Grubby, Little Boys & Fresh Berries with Creamy Lime Custard

Within minutes of the bell on the last day of school, we were in my mother’s big, blue station wagon and headed north. It would be the first of many long, lazy summers on Pleasant Lake. It would also be the inaugural year of the Grubby, Little Boys Club.

This rambunctious group of four, five and six year olds were just the right age to appreciate all that New Hampshire had to offer. With only a few exceptions, they were from one or another tidy suburb outside of Boston. Plucked from a world of green lawns and hard-topped playgrounds, they were in heaven. They had the lake. They had the woods, complete with a little brook. They even had a pond brimming with frogs and tadpoles. What more could a little boy ask for?

From first light to dusk, they were busy, in and out of the lake, slip sliding into the muddy pond and exploring the woods. More often than not, they fell asleep in the middle of dinner. Not willing to wake them for a shower, their mothers shrugged and put their grubby, little boys to bed.

Along with my brother Johnny, this rat pack included Richard, Rip and Randy as well as Scott and Chip. There was at least one Peter, possibly two. I’m not quite sure. There was Swizzy but his family didn’t stay long after he lost part of his finger playing in the brook. There were two Davids, O’Donnell and White.

Each of these grubby little boys had some claim to fame, some more interesting than others. As noted, Swizzy lost part of his finger. One of the boys, I’m not sure which, had a seemingly endless supply of cherry bombs and bottle rockets. David White had wheels. Or rather, his dad had a collection of interesting vehicles and was pretty relaxed about sharing. By the time most of the boys were eight or nine, okay, maybe ten, they had driven the Mini Moke around the White’s field.

To say that these boys were intrigued by anything with a motor would be an understatement. All of these grubby, little boys had a man crush on Mr. Jewell. Unlike their fathers, Mr. Jewell didn’t put on a white shirt and tie and go to an office every morning. Mr. Jewell wore jeans, t-shirts and big, heavy work boots and drove huge bulldozers and dump trucks. Since he was building the roads in our still-new neighborhood, the boys saw him often. At least once or twice a day, they’d stop their play and jealously watch Mr. Jewell riding high atop one of his giant earthmoving machines.

About four o’clock most days, Mr. Jewell climbed down from one giant machine or another and headed home. His oversized Tonka toys sat in a field overnight, admired and often climbed upon by grubby, little boys on their way home from the beach. It was on one of those late afternoons that the other David, David O’Donnell, gained his claim to fame. Sitting high on one of Mr. Jewell’s bulldozers, he somehow managed to turn it on. Delight and panic erupted as David hung on for dear life and a bunch of grubby, little boys leaped around in glee and awe. The blissful panic was cut all too short. Someone’s father, probably in a white shirt and tie, happened by, saw the commotion and rescued David by turning off the bulldozer.

Have a wonderful summer filled with both glee and awe. Bon appétit!

Fresh Berries with Creamy Lime Custard
A refreshing dessert for boys and girls of all ages. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Lime Curd, store bought or homemade (recipe follows)
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier (optional)
1/2 cup very cold heavy cream
About 2 pounds fresh berries – whatever is in season!
Brown sugar to taste (optional)

Make the Lime Curd and refrigerate until cold.

Put the cream cheese and 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier in a bowl, beat on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Increase the mixer speed to high and very slowly add the heavy cream. Continue beating until soft peaks form. Add the cream slowly or it will splatter everywhere.

Fold the cream-cream cheese mixture into the chilled Lime Curd, cover and refrigerate the custard for several hours.

To serve: gently rinse and dry the berries, hull and chop strawberries, leave everything else whole. Put the berries in a large bowl, add 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier and brown sugar to taste. Spoon the berries into dessert or wine glasses, add a generous spoonful or two of Creamy Lime Custard and serve. The custard is also delicious with peaches or nectarines.

Lime Curd
Makes about 1 cup

4 large egg yolks
Zest of 2 limes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 6 limes)
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cold, cut into small pieces

Create an ice bath by filling an oversized bowl halfway with ice and water. Put half of the lime zest in a small bowl and set the bowl in the ice water. Reserve.

Put the yolks, remaining zest, juice and sugar in a small saucepan and whisk until smooth and well combined. Set over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the curd registers 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the pan from heat and, 1 piece at a time, whisk in the butter until smooth. Pass the curd through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl in the ice bath. Stirring frequently, let cool. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.

