Wonder Woman in another life. Halloween is a wonderful excuse to play dress-up. Throughout my childhood, I paraded through school hallways and neighborhood streets as a pumpkin and a princess, a witch, a devil, a hobo, a football player and a fine young cannibal. (This year I’m going as my all time favorite, a witch.)

So if Halloween fun is not on the agenda or in the syllabus, well it should be. This spooktacular holiday is more than merry-making. Halloween gets everyone’s imaginations going and creative juices flowing. Surely arithmetic, spelling and reading can be put on hold for one day. Don’t all kids deserve a chance to experiment and try a little mask making, pumpkin carving, storytelling and parading? Naturally these creative efforts should be rewarded with a cupcake. After all, whoever heard of a Cupcake Holiday without cupcakes?

I hope that you have a happy, healthy and fun Halloween; with or (heaven forbid) without cupcakes.

Bon appétit!

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Apple-Cranberry Compote & Ginger Crème Anglais
Homey gingerbread cupcakes take on a touch of elegance when served with a creamy ginger sauce and seasonal fruit. (The cupcakes are also yummy with cream cheese frosting. Don’t forget to tint the frosting orange for Halloween.) Enjoy!
Makes about 20 cupcakes

2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Grated peel of 1 orange

.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsulphered molasses
2 large eggs
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

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

Combine 1 cup boiling water with the baking soda; set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, spices, salt and baking powder. Add the grated orange peel, whisk to combine and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter until light. Add the brown sugar and molasses and mix for 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs. Add the baking soda-water and flour mixture, set the mixer on low and combine.

Fill the paper liners about two-thirds full with batter. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool a few minutes, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To serve: put 1-2 tablespoons of Ginger Crème Anglais on each dessert plate. Peel the paper wrapper off each cupcake and set on the crème anglais. Add a dollop of Apple-Cranberry Compote, lightly dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.

Ginger Crème Anglais
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup brown sugar
Pinch salt
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Put the ginger and cream into a small, heavy saucepan and set over low heat. Bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and let steep, covered, for 30 minutes.

Fill a large bowl about half full with ice and water and set aside.

Pour the ginger-cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard the ginger. Add the brown sugar, salt and egg yolks to the cream and whisk until smooth and well combined. Transfer to a saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring constantly until it registers 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Pour the crème through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. Set the bowl of crème into the large bowl with the ice water and cool. When the crème reaches room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator.

Apple-Cranberry Compote
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
3-4 apples cored, peeled and chopped
1 cup cranberries
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup cider
2 tablespoon calvados or apple jack (optional)
Pinch sea salt

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the apples, cranberries, sugar and spices and toss to combine.

Add the cider and calvados. Raise the heat to high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the fruit is soft and starts to fall apart.

Can be made ahead. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Print-friendly version of this post.
 One Year Ago – Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle
Two Years Ago –
Pork Stew Paprika

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

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

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

Happy Halloween & Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle

English_Toffee_01There are many wonderful things about living in the country. Fresh air. Easy access to the mountains for skiing and hiking. A beautiful lake just around the corner. Still the country is not for everyone. If you’ve spent most of your life in the city or a sprawling suburb, the peace and quiet can be a bit unsettling. And then there are a whole bunch of new sights, sounds and smells that can be even more unnerving. Take for instance, a bear investigating the bird feeder on your deck, a coyote howling at the moon or a skunk wandering around your garden.

Except for some great people, there is not much I miss about the hectic, hustle and bustle life I had before moving back to New England. I don’t miss working 5:00-to-9:00 (no, that’s not a typo!) or jumping on airplanes a couple of times a week. I don’t miss having a cell phone glued to my ear. And I certainly don’t miss sitting in traffic for hours (usually with a cell phone glued to my ear.)

But I do miss trick-or-treaters. I will soon celebrate my fifth Halloween in my house near Pleasant Lake. So far, I have only had one, yes only one, trick-or-treater. To be honest, I’m not really sure if he qualifies as a true trick-or-treater. As far as I could tell, he was cleverly disguised as himself. It was dark, it was raining and it’s possible he came to the door for directions or to borrow a cup of sugar. I was so happy to see him that I gave him a candy bar and wished him a Happy Halloween. He quickly left without saying much of anything.

Given my love of all things Halloween, especially the costume part, I would be delighted to have a swarm of little fairy princesses, ghosts and super heroes at my doorstep on all hallows’ eve. Unfortunately, they don’t come. It’s not like I’m one of those peculiar ladies who lives in a rickety old house, high on the top of a ghostly hill. Okay, maybe I’m a bit peculiar but I don’t live on a hill. And unless I’m having a bad hair day, I’m hardly scary. I keep telling myself, it’s not me; it’s the neighborhood. By Halloween, the summer people are long gone and most of the snow birds have taken flight and headed south. With most of the houses are empty, the pick’ens are pretty slim.

When I was little, my family lived in a busy suburban neighborhood. The yards were small and the houses close together. Not so close that you could reach out your window into your neighbor’s living room to turn down the volume on the television, but close enough. The baby boom was booming and the neighborhood was swarming with kids. Every house had two or three; some had four or more. The competition for Halloween goodies was steep and plans were not left to the last minute or to chance.

Every Halloween I joined forces with my friends Binky, Mary and Marybeth. By mid-October we were hard at work on our trick-or-treating strategies. Early on it was all about the costumes. We always made our costumes; assembled is probably a better word. We would raid each other’s dress-up boxes and before long we were ready to terrorize the neighborhood guised as witches, clowns, hobos and gypsies.

