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Barbara Beltrami

By Barbara Beltrami

Nothing says “I love you” more than a home-cooked dinner on Valentine’s Day. Well, of course, there are certain tokens of love that come in tiny boxes, I suppose. Let’s not underestimate them! There are also dinners out in fancy restaurants with champagne, candlelight and bills the size of your mortgage payment, gargantuan heart-shaped boxes of chocolate that blow away your New Year’s diet resolutions, and sexy lingerie that may be anything but after you’ve eviscerated the box of chocolates.

Except for those tiny-boxed things, forget the other stuff. Get out the vacuum, throw all the usual clutter under the bed or in the hall closet, make yourself a shopping list, tie on an apron and whip up your own elegant candlelight dinner.

Chill the champagne and whip up an elegant and delicious dinner that won’t break the bank or your back. Leave time for a nice long bubble bath or shower and squeeze into that dress or suit you bought for that occasion last year and haven’t worn since.

Start with a dozen oysters (you know what they say about oysters!) and some champagne. Move on to citrus-flavored chicken with a nice dry white or red wine, and finish up with a chocolate-raspberry cake. And don’t forget to light the candles.

Oysters Rockefeller

They say these oysters are so named because they’re “as rich as Rockefeller.” Time to update the name maybe?

YIELD: Makes 2 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons butter

One garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 rounded tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

One shallot, peeled and minced

½ cup frozen chopped spinach, cooked

1 tablespoon anise liqueur

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Dash hot pepper sauce

One dozen fresh oysters, opened on the half shell

2 cups kosher salt

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450 F. Melt one tablespoon butter in small skillet. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and mix with bread crumbs, oil and Parmesan cheese. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in same skillet. Add shallot and spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until shallot becomes translucent, one to two minutes. Remove shallot and spinach.

Add liqueur to pan and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Stir in salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce, stirring constantly over low heat for 30 seconds. Add to bread crumb mixture. (There will probably be only a little bit); mix thoroughly.

Generously spread kosher salt around bottom of small shallow baking pan. Set oysters in salt and surround each one with enough salt to keep it from tilting. Distribute the spinach mixture evenly over oysters, then top with bread crumb mixture. Bake until tops are golden, about 10 minutes, but check often. Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.

Citrus Roasted Chicken

I wrote about this chicken almost two decades ago and when I run into people from way back then, they still mention how much they love this recipe. It’s also great re-heated the next day.

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One 2-3 pound chicken, cut up

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup sugar 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour

One egg, beaten

¾ cup orange juice

¾ cup grapefruit juice

¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup toasted sliced almonds

One orange, sliced

Fresh parsley

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in a shallow baking pan.

In a small or medium saucepan mix sugar and flower. Add egg, orange juice, grapefruit juice and wine. Stir thoroughly. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is slightly thickened. Pour over chicken. Bake, uncovered for one hour or under tender and done.

Sprinkle with almonds. Garnish with fresh orange slices and parsley. Serve with rice, and a crisp green salad or cooked green vegetable such as broccoli or green beans.

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberries

Chocolate and strawberries are so Valentine-y. If there are any leftovers, you can cut the cake into squares and pass it off to the kids as brownies.

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 squares unsweetened baking chocolate

One stick unsalted butter

2 eggs

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup chocolate chips

One pint fresh strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and halved top to bottom

¼ cup currant jelly, melted

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease an 8-inch springform pan. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate squares and butter over low heat. Cool. In mixer bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sugar, then the melted chocolate and butter; continue beating till blended. Stir in the flour and the vanilla extract. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with spatula.

On outer rim of batter, sprinkle a one-inch-wide circle of the chocolate chips; then make a small circle of them in the middle. Bake 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Arrange halved strawberries, cut side down, around remaining surface of cake, overlapping if necessary. Brush tops of strawberries with melted currant jelly.

Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and a nice cup of espresso.

Easy Buffalo Wings

By Barbara Beltrami

The big game on Feb. 5 is normally one of the most exciting events of the winter season. Bisecting the drab doldrums of January and February, it glues zealous sports fans to their TVs and ignites passionate tempers to not just a few expletives. In a feeding frenzy that alternately consoles and celebrates the vicissitudes of the afternoon’s plays, this annual game between the two best pro football teams evokes and stimulates the most American of appetites.