The Lime Curd can be made ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Tomato Crostini
Two Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Three Years Ago – Watermelon & Feta Salad
Four Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Five Years Ago – Mediterranean Shrimp
SixYears Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

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

Do you have any special summer memories with one or more of your siblings? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

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Romantic Gestures & White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis & Fresh Raspberries

Are you planning one of those big romantic gestures for Valentine’s Day? They seem to be quite the rage on YouTube and the morning news programs. You know what I’m talking about. Love declared and marriage proposed with brass bands, enough dancers to rival a Super Bowl half-time show, sky-writing, balloons and really big signs. Then there are the more intimate gestures. The kind that don’t make the morning news. Quiet but still grand, a rose petal path leads to a flower-filled, candle-lit bedroom. Romantic music floats in the background, champagne chills in an elegant ice bucket and plump strawberries fill a silver bowl. Or maybe that’s just in the movies?!? I hope not.

But what if you are too shy to declare your love before a cast of thousands or worried that all those candles will set the house on fire. Or at the very least trigger the smoke alarm and ruin the mood. Not to worry. Instead of big, lavish declarations of devotion, think about practicing small romantic gestures on February 14th and every day of the year. Here are a few suggestions:

Hug and hold hands. If asked to name a romantic couple, I would wager that few people would mention their grandparents. But well into their seventies and eighties, my mother’s parents were like young lovebirds. When I picture them together my grandfather’s arm is either gently wrapped around my grandmother’s shoulders or waist or they’re holding hands. Activities which encourage handholding or snuggling are always a good bet for kindling romance. Try a walk on a windswept beach, ice skating or cuddling in front of the fire.

flower_bouquetGive flowers. When I lived in Switzerland I was on airplanes almost every week. From time to time my boyfriend surprised me at the airport. I was delighted to find him waiting in the arrivals hall with a single red rose. He did it once or twice a month and it was always a lovely surprise.

Keep those cards and letters coming. Charlie Brown agonized over sending a Valentine to the little red-haired girl. Don’t agonize, don’t hesitate; send a card. It can be sweet, funny or sentimental; even sappy. On Valentine’s or any day, tuck a card or note in your sweetheart’s briefcase or lunchbox. Heck, when life gets crazy busy, a sweet note on a Post-It will do.

Dance. It doesn’t matter if you have two left feet. It’s not a competition and there are no judges. Learn to tango or take ballroom dance classes. If it all sounds too complicated, or too public, just sway to your favorite music in your living room or under the stars. After all, dancing is just hugging with music.

Find the time. Is your life too busy to spend an evening alone together? Try lunch in a special restaurant or enjoy a picnic in the park, by the lake or in a sunny meadow. Any time of year is a great time for a picnic, even winter. Hike or cross country ski to a beautiful, sunny spot. Share a loaf of crusty bread, a little cheese and fruit and a bottle of wine in the sunshine. A decadent chocolate truffle is the perfect, crowning touch for your romantic picnic. Not the outdoorsy type, bring it all inside and enjoy your feast in front of a roaring fire.

Have a wonderful celebration with your Valentine and,

Bon appétit!

White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis & Fresh Raspberries
Want a sweet finish to your romantic dinner for two! Enjoy!
Serves 4-6

White-Chocolate_Mousse_017-8 ounces good quality white chocolate, chopped
3 egg yolks
1-2 tablespoons honey
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Pinch salt
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cloves
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup very cold heavy cream
Raspberry Coulis (recipe follows)
Fresh raspberries for garnish

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

Put the chocolate in a large, microwave safe bowl and cook on high in the microwave for 30 seconds. Continue to zap the chocolate at 10 second intervals until it starts to melt. Set aside.

Whisk the yolks, honey, orange juice, spices and salt together in a small, heavy saucepan until light and frothy. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the custard registers 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the custard through a mesh sieve into the bowl with the warm chocolate. Let the custard sit for a few minutes to melt the chocolate and whisk until smooth. Add the Grand Marnier, vanilla and orange zest and whisk to combine.

Set the bowl of custard in the ice bath and stir frequently until completely cooled.

Beat the mascarpone in a large bowl with an electric mixer, slowly add the cream and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled custard, cover and chill for several hours.

