Rich Dark Chocolate Tart with Maine Sea Salt

For this tart you make a simple crust by crushing Amaretti cookies (or gingersnaps or chocolate or vanilla wafers) and mixing them with a touch of sugar and melted butter and lining a French tart pan. The filling is like a chocolate mousse—good bittersweet chocolate, cream, eggs, vanilla and sea salt. What I love about the tart is that the filing has no sugar -- it’s all about honoring the chocolate and the balance of the sea salt.

Serve the tart in thin slices with hot chocolate (sure, why not, it’s still February), dark coffee, or top it with vanilla-scented whipped cream, frozen yogurt, or crème fraiche.

The tart makes a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift for someone you love. Even if they are the type who would hide chocolate from you.

Plan on letting the tart cool for at least one hour and up to 12 hours. You’ll need a 9-inch French-style round tart pan with a removable bottom for this tart; you can use a regular pie plate but it’s never quite as special.

The Crust:

1 cup ground Amaretti cookies*

5 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons sugar**

The Chocolate and Sea Salt Filling:

1 ½ cups heavy cream

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (65% cocoa), well chopped, or 1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon good sea salt, see head note, plus some for sprinkling on top

2 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes, optional***

*You’ll need about 20 cookies, depending on the brand and the size. Place the cookies in a food processor or blender and blend until finely ground. You can also place them in a tightly sealed plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin until finely ground. You could also substitute with ginger snaps graham crackers, vanilla wafers, or chocolate graham crackers; 20 gingersnaps= 1/1 2 cups ground cookies. And you can 1 to 2 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes (unsweetened) instead of, or in addition to, the sugar.

**I don’t like the pie too sweet. If you like a sweeter crust you can add another tablespoon or two of sugar, but the cookies are awfully sweet.

***Toasted coconut flakes are found in specialty food shops. But you can easily make them: place unsweetened coconut flakes on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until the flakes just begin to turn a golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove and cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the crust: in a bowl mix the crushed cookies, the melted butter, and the sugar. Press the crust into a 9-inch round fluted tart pan. You can also make this in a regular pie plate but it’s never quite as good! Press the crust into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

Place the tart pan on cookie sheet and bake on the middle shelf for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes.

Make the chocolate filling: place the cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.

Place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Pour the hot cream on top and stir steadily, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

In a separate bowl whisk the eggs, vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt until frothy. Add the whisked egg mixture to the chocolate mixture. Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake on the middle shelf for about 25 to 28 minutes. To test for doneness: gently shake the tart and if the middle wobbles a little (and still appears undercooked) but the sides seems solid it is perfect. The tart will continue to cook when it’s removed from the oven and will firm up while cooling.

Remove from the oven and, while the tart is still warm, sprinkle with about ½ teaspoon of the salt, and the coconut flakes, if using, very gently pressing into the chocolate if it doesn’t seem adhere. Let the tart cool for 1 hour. Some claim the tart is best served after an hour of cooling, but I like it best after it’s been covered and placed in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight. Serves 6. Or serves 2 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Indian-Spiced Meatballs with Yogurt and Mango Chutney
From Stonewall Kitchen Winter Celebrations (Chronicle, Fall 2009)
By Kathy Gunst, Jonathan King and Jim Stott

These meatballs combine ground beef, pork, and veal with pungent Indian flavors—fennel and mustard seeds, ginger, chile flakes, and fresh coriander — formed into tiny, bite size meatballs. The meatballs are dipped into thick, Greek-style yogurt and your favorite chutney. They make a wonderful hors d’oeuvre or can be served as a first course on top of spicy greens—watercress and arugula— with warm pita bread or crisp Indian bread.

The meatballs can be made several hours ahead of time and reheated just before serving.

The Meatballs:
About 3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 tablespoon mustard seeds, black or yellow
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, very finely chopped
3 tablespoons scallions, white and green parts, very finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 pound ground beef
1/3 pound ground pork
1/3 pound ground veal
1 egg
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh coriander, very finely chopped
1/4 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
2/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon panko or regular breadcrumb
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Dipping Sauces:
1 1/2 cups Greek-style plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups mango or your favorite chutney

Make the meatballs: in a small skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over low heat. Add the mustard and fennel seeds and cook 2 minutes, stirring once to twice. Add the ginger, chile flakes, 1 tablespoon of the scallions, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the seeds begin to pop and the ginger smells fragrant, about 2 minutes, being careful not to let the mixture burn. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, mix the beef, pork, veal, and egg until thoroughly incorporated. Add salt and pepper. Add the cooled spice mixture and the oil from the skillet. Mix well. Add the coriander, yogurt, 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs and mix well. The mixture should be moist but hold together. (You can make the mixture several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.)

Place the remaining 1/3 cup breadcrumbs on a large plate or bowl and mix in the sesame seeds, salt, and pepper.