Although traditional fare is centered largely on some combo of spicy buffalo wings and blue cheese dips and spreads, many spinoffs of those flavors come to mind. There are Sloppy Joe’s, a goopy ground beef and barbecue sauce concoction served conventionally over open hamburger rolls, but just as good over toasted crusty bread.Then there are iceberg lettuce wedges with blue cheese dressing, bacon, cherry tomatoes and red onion. And because the day wouldn’t be complete without Buffalo something, here’s an easy recipe for wings.

Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joes

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup oil

One large onion, chopped

One medium carrot, peeled and diced

One medium green bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

2 pounds lean ground beef

Two garlic cloves, minced

¾ cup ketchup

One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons A-1 sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

8 hamburger buns or 16 slices lightly toasted crusty bread

DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet, heat the oil for 30 seconds. Add the onion, carrot, and green pepper and sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are opaque and pepper starts to turn color, about 5 minutes. Crumble the ground beef and spread around the skillet; cook, stirring frequently with vegetables, until meat is browned. Add garlic, ketchup, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, A-1 sauce, vinegar, and brown sugar.

Cook over low-medium heat until vegetables are tender and liquid is evaporated, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and seasoning. Serve hot over open buns or bread slices with cole slaw and french fries.

Iceberg Lettuce Wedges with Blue Cheese Dressing

Iceberg Lettuce Wedges with Blue Cheese Dressing

YIELD: Serves 8 to 12

INGREDIENTS:

One head iceberg lettuce, washed, drained and trimmed

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup light cream or half-and-half

½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¾ cup crumbled blue cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 to 6 slices crispy cooked bacon, crumbled

Cherry tomatoes, quartered

Thin slices red onion, separated into rings

DIRECTIONS: Slice the lettuce into as many wedges as you desire. Combine the mayonnaise, cream, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, blue cheese and seasoning. With a wire whisk, beat ingredients for 30 seconds. Arrange wedges on a platter. Pour dressing sparingly, and serve remaining dressing in a small bowl to be passed around. (It can also be used as a dipping sauce for buffalo wings in recipe below). Sprinkle bacon, tomato quarters and onion rings over wedges.

Easy Buffalo Wings

Easy Buffalo Wings

YIELD: Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:

12 to 16 chicken wings

4 ounces unsalted butter

One large garlic clove, minced

¼ cup Frank’s or Tabasco hot sauce

Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 425 F. Wash and dry wings. With a knife or poultry shears, separate the wings at the joint. Cut off wing tips and discard or save for another use (such as soup stock). Melt butter with garlic. In a large bowl, combine mixture with hot sauce and salt. Add wings and toss to coat. Place wings in shallow baking pan and drizzle with remaining sauce. Roast 10 minutes on each side, basting often, or until golden brown. Serve with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Risotto with Clams

By Barbara Beltrami

When I first met my husband who is Italian and whose parents emigrated from northern Italy, I had never heard of risotto. I grew up in a town with a lot of Italian families, but they were mostly from the southern part of Italy where risotto is uncommon and pasta is king. In the north, risotto may well be the go-to comfort food. Made from either arborio or carnaroli, short-grained varieties of rice that are available in most specialty supermarkets or Italian grocery stores, a good risotto is creamy and porridge-like, and oh, so buono.

There are probably as many risotti as there are pasta shapes and sauces; the basic ingredients marry well with nearly all veggies and even some fruits, cheeses, meat, fowl or fish, although the latter are much more rare. Using the Basic Risotto recipe and cooking tips below, you can create a risotto with pretty much anything you want.

Basic Risotto Recipe

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 to 4 cups broth

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

One medium onion, finely chopped

One celery rib, washed, trimmed and finely chopped

1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice

1 cup dry white wine

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: (1) In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil; reduce heat and keep at a simmer. (2) Heat oil in heavy saucepan for 30 seconds to one minute over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about two minutes. (3) Add rice, stirring constantly, for one minute over low-medium heat. (4) Add wine and half a cup of the broth, stirring constantly, until all the liquid is absorbed. (5) Continue adding broth, half a cup at a time, stirring frequently, until each addition is absorbed before adding more broth. The risotto will be ready in 15 to 20 minutes when the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy. You may not need all the broth or you may need more liquid, in which case just add a little hot water, half a cup at a time.

