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Friday, December 30, 2011

Two Quick Last-Minute Appetizers for New Year’s!

If you’re still trying to figure out what to serve with glasses of champagne tomorrow night, then consider one or both of these appetizers. Each is quick, easy, and delicious, and would make a fabulous beginning to ring in the new year. Oh, and did I mention that both can be prepared ahead so there’s no last-minute hassle.

For one of these nibbles you spread crispy baguette slices with fennel-scented goat cheese and then top them with colorful slices of smoked salmon. For the other, you simply fill large Medjool dates (you can find them at many supermarkets this time of the year) with some creamy blue cheese, add a sprinkle of chopped toasted almonds, and them pop them in the oven for a few minutes. Both of these delectable appetizers are sure to help you ring in 2012 in good taste!

Smoked Salmon, Fennel, and Goat Cheese Toasts

8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, finely crushed (Place seeds in a self-sealing plastic bag and  crush with a meat pounder or rolling pin.)
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2 1/2 tablespoon olive oil or more if needed
30 thin baguette slices

12 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
Lemon peel strips for garnish
Tarragon sprigs for garnish

1.Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a medium nonreactive bowl, mix together goat cheese, chopped tarragon, fennel seeds, lemon peel, and pepper. Set aside

3. Brush oil on both sides of baguette slices and place in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake until bread is just crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (Cheese mixture and toasts can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover cheese mixture and chill. Cool toasts and store in an airtight container at room temperature.)

4. To assemble toasts, spread cheese mixture over toasts. Top with salmon, trimming to fit. Garnish each toast with some lemon peel and tarragon sprigs. Arrange on a platter. Makes 30 servings.

Roasted Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese and Almonds

12 medium Medjool dates (available in most supermarkets)
A  4-ounce piece blue cheese such as Bleu d”Auvergne or Maytag Blue, at room             temperature
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (See note.)

1.Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Have ready a medium baking pan or dish.

2.  Slice the dates lengthwise, cutting just enough (but not all the way through) to remove the pits. Fill the cavities of the dates with a scant teaspoon of blue cheese, depending on their size. Save extra cheese for another use. Sprinkle dates with chopped almonds, and arrange in the baking pan. (Dates can be prepared 3 hours ahead; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before baking.)

3. Bake dates until warm and cheese has melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and arrange on a small serving plate or place them in a long, narrow olive tray. Serve warm.  Makes 12 dates.

Note: To toast almonds, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 5 to 6 minutes for sliced almonds. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn. Remove and cool.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

From My Table to Yours—Happy Holidays!

 Dear Readers,
Thanks to all of you who have followed my blog and website throughout this past year. Your comments and feedback have been invaluable, and I hope to stay in touch in the new year with more recipes, reports from Paris and London, and tips on hot new restaurants, great kitchen tools, and the latest cookbooks.
And, speaking of cookbooks, my newest one, Sunday Brunch (from Chronicle) will make its debut this spring, and I’ll also be giving classes in New England at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Northampton, Massachusetts, so stay tuned here or check my Facebook page and Twitter feed.
I wish you all delicious holidays and a healthy and glorious 2012.  Betty

Sunday, December 11, 2011

5 Great Gifts Under $50 For The Food Lovers On Your List!

Many of you told me how much you liked my 2010 list of gifts for foodies so here are my favorites for 2011!

Emile Henri Artisan Ruffled Pie Dish

I love the rustic look of this unique pie plate, and would definitely use it to create pies and tarts with deep, wavy sides.   $44

Wms Sonoma Peppermint Bark

This peppermint bark is one of my favorite gifts to send friends and family. It comes in an attractive tin, and oh, did I mention that this chocolate-coated bark is addictive.   $26.95 for a 1-pound box

Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin

Chef, teacher, cookbook author extraordinaire, Jacques Pepin is known as the master of great technique. His latest book boasts more than 700 recipes, including his all-time favorites. It's a must for a serious foodie's library.  $40.00

Two tea towels from Different Drummer's Kitchen

The Different Drummer's Kitchen, with stores in Northampton and Lenox, Massachusetts, and in Albany, New York, sells these adorable and very well made kitchen towels. One has a band of sheep (including a black one amongst the white) and another a row of cows. They're from Elias Classics.  $15.95 each

J.K. Adams Artisan Bread Plank

I own one of these beautifully made bread planks, crafted by the J.K. Adams Company located in Vermont, and use it almost daily. I slice baguettes on it, arrange cheeses on it, and use it as an extra chopping board. The Different Drummer's Kitchen in Northampton sells them if you live in western Massachusetts.  $44


Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Sweet Gift from the Kitchen

If you love to prepare treats from your kitchen as holiday gifts, you’ll want to try the following recipe for chocolate-coated toffee with almonds and walnuts. Last year around this time, my talented assistant, Diana, brought me a small carton filled with a cache of these addictive morsels.