To serve: drizzle Raspberry Coulis onto individual plates, add dollops of mousse and garnish with fresh raspberries.

Raspberry Coulis
Make about 1 cup

12 ounces fresh or frozen raspberries
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

If using frozen raspberries, thaw the berries.

Put the citrus juices, sugar and Grand Marnier in a blender and process to combine. Let sit for several minutes until the sugar dissolves. Add the berries and process until smooth.

Strain the coulis through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the seeds. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

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One Year Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Beets & Lentils
Two Years Ago – Chicken Niçoise
Three Years Ago – Greek Pizza
Four Years Ago – Triple Threat Brownies

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

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013

Football Impaired & Spicy Tequila Chicken Wings

The Super Bowl is just around the corner. By all rights and a few wrongs, this should be the week when I write about football, more football and football party food. The trouble is I belong to an increasingly small minority. I am football impaired. I can blame it on my mother. Parents are as good a source of blame as any.

Anyway, I don’t ever remember watching football as a kid. On weekend afternoons and Monday nights all of our neighbors were probably enjoying game while we raked leaves, skied or maybe did homework. If our television was on, it was probably tuned to Archie Bunker or a movie. Which seems funny because we did watch baseball and hockey, lots of hockey. I think the tables may have turned once my sister and I went off to college. As far as I can figure, my dad and brother took over the remote once we left and have not missed a Patriots’ game since.

Raiders_NewspaperNow it’s not like I’ve never seen a football game. I was a regular at my high school and college games. Not to watch the game, mind you. I didn’t then and still don’t know the first thing about America’s favorite sport. Okay, maybe I know that the Patriots have a handsome quarterback. Anyway, as a teenager I went to games to hang out with my friends. It’s what you did on Saturday afternoons. At least that’s what we did when the Red Raiders played at home. (Go red, go black, go team, fight back.)

Once I moved to Switzerland, any hope of my becoming a football fan evaporated. It’s hard to get excited about a sport which is only played on the other side of the ocean. Even dating a diehard football fan didn’t make a dent in my impairment. Trying to be helpful, he once gave me a detailed explanation of the game. As he talked, I smiled, mumbled a few positive uh ahs and thought about skiing or hiking or who knows what.

Countless fans have told me again and again that football is filled with strategy, cunning and finesse. However, as far as I can tell, it is a bunch, make that two bunches, of very large men pushing, shoving and running into one another. On purpose. Even I know they do it on purpose because they wear helmets and all sorts of pads.

But worse than the pile ups, hitting and head butting, a football game takes FOREVER. Technically a game is made up of four fifteen-minute periods. But with time outs, huddles, breaks between periods for commercials and commentary, half time and more commercials and commentary plus stopping the clock to pick injured players up off the field, one hour stretches out to three or more. Heck, marathons are won in a little over two hours and they cover twenty-six miles! Okay, I admit it. Watching someone run twenty-six miles is a bit like watching paint dry but at least they don’t stop for nothing.

So I guess I was too hasty in my definition. Football is two bunches of very large men, pushing, shoving and running into each other and then standing around and waiting to do it again.

Now as I understand it, at least sixty-five percent, maybe as high as seventy-five percent, of all Americans will watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. If like me, you’re part of the football-impaired minority, well, you’re welcome to come over to my house.

Bon appétit!

Spicy Tequila Chicken Wings
Spicy_Tequila_Chicken_Wings_01
Bowl Party or Anti Super Bowl Party – you can’t do it without a platter of wings. The marinade is also great on chicken breasts or thighs. Enjoy!
Serves 6

About 4 pounds chicken wings
Spicy Tequila Marinade (recipe follows)

Using a large, sharp knife or cleaver, remove the wing tips and separate the chicken wings into 2 pieces at the joint

Put the chicken and the marinade in a re-sealable plastic bag and marinade in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange the chicken on sheet pans, drizzle with any extra marinade and, turning once, bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and golden. Alternatively, throw the chicken on a hot grill and cook for about 5 minutes per side.

Spicy Tequila Marinade
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon or to taste minced jalapeno
1-2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon or to taste dried chipotle flakes
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup tequilaSpicy_Tequila_Chicken_Wings_02

Put the garlic, shallot, jalapeno, honey, cayenne, cumin, thyme and oregano in a blender and season with salt and pepper. With the motor running, slowly add the orange and lime juices and tequila and process until smooth and well combined.

