Food & Drink

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

With so many buzzwords, terms, phrases and descriptions about wine being broadcast, spoken and written about, it’s understandable to be uncomfortable speaking or even ordering wine at your favorite restaurant or wine shop.

To alleviate confusion and misunderstanding about wine, I’ve defined the most commonly used terms.

Acidity: Tartness or sharpness in the taste of wine due to natural acids. Not to be confused with sour or astringent.

Aroma: The smell or odor of a grape or grapes used to make the wine.

Balance: A wine whose components — sugar, fruit, tannin, acid, alcohol, wood and so forth — are evident but don’t dominate one another.

Body: The viscosity, weight on the tongue or the mouth-filling capacity of a wine. Is it light bodied (skim milk), medium bodied (whole milk) or full bodied (heavy cream)?

Bouquet: The smell or odor of wine that has been aged in a barrel or bottle.

Complex: Wine with many elements, odors, flavors, tastes and subtle nuances, which seem to harmonize.

Corked: An unpleasant musty odor (mushroom, wet cardboard) or flavor imparted to wine by a defective (moldy) cork.

Herbaceous: Wines that have an aroma and flavor of herbs, such as sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

Oxidized: A wine that has lost its freshness due to exposure to air.

Dry: Wine with little or no noticeable (tip of tongue) sugar, usually containing less than 0.5 percent sugar. 

Oaky/Woody: The odor and/or flavor of wines aged in newer oak barrels or aged too long in barrels.

Sweet: Wines that have moderate-high levels of residual sugar, which can be detected on the tip of the tongue. This is determined by the winemaker and not due to the grape variety.

Fruity: Wines that have a defined, pleasant aroma and flavor from grapes.

Tannin: Slightly bitter and astringent compound derived from the skins of grapes but also present in stems, seeds and oak barrels.

Finish: Flavor impressions left in the mouth after the wine is swallowed. Some wines finish harsh, hot and astringent, while others are smooth, soft and elegant.

After tasting, it’s important to describe the wine and discuss it with fellow tasters so you can communicate effectively. It is best to describe the wine and make notes, so you can remember what the wine tastes like in contrast to other wines. Your notes will allow you to revisit a wine you tasted and create a mental picture of that wine.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

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Cheese and Broccoli Soup

By Barbara Beltrami

I know of nothing to say to begin this column besides Happy New Year and then the obvious, thank goodness the holidays are over, the eating binge of rich food is finished, and I can go back to my reasonably healthy regimen of healthful eating with an emphasis on veggies, fruits, grains, fish, low carbs and low fats! 

And after all the holiday cooking, what better way to minimize preparation than by making a big pot of hearty soup that will include so many of those ingredients that are so good for you? In fact, make a couple of different kinds of soup, freeze them in meal or serving size containers and voila! you’ve got yourself some easy no muss-no fuss one-dish meals that leave you lots of time for that other important regimen, exercise!

Cheese and Broccoli Soup

Cheese and Broccoli Soup

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium onion, chopped

6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

3 tablespoons sifted flour

2 cups milk

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups coarsely chopped fresh broccoli florets

1 cup finely chopped fresh carrot

1 celery rib, trimmed and diced

1 cup each shredded sharp cheddar, Emmenthal or Jarlsberg and Gouda cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a small skillet sauté the onion in two tablespoons of the melted butter until opaque, about 5 minutes. Set aside. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat whisk together the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the flour (add a few tablespoons hot water if mixture is too dry) about 3 to 4 minutes, until flour loses its gritty texture. Over medium-low heat and whisking constantly, alternately add the milk and chicken broth until mixture is thickened, about 20 minutes. Add sautéed onions, broccoli, carrot and celery; and stirring frequently, cook uncovered over low heat until veggies are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir cheese into mixture until it is melted; season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with a crunchy salad and bread sticks.

