Raisin Cookies

July 15, 2007

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When you really, really want to say ‘I love you,’ bake cookies! SAM

1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup medium chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. With an electric mixer, cream the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in the raisins, walnuts, and vanilla. Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets and bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 4 dozen cookies.


Mustard Vinaigrette

July 14, 2007

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This dressing is as good as dressings get and as simple. You can guess at the measurements and it’s still good. It seems to change flavor depending on what you use it with, and I use it for everything! SAM

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a small glass, combine the mustard and vinegar. With a fork or whisk, beat in the oil until smooth.
Makes about 4 ounces.


Pesto Couscous Salad

July 13, 2007

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When it’s too darn hot to cook, reach for couscous. You may know this incredibly-easy-to-fix, North African semolina as a great bed for hearty vegetable and meat stews. What you’ll be happy to know this summer is that couscous makes a perfect hot weather salad. Mix it with a little Pesto and pile it on lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, whatever summer bounty strikes your fancy. Add olives and flatbread, and you’ll have dinner on the table in no time. SAM

1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 cup uncooked couscous
3 to 4 tablespoons Pesto
1 large head romaine or Bibb lettuce
4 ounces mache or watercress
Thinly sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and/or zucchini
4 ounces Mustard Vinaigrette

In a small saucepan, combine the water, salt, oil, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Place the couscous in a small mixing bowl, pour the boiling water over it, cover, and let sit for 5 or 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and add the Pesto, mixing gently but thoroughly. Mix the salad greens and add as many vegetables as you’d like. Dress with vinaigrette or oil and vinegar. Divide the salad among four plates and top with 1/4 of the couscous. Stir gently to mix.
Makes 4 servings.


Pesto Flatbread

July 12, 2007

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You know that dreamy feeling you get when you bite into something and you think, ‘I could eat this every day for the rest of my life’? That’s what Pesto Flatbread does for me. Honest, I’m not kidding. I could eat this every day. SAM

2 cups all-purpose, high-gluten flour [do NOT use soft-wheat flour]
1 tablespoon stone-ground cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon sea salt [preferably Guerande fleur de sel]
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 cup warm water
3 to 6 tablespoons basil pesto

Place a large pizza stone on the middle shelf of the oven and preheat to 550 degrees F. In a food processor fitted with the plastic blade, combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt. With the processor running, slowly pour in 1 tablespoon olive oil, then just enough water to form a ball.

Cut two 12-inch rounds of parchment paper and place on two pizza peels. Knead the dough two or three times and cut in half. On a lightly floured pastry board, roll or stretch each half into a 10-inch round and transfer to the parchment paper. Spread evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Slide the flatbread and parchment paper onto the stone and bake for 9 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow the flatbread to cool for 3 or 4 minutes; then spread each round with 3 to 4 tablespoons of pesto.
Makes two 10-inch rounds.


Pesto

July 11, 2007

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Basil originated in India, where the type called ‘Thulasi’ is still considered holy. In ancient Greece, it was the royal herb, fit only for kings. Legend has it that basil wards off snakes and scorpions, keeps lovers faithful, and opens the gates of heaven to the dearly departed. One bite of this basil pesto and you’ll be a believer. SAM

2 ounces pine nuts
2 ounces fresh sweet basil
3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a small dry skillet over very low heat, toast the pine nuts until lightly browned, shaking frequently to prevent burning. Transfer to a counter top to cool. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the pine nuts, basil, garlic, Parmesan, and oil. Pulse with an immersion blender until smooth.
Makes 1 cup.


Fresh Tomato Pie

July 10, 2007

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When the July sun gets in behind your eyes and makes the whole world look white, that’s a sign it’s time to make Fresh Tomato Pie. It’s as good as Tomato-Onion Pie, only simpler. Serve it to the one you love on a hot summer night and watch his—or her—eyes light up! SAM

5 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 blind-baked Savory Pastry in a 9-inch tart pan or baking dish
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn in rough chunks
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread 1 tablespoon oil over the pastry. Layer the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, sprinkling each layer with sea salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Bake for 45 minutes or until browned.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.


Ratatouille

July 9, 2007

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Ratatouille is summer vegetables stewed in olive oil with fresh herbs. Make it on a day when you’re not in a hurry. Like any good stew—or soup—it can’t be rushed. In traditional Provençal kitchens, each ingredient is cooked separately. The theory is that you cook away watery juices and intensify flavors before mixing everything into a succulent whole. I find, though, that the onions and bell pepper cook nicely together. Then you can add the tomatoes and herbs. You do have to cook the zucchini and eggplant separately. They both have a lot of juices you don’t want in your final stew. You can gussy it up with crushed coriander seeds or ground cumin or saffron if you like, but you don’t have to. Hope for leftovers. Like anything made with eggplant, ratatouille is better the second day. SAM

PS Despite what you see on the summer movie marquee, ratatouille is pronounced rata’ twee, NOT rat a too ee.

PS2 For a photo of of the Ratatouille Lakshmi made in South India, click here.

2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Bouquet garni: 3 or 4 sprigs each of parsley, thyme, and oregano, tied with cotton thread
1 bay leaf
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 pound eggplant, thinly sliced
1 pound small zucchini, thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large chef’s pan over low heat, sweat the onions and bell pepper in 2 tablespoons oil, covered, until onions are translucent, about 20 minutes. Raise the heat to medium, add the garlic and tomatoes, and sauté for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the bouquet garni and bay leaf, cover, and simmer. Meanwhile, in another pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add the zucchini, cover, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Uncover and sauté until liquid is reduced, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the onion-tomato mixture. In the same pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and sauté until browned, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Transfer to the onion-tomato mixture. Season with salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Discard the bouquet garni and bay leaf. Serve as a stew or over rice or couscous.
Makes 6 servings.