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One Year Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Two Years Ago – Fettuccine with Escarole, Radicchio & Mushrooms
Three Years Ago – Cassoulet
Four Years Ago – Caribbean Fish Stew

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

Will you be watching the Super Bowl this coming Sunday? Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013

Christmas Carols & Greek Stuffed Mushrooms

Reindeer_CandlesI love Christmas carols. A church choir or flash mob making a joyful noise. Nat King Cole warbling. Bruce Springsteen rocking out. Or my own off-key hum. It doesn’t matter, they are all good. Okay, I do have one caveat, a big one at that. Note to radio stations, elevators and stores everywhere, I don’t want to hear Christmas songs before Thanksgiving. Or Halloween for that matter!

Whenever I think of Christmas carols, I can’t help but think of my friend Julie. She’s the pianist. We met when we were both twenty-something at election night celebrations at the Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva. Even though we voted for different candidates (and her team won), we became friends. And we have stayed friends, in spite of the many changes in our lives and, now, more than 3,500 miles.

In the last few years of my almost two decade stay in Geneva, we were almost neighbors. It was a quick trip over the fields and through the woods to reach to the house she shared with her husband and kids. They are still there, on the edge of the vineyards, looking out at the Lake of Geneva and the French Alps. I lived in the next village and enjoyed that same view from my apartment on the third floor of a beautiful, old stone barn. I passed her house on my morning run and we spent many a Sunday afternoon walking in the vineyards. Sometimes with a stroller, sometimes not.

While I miss having her close by for a chat, a walk and a cup of tea, I particularly miss Julie during the Christmas season. Always effervescent, Julie embraces the holidays with enthusiasm. Her Christmas decorations rival the displays in Macy’s famous windows. She loves to bake and throughout December her house is filled with the warming perfume of sugar and spice. And maybe best of all, she shares my love of Christmas carols.

julie_pianoEvery year Julie kicks off the holiday season in early December with a party. It’s a jolly event with people coming and going and a few, like me, probably staying too long. The tradition started with her parents when Julie was just a little girl and the party does double duty. It welcomes the holidays and celebrates her birthday. About halfway through the evening, Julie settles down in front of the piano and leads us all in song. I’m not sure if we ever get around to a rousing chorus Happy Birthday but we do sing a lot of Christmas carols. As far as I can figure, we more or less sing every carol that has ever been written. I must admit, my caroling is no match to her skill at the piano. Thankfully, she puts up with me anyway. I guess that’s what good friends are for.

Julie’s party has always been one of my favorite holiday celebrations. I miss it now that I am in New Hampshire. However, I promise I will be there in spirit. Maybe, no certainly, I’ll hum a few carols throughout the day and evening of the party.

I hope that you have lots of opportunities over the next few weeks to raise you voice in joyful song and good cheer. Bon appétit!

Greek Stuffed Mushrooms
Greek_Mushrooms_01One or two bites, these hors d’oeuvres will be a big hit at your holiday (or any) party. Enjoy!
Makes about 3 dozen

Olive oil
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
Dash hot sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound frozen spinach
About 36 whole 1-2 bite-sized mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
1/2-3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1-2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Put the spinach in a colander to thaw and drain.

Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the shallot, herbs and hot sauce, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 3-5 minutes or until the shallot is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more.

Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes to remove any excess liquid. Turn off the heat and cool to room temperature.

Add the feta to the spinach, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.Greek_Mushrooms_03

Put the breadcrumbs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano in a small bowl and toss to combine.

Generously fill each mushroom cap with spinach and feta, sprinkle with the panko-parm mix and place on an oiled baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until piping hot and golden brown.

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One Year Ago – Ginger Crème Brûlée
Two Years Ago – Aunt Anna’s Pecan Pie
Three Years Ago – White Chocolate & Cranberry Trifle
Four Years Ago – Chicken with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Penne

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

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol? One you can’t stop humming? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree & Braised Short Ribs

For many the first weekend of December can only mean one thing. It’s time to deck the halls and put up the tree. Many families will spend next Saturday afternoon wandering through the snow, saw in hand, looking for the perfect specimen to hang their baubles and bows.