I asked if she’d share her recipe, and was stunned to discover how easy this toffee was to prepare. “Three easy steps,” she smiled and explained.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Great New Dish for Holiday Brunches

Hash, that old breakfast standby of sautéed corned beef and potatoes, is having a come back, but in the newest versions, corned beef is not always de rigeur. Sautéed apples and smoked sausage or a sweet potato, red onion, and bacon mélange are typical examples of today’s inventive selections. Recently, I created the recipe featured here for Smoked Salmon, Fennel, and Potato Hash— a colorful, fresh, and delicious alternative to traditional corned beef versions, and a perfect addition to holiday brunches.

This one pairs flaked hot-smoked salmon with sautéed bits of fennel, chopped onions, and diced potatoes. Crushed fennel seeds and chopped lacy fennel fronds add a mild anise flavor. You can use this delectable hash as a side to serve with scrambled eggs, or for a little more visual drama, simply slid a poached or fried egg on top of each serving.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Thanksgiving Menu: A Last-Minute Trimming

Photo by Susie Cushner
Yesterday at a book signing for my new book, Sunday Roasts, I offered samples of Golden Cider-Roasted Turkey mounded on baguette slices, topped with spoonfuls of glistening Cranberry and Dried Cherry Chutney. 

Those who stopped by all commented on the moistness of the turkey, but what really caught their eye and their palate was the deep crimson chutney. One woman told me that she had not been pleased with her cranberry sauce the previous year, and was eager to try this chutney.

I’ve included this special condiment more than once in my Thanksgiving classes, and each time it turned out to be one of the most popular dishes on the menu. Everyone loves the balance of flavors—the sweetness of the cherries countered by the tartness of the cranberries.

If you’re still looking for a great complement to your bird, give this chutney a try. It takes about 10 minutes to prepare and can be made several days ahead. Store it in the fridge, and at serving time mound it in a bowl. Then watch your family and friends reach for seconds!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Turkey Tips--Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Golden Cider-Roasted Turkey from Sunday Roasts

If you’re beginning to worry about roasting your holiday bird until it's a rich golden brown with tender, moist flesh beneath, check out the interview I just did for The Daily Meal. There are plenty of tips and suggestions for helping you to turn out a bird that’s picture perfect!

The interview, including the recipe for the turkey pictured here, should be on The Daily Meal's s home page for the next week or more. The photo at left is by Susie Cushner.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Emergency Red Beans and Rice!

I live in western Massachusetts, and so far this year we’ve had a day of tornados in the spring, a slight earthquake and a major hurricane in the summer, and just a few days ago a totally unexpected, out of nowhere, fall snow storm!  The latter, a true Nor’easter, did so much damage that almost everyone in our little college town ended up for the better part of a week without power or heat, and in some cases without phone and water.

At my house we had no electricity or heat, but my trusty Viking gas stove top worked, making it possible for me to cook during the black out. The first dish I made was “quick” red beans and rice. Instead of following tradition and using dried beans, which are soaked, and then simmered slowly with ham hocks for several hours, I used canned ones, rinsing them off first to remove their salty taste. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New York’s Telepan Restaurant—Still Fabulous!

Interior views - Telepan Restaurant

 When I’m in New York I get so caught up trying the newest restaurants that I often forget about places that have provided me with memorable meals in the past. Last weekend in the Big Apple for a short visit, I couldn’t wait to meet a friend for lunch at a hot new Soho spot, but for dinner I opted for Telepan, a restaurant that had pleased me on several earlier visits with its inventive and delectable fare.