Risotto with Spinach and Gorgonzola Cheese

Risotto with Spinach and Gorgonzola Cheese

INGREDIENTS:

One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach

One recipe for Basic Risotto (above)

3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

DIRECTIONS: Cook spinach according to package directions; cover and set aside with its cooking liquid. Make Basic Risotto recipe with the following changes: Add spinach and its liquid between steps 4 and 5 in basic recipe. Reduce heat to low and add cheese, stirring vigorously until cheese is melted. Serve with salad or baked winter squash.

Risotto with Clams

Risotto with Clams

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds littleneck clams

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves thinly sliced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

One recipe Basic Risotto (above)

1½ cups finely diced tomatoes (optional)

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS: Scrub the clams well in a generous amount of cold water, then soak them in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain them and put them in a large pot with the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cover and steam open the clams, about 5 minutes. Drain them and reserve the liquid. Strain liquid through damp cheesecloth or coffee filter to catch any sand. Set clams aside. Measure liquid and substitute for equal amount of broth to be used in Basic Recipe (left). Make Basic Risotto; when risotto is about 3 minutes from being done, add the tomatoes, clams and parsley. Stir well and finish cooking. Do not add cheese. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.

Risotto with Zucchini

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and sliced thin

One small onion, sliced very thin, rings separated

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

One recipe for Basic Risotto (above)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS: Heat the oil in a large skillet; add zucchini and onions. Saute until they start to turn golden, about 5 minutes; add the garlic and saute for another minute. Don’t let the garlic burn. Remove and set aside. Season with salt and pepper. Make the risotto. About two minutes before it is ready, add the zucchini and onion and stir well for another two minutes. Pass the grated cheese at the table. Serve with a tomato and mozzarella salad.

By Barbara Beltrami

Of all the crustaceans and mollusks that go under the heading of seafood or shellfish, it seems that shrimp is the most popular. Shrimp cocktail, an American first-course staple served in a stemmed dish with a tangy sauce, has been around for as long as I can remember. Now it’s more popular as a trayed hors d’oeuvre.But there are myriad other preparations for this most versatile crustacean.

Years ago, when I was a young cook and wanted to impress my dinner guests, I used to make Shrimp Newburg. Swimming in its creamy sherry sauce in a large (probably fake) scallop shell or ramekin, it was a really impressive starter or entrée. Italian cooks smother shrimp with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and a generous sprinkling of hot pepper to create fiery Shrimp Fra Diavolo. And for a quick, simple no-nonsense palate pleaser, grilled breaded shrimp served with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice becomes a real go-to dish for an hors d’oeuvre, appetizer or main dish.

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

 

YIELD: 2 to 4 servings

INGREDIENTS: One pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cups diced tomatoes, canned or fresh

One cup dry white wine

3 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl, toss the shrimp with the salt, dried red pepper flakes and oil. Transfer shrimp, oil and seasonings to a medium skillet; cook until pink, turn and cook one more minute. Remove with slotted spoon or fork and set aside to keep warm. To the same skillet, and remaining oil, add onion, tomatoes, wine, garlic and parsley. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is evaporated and sauce has thickened. Return shrimp to skillet, mix with sauce and cook over medium-low heat, just until heated through. Serve over a bed of linguine, spaghetti or fettuccine.

Shrimp Newburg

Shrimp Newburg

YIELD: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One pound small shrimp, cleaned and deveined

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 cups half-and-half

½ cup sherry wine

DIRECTIONS: In a medium skillet, sauté shrimp in two tablespoons of the butter; set aside to keep warm. In the same skillet melt remaining butter and combine with the flour, cayenne, salt and pepper. Gradually stir in the half-and-half; continue stirring until sauce is smooth and slightly thickened; add sherry and stir 30 seconds more. Add shrimp, stirring frequently, until they are heated through. Do not overcook. Serve with rice or angel hair pasta.