Spicy Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 small-medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks

4 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, diced

4 cups chicken broth or stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ cup milk

1½ cups plain Greek yogurt

DIRECTIONS:

In a large covered saucepan, steam squash and carrots until very tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small skillet sauté the onion in the butter until transparent, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer squash, carrots and onion to a large bowl; add about one cup chicken broth. Set aside to cool for 20 to 30 minutes. In a food processor or blender, puree vegetables with a little of the broth in a few batches. Transfer puree to a large saucepan or pot; stir in remaining broth, salt and pepper, nutmeg, ginger and milk and, stirring frequently, cook over medium-low heat until bubbling. Ladle into individual soup bowls and top each one with a dollop of yogurt. Serve hot with a kale salad and veggie chips.

Baked Stuffed Clams

By Barbara Beltrami

At this time of year, I love to ask any Italian-Americans I know what they are cooking for Christmas Eve because so many of them celebrate it with a grand meal that includes seven or more different kinds of fish, a custom most sources attribute to the Roman Catholic tradition of the fasting vigil awaiting the midnight birth of Jesus. 

What I enjoy about the answers I get is the incredible variety of fish courses that each family considers the absolutely inviolable menu. The only constant, as far as I can tell, is baccala, or salt-cured cod, and from there the meal proceeds on to a pasta, usually with some sort of seafood sauce, clams, shrimp, something fried and, in many extravagant cases, finally lobster. 

If you think of Christmas Eve as a special night or occasion, if you like fish, if you like Italian food, then by all means use these recipes and others or get yourself invited to one of these hours long repasts that surely is not just one of the highlights of the holiday but also one of the best Italian-American culinary traditions.

Baccala (Dry Salted Cod)

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound dry salted cod, cut into 3-inch pieces

1/3 cup olive oil

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and coarsely chopped

One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 garlic clove, minced

1½ teaspoons hot red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS:

Changing the water at least 6 times, soak the cod in a bowl or pan of cold water for 24 hours in a cool place. Taste a piece to determine if it is too salty. If it is, soak longer. In a large pot heat oil, add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add potatoes and stirring frequently, cook until golden brown. Add 3½ cups water to pan and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and cook 5 minutes. Uncover pot, add tomatoes, capers, oregano, parsley, garlic and pepper flakes; stir; gently lay cod on top, cover pan and carefully turning fish once midway through, simmer until it is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with garlic bread and black or green Italian olives.

Spaghetti with Anchovy Sauce

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound spaghetti

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

4 to 6 salted or oil-packed anchovies, rinsed

½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS:

Cook spaghetti according to package directions, reserving ½ to 1 cup of pasta water. Meanwhile, in a small skillet combine oil and garlic and cook over low heat until garlic is softened but not browned. Add anchovies and with a fork, mash well; add pepper flakes, stir and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to keep warm, then toss with cooked spaghetti, adding some of the pasta water if too dry. Serve hot or warm with a well-chilled dry white wine and breadsticks.

Baked Stuffed Clams

Baked Stuffed Clams

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups bread crumbs, seasoned with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon

24 cherrystone or littleneck clams, scrubbed and opened, top shell discarded

2 cups clam juice

2 lemons cut into wedges

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium bowl combine bread crumbs with salt and pepper; then add oil, garlic, parsley and lemon juice. Place clams in nonreactive baking pan and carefully pack about two teaspoons of bread crumb mixture on top of each one, Being careful not to wash away bread crumbs, pour clam juice around clams. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until bread crumb mixture starts to brown. Remove from oven, drizzle a little of cooking liquid over them and serve hot with lemon wedges and prosecco.

By Barbara Beltrami

What kind of a food columnist would I be if I didn’t write about Christmas cookies every December? And what kind of a Scrooge would you be if you didn’t bake or at least intend to bake Christmas cookies every year? There are times when tradition rules, when you do certain things because you’ve always done them, because your mother and before that your grandmother have always done them and to not do them would be sacrilege. And there is nothing like gathering the kids in the kitchen and making it a tradition that they’ll carry on when it’s their turn. 

So here are some uber traditional Christmas cookie recipes — three different versions — cut, pressed and dropped — of the sugar cookie. I have no idea where or when they originated. I just know they’ve been the go-to recipes in our family for years and years. All are wonderful on their own, particularly when surreptitiously snatched from the voluptuously mounded cookie platter, and they all go well with tea, coffee, milk, hot chocolate, eggnog or any holiday spirits.

