Espresso Crème

June 17, 2007

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This is one fantastic dessert. Don’t freak out at all the steps. All it takes is a little patience and an electric mixer. Pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or tea, crank up your favorite work-along music, and settle into the routine. You’ll be happy you did—so will everyone you love. SAM

6 eggs, separated
1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided
Dash of salt
2 cups freshly brewed espresso coffee, warm
2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons light rum
1 cup whipping cream
Confectioner’s sugar and chocolate curls for garnish

In the top of a double boiler off the heat, beat the egg yolks slightly. Stir in 1/4 cup sugar, the salt, and coffee. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and let stand for 2 or 3 minutes to soften. Place the double boiler over simmering water and cook the egg mixture for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture coats a spoon. Remove from the heat. Through a fine sieve, strain the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the rum. Place the bowl in a pan of ice water and chill, stirring often, until mixture is the consistency of uncooked egg whites.

With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites until foamy and doubled in volume. Beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sugar dissolves completely and the meringue stands in firm, glossy peaks. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the whipping cream on high speed until it stands in stiff peaks.

Into the thickened gelatin mixture, gently fold first the meringue, then the whipped cream, until no streaks of white remain. Spoon into a greased 8-cup mold and chill 6 hours or until firm. To unmold, run the tip of a sharp knife around the top of the mold, dip quickly into hot water, cover with a plate, turn upside-down, and lift off the mold. Garnish with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and chocolate curls.
Makes 8 servings.


Killed Lettuce with Toasted Sesame Seeds

June 16, 2007

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Killed lettuce is an old Southern specialty. A Mississippi or Alabama cook, of course, would use the hot bacon dressing from yesterday’s green bean recipe. Substitute that anytime you want, but try this one first. The toasted sesame seeds add a nutty richness to the hot oil and vinegar—all in all, the perfect murder. SAM

2 heads Bibb lettuce, torn
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground white pepper to taste

In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce and tomatoes and set aside. In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until golden, stirring constantly. Add the olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and heat just to boiling. Pour over the salad and toss gently to mix. Serve at once.
Makes 4 servings.


Green Beans with Hot Bacon Dressing

June 15, 2007

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When I was growing up in Iowa farm country, every good cook kept a tin can of bacon grease on the back of the stove. Each morning, she—most farm cooks were women, then—poured the extra grease from the breakfast bacon into the can. For us, bacon grease was like olive oil in Tuscany or Normandy butter. Vegetables, meat, fish, potatoes, rice, even biscuits all got a generous slathering of warm, greasy comfort—and were they good! These green beans double as a side dish and a hot, tangy salad. Yummmm … even the smell takes me back. SAM

1 pound small green beans, snapped with ends and strings removed
4 slices bacon
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, minced (1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons sugar, optional
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Steam the green beans until just tender, about 7 minutes. Rinse in cold water and drain. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, fry the bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels, and crumble. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings, lower the heat to medium, and sauté the garlic and onion until translucent, not brown. Add the vinegar, water, sugar, and pepper. Bring just to a boil and pour over the green beans. Sprinkle with bacon, toss, and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.


Asparagus Casserole

June 14, 2007

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This quick casserole comes out of the oven looking a lot more elegant than the time you put into it. You can use fresh, steamed asparagus if you’d like. But frozen bakes up just as well and is much easier. Baked asparagus pairs nicely with a simple fish or roast. Or serve it as a crispy, cheesy entrée. But be prepared—your friends, vegetarian or not, will ask for it again. Sam

1 cup seasoned, dry bread crumbs
4 tablespoons butter, melted (1/2 stick)
2 (12-ounce) packages frozen asparagus
1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the bread crumbs and butter and divide in half. Place the asparagus in a lightly greased 1 1/2-quart casserole. Add half the bread crumbs, then the sour cream, Romano, salt, and pepper and mix gently. Top with the remaining bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until browned.
Makes 4 servings.


Poached Flounder with Lime, Ginger, and Lemon Grass

June 13, 2007

This flounder is all fire and bite. The recipe comes from my NYC friend Marion, and it’s like an exotic whiff of French Indochine. ‘Makes me feel like I’m in a Marguerite Duras novel with mysterious lovers on trains in the night and moonlight slipping through smoky windows … Garnish it with chopped cilantro and red and yellow cherry tomatoes. Who knows where this one could lead? SAM

2 limes
1 (2-inch) piece ginger root, thinly sliced
3 cups water
4 (6- to 7-ounce) fillets flounder
2 tablespoons finely chopped lemon grass

Grate 1 tablespoon zest from one of the limes and set aside. Slice both limes thinly. Add half the lime slices and half the ginger to the water and bring to a boil. Place the fillets in a large shallow pan or fish poacher over high heat and pour the water mixture over them. Top the fish with lemon grass, zest, and the remaining ginger. When the water returns to a boil, lower the heat to medium and poach for 5 to 10 minutes until the fish flakes. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.


Buttermilk Biscuits

June 12, 2007

Set a plate of hot Buttermilk Biscuits on the dinner table and people will think you’re a genius. Just don’t admit they’re easy as pie. Most recipes call for vegetable shortening. The old ones even call for lard. I much prefer butter. Soft Southern wheat, like White Lily, makes them light and fluffy, but bread flour works, also. The only caution is to handle the dough as little as possible. Overworking makes for tough biscuits. If you’re really in a hurry, use self-rising flour and omit the baking powder, soda, and salt. You’ll still need butter on the table, and if any biscuits are left over—which isn’t likely—you can have ham biscuits for breakfast. SAM

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 to 3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Cut the butter in half lengthwise, flip it one turn, and halve again. Chop into 1/4-inch cubes and sprinkle over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles very coarse meal. Make a well in the center and pour in 2/3 cup buttermilk. Stir quickly but gently with a pastry fork, adding additional buttermilk if necessary, until the dough forms a ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or small juice glass, dipping it occasionally into flour. Gently press together the scraps, then roll and cut them also. Roll the last scraps into a ball and flatten to make the cook’s biscuit. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
Makes about 2 dozen biscuits.


Noodles and Cream

June 11, 2007

Noodles and Cream is another of those dishes so simple they’re almost magic, and like any good magic trick, timing is everything. As soon as you get it together, you have to serve it. And make sure you have lots of bread for sopping up extra butter and cream. No one will want to waste a smidgen. SAM

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound wide, flat noodles
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground white pepper to taste

In a large kettle of salted, boiling water and cook the noodles al dente, 9 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or chef’s pan over medium heat, melt the butter. As soon as the noodles are done, drain them and dump them into the butter, shaking to coat. Turn off the heat, add the cream, shake again, transfer to shallow soup bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and pepper, and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.