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Exploration in flavors

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Impress guests with festive and fragrant creations.
A few more weeks, another turn of the calendar, and there they'll be: the holidays.
In their honor, here are five mix-and-match recipes to take you from the cocktail hour to dessert.
We start with light and fruity Cranberry-Orange Spritzers. They're suitable for all ages, but adults may enjoy the addition of a splash of vodka.
Romaine salad is dressed up with hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, thinly sliced red onion and shards of Parmesan, then tossed with a lovely sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. If you have any leftover dressing, a drizzle will turn steamed vegetables into something special.
For a side dish, look for fresh brussels sprouts in the produce department. In our experience, the sprouts are a love-'em-or-hate-'em vegetable, but adding sweet potatoes and pecans will win converts. To avoid bitterness, take care not to overcook the sprouts.
Skillet-Roasted Tarragon Chicken is crusty and saucy and fragrant with tarragon. The key to this recipe is the tarragon -- if you use a dried version, make sure it is still fragrant.
And for dessert, wow everyone at the table with chocolate souffl & eacute;, either in a family-sized dish or prepared individually. Don't be afraid of souffl & eacute;s: One big secret is being gentle when folding the egg whites into the chocolate.
For ice-cube garnish:
1 cup commercially prepared, pulp-free orange juice
1 cup cranberry juice
For spritzers:
4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice, divided
4 cups cranberry juice, divided
2 cups sparkling water (cranberry-flavored if possible), divided
Fresh mint springs, optional
To prepare the ice-cube garnish: Pour the orange juice into an ice-cube tray. Pour the cranberry juice into another ice-cube tray. Freeze until solid.
To prepare the spritzers: Pour 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice into each of eight 12-ounce glasses. Add 1/2 cup cranberry juice to each glass and then 1/4 cup sparkling water. Add several cranberry and orange ice cubes to each; garnish with fresh mint and serve immediately.
Yield: 8 servings.
Per serving: 165 calories; 0.5g fat (3 percent calories from fat); no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1g protein; 39g carbohydrate; 32g sugar; 0.5 g fiber; 5mg sodium; 30mg calcium; 336mg potassium.
Adapted from "The New England Table," by Lora Brody (Chronicle Books, 216 pages, $35).
For sun-dried tomato vinaigrette:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
For salad:
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 (14-ounce) can hearts of palm, drained, rinsed and patted dry
7 cups coarsely chopped romaine lettuce (from 1 head)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 (12-ounce) basket cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Ground black pepper
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, shaved
To prepare vinaigrette: Combine oil, vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, pepper and salt in a large jar. Seal the jar and shake until the dressing is well blended. Set aside.
To prepare salad: Quarter the artichoke hearts, and cut the hearts of palm diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Combine artichoke hearts and hearts of palm in a large bowl. Add lettuce, onion and parsley. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
Shake vinaigrette to recombine. Toss salad with tomatoes and enough vinaigrette to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan shavings; serve immediately.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Per serving (based on 8 servings): 208 calories; 16g fat (69 percent calories from fat); 3g saturated fat; 2mg cholesterol; 5g protein; 11g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; 3g fiber; 705mg sodium; 101mg calcium; 400mg potassium.
Adapted from "Zov: Recipes and Memories From the Heart," by Zov Karamardian (Zov's Publishing, 262 pages, $35).
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (10 to 12 ounces each)
Ground black pepper
3 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
1 shallot, minced
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position. If not using an ovenproof skillet, place an empty 9-by-13-inch baking dish on the rack, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Pat chicken dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add chicken, skin-side down. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes, turning once.
If using an ovenproof skillet, transfer to the hot oven. Bake until chicken is cooked through and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 18 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a plate, cover with foil and let rest while making the sauce.
(If the skillet is not ovenproof, transfer chicken to the baking dish in the oven, skin-side up. Do not wash the skillet.)
If the oil and other liquid in the skillet has cooked out, add up to the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the skillet; place over medium-high heat until oil is shimmering. Add shallot and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits; simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, 8 to 12 minutes.
Stir in any accumulated chicken juices, pouring them from the baking dish, if used. Turn the heat to low; whisk in the butter, one piece at a time.
Off the heat, stir in the tarragon and season with salt and pepper to taste. If using dried tarragon, continue to cook over medium-low heat for 1 to 3 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.
Per serving: 460 calories; 25g fat (49 percent calories from fat); 9.5g saturated fat; 162mg cholesterol; 50.5g protein; 2g carbohydrate; 0.5g sugar; no fiber; 148mg sodium; 34mg calcium; 469mg potassium.
Adapted from "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" (America's Test Kitchen, 848 pages, $34.95).
11/2 cups cubed peeled sweet potatoes
3/4 pound brussels sprouts, halved
1 tablespoon margarine or butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon crushed fresh garlic
1/4 cup chicken stock
4 teaspoons brown sugar or honey (see note)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons pecan pieces, toasted
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add sweet potatoes; cook just until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove potatoes with a slotted spoon; set aside.
Return the water to a boil. Add brussels sprouts. Cook just until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain; set aside.
In a nonstick skillet, melt margarine; saut & eacute; onion and garlic just until onion is tender. Add sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, chicken stock, sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Cook for 3 minutes or until vegetables are heated through, stirring frequently but gently.
Yield: 4 servings.
Per serving: 186 calories; 6g fat (29 percent calories from fat); 1g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 6g protein; 32g carbohydrate; 6g fiber; 152mg sodium.
Note: Toast pecans in 400-degree oven or stir in a skillet for 2 minutes or until brown. Replacing the brown sugar or honey with granulated sugar substitute will save about 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving.
Adapted from "America's Complete Diabetes Cookbook," edited by Katherine E. Younker (Robert Rose, 383 pages, $19.95)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar or more as needed, divided
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped coarsely
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
6 large egg yolks
8 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Set aside 1 tablespoon of butter to soften at room temperature.
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the inside of a 2-quart souffl & eacute; dish with the softened butter. Or, if making individual souffl & eacute;s, butter 6 to 8 (6- or 8-ounce) ramekins. Coat the inside of the dish or dishes evenly with 1 tablespoon sugar, using more if needed.
Melt chocolate and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Turn off the heat; stir in salt, vanilla and Grand Marnier. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat egg yolks and the remaining 1/3 cup sugar until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Fold into chocolate mixture.
In a clean medium bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat on high speed until the whites form stiff, moist peaks. (The mixture should just hold the weight of a raw egg in the shell when the egg is placed on top.)
Vigorously stir one-quarter of the whipped whites into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold the remaining whites into the mixture until the beaten whites are just incorporated. Take care to be gentle, or the volume of the mixture will reduce, and the souffl & eacute; will be heavier than it should be.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish or dishes to slightly below the top; bake until the exterior is set (puffed, cracked and risen above the top of the dish), but the interior is still a bit loose and creamy, about 25 minutes for a large souffl & eacute; or about 15 to 17 minutes for individual souffl & eacute;s. (A wooden skewer inserted into the center of the souffl & eacute; should test moist, but not gooey or runny.) Serve immediately.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Per serving (based on 8 servings): 318 calories; 18.5g fat (52 percent calories from fat); 10.5g saturated fat; 172mg cholesterol; 7.5g protein; 29.5g carbohydrate; 27g sugar; 1.5g fiber; 99mg sodium; 21mg calcium; 196mg potassium.
Adapted from "The Best New Recipe," by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen, 2004, $35).