Of course we wanted to maximize our loot. So in the final days leading up to Halloween our strategizing was all about the route. Our goal was to visit as many houses as we possibly could before everyone ran out of candy. To complicate matters, we had a few favorites. We certainly didn’t want to miss out on one neighbor’s hand-dipped candy apples or another’s sticky, sweet popcorn balls.

Finally the big night arrived and outfitted in our ghoulish best we raced through the neighborhood. Whether you have a stampede of goblins and ghouls at your door or spend a quiet evening with a good mystery,

Happy Halloween and bon appétit!

Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle
Whether you have trick-or-treaters or not, why not try your hand at a homemade sweet treat! Enjoy!

1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted
1/2 cup each – semi sweet, milk and white chocolate chips
1 cup coconut, toasted
3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter
3 cups sugar
Dash salt
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla

In a medium bowl, toss together the almonds, chocolate chips and coconut. Put them on a baking sheet lined with a silicon baking mat, spreading them out into an even single layer.English_Toffee_03

Put butter, sugar, salt and water in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Remove the spoon and cook to 300-310 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir in the vanilla.

Carefully pour the hot sugar over the nut mixture and let cool. Be careful not to touch the cookie sheet after the sugar has been poured. The baking sheet will be very hot; let cool completely, at least 2 hours. Break the brittle into pieces and serve.

Print-friendly version of this post.

Pork Stew Paprika

Feel free to make a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Just click on COMMENTS below.

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

Feel free to visit my photoblog, Susan Nye 365 or my cleverly named other blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2009

Cupcakes: A Lovely Little Luxury & Pumpkin Cupcakes

Ahh, so many desserts, so little time. Who doesn’t love a rich, decadent dessert like luxurious crème caramel or luscious chocolate mousse? Summer wouldn’t be summer without fruity desserts like a glorious blueberry pie, strawberry short cake or warm and wonderful peach cobbler. Now that it’s fall, apples are in season and we would be remiss if we didn’t bake a few pies, cakes and crisps.

And a birthday just wouldn’t be a birthday without cake. Or better yet, cupcakes. What’s not to love about a cupcake? Simple, delicious, these sweet little treats brings out the kid in all of us (not a bad idea as the number of birthdays begins to mount.)

When we were in elementary school, cupcakes were the all the rage at bake sales and classroom parties. Without fail every classroom had at least one lucky kid whose mom lived to bake. Any holiday, significant or not, was a good excuse for her to break out mixing bowls and muffin tins. Then like June Cleaver incarnate, this domestic diva would sail into our classroom with a Filene’s box filled with gorgeous cupcakes. Sporting icing tinted orange for Halloween or green for Saint Paddy’s Day, these miniature cakes provided a welcome break from the daily grind of spelling tests and multiplication tables.

I admit I was always a little jealous of those kids, the ones with a super baker for a mom. I imagined that homemade Tollhouse and not Chips Ahoy filled their cookie jars. And I just knew their birthday cakes did not come out of a box. My mother was never one of those June Cleaver-type mothers. She had and still has many wonderful qualities but she did not live to cook. When it came to baking, she played sous-chef to Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines and the Pillsbury Dough Boy. And even then, her baking pans were more or less empty except for the holidays or when company came for dinner or the weekend.

Not just for elementary school, cupcakes are definitely in vogue these days. Simple and sweet, too small to be sinful, you can find them in trendy bakeries in fashion conscious cities from coast to coast. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a hike from New Hampshire to Beverly Hills, Greenwich Village or Harvard Square; even if the cupcakes are fabulous. Still there is no need to feel deprived or do without. Dig those muffin tins out from the back of the cupboard and make your own. Before long, your house will be filled with the warm, sugary scent of your own fabulous cupcakes.

Holidays and celebrations just cry out for a festive mini-dessert. Halloween is just days away and Thanksgiving is not far behind. If you have one of those significant birthdays coming up, think about trading in that big old cake for forty perfect little confections. Or is it fifty, sixty or seventy-five year?

Adding to the fun, these miniature treats just beg for a little enhancement and your creative touch. Unless you are a real decorating pro, you don’t need to spend an entire afternoon piping flowers and curlicues. Add a couple of drops of food coloring to ordinary frosting and you’ll have cupcakes that are pretty in pink or merry in red. Add some sprinkles, a few candies or a perfect berry for a fun and festive finish to any party.

But why wait for a party? Any day is a great day for a cupcake, especially when it is cold and blustery or raining and threatening to snow. Now is the perfect time to invite a few friends over for a cup of tea and charm them with one of life’s little luxuries. Enjoy!

Bon appétit!

Pumpkin Cupcakes
A delicious fall treat! Enjoy!
Makes 24 muffins

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup maple syrup or molasses
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Decoration: candy corn (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 standard (1/3-cup) muffin cups with paper liners.

Whisk flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda and salt together into medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and oil in large bowl. Add in the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the pumpkin, maple syrup, milk, sour cream and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture.

Divide the batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes to a rack to cool. When the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost with cream cheese frosting and decorate with candy corn.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
Red & yellow food coloring (optional)

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, add the vanilla extra and combine.

Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well blended. A few drops at a time, beat in red and yellow food coloring until you get a nice pumpkin color. Increase mixer speed and continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Feel free to make a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Just click on COMMENTS below.

Print-friendly version of this post.
One Year Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

© Susan W. Nye, 2009