Use a tablespoon measuring spoon to form 25 small, rounded meatballs. Lightly coat the meatballs in the breadcrumb/sesame seed mixture, pressing the mixture onto the meatballs lightly.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over moderately-low heat. When the oil is hot (add a touch of breadcrumb to the skillet; the oil should immediately sizzle, but not burn) add several meatballs making sure not to crowd the skillet. Cook about 8 to 10 minutes, about 4 minutes per side or until the meatballs are golden brown and cooked through (cut open one to make sure there is no sign of pinkness). Place several layers of paper towel on a baking sheet and drain thoroughly. Cook the remaining meatballs, adding more oil if needed. The meatballs should be served hot after draining for 30 seconds or can be made several hours ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. To reheat: place the meatballs on a baking sheet in a preheated 350 degrees oven for about 5 minutes, or until hot.

Serve the hot meatballs with bowls of the yogurt and chutney.

Makes 25 one-inch meatballs; serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

Salmon and Ginger Cakes

I like to coat these fish cakes-- chopped fresh salmon, mixed with ginger, scallions, cilantro, red bell pepper, and a dash of sesame oil -- in panko breadcrumbs before lightly pan-frying them. The result is a fish cake that’s light in texture but bursting with fresh flavors. Serve these salmon cakes with lemon or lime wedges, and Orange Miso Dipping Sauce (see below).

1 pound skinless salmon filet, cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper (from 1/2 small pepper)
1/4 cup chopped scallions (green and white parts)
1 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/3 cups panko breadcrumbs, see Note
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Freshly ground pepper
About 1/3 cup canola oil
Lemon and lime wedges
Orange Miso Dipping Sauce (see below)
In a large bowl, gently mix the salmon, bell pepper, scallions, cilantro, ginger, 1/3 cup of the panko breadcrumbs, the egg, sesame oil, and soy sauce until blended. Season with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.
Place the remaining cup panko breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, form the salmon mixture into ten 2-inch cakes, flattening them slightly to make a 1-inch thick round. Press each cake into the breadcrumbs on both sides, patting extra breadcrumbs into the edges of the cakes with your hands. Set aside, and repeat with the remaining salmon mixture. The salmon cakes can be made about 6 hours ahead of time; wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to cook.
Heat a large, heavy 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the oil (larger pans may require more oil; the oil should be about 1/8” deep. When the oil is hot, add half of the salmon cakes. Cook for 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. If necessary, tilt the pan during cooking to distribute the oil evenly. Drain on paper towels, and repeat with the remaining salmon cakes. The salmon cakes may be made one day ahead and reheated for 5 to 10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, or until warmed through.
Serve the salmon cakes with the lemon and lime wedges and Orange Miso sauce. Makes about 10 cakes.
Note: Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) have a coarser texture than regular breadcrumbs and lend an excellent crunchy texture to foods. Look for panko in Asian food stores or the specialty food aisle of your supermarket.
Favorite Variations:
Add 1 tablespoon liquid chili sauce (such as sriracha or Chinese chile paste) to the mixture.
Substitute finely chopped carrots for the bell pepper.
Substitute 3⁄4 to 1 pound cooked crab (preferably lump crab meat) for the salmon.

Orange-Miso Dipping Sauce

East meets West in this refreshing, citrusy dip. Try spreading the sauce on grilled chicken or fish, or use it as a simple dip for fresh vegetables, crackers, or shrimp. It’s even delicious drizzled over a salad.
Miso is a fermented soy bean paste with the consistency of peanut butter. Look for white miso paste in the refrigerated shelves of your grocers produce section, or in Asian grocery shops.

1 tablespoon white miso
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Mix all the ingredients together except the salt and pepper in a bowl until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and chill until ready to serve. Makes about 1 cup.

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Walnut Pancakes with Caramelized Bananas

I’m a huge fan of these light, nutty, crunchy cakes. Served with a caramelized banana topping, and drizzled with warm maple syrup, these are a real Sunday morning favorite. Best of all, the batter can be made up to 2 hours ahead of time, covered and refrigerated, and the pancakes and topping can be cooked at the last minute. Be sure to let the batter return to room temperature before cooking the pancakes.

For the Pancakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons (1/2 half stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, or toasted walnuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the banana topping:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 small bananas, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
About 1 cup maple syrup

To make the pancakes: whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and the buttermilk together until blended. Add the melted butter, and whisk again to combine. Add the dry ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Fold in the walnuts and vanilla, and let the batter sit for about 10 minutes.

While the batter sits, prepare the banana topping: melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until the sugar has melted and the mixture begins to simmer. Cook over low heat for 1 minute, stirring continuously. Add the banana slices to the pan in a single layer and cook for about 2 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned. Using a small spatula, carefully flip the bananas over. Remove the pan from the heat immediately and set aside until the pancakes are done.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add about a teaspoon of butter. Ladle 1/3 (one third) cup of the pancake batter into the pan, allowing the pancake to spread on its own; it should be about 4 inches wide. Repeat, making sure not to crowd the skillet. Cook the pancakes for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown and puffy.

