Perfectly balanced pear salad

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Let’s face it: Salad can be boring. The run-of-the-mill salad — bibb lettuce with chopped carrots and tomatoes, topped with thousand island dressing — that I grew up with never made me too enthusiastic. Then, years ago, I purchased a copy of “Raising the Salad Bar” after reading a review of it in The San Francisco Chronicle. This book has had a home among my cookbooks since then, and I find myself turning to it more frequently during summer months, when I am less inclined to turn on my oven.

The thing I like about this book is that it has salads of all types. Whether you want a summer salad with fruit, like this Mixed Greens and Roasted Pear Salad, or something more substantial with steak, they’ve got it. And every recipe I’ve tried from this book has been good.

This pear salad has a nice sweet flavor accented by crunchy walnuts and cheese that has a bite to it. You can use whatever greens you’d like, and make substitutions as you see fit. I leave the red onions off because they tend to be too harsh for my taste. If you don’t have a food processor for the vinaigrette, you can mash the pear with a fork and stir everything together.

In any case, this was a nice dinner on a hot night. It’s one worth adding to your file.

Ingredients
3 pears, peeled, halved, and cored
Olive oil
1 small head red leaf or bibb lettuce, washed and dried
1 bunch arugula, large stems removed, washed and dried
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 ounces gorgonzola, crumbled
1/3 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

Pear Vinaigrette
1/2 roasted pear (of the three called for above)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, sherry, or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the pears with a little olive oil, place them on a baking sheet cut sides down, and bake for 20-25 minutes. The pears should be browned on the bottom and easily pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool. Reserve half of one pear for the dressing.

In a large bowl, mix the lettuce, arugula, and red onion.

To make the vinaigrette, place the reserved roasted pear half, oil, apple or pear juice, vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a food processor or blender. Process until mixture is pureed. Add a little more oil or juice to thin the mixture, if necessary. Add enough dressing to coat the salad; mix well, then divide the salad among individual plates. Top each serving with a roasted pear half and sprinkle goat or blue cheese over all. Top with toasted walnuts.

A stunning way to use summer berries

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Summer is a great time to find new ways to use the abundance of berries available in stores. One of my favorite things I’ve made with blueberries is this pie. The combination of citrus, cinnamon, and fresh fruit made the flavor spot-on, and the lattice crust made for a stunning finished product.

If you haven’t attempted to make a lattice crust before, don’t fret. Roll the dough into a circle large enough to cover the top of the pie, then cut it into strips using a knife. Overlap them on the filled bottom crust before popping it into the oven. I recommend checking on the crust about halfway through baking to make sure it’s not burning. If it’s getting brown sooner than you want it to, you can brush it with eggwash.

It’s a beautiful dessert to share.

Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter or shortening + 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
6 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon ice water

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Combine the flour and salt in medium bowl. Cut half of the butter into the mixture, working it in with the tips of your fingers until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Cut the rest of the butter into the dough and work in until the dough turns into pea-sized balls. Sprinkle the dough with 6 tablespoons of ice water.

Using a fork, blend the water into the dough. If needed to hold the ingredients together, add the remaining water.

Line a 9-inch pan with half the dough. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Combine in a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes:

Ingredients
5 cups blueberries, picked over
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pour the mixture into the bottom crust and dot with 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. Shape the remaining dough into a top crust or cut into strips and form a lattice crust. Place on top of pie.

Bake for one hour. Cool completely on a rack.

Fudgy brownies for a friend’s birthday

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When it comes to brownies, most people have a preference: cakey or fudgy. My co-worker, whose birthday is today, prefers the latter. Lucky for her, I have a great recipe for people who like fudgy brownies. I found it in the Spring 2008 edition of Cook’s Illustrated Light Recipes and have used it ever since. It’s also a great recipe to use when you want to experiment with flavors in brownies — whether that means adding mint flavoring, caramel streaks, or using it for a base layer of a more decadent bar.