Chef Bill Telepan
 The first time I dined at Telepan (named after Bill Telepan, the talented chef and owner) was in 2006. I still remember the meal: the waiter arriving with a basket of warm breads, a velvety butternut squash soup sprinkled with parsley and walnuts, beautifully cooked quail in a dried fruit sauce, and a superb quince granità layered with whipped cream, almonds, and prosecco. All the food was prepared with excellent ingredients and served in an unpretentious setting. I made one more visit after that one, but did not return for a few years.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Fall Dinner That’s Quick, Easy, and Impressive

Okay, so your schedule is overbooked; you’re hard pressed to find an extra minute of spare time, but you really would like to have a few people over for dinner. Well, here’s a main course along with a few suggestions for sides that will let you pull off an evening without stress!

Try the following recipe for Fennel-Scented Pork Tenderloins with Roasted Vegetables. With just a little bit of effort you’ll end up with fork-tender roasts napped with a luscious pan sauce and a colorful accompaniment of carrots and fennel. The secret to this dish lies in ...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Southern Cooking gets a Latino Twist

I got to know Sandra Gutierrez several years ago when she arrived to give a cooking class at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I oversee the cooking school. Warm, outgoing, and passionate about food, she made a fine impression on our students as she showed them how to prepare a tempting menu of Latin American favorites. At the time she mentioned she was working on her first book—a collection of recipes that reflected both her Southern (she has lived in North Carolina for many years) and Latin roots (she was brought up in Guatemala). 

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when a copy of The New Southern-Latino Table arrived at my door. A Southerner myself, I recognized many recipes from my childhood, often with spicy accents, and was tempted by others with definite Latino origins. But, what really intrigued me was the way Sandra had seamlessly combined these two popular cuisines. Chili Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter, Collard Green Tamales, and Chili-Chocolate Brownies are among the scrumptious samplings.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quick and Easy for Weeknights!

Don’t you find weeknight cooking is a challenge?  After a long day of work, who (even those of us in the food world!) has the energy to tackle recipes that are time consuming or complicated? For meals that follow hectic days, I turn again and again to my old stand-bys. My “go to” choices often include a short-cut version of New Orleans red beans and rice (a nod to my Southern upbringing); Italian-style sautéed chicken breasts with capers, lemon, and white wine atop pasta; and grilled turkey burgers crowned with blue cheese and red onions garnished with a green salad.

Now I have a new dish to add to this fast and fresh repertoire.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Extra Spicy Black Bean and Corn Chili

You can’t believe the mercurial weather we had here in New England last week. I’d compare it to a seesaw. For the first few days everyone was savoring that last hint of summer when temperatures climbed into the mid-eighties. But, by week’s end the thermometer had dramatically dropped more than 20 degrees, and people were scrambling to find jackets and sweaters to stave off the chill. 

I confess, I adore this first brush of crisp, cool, cool autumn air because it signals that it’s time to change from light warm weatherdishes to much more robust fare. I didn’t waste any time in creating a fall chili, one that has plenty of heat and an enticing smoky scent from a generous addition of chipotle chili powder.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Pear Season Arrives!

Bartletts, Boscs, Anjous, Comices—all are among the glorious varieties of pears omnipresent in our fall markets. I've been thinking about pears this week because on Oct 4th I'll be showing students how to poach pears in red wine and spices. (To find out how you can join the cooking class, click here.) Bartletts, which change from green to a gorgeous yellow when ripe, are perfect for eating raw or canning. Long, slender, and russet hued, Boscs are the right choice for cooking since they hold their shape well. Anjous, available in either green or red shades, are tasty all-purpose pears. Comices, more rounded and typically green, often with a red blush, are considered the best pear for savoring uncooked.  (The Pear Bureau Northwest, a nonprofit marketing organization has a great website with photos and details about these and other varieties of pears.)

In the autumn I use pears in myriad ways. When perfectly ripened and juicy, they are without equal for a “guilt-free” treat or an irresistible addition to a salad composed of mixed greens, bits of blue cheese, and walnuts. Sometimes I cut pears into wedges, drizzle them with olive oil and a few drops of balsamic, then roast them to bring out their sweetness. Prepared this way they make an excellent garnish to pork or chicken. But, my favorite way to utilize pears is to poach them gently in wine scented with aromatic spices.

In the following recipe, adapted from one I sampled at the Paris Cordon Bleu, whole pears are cooked slowly until tender in a fragrant mixture of red wine, cassis (black currant liqueur) sugar, spices, vanilla, and fresh mint. For poaching, it’s best if the pears are just slightly under-ripe as they will become soft as they simmer in the flavorful liquids. These glistening, deep crimson pears, served warm with scoops of vanilla ice cream, and a sprig of mint, make a striking presentation. I like to use Boscs because of their sleek tapered silhouette, but, of course, you might like to try some of those other types.