Spritz Cookies (Pressed)

Spritz Cookies

YIELD: Makes about 6 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

2 sticks room temperature unsalted butter

2/3 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

2½ cups flour

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl thoroughly combine butter, sugar, egg yolks and extract. Add flour and work in. Divide dough into quarters and place one quarter at a time into cookie press; using desired shapes, force dough onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 7 to 10 minutes until set but not brown. Cool on wire rack 30 minutes and decorate as desired.

Drop Sugar Cookies

Drop Sugar Cookies

YIELD: Makes about 3 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

2 eggs, beaten

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)

¾ cup sugar

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon coarse salt

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 400 F. In large bowl, thoroughly combine eggs, oil, vanilla and lemon zest (if using); gradually add sugar and beat until mixture thickens. In another bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt and incorporate mixture into first one. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet, flatten each mound with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool immediately on wire rack. Decorate as desired. 

Classic Sugar Cookie Cut Outs

YIELD: Makes 4 to 5 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 egg

2½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl thoroughly combine sugar, butter, vanilla and almond extracts and egg. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cream of tartar; then stir that mixture into first one. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or more. 

Heat oven to 375 F. Divide dough in half and roll out each half to ¼-inch thick on lightly floured cloth-covered surface. Cut cookies and place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake 7 to 8 minutes until light brown. Cool on rack 30 minutes, then decorate as desired. 

Gather unused dough into a ball and refrigerate or place in freezer to chill; then repeat roll out procedure. 

Miniloaves are a great gift idea for the holidays. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

There seem to be very few ways to escape the early onslaught of the commercialism of Christmas. With stores and websites foisting the holiday upon us almost as soon as we’ve put away our sandals and sunscreen, it loses its magic long before it even arrives.

I find that the best way to avoid that is to revert to what Christmas used to mean by making my own gifts. Nothing fancy or lavish, but something that shows originality, care and affection. I’ve made everything from potpourris to potholders, jams and tree ornaments, cookies and candles and candy, but I find that the easiest and most appreciated gifts from my kitchen have often been miniloaves of quick bread in inexpensive ceramic or foil loaf pans. Wrapped in colored cellophane and tied with a length of pretty ribbon, they’re always welcome.

Here are three of the many versions.

Banana Raisin Bread

Banana Raisin Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup golden raisins

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 2)

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Soak the raisins in hot water. Preheat oven to 350 F and generously grease three 6- by 3- by 2-inch loaf pans. Sift flour with baking soda and salt. Cream butter and sugar; add eggs and bananas and blend thoroughly. Combine the milk and lemon juice (don’t worry if it curdles a little). Slowly and alternately fold in the flour mixture and the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and blending well, but not overmixing. Drain raisins and fold into batter. Divide batter evenly among three prepared loaf pans; bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

Bourbon Bread

Bourbon Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

1 egg, well beaten

¼ cup vegetable oil

½ cup bourbon

1/3 cup brown sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F and generously grease and flour three 6- by 3- by 2-inch miniloaf pans. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, walnuts and sugar. In a medium bowl combine sour cream, egg, oil and bourbon; add to dry mixture and stir just until blended. Divide batter evenly among the miniloaf pans, sprinkle with brown sugar before baking. Bake 35 to 45 minutes, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with brandy, liqueur or chai tea.

Date Pecan Bread

Date Pecan Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup boiling water

8 ounces chopped pitted dates

Half a stick softened, unsalted butter

1¾ cup flour

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 beaten egg

¾ cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F; generously grease three 6- by 3- by 2-inch miniloaf pans. In medium bowl, pour boiling water over dates; add butter, stir and let sit 5 minutes. In another medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; stir in date mixture, egg and pecans; mix well but do not overmix. Divide batter evenly among three loaf pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with eggnog, hot spiced wine or dessert wine.

Duck Breasts with Orange Sauce

By Barbara Beltrami

Like any holiday, Hanukkah deserves a special dinner, something beyond the ordinary but not too far away from the traditional. Along with the potato latkes and doughnuts, the spinning of the dreidel and the Hanukkah gelt for the kids, there is that moment when families and friends gather to celebrate and share their holiday joy around the table. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a nice roasted chicken or a pot roast or hearty winter stew that everybody loves. But how about changing it up a little and doing a duck breast or sweet and sour brisket or Hungarian goulash? 