The article that ran with this low-fat recipe said that the fudgy texture can be attributed to the sour cream used in the recipe — which, unlike many brownie recipes, doesn’t use much butter. In a couple instances where I didn’t have sour cream, I substituted Greek yogurt, which added a slight tang to the finished product. But, it will do in a pinch.

These decadent brownies really hit the spot when you’re particular about the consistency. You can also easily add nuts or chocolate chips. I hope you enjoy them as much as the birthday girl did.

Ingredients
Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon chocolate syrup (or light corn syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white
1 cup sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Fold two 12-inch pieces of foil lengthwise so that each measures 7 inches wide. Fit one sheet into an 8-inch-square baking dish, pushing foil into corners and up sides of pan (overhang will help in removal of brownies). Repeat with second sheet, placing in pan perpendicular to first sheet. Coat foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Melt chocolate and butter together in bowl set oven pan of simmering water or in microwave set to medium power. Cool 2 to 3 minutes, then whisk in sour cream, chocolate syrup, vanilla, egg, egg white, and sugar. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into chocolate mixture until combined.

Pour batter into pan, spread into corners, and level surface with spatula. Bake until slightly puffed and toothpick inserted in center comes out with sticky crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Cool brownies completely in pan on wire rack, at least one hour. Remove brownies from pan using foil handles. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.To keep brownies moist, do not cut until ready to serve.

Bombshell blondies that can’t be beat

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One recipe I keep going back to is the Joy of Cooking’s recipe for Butterscotch Brownies, aka Blondies. Some people think a brownie isn’t a brownie unless it involves chocolate, but this recipe gives you the consistency and richness you’d expect, but with a different flavor. This is one I make well, and one that has been well-received by anyone who has tried them. It’s a keeper.

The key to this recipe is to get the first step right. Browning butter is an easy thing to mess up the first few times you do it. The trick here is to make sure you don’t turn the heat up too high. I did that when I first tried browning butter, and it went from beautiful to burnt in a matter of seconds. I’ve had consistent success browning butter when I keep the heat at medium-low, about a four on my oven knob. When the fat starts to separate, the butter will start to smell differently. When it starts to smell like butterscotch, take it off the heat immediately and throw in the sugar to keep the butter from burning. It doesn’t take long for the butter to smell slightly burnt, and that flavor will carry into the finished blondies if you don’t catch it before it gets there.

These decadent bars are a delicious treat and a great excuse to work on your butter-browning skills, which can be used in pasta dishes like this one and other types of meals. Use your nose, and you’ll get it down. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan lined with foil.

In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, then boil, stirring constantly until light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugars until well-blended. Let cool to barely warm. Stir in egg, egg yolk, corn syrup, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and coconut. Stir until combined. Scrape mixture into greased baking pan. Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Simple scallops with tangy orange sauce

scallops

When it comes to scallops, I like to keep it simple. I don’t remember where I first came across the recipe for the orange sauce, but it’s one of the few I have memorized.

Scallops can be tricky to cook. If you overcook them, they get a rubbery texture. They should be cooked all the way through, but not so much that they crack all the way through. I prefer to quickly sear them. I went through the trial-and-error process when I first tried making them, and it took a few sacrificed scallops to get it just right.

This orange reduction sauce is my favorite thing to have with scallops because, though it adds a flavorful punch, it complements the scallops instead of overwhelming them.

Enjoy!

Ingredients
8-10 sea scallops
1 cup orange juice
Dash of white pepper
Pinch of salt

Pour orange juice into a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and let simmer until juice is reduced to about 1/2 cup. It should have a slightly syrupy consistency.

Meanwhile, put a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Once heated, add scallops. Do not crowd. Sear for about two minutes, or until scallops are lightly browned on one side. Turn over and sear for another two minutes, or until scallops are opaque all the way through. Turn off heat.

Add salt and pepper to orange juice. Stir.

Serve scallops with sauce.