These pears are going to be the grand finale at my class at Different Drummer's Kitchen in Northampton, Ma. (Of course there are a couple of tricks that I can't tell you here, but that I'll be showing my students!)


Fall Pears Poached in Red Wine, Cassis, and Spices

6 Bosc pears, just slightly under-ripe
One 750 ml bottle red wine
1 cup sugar   
Juice and grated zest of 1 large navel orange
Juice and grated zest of 1 large thick-skinned lemon
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise with seeds removed and saved for another use
2 star anise, crushed slightly
2 whole cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves lightly packed, roughly chopped plus 6 sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup cassis (black currant liqueur available where wine and spirits are sold)
1 pint best quality vanilla or ginger ice cream

Cut a slice from the bottom of each pear so that it will stand upright without wobbling. Then peel the pears with a vegetable peeler, leaving their stems on.

Place the wine, sugar, and orange and lemon zests and juices in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and bring to a gentle boil.  Add vanilla bean (but not the seeds), star anise, cloves, and cinnamon; cook a minute more Then stir in the mint and cassis.

Add the pears and bring mixture to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat, and cook at a gentle simmer until the pears are deep crimson and tender when pierced with a knife, 25 to 40 minutes or longer, depending on the ripeness of the pears. Turn pears several times as they poach. (Pears can be poached 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate.  Reheat, uncovered, over medium heat to warm.)

Serve each pear on a dessert plate napped with a little of the sauce. Garnish with a scoop of ice cream and a mint sprig.  Serves 6.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Last Taste of Summer

Although most of us think Labor Day marks the close of summer, the season’s official end is still several weeks away. The markets and farmers’ stands are certainly still laden with late summer crops, tempting me to use that luscious produce imaginatively. As a result, I’ve been cooking like crazy, making soups, salads, and fruit crisps with my purchases.

One dish—a chilled yellow squash creation—has become a new favorite, and happens to be simplicity itself to prepare. Sautéed squash and onions are simmered in chicken stock, then pureed and enriched with creamy mascarpone. A hint of red pepper flakes adds a touch of heat, while a garnish of julienned basil provides a fragrant garnish.

I’ve served this soup several times to company in the past few days, and on each occasion guests have asked for seconds as well as the recipe. Offer it as a first course or as a lunch or light supper entree accompanied by a salad or sandwich.

This soup actually improves in flavor when made a day or two in advance. Oh, and if the weather turns crisp and cool, just serve this potage warm. It’s good that way too.

Chilled Yellow Squash Soup with Mascarpone

1 1/2 pounds yellow squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
3/4 cup (6 ounces) mascarpone, divided
Kosher salt
Scant 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons julienned basil plus 6 sprigs for garnish

Trim and discard the ends of the squash. Halve squash lengthwise (quarter the squash lengthwise if they are large), and then cut each half, crosswise, into 1/4-inch slices.

Heat the oil until hot in a large, heavy pot (with a lid) set over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring, until softened, for about 2 minutes. Add the squash, and stir and cook 2 minutes more. Add the stock and 1/2  teaspoon salt;  bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and cook at a simmer until the vegetables are tender, for about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Puree the soup in a food processor, blender, or food mill, and return the soup to the pot. Or, use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot. Whisk the mascarpone in, a little at a time, until well blended.

Cool the soup to room temperature, then cover, and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. When chilled, season the soup with more salt and red pepper flakes if needed. Chilled soups often need extra seasoning to intensify their flavor. (The soup can be prepared 2 days ahead.)
Divide the soup evenly among 6 shallow bowls. Garnish the center of each serving with some julienned basil and a basil sprig. Serves 6.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ladurée comes to New York City!

Photograph by Stephen Carlile
One of Paris’ oldest and most famous pastry shops is opening its first U.S. outpost in New York this month. Ladurée, founded in 1862 and celebrated for its macarons (those ethereally light meringue-like cookies made with egg whites, ground almonds, and sugar), is due to open, according to its website, on August 27th at 864 Madison Avenue. Ladurée shops span the globe now and can be found in England, Japan, Turkey, Italy Ireland, and other distant locales.