Duck Breasts with Orange Sauce

Duck Breasts with Orange Sauce

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 approximately half-pound duck breasts

2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest

¾ cup orange juice

¼ cup honey

¼ cup soy sauce

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Fresh orange slices for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Score fatty side of each duck breast in a cross-hatch pattern of approximately 1-inch squares. In a large resealable plastic bag combine zest, juice, honey, soy sauce and pepper. Add duck, turn to coat evenly, and reseal bag. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably 8 or overnight. Remove breasts from bag; set marinade aside. Place duck in a large heavy skillet; do not preheat. Frequently moving pieces around, cook over low heat, skin side down, and turning once, until fat is rendered and skin is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cover and continue cooking until thermometer inserted in thickest part reads 120 F for medium rare (about 3 to 5 minutes), longer for more well done. 

Transfer to a cutting board, tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pour fat from skillet and discard or save for later use; replace with marinade; simmer until liquid is thick and syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes. Place duck on platter, spoon sauce over it and garnish with orange slices. Serve with wild rice, Brussels sprouts and a good red wine.

Sweet and Sour Brisket

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2½ pounds beef brisket

1 onion sliced thin

Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon

1 bay leaf

2 to 3 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup very hot water

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 to 6 gingersnaps (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Place meat in heavy pot or Dutch oven; add remaining ingredients, except gingersnaps. Cover and simmer 2½ to 3 hours, until tender. Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice as needed to balance the sweet and sour. If using, break up gingersnaps and stir into liquid from roast to thicken it a little. Slice and serve with sweet potatoes, green beans and carrots.

Hungarian Goulash

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds chuck, cut into 1½-inch cubes

2 tablespoons melted vegetable shortening or oil

6 cups beef stock

2 garlic cloves

1 bay leaf

Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon paprika

DIRECTIONS:

Stirring constantly, brown meat in hot fat. Add stock, garlic, bay leaf, salt and paprika. Simmer slowly, 2½ hours; remove bay leaf and discard. Serve with broad noodles or mashed potatoes, cabbage or cauliflower and pickled beets.

Stock photo

By Bob Lipinski

‘I only drink Champagne when in love and when not.’

— Christian Pol Roger

Bob Lipinski

Pol Roger founded the Champagne Pol Roger house in 1849, in Epernay, France. In the ensuing years, Pol Roger has created a name and reputation as one of finest Champagnes in the world. Perhaps the biggest lover of Pol Roger was Sir Winston Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom.

In 1945, in celebration of the liberation of France, Churchill was served Pol Roger 1928 at his residence in Paris. According to his son Randolph, Winston was so enamored by the Champagne he bought up all the 1928 and 1934 Pol Roger that was remaining.

Every year for his birthday, in tribute to the great friendship between the Pol Roger family and Winston Churchill, he would receive a case of Pol Roger until his death in 1965. The labels of the Champagne sent to England after his death were bordered in black.

To pay permanent tribute to the great statesman, Pol Roger introduced Cuvée Sir Winston Champagne. The first vintage of Cuvée Sir Winston was 1975, released in 1984. The precise blend of Sir Winston is a family secret and is produced only in the finest vintages.

The following are my tasting notes from a press event:

Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV “White Foil”: Blend of pinot noir, meunier, and chardonnay grapes. Pale golden color with a fruity bouquet of green apples and pears. Medium bodied with delicate bubbles and hints of grass and citrus.

Pol Roger “Blanc de Blancs” 2009: 100 percent chardonnay. Pale straw colored with a delicate bouquet and flavor of apples, brioche, chamomile, citrus and ginger. Superbly balanced with a very long lingering aftertaste.

Pol Roger Brut 2008: Blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. Light yellow colored with a full bouquet of Granny Smith apples, citrus, pears and tangerine. Medium bodied and full of flavor. A smooth finish and pleasing, long aftertaste.

Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2009: Blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. Salmon colored with a bouquet bursting of raspberries, wild cherries, pomegranate and oranges. The wine is dry, yet a fruity flavor persists to the end.

