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.


Potato Biscuits

July 6, 2007

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This recipe calls for biscuit mix, and some people will tell you they never use biscuit mix. ‘Chacun à son goût,’ as the French like to say, which in Iowa farm country translates to ‘”Everybody to his own taste,” said the old woman as she kissed the cow.’ I can be as much a purist as the next person, but, I’ll tell you this: they’re missing out on some fine biscuits! SAM

1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup hot water
1/3 cup cold milk
3 cups biscuit mix
1 to 2 tablespoons cold water (if necessary)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine the potato flakes, sugar, butter, and hot water, mixing well with a fork. Add the cold water and biscuit mix, stirring until just blended. Add small amounts of cold water, if necessary, to form a soft dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 10 times and roll to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut out the biscuits with a 2-inch cutter and place closely together on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Makes 2 dozen biscuits.


Guacamole

July 2, 2007

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Here’s a health tip you’ll love: avocados are jam packed with potassium, B vitamins, vitamins E and K, and folate. Ergo—drum roll!—it’s your duty to eat as many as you can. This tart, peppery Guacamole is a great start. Unfortunately, it will be only as good as the avocados you put into it. The thin-skinned, light green variety tend to be weak and watery. Look for dark green, gnarly avocados and buy them hard so they won’t be bruised. They’ll ripen in your kitchen in a couple of days. And they are so-o-o-o- good! SAM

2 large ripe, gnarly avocados
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 canned green chili peppers, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime (3 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste

Peel and seed the avocados. Mash one in a medium bowl; finely chop the other and set aside. To the mashed avocado, add the mayonnaise, chili peppers, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, pepper and salt, stirring until smooth. Add the chopped avocado and stir until mixed. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving.
Makes 2 cups.


Crab Cakes

June 29, 2007

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Drive non-stop through the night to the coast, and if you’re lucky you’ll end up with crab cakes carillonning the dawn. I can’t vouch for this—never having been one to wake from a deep sleep and go out and bag breakfast—but Harry says if you wave a chicken neck on the beach, crabs run right up and grab it. ‘Sounds totally weird to me, but if that’s what you have to do to get Crab Cakes, DO IT! SAM

1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 medium center rib celery with leaves, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
2 (7-ounce) cans crabmeat, drained or 1 pound fresh crabmeat (3 cups)
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs, divided
3 tablespoons half-and-half
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
2 teaspoons fresh dill weed
1 teaspoon dill seed, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 dashes of hot-pepper sauce
Sauce Piquant

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil and sauté the onion, covered, until tender. Add the celery and cook until soft. Combine the crabmeat, bread crumbs, half-and-half, egg, sherry, parsley, dill weed, dill seed, mustard, salt, pepper, and hot-pepper sauce. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Shape the crab mixture into 3-inch cakes and dust the sides with the remaining 1/4 cup bread crumbs. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil until hazy. Brown the cakes on both sides, about 2 minutes each. Reduce the heat to low and cook 5 minutes more. Drain on paper towels. Serve with Sauce Piquant.
Makes 10 cakes.


Roasted New Potatoes and Asparagus

June 27, 2007

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I’ve never been a fan of raw vegetables. I know there are people whose lives revolve around juicers and crudités, but—don’t scream at me—to my way of thinking, vegetables aren’t worth eating till you cook the moisture out of them and intensify the sugars. That’s where roasting comes in. With a 450-degree oven and fifteen or twenty minutes, you can perform miracles. SAM

1 pound new potatoes, quartered
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon grated Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange the potatoes and asparagus in a lightly greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Combine the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper and pour over the vegetable mixture, tossing to coat. Roast, uncovered, on the upper shelf of the oven, for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender and browned. Sprinkle with parsley and Romano cheese.
Makes 6 servings.


Breakfast Scones

June 23, 2007

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Please don’t pass this along to Healthier-Than-Thou Tim, but I love whole wheat scones! There’s butter, naturally, in these, and also yogurt, which makes them nicely moist. How healthy is that! If you like your scones sweeter, use sweetened, chopped dates. If you love chocolate, trade out half the nuts for chocolate chips. Roll the dough if you want traditional-looking scones, but here’s a quick tip: use two spoons to drop the dough onto the baking sheet . So much easier! And the scones will have a crisper, more interesting texture. SAM

1 cup pitted, chopped dates
2 tablespoons cognac or water
1 cup unbleached soft wheat flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1 tablespoon corn meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons sweet butter, thinly sliced
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup chopped black walnuts
1 1/3 cups plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Combine the dates and cognac in a small bowl, cover, and microwave on high for 1 minute to plump.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, wheat germ, corn meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles very coarse corn meal. Add the oats, dates, and walnuts and blend well. Add the yogurt and stir until just blended. The dough will be very sticky. Turn out onto a floured pastry board and roll to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut out the scones with a sharp-sided 2-inch cutter and place close together on an ungreased baking sheet. Or, with two metal serving spoons, drop the dough onto the baking sheet in 1 1/2-inch dollops. Bake for 25 minutes, turning the baking sheet once. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes about 14 2-inch or 20 dropped scones.


Last-Minute Dinner Rolls

June 5, 2007

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Okay, so none of us has time every night to bake baguettes. Here’s a fine alternative. I promise, you’ll have these dinner rolls on the table in 20 minutes. These come with a great story, and it’s not mine—it’s Emily’s. Her HVAC repair guys are dedicated cooks, always arguing about Food Network shows. One hot summer day, they were standing around their truck swapping recipes, when one of them said, ‘You want a killer dinner roll … talk to Dennis.’ Dennis ambled over, hiked one booted foot up on the tailgate, leaned in, and said, ‘I’ll tell it like it is. You gotta use White Lily flour.’ Here’s his recipe. You’ll love it! SAM

1 cup self-rising White Lily flour
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

With a fork, stir the milk into the flour until just blended. Add the mayonnaise and stir until just blended. Do not overwork the dough. Divide evenly among the cups in the prepared muffin tin. Bake for 18 minutes.
Makes one dozen rolls.