Grilled Breaded Shrimp

Grilled breaded shrimp

YIELD: 4 servings of two skewers or 8 servings of one skewer.

INGREDIENTS:

8 twelve-inch wooden skewers, soaked in hot water for one hour

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

One clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

40 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Lemon or lime wedges

DIRECTIONS: Preheat broiler or grill. Combine oil, bread crumbs parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss shrimp with mixture to coat. Place on soaked skewers, five shrimp to a skewer, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Grill 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown, rotating skewers after one or two minutes. Serve with lemon or lime wedges, salad and crispy potatoes.

Bread Pudding with Stewed Fruit Compote. Photo by Barbara Beltrami

By Barbara Beltrami

If ever there was a culinary invention that deserved the prize for simplicity, nutrition, versatility, economy and popularity, it’s got to be bread pudding. Take some leftover stale bread, throw in a couple of eggs, some milk, a little sugar and butter and vanilla and you basically have the foundation for not only a delicious dessert but a pretty wholesome breakfast! Dress it up by adding raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, chopped dried fruit, cinnamon or whatever your imagination dictates. For a quick and elegant dessert, top it with a stewed fruit compote, whipped cream, ice cream, vanilla, chocolate or whiskey sauce, liqueur or just about any combination. For breakfast, crank up the nutrition with that same stewed fruit compote, fresh fruit, yogurt, maple syrup, warm milk or a little dollop of jam. Again, the possibilities and combinations are practically endless, but my very favorites are the stewed fruit compote or just fresh fruit and whipped cream for dessert … or breakfast.

Basic Bread Pudding

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons butter, melted plus 1 tablespoon solid butter for greasing baking dish

2 cups milk

Dash of vanilla extract

½ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

3 eggs

5 to 6 cups day-old bread, cubed

DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt and eggs. Beat until well blended. Grease a 6- to 8-cup baking dish with the one tablespoon solid butter. Place the bread in the baking dish and pour liquid mixture over it. Cover, refrigerate and let sit until bread has soaked up all or most of the liquid. Preheat oven to 350 F. Uncover baking dish and bake 30 to 45 minutes until liquid is set and bread is golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate and reheat any unused portion.

Stewed Fruit Compote

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups fruit, pitted, pared, cored, as applicable

½ to 1 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit

Dash of vanilla extract

One cinnamon stick

Peel of half an orange or lemon, pith removed

Red or white wine or apple juice to barely cover

DIRECTIONS: Combine all ingredients in non-reactive sauce pan. Cover and simmer over low heat until fruit is soft and liquid is somewhat reduced. Remove cinnamon stick and citrus peel. Let cool. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. Reheat and serve hot or warm over bread pudding. Top with whipped cream if desired.

Roasted Root Vegetables served here with pork tenderloin. Photo by Barbara Beltrami

By Barbara Beltrami

This year, come Dec. 24, there is a holiday dinner most likely waiting some place in the wings for most of us. With all the past month’s hustle and bustle and preparation, we will finally don our finest or perhaps our most comfortable and sit down to a delicious dinner with family and friends.

When I think of a holiday dinner, I think of savory aromas wafting through the house and I always think of a roast and my uncle carving it in the kitchen while we kids snatched the small pieces that fell to the side of the carving board. I think of the first course that was always tomato juice, celery and olives. Then, borne on a platter came the aforementioned roast, the gravy straight from the roasting pan, the standard roasted potatoes and boiled vegetables. It was elegant and special, but in retrospect, it wasn’t very good!. Dessert? I honestly don’t remember.

Many years later here at my table there is still the obligatory roast. But we start with something like stuffed artichokes and go on to perhaps a potato rosti (a large plate-size potato pancake) and roasted root vegetables with lots of herbs and onions. And dessert is a delving into the bounty of holiday cookies accompanied by a homemade sorbet.

No matter what or when your celebration, I wish you a very happy holiday.