The Nye’s were never one of those families. Yes, we did have a tree. Yes, we did spend a wonderful Sunday afternoon decorating it. But we didn’t trudge through the woods or a tree farm with a saw. We took (what should have been) the easy route. We bought our tree at the local garden shop.

One year was particularly memorable. Staying at home with my-then baby brother, my mother sent my dad, my sister Brenda and I to buy the tree. It was not without some trepidation. Convinced that Dad would just grab the first tree he saw, she put her two little girls in charge. As we tumbled into the backseat of the station wagon, she rattled off a list of instructions. We should buy a Douglas fir. Or was it a Blue spruce? Make sure it’s not too tall or too short. It should be plump and full and fit in the bay window in the living room. Mom’s instructions went in one ear and out the other. I was only seven. Brenda could handle it. After all she was in the fifth grade.

Most years we arrived at the garden shop just as the winter sun was fading and the temperature dropping. This one was no exception. We wandered through the rows of trees. Dad pulled out a likely candidate for our inspection. We checked for bare spots and tried to guess if it would pass Mom’s critical eye. Tree after tree was rejected, until finally the most perfect evergreen was found. Or maybe we were just chilled to the bone and ready for our warm house and a cup of hot chocolate.

Our beautiful new Christmas tree was quickly purchased and tied to the roof of the car. Before the motor was turned off, Mom was out the door and in the driveway to inspect our purchase. Hugging her sweater for warmth, she watched it come off the car. In seconds she’d sized up all of the tree’s flaws. First there was the big bare spot half way up one side. Then there was crooked trunk that would make the tree lean like the Tower of Pisa. Plus it was too tall to fit in the living room. Or maybe it was too small. I’m not really sure except that it was proclaimed far from perfect.

The tree was returned to the roof of the car and back we went to Diehl’s. By now, it was probably 4:30, a lot colder and dark. A few bare bulbs feebly lit the stacks of trees. Again, we wandered around, inspecting and rejecting until finally, we were sure. Yes indeed, this time we had really, truly found the perfect tree. Either that or we were really, truly freezing and really, truly in need of a hot chocolate.

Again, Mom heard the car pull up and was out the door in a flash. In less than a minute she was back in the house to grab her coat and bundle the baby into his snowsuit. Dad tied the second tree back onto the car.

Back at Diehl’s we watched the master as she carefully inspected and rejected tree after tree. Too skinny. Too short. Too prickly. Oops, too expensive. Too who-knows-what. Christmas is her favorite of all the holidays and Mom was filled with purpose. The Nye’s would have a beautiful tree. A perfect tree.

And of course, in spite of the cold and the flickering twenty watt bulbs, she found it.

Wishing you and yours a joyful holiday season, filled with wonderful family memories. Bon appétit!

Braised Short Ribs
Whether you spend the afternoon cutting your own or wandering through the garden shop in search of the perfect Christmas tree, these hearty ribs will warm you up! Enjoy!
Serves 6

2 ounces slab or thick cut bacon, roughly chopped
4-5 pounds beef short ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
Garnish: fresh chopped parsley

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 beef with salt and pepper and, working in batches, brown the beef over medium-high heat. Remove the beef and add to the reserved bacon.

Reduce the heat to medium. Drain any excess fat from the pan, leaving just enough to lightly coat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with paprika, salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Stir the vinegar, mustard and tomatoes into the vegetables. Slowly add the wine and chicken stock, stirring to combine. Raise the heat to high, bring to a simmer and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add the herbs, return the beef and bacon to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until the beef is tender. Add more wine and/or stock if needed.

Carefully transfer the beef to a deep serving platter. If necessary, bring the sauce to a boil over high heat to reduce. Ladle the sauce over the beef, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

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One Year Ago – Mushroom Crostini
Two Years Ago – Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels
Three Years Ago – Braised Beef with Root Vegetables
Four Years Ago – Macadamia Nut Shortbread

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

Where do you get your annual tree? In the woods? A tree farm? Or garden shop? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

Gastro-Anthropology & Pumpkin Cheesecake

I love Thanksgiving. Having grown up in Massachusetts, the holiday has special meaning. Every year, from kindergarten on, our teachers gave us special Pilgrim projects. It started with construction paper pilgrim hats and headdresses. Later we studied New World agriculture. My lasting take away was that dead fish were used as fertilizer. Of course we read the famous Longfellow poem about Priscilla Mullins’ romantic entanglements with Miles Standish and John Alden. There must have been more but those are the highlights. Party hats, dead fish and a love triangle.