Pol Roger “Cuvée Prestige Sir Winston Churchill” 2006: The wine is aged for an average of 10 years before release. An elegant and well-developed bouquet of toasted brioche, jasmine, citrus, toast, pears and anise. Superbly balanced with a velvety texture and lingering flavors of spices, almonds and anise. An excellent Champagne with which to celebrate the holidays.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

Dolores’ Cranberry Cheddar Spread. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

So it’s Thanksgiving. Bearing foil-covered trays and pans, tracking in wet leaves, and offering sumptuous hugs and air kisses, here they are … your family and your friends and probably a couple of strays from work.

The turkey is nowhere near done, a fact which my mother-in-law, Rose, reminds me is because I didn’t do it her way. Uncle Hal is already smashed and proselytizing about the election. My 2-year-old great-nephew, Harley (named after his dad’s bike), is poking holes in the pumpkin pie. My great-niece, Opra (without the “h”), is wired to her iPhone. Aunt Dolores is already out on the deck having the first of many smokes, and  my sister Lynn unveils a bowl of her “famous Brussels sprouts” while I internally grimace and mutter, “You shouldn’t have.”

To get him out of the kitchen because his after shave lotion is so staggeringly overpowering that I’m starting to feel woozy, I ask my brother-in-law, David, to go to the family room and turn on the parade or game and take platters of nibbles with him. Predictably, others follow in his wake and start gobbling (pun intended) everything in sight as if there were no dinner coming soon.

I ask my brothers to swirl their wine glasses outside while they light the grill to cook the oysters. No one except Uncle Hal has had enough to drink yet to bring up politics, but that should get rolling any minute and reach a crescendo over what’s left of the pumpkin pie.

With apologies and wishes to all perfect and imperfect families, Happy Thanksgiving!

Dolores’ Cranberry Cheddar Spread

Dolores’ Cranberry Cheddar Spread

YIELD: Makes 24 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 ounces softened cream cheese

2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons half and half

¼ teaspoon mustard

¼ teaspoon cayenne

3 tablespoons chopped dried cranberries

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl, vigorously combine all ingredients except cranberries. Stir in cranberries. Place in a serving bowl and refrigerate or serve immediately with crackers and crudités.

My Grilled Oysters

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1½ sticks softened unsalted butter

4 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

2 tablespoons hot sauce

Scant half teaspoon coarse sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 dozen large fresh oysters, scrubbed but not opened

DIRECTIONS:

Place the butter, chives, hot sauce, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until completely combined. Transfer to small bowl. Meanwhile, light the grill. When it is hot, place the oysters, flat side up, on a sheet of aluminum foil on the grill rack. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until they open. Using tongs and being careful not to spill any of  the liquid inside the shells, remove the oysters from the grill, remove the top shell and divide the prepared chive butter evenly among them. Return to grill, cover and cook until butter is mostly melted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully remove from grill and transfer to a platter. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and toasted baguette slices.

Not My Sister’s Brussels Sprouts

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise

10 garlic cloves, peeled

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large pan, heat oil over medium high heat, then add sprouts, cut side down. Evenly distribute garlic, salt and pepper, and roast, shaking pan frequently, until sprouts are browned on bottom and tender inside, about 35 minutes, depending on their size. Remove from oven, transfer to a large serving bowl and toss with balsamic vinegar. Serve as hors d’oeuvres immediately or at room temperature accompanied by a dry rose or white wine or as a side dish to dinner.

By Barbara Beltrami

It’s time to start thinking of dried fruit as something beyond an ingredient in trail mix or cereal. Sure, raisins are good, and we don’t think of them as anything but raisins when actually they’re dried grapes. A while ago prunes stopped being marketed as prunes and became dried plums. Dried cranberries are craisins. Ah, what’s in a name? In the recipes below you’ll find dried fruit in a couple of Middle Eastern recipes as well as in an easy dessert. Whatever their name, they all add a healthful and tasty dimension to otherwise ordinary dishes and are great on their own.

Chicken Tagine with Figs, Apricots and Green Olives

Chicken Tagine with Figs, Apricots and Green Olives

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons olive oil

One 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 onions, finely chopped

1 cup finely diced carrots

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne

¼ teaspoon crushed saffron threads

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup pitted large green olives, coarsely chopped

½ cup dried Turkish apricots, coarsely chopped

½ cup dried figs, coarsely chopped

2 preserved lemons, cut into wedges

½ cup minced cilantro

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:

In a 6-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper; place in pot and brown, turning once, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside. In same pot, melt butter; add garlic, onions and carrots, and stirring frequently, cook until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add bay leaf, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and saffron and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes, until they release their aroma.

