Pecan Shortbreads

January 20, 2008
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This light shortbread is made with confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch for smoothness. Pecans add richness and crunch. The Lemon Butter Icing is the, well, icing on the cake. All in all, the perfect wedding cookie. SAM

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Lemon Butter Icing

With an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and flour and beat gradually into the butter. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets and set aside. Over waxed paper or a marble slab, scatter the pecans. Form the dough into 48 small balls and drop onto the pecans. Flatten with the bottom of a small glass dipped in flour. Place the cookies, nut side up, on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool and top with Lemon Butter Icing.
Makes 4 dozen cookies.

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Coffee Crisps

January 19, 2008
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Crisp sugar cookies dipped in coffee syrup … they’re the perfect afternoon snack! SAM

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar, divided
Juice of 1 orange (1/3 cup)
1/2 teaspoon orange extract or liqueur
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup honey
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets and set aside. With an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the orange juice and orange extract. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and add gradually to the butter mixture, beating on low until blended. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. With a crescent-shaped cutter, cut into cookies and place on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup sugar, honey, and coffee. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Dip the cookies into the coffee mixture, sprinkle with nuts, and place on wire racks to dry.
Makes 4 dozen cookies.


Spinach Soup

January 18, 2008
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You can make more elaborate spinach soups, like the rich, creamy Spinach Bisque we made in August. This beauty, though, is so incredibly easy you can stir it together at the last minute and serve it hot or cold in demitasse cups or big soup bowls. A versatile recipe you’ll want to keep handy for emergencies or just a quick lunch for a friend. SAM

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
Salt to taste
Dash of cayenne pepper

Cook the spinach according to the directions on the package. Drain, cool, and wring out liquid by hand. Place the spinach in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the rosemary, milk, and chicken broth and process until smooth. Pour the spinach mixture into a medium bowl and stir in by hand the cream, salt, and cayenne pepper. Chill thoroughly.
Makes 6 servings.


Lentils with Italian Sausage

January 17, 2008
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A very simple lentil dish with all the punch of New Orleans Red Beans and Rice. This one, though, is lentils, which have more protein than beef, and sausage, a fine and tasty indulgence. Enjoy! SAM

2 1/2 cups dried green or gray lentils
4 1/2 cups water
3 medium onions, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
4 small waxy potatoes, quartered
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, cooked and cut into 2-inch pieces

Rinse the lentils, place them in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, and cover them with water. Add the onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer. Add the potatoes and sausage. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
Makes 8 servings.


Chicken Marsala

January 16, 2008
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A quick, stove-top chicken supper you can make while you’re winding down from your day at work. Pour yourself a glass of wine and you’ll be in heaven. SAM

4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1/2 pound mushrooms, brushed and sliced
1/4 cup Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

Wash the chicken breasts, pat dry, and sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper, and sage. In a large skillet or chef’s pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hazy. Add the chicken and cook until golden, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion and sauté, covered, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté, uncovered, until they give up their liquid, about 5 minutes more. Add the wine and stock and cook, uncovered, until liquid is reduced by half. Remove from the heat, stir in the half-and-half, and pour over the chicken. Sprinkle with parsley.
Makes 4 servings.


Scalloped Corn

January 15, 2008
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This creamy casserole doubles as a side dish for ham or chicken or as a fabulous vegetarian entrée. It’s even good cold the next morning. SAM

6 cups frozen whole kernel white corn (3 pounds)
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons cracker crumbs, divided
1 1/3 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup chopped green onion tops
1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Sea salt and freshly ground white peppercorns to taste
1 tablespoon grated Romano cheese

In a large bowl, combine the corn, 1 1/3 cups cracker crumbs, half-and-half, onion tops, butter, egg, salt, and paprika. Pour into a greased 3-quart casserole. Top with the remaining 2 tablespoons cracker crumbs and Romano cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.
Makes 12 servings.


Cayenne Cheese Rounds

January 14, 2008
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Every good cook has his or her favorite cheese snacks. Some call them ‘straws,’ some call them ‘rounds.’ Whatever, they’re a must for any buffet or cocktail party. This recipe has an especially taste-tempting balance of hot pepper and mellow cheese and egg. Warning: make more than you think you’ll need. SAM

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (1 cup)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 cup butter, cut in 1/2-inch pieces (1 stick)
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons ice water

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cheese, pepper, and paprika. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks and add the ice water, beating until frothy. Stir the egg mixture into the cheese mixture to form a ball of dough. Dust with flour, cover, and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Form the dough into 48 small balls, place on a lightly floured surface, and flatten with a fork dipped in flour. Place rounds on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire racks.
Makes 4 dozen.