Except for the big family dinner. My mom always made a big deal about Thanksgiving. For two or three days, she (who never really liked to cook) cooked up a storm. Mom stuck with tradition. Generation after generation, decade after decade, no one but no one had ever dared mess with the menu. There was turkey with gravy and bread stuffing, oyster dressing, butternut squash, turnip, creamed onions and mashed potatoes followed by pies, apple and pumpkin.

And then I moved to Switzerland. The Swiss do not celebrate Thanksgiving and, to add insult to injury, they frequently confuse it with Halloween. Even half a world away, I could not ignore this day of thanks. I decided to invite a dozen or so friends and colleagues for dinner. But not just any dinner, I promised them an authentic, New England Thanksgiving feast.

About a week before the party, I sat down with paper, pencil and the Fanny Farmer Cookbook. As I worked on my shopping list, it hit me. For my first big dinner party in my newly adopted country, I was going to serve a brown, alright make that brown and beige, dinner. Even dessert, apple pie, was brown. Then again, there would be cranberry sauce. So change that. This newbie expatriate (and newbie cook) was going to serve a brown dinner with jam.

But I had promised authentic and, so, I plunged ahead.

A poultry farm in Arkansas shipped frozen turkeys to Switzerland. I had never cooked a turkey but there were directions on the shrink-wrap. (As well as a warning to remove the gizzards.) My mother’s old standby, Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, was nowhere to be found but fabulous artisanal bread was everywhere. The nearest butternut squash was an ocean away but Cinderella had left a slew of pumpkins. The market had of plenty of potatoes, onions and my favorite Granny Smith apples.

I could do this.

The party was all set for Saturday night. On Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), I left work early and shopped ‘til I dropped. Friday evening, fortified with a glass of wine and Fanny Farmer, I chopped and stirred until well past midnight. The next morning I was up at dawn for more chopping and stirring plus peeling and mashing, stuffing, trussing and basting.

Finally, with the turkey just about done, the doorbell rang. I greeted my guests nervously and explained that our authentic feast would be … in a word … monochromatic. Thankfully, my friends were polite, even curious. Not a disparaging word was heard. Indeed everyone seemed ready to embrace the experience and asked lots of questions. To this day I am convinced they saw the evening as an anthropological adventure.

Sitting down to dinner, we shared joyful toasts of thanks. Before long, the magic kicked in and dinner was less about brown food and more about good conversation, laughter and friendship.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. Bon appétit!

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Although brown, this rich and creamy cheesecake was not served at my first Thanksgiving party. I added it to the menu in the late nineties and it became an instant favorite. Enjoy!
Serves 12-16

30-40 (enough for 2 cups finely ground crumbs) gingersnap cookies
2 tablespoons brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cognac or pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Garnish: whipped cream

Set a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Break the gingersnaps into pieces, put in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the brown sugar and pulse to combine.

Put the cookie crumbs and butter in 10-inch springform pan and mix with a fork until well combined. Firmly press the crumbs into the bottom and about 1/2-inch up the sides of the pan. Tightly wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in two large sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool the pan on a rack. Do not remove the foil.

Meanwhile, put the cream cheese, sugar and spices in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth. Add the pumpkin, cream and cognac and beat until well combined.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the springform pan and carefully place it in a large roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake at 350 degrees until the cheesecake is golden, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Carefully lift the cheesecake from the roasting pan and remove the foil. Cool the cheesecake in the springform pan to room temperarture on a rack. Still in the springform pan, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Using a thin knife, carefully cut around sides of the pan to loosen the cheesecake. Release the springform sides, cut the cheesecake into thin wedges and serve with a small dollop of whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Rustic Apple Croustade
Two Years Ago – Cranberry Sauce
Three Years Ago – Decadent Cheesy Potatoes
Four Years Ago – Broccoli Puree

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

How will you spend Election Night? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012

Leaf Peepers & Roasted Sausages with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Rabe & Polenta

They come by the bus load, in automobiles, large and small and even on bicycles. Neither rain nor sleet nor dark, gray clouds can keep them from New England’s hills and colorful leaves. They are the leaf peepers. Affectionately known as the Dead Leaf Watchers in the Nye family, these visitors come from near and far to celebrate our New England fall. An industrious lot, they keep busy from dawn to dusk. Most start the day with a hearty country breakfast. Pancakes, waffles or French toast, it doesn’t matter as long as the maple syrup is local and pure. At the end of the day, they’ll lay their head to rest in a cozy, country inn. In between, they’ll tramp through harvest festivals, pick apples, sip cider, choose the perfect pumpkin and enjoy that quintessential fall treat, the pumpkin whoopie pie.