Return chicken to pot; add stock, olives, apricots, figs and lemons and cook, partially covered, over medium low heat until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf. Stir in cilantro and lemon juice and serve hot with rice or couscous.

Pilaf with Dried Fruit, Nuts and Chick Peas

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2½ tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, diced

1½ cups basmati rice

1 cup canned chick peas, rinsed and drained

¾ cup chopped dried fruit

2½–3 cups vegetable broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2/3 cup chopped pistachios or almonds

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; add onion and saute until opaque,  about 2 minutes. Add rice, chick peas, fruit, broth, mint and parsley. Stir and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low, cover and cook until rice is tender and has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from heat, stir in nuts and cover again. Let sit 15 minutes; add salt and pepper. Serve hot or warm with chicken or lamb.

Dried Fruit Compote

Dried Fruit Compote

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups water or 2 cups water and 1 cup white or red wine

2/3 to ¾ cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 whole clove

1 lemon wedge

¾ cup dried cherries

¾ cup dried pears

¾ cup dried apples

¾ cup dried plums

DIRECTIONS:

In a large saucepan combine all ingredients except dried fruit and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves. Add dried fruit, cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes; remove cover and continue to simmer another 10 to 15 minutes until liquid is thickened and slightly syrupy. Remove and discard cinnamon, clove and lemon. Serve hot, warm at room temperature or slightly chilled with cheese, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and ginger cookies.

Pear-Custard Pie

By Barbara Beltrami

When in doubt about what to say about something, I always go to good old Ralph Waldo Emerson, my favorite quotable person (except for my grandmother). And, sure enough, he has come through for me again. He writes, “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” And that’s the truth. 

Not ripe and it is flavorless and resistant to the bite. Overripe and it’s a sloppy, juicy mess. And how quickly it morphs from one to the other. That’s if you’re going to eat a pear au naturel. But suppose you miss that 10-minute window, then what? Here are some recipes to save the day and the pear.

Pear and Arugula Salad with Prosciutto and Goat Cheese

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 generous handfuls fresh arugula

4 firm ripe pears, pared, cored, halved and cut into ¼-inch slices

8 slices prosciutto

Four 1-inch-thick slices herbed goat cheese

4 to 6 ounces raspberry vinaigrette

DIRECTIONS:

Place one handful arugula on each of four salad plates. Arrange pear slices in a petal formation over arugula; lay prosciutto slices attractively over pears; top with goat cheese. Drizzle with raspberry vinaigrette and serve at room temperature with toasted baguette slices and dry white wine.

Pear-Custard Pie

Pear-Custard Pie

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 prebaked 8- or 9-inch pie crust

3 not quite or just ripe pears, pared, cored, halved and sliced thin

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup flour

¾ cup milk

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line pie crust with pear slices in a slightly overlapping pattern. In a blender or food processor combine the sugar, flour, milk, eggs, vanilla and salt. Pour mixture over pears. Bake 40 to 50 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean, top is golden and custard is firm to touch. Let sit 30 minutes before sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with coffee, tea, a dessert wine or milk.

Pears Poached in Red Wine

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

½ 750-ml bottle of dry red wine

2 to 2½ cups water

11/3 cups sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

4 to 6 cloves

3 orange slices with rind

4 slightly underripe pears, pared, cored and stem left on

DIRECTIONS:

Combine wine with all ingredients except pears in 3-quart or similar size saucepan. Place pears in liquid. Cover and simmer over low flame, turning frequently and basting so fruit becomes evenly stained by wine, until it is tender but firm, about 45 minutes depending on size of fruit. Remove pears and set aside; continue cooking poaching liquid over medium heat until it is thickened and syrupy, about 10-15 minutes. Return pears to hot liquid and turn to coat evenly. Remove pan from heat. Serve warm drizzled with thickened liquid and accompanied by Gorgonzola cheese and biscotti.

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