Repeat with remaining pancake batter, stacking the finished pancakes on an ovenproof platter and keeping them warm in the oven. Place the maple syrup in a small saucepan and warm over low heat, about 3 to 4 minutes. Before serving, heat the bananas over medium-high heat for a minute or two, until the bananas begin to caramelize and the brown sugar sauce is bubbling. Pour the bananas over the hot pancakes and serve the warm maple syrup on the side.

Serves 4; makes 8 pancakes.
Favorite Variations:

Substitute 1/2 (half) cup whole wheat flour for 1/2 (half) cup of the all-purpose flour, and add another tablespoon of buttermilk.

Substitute chopped pecans, almonds, or pistachios for the walnuts, or use a combination.

Add 1/8 (one eighth) teaspoon ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice to the pancake batter with the flour.

• Use thinly sliced apples or pears instead of bananas for the topping, cooking until the fruit becomes just soft.

• Add a dollop of crème fraiche, plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt, or sour cream as a topping for the pancakes.

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Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce

This is classic bar food, the kind of dish you see everywhere these days. But let’s face it: most Buffalo wings are not only greasy and heavy, they leave you feeling like you made a mistake ordering them in the first place. I admit a weakness for these spicy wings, so I toyed with the recipe a bit and came up with something I really like.

The first thing that distinguishes these wings is that they are baked, not fried, and lightly coated (not glopped) with a tart, spicy sauce. Also, because the wings are baked at a high temperature, the skin gets crispy, and the hot pepper and vinegar sauce soaks in perfectly. Served with celery sticks and a fabulous Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce (see below), these wings make great party food. Ice cold beer seems to be the drink of choice, and don’t forget to pass plenty of napkins.

If you’re serving these for a party, you can bake the wings up to 24 hours ahead, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, simply reheat the wings for about 5 to 10 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven, until hot, and then toss with the spicy sauce.

1/4 cup olive oil
3 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 pounds chicken wings, small legs (drumettes), or boneless thighs (skin on) about 16 pieces
1/4 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 to 1 tablespoon hot sauce, to taste
4 stalks celery, cut into 3-inch long strips
2 carrots, cut into 3-inch long strips, optional

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

Mix the oil, garlic, cayenne, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Pat the chicken wings dry using paper towels, then toss them in the oil mixture to coat.

Place the wings on a large baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes (20 minutes for legs). Carefully flip the chicken over and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is well browned and cooked through.

Meanwhile, whisk the ketchup, vinegar, and hot sauce until blended in a large bowl. Remove the chicken from the oven, drain off the excess oil, and pour the ketchup sauce over the wings, making sure to coat them thoroughly. Place the wings on a platter and serve hot or at room temperature accompanied by the celery, carrots, and blue cheese dipping sauce.

Serves 4 to 6.

Favorite Variations:

• Use sriracha (Thai chili-garlic sauce) or Chinese chili paste instead of (or in addition to) the hot sauce.

• Add a pinch ground dried chiles to the oil and garlic mixture.

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Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce

Serve this dipping sauce with the Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings on page 00, or as a thick, delicious salad dressing. It can also serve as a dip for raw vegetables or cooked shrimp or skewers of grilled beef or chicken.

5 ounces blue cheese, softened and crumbled (1 1⁄4 cups)
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Using the back of a spoon, mash the blue cheese in a small bowl until almost smooth – a few chunks are desirable. Mix in the scallions, sour cream, and milk until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
Favorites Variations:
Add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives.
For a tangy dressing, replace the milk with buttermilk.
Use goat cheese instead of blue cheese for a tangy sauce.

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Lobster Salad with Lime and Ginger

In Maine, nothing says summer like a good lobster roll. The basic recipe is pretty much the same throughout the state: plump lobster meat mixed with mayonnaise and, usually, chopped celery. This version is spiked with fresh ginger, lime zest, and crunchy scallions. Serve it New England-style in a lightly toasted split-top hot dog bun, or on a bed of watercress for an elegant appetizer or a light summer dinner.

8 ounces fresh cooked lobster meat, chopped, from a 1 1/2 pound lobster, (about 1 1/2 cups meat)
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 scallion, white and green parts, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix everything except the salt and pepper in a small bowl until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as an appetizer.

Favorite Variations:

• Top cucumber rounds, radish rounds, or endive spears with a spoonful of the salad for a colorful hors d’oeuvre.

• Substitute lump crab meat for the lobster.

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Ginger-Coconut Milkshake

I combined ginger ice cream and coconut milk to create this exotic-flavored drink. How can only two ingredients whirled together fill the mouth with so many flavors? Serve it as dessert or a drink; the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.

1 pint ginger ice cream
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Add both ingredients to the jar of a blender and blend until completely smooth. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 to 4.

Favorite Variations:

• Add 1/4 cup rum.

• Add 1/4 cup lemon-flavored vodka.

• Add 1 tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass or grated lemon rind.

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