It’s a good thing that I live here; otherwise I would probably miss all the excitement. I have never been good at road trips. When I was little, lots of families in our neighborhood jumped in their cars and explored the highways and byways of New England. Some drove clear across the country to see the Grand Canyon. But not our family. To say that my sister, brother and I were not good in the car would be a gross understatement.

Forget the town line; we were barely out of the driveway before one or all of us whined, “How many more minutes?” We complained of boredom. We bickered. My sister drew imaginary lines down the seat. I edged over them. She nudged me back. A nudging match ensued. Cross words and cruel names were hurtled. I’m sure she would never admit it but my sister was both a bossy pants and a stupid head. (You can see that I was clever with words even back then!) On more than one occasion a blow, maybe even two, was exchanged.

It is no surprise that the Nye’s took very few family car trips.

One exception was a Saturday morning when Mom and Dad decided that we should hit the road to look at foliage. To this day, I don’t know what they were thinking. If I’d had my wits about me, I might have turned and asked, “Have you met your kids?” In their defense it was a beautiful day and the leaves were at their peak.

It felt like we drove for days although I am sure that it was no more than an hour, probably less. The three of us sat in the back seat of our big, blue station wagon, complaining and getting in each other’s way. Eventually, we found a pond surrounded by colorful trees and tumbled out of the car for a picnic.

As is often the case in October, no sooner had we parked but the weather turned. Within minutes the sun was covered with dark clouds and the warm, sunny day turned cold and raw. I was eight and my unsolicited opinion was that the trip was hardly worth a bunch of dead leaves.

I’m still not great on car trips that last more than an hour. However, a long walk or bike ride through the countryside sounds wonderful. A couple of hours paddling my kayak on the lake is even better. Even on a gray day, the colors around Pleasant Lake are nothing short of brilliant, almost magical.

Gray skies or clear, rain or shine, I hope that you are enjoying all that fall has to offer. Bon appétit!

Roasted Sausages with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Rabe & Polenta
While it does require a bit of multitasking, this easy supper is great on a chilly fall evening. Enjoy!
Serves 6

2 red onions, thinly sliced
Olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 Italian sausages*, sweet or hot
1/2 cup dry white wine
2-3 cloves garlic, cut in slivers
1/4 teaspoon or to taste hot pepper flakes
About 1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe*, trimmed and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup instant polenta
1-2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cream
About 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Sausages & Onions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large, oven proof skillet, toss the onions with enough olive oil to lightly coat, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again. Arrange the sausages on top of the onions.

Roast the onions and sausages at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Add the wine, give the onions a stir and wiggle the sausages down to the bottom of the skillet. Turning the sausages once or twice, continue roasting for another 30 minutes or until the sausages are cooked through and the onions are nicely caramelized.

Broccoli Rabe: Lightly coat a large skillet or wok with olive oil, add the pepper flakes and garlic and cook on low until the garlic is golden. Add the broccoli rabe, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat with oil. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté until tender, 5-10 minutes. Drizzle with lemon juice and toss to coat.

Polenta: Cook the polenta according to package directions. Add the butter, cream, Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs and continue cooking, stirring, until the butter and cheese has melted.

To serve: Place a dollop of polenta and a spoonful of broccoli rabe on each plate, add a sausage and garnish with caramelized onions.

* Broccoli Rabe looks like baby broccoli but has a wonderful bitter taste. If you prefer milder greens, try escarole or Swiss chard.

* For a leaner meal, use turkey sausages.

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One Year Ago – Lobster Mac & Cheese
Two Years Ago – Sausage, Kale & Potato Soup
Three Years Ago – Soupe au Pistou
Four Years Ago – Mulled Cider

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

Are you a leaf peeper? Where do you go to watch the dead leaves? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2012