Stuffed Artichokes

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

8 large artichokes, washed, trimmed and stems removed, ½ inch of bottoms sliced off so chokes can stand upright

4 cups unseasoned bread crumbs

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Pry the artichoke leaves apart just enough so that you can stuff in between them. Combine the bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stuff bread crumb mixture in between leaves. Stand the stuffed artichokes in a large heavy saucepan and carefully pour in enough water to come halfway up the artichokes. Cover and simmer at least an hour until chokes are completely soft. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Potato Rosti

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds potatoes, peeled, washed and grated (use large holes of grater)

1 medium onion, grated

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS: Mix the grated potatoes, onion and salt and pepper. Let stand a few minutes. Do not worry about discoloration. Drain and squeeze excess liquid from mixture. In a large nonstick skillet (8 to 9 inches), heat butter or oil. Add potatoes and with back of large spoon, spread mixture to sides of pan so it completely covers bottom. Tuck in any stray shreds so they don’t burn. Cook over medium heat until bottom is golden brown and potatoes on top are opaque, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Slide the rosti onto a large plate; cover with another upside down large plate and flip so that bottom plate is on top. Gently slide rosti back into skillet with golden side up and cook over low-medium heat until bottom is golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Test center to be sure it’s cooked through and potatoes are soft. Slide onto serving plate and serve hot or warm.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Roasted Root Vegetables served here with pork tenderloin. Photo by Barbara Beltrami

YIELD: Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:

½ pound beets

½ pound rutabaga

½ pound butternut squash

½ pound carrots

½ pound parsnips

½ pound turnips

2 medium red onions

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Course salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Peel and remove stems or seeds, wash and cut vegetables into 2-inch chunks. In a glass or ceramic baking dish, toss together the vegetables, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper until everything is evenly coated. Bake, turning vegetables occasionally with spatula, until they are tender inside and slightly crisp on the outside, for 45 minutes to one hour. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Note: Vegetable amounts can be varied and need not be exact. For instance, if you like beets but don’t like rutabagas, adjust amounts accordingly.

Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes

By Barbara Beltrami

Have you noticed that at holiday time everything becomes special? Think about it. It seems you’re always getting dressed up and going to some party or other. Out come the good dishes, the platters and bowls that you need a ladder, if not a GPS to get to. You’re starting to rev up for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner. Everything is special … the roast you’ve ordered, those fancy hors d’oeuvres the seafood, the pasta …all the traditional ethnic dishes.

Except for the vegetables … that same old, same old broccoli, those soggy, bland green beans, those boring peas and carrots. Time to change all that and take away the bad rap veggies are always getting. They too can be special. Time to give them their moment to put on their holiday best at the dinner table and to be dressed up in their beautiful red and green (what else?) finery. Imagine tomatoes stuffed with creamed spinach and delicious roasted Brussels sprouts with chopped red pepper.

Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes

YIELD: Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds fresh spinach

½ stick unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon

6 tablespoons flour

1 medium onion , minced

6 large tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Thoroughly rinse spinach. Place on a steamer rack over 2 inches water. Cover and steam until tender, about 10 minutes. Place in colander or large strainer with a bowl underneath and press out as much liquid as possible. Reserve drained liquid. While the spinach is cooking, sauté the onion in the one tablespoon butter until it is opaque. Remove from heat and set aside.

Slice one inch off tops of tomatoes, then scrape out pulp; reserve and refrigerate for another use. In a small sauce pan make a roux by melting the half stick of butter; then stirring in the flour until you have a thick paste. Whisk in 1½ cups of the reserved spinach liquid (if you don’t have enough, supplement it with water from steamer. (If mixture seems too thin, add more flour but beware of lumps!)

Combine spinach, sauce and onions and mix thoroughly until the spinach is well coated but still holds its shape when scooped. Add seasonings. If any sauce is left over, reserve and refrigerate for another use. Set tomatoes in a greased nonreactive baking dish; sprinkle insides with salt and pepper. Fill with spinach mixture. Cover with aluminum foil and bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes more or until tomatoes are tender but not collapsed.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Pepper Confetti

roasted-brussel-sprouts-with-red-pepper-confettiYIELD: Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and stems removed

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Half a large fresh red bell pepper, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Place Brussels sprouts in baking pan; douse with oil and toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in oven and roast, turning with spatula, every 10 minutes, until outsides turn golden brown and insides are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven; cover and set aside. In a medium skillet, melt butter; add peppers and sauté over medium-low heat, for one minute, just enough to soften and heat through. Season, if desired. Remove cover from sprouts, place in serving bowl and top with peppers and any remaining sauté liquid. Serve hot or warm.

Arugula Salad with Sliced Avocado and Pomegranates

YIELD: Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice

1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly smashed

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 cups arugula, washed, drained and dried

1 cup pomegranate seeds

3 avocados, peeled and sliced

Juice of half a lemon

DIRECTIONS: Make the dressing: Combine the first 7 ingredients in a jar; cover tightly and shake vigorously. Set aside. Toss the arugula and pomegranate seeds together. Arrange on six salad plates. Brush avocado slices with the juice from half a lemon to keep them from turning brown; arrange them on top of arugula and pomegranates. Shake jar of dressing vigorously again to mix thoroughly; remove garlic clove; drizzle over salad. Serve immediately.

By Barbara Beltrami

Hello, all you cooks and bakers! I’m back after a 25-year vacation and will once again be bringing you my favorite recipes; usually easy, original, healthful, calling for quality ingredients and sometimes modified from other recipes and tested.

For a good beginning to this column and to any company or holiday meal, what else but hors d’oeuvres? In the tradition of the season, what else but cookies? While the kids are wolfing down sugar cookies and gingerbread people (we must be politically correct and not call them gingerbread men anymore) from Grandmas’s treasured recipes, the grown-ups will be sitting around calmly sipping their cocktails and wine and nibbling (or binging) on these savory cookies.

Think thin biscotti with black olives, sun-dried tomatoes and walnuts. Imagine Parmesan wafers with pungent rosemary, or olive oil-black pepper cookies. So pour yourself a drink, preheat that oven and start baking!

Parmesan-Rosemary Wafers

YIELD: 2 1/2 dozen wafers

INGREDIENTS:

1 ½ cups freshly and coarsely grated Parmesan cheese (not the kind in the package!)

1 tablespoon flour

1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh rosemary or 1 ½ teaspoons dried

½ teaspoon coarse or sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Using a measuring teaspoon, not a regular teaspoon, and mixing well before each spoonful (the flour tends to drop to the bottom), drop mixture into little mounds onto prepared baking sheet. Bake midoven until golden, about 9 minutes. Cool on baking sheet about 5 minutes; with spatula gently remove and place on wire rack to cool.

Best if served immediately; otherwise reheat to crisp.

Biscotti with Black Olives, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Walnuts

biscotti-with-black-olivesYIELD: 3 1/2 dozen biscotti

INGREDIENTS:

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

4 ounces freshly and coarsely grated Parmesan cheese (don’t use the packaged kind)

1/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

one stick of unsalted butter, sliced into ½-inch pieces

¼ cup Italian or Greek black olives, pitted and chopped

½ cup oil-packed and drained sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

½ cup chopped walnuts

2 ½ tablespoons milk

one large egg

DIRECTIONS: In a bowl, combine flour, cheese, salt and pepper. With a pastry blender or fork, cut in butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in olives, tomatoes and walnuts. In a small bowl, beat together the milk and egg; combine egg mixture with dry ingredients and stir just until blended. Shape dough into a ball. Divide dough in half; pat and roll each piece into a 6- to 8-inch log and place each on a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and refrigerate till firm, preferably overnight, but at least 6 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Butter two large baking sheets. Diagonally cut the logs into ¼-inch slices and place one inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake until the biscotti are just brown around the edges (10 to 12 minutes). With a spatula, transfer to wire racks to cool.

Best if served immediately; otherwise reheat to crisp.

Olive Oil Cookies with Black Pepper

oliv-oil-cookies-with-black-pepperYIELD: 4 to 5 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS:

Nonstick cooking spray

2 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon sea or coarse salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

½ cup extra virgin olive oil (yes, it does make a difference!)

¾ cup dry red wine

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly spray 2-3 baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Combine dry ingredients. Beat together the eggs, oil and wine. Add liquid ingredients to dry mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms. Drop by rounded measuring teaspoonsful onto baking sheets. Bake until browned around the edges, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove with spatula and cool on wire racks.