Photograph by suziedepingu
A longtime fan of their elegant Parisian boutiques with the pastel-colored walls and exquisite packaging, I adore not only their macarons, but their other confections as well. Now I can indulge on this side of the Atlantic. Laduree is credited with inventing the double decker macaron available in a variety of tempting flavors and sandwiched together with ganache or butter cream. You’ll find their chocolates, pastries, and cakes just as tempting. (I once bought a lime- and ginger-scented mille feuille at their store on the rue Bonaparte in Paris and spent weeks in vain trying to figure out how to reproduce it!)  

At the beginning of this week, I went by the Madison Avenue store hoping that it might have opened early. There was still a lot of work to be finished, so I’d recommend checking their website before making a trip. (Please note that the site is in French. Cick on "Les Maisons Ladurée" on top tab, then on "Dans le Monde," and finally on "Etats-unis," and you'll see the date in French which is easy to read.) I definitely plan to go back on my next visit to the Big Apple this fall.

864 Madison Avenue (between 70th and 71st)
New York, New York  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Great Lobster Debate

Perfectly steamed lobsters ready to be devoured.
Though lobster is one of my favorite foods, I’m not an expert at cooking this crustacean.  A transplant to New England, I grew up in the South far from the shore and spent many years in the land-locked Midwest. So last week, when Catherine, a good friend who had been in Maine for the summer, offered to bring a cache of fresh lobsters for an overnight visit, I called my pal, Karen, a life-long Cape Codder, for cooking directions. (I also decided to use a recipe from my new book as a sauce for the lobsters.)

Without missing a beat, the Cape cook rattled off the number of minutes for lobsters from 1 1/4 to 3 pounds. She was adamant that I steam, not boil, the critters. “Use a large pot with a lid, fill it with 4 inches of water, and bring it to a boil,” she explained. Most important, though, she told me to grab each lobster by the back and hold it head down over the pot for several seconds until it stopped flapping and the tail relaxed. Then you drop it in; when all have been added, cover the pot. For 1 1/2-pounders the steaming time was to be 18 minutes.

Catherine holding a lobster above the pot to relax it!
Well, that was my plan, until our houseguest arrived.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Roasts has arrived!

I can't believe I'm holding two copies of Sunday Roasts in my hands. It's my 9th book, my 5th with the wonderful people at Chronicle, and I love the way it turned out.

Susie Cushner did the gorgeous photos, Maggie Ruggiero was the talented food stylist who made all those roasts so tempting, and Randi Brookman Harris provided the exquisite props for the pictures.

When my assistant, Diana, arrived last week, the first thing I did was to tell her about the early publicity for Sunday Roasts in the September issue of Country Living! Check out the digital edition or pick up a copy at your newsstand.

Editor's note, October 2, 2011:

I'll be signing copies of this new book in October and November here, or you find copies at Amazon!

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Show Stopper Salad for Warm Summer Days

Salads are quintessential summer fare, but they don’t have to be the predictable mixed greens drizzled with oil and vinegar or the ubiquitous Caesar. With some imagination and a small amount of extra effort, you can definitely make this course the star of your menu.

Take the Haricots Verts and Chorizo Salad that follows. I created this colorful and robustly flavored mélange of tender blanched green beans topped with sautéed chorizo and sieved hard-boiled eggs while in France last summer. Tossed in a mustard dressing made with sherry vinegar and shallots, it was the pièce de résistance at a dinner for friends in Paris. When I included this recipe at my annual salads class here in New England, its popularity was confirmed again when my students voted it their favorite.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Philou – A New Paris Bistro Boasts Delectable Food with Reasonable Prices

When in Paris, I am always on the lookout for bistros where the food is inventive, seasonal, and reasonably priced. I didn’t have to look very hard this June when I was in the City of Light. I had read glowing reviews by both French and American critics about Philou, a fairly new restaurant only steps from the Canal St Martin in the increasingly trendy 10th arrondissement.
My spouse and I and two friends, who live in Paris, arrived on a hot summer evening and were seated outdoors on the small terrace.  From a portable black board menu, we quickly made our selections. For starters I ordered a delectable cold plate that included flaked smoked haddock combined with sliced cucumbers and little “grenaille” potatoes. This was garnished with a green salad and a room temperature poached egg. Sublime!  Others had grilled pork belly with a slice of cantaloupe (the cooling melon a perfect foil for the rich pork) and another loved a perfectly seasoned pâté accompanied by a seasonal salad and cornichons. Mains included duck breast served with honey and balsamic-glazed roasted eggplant and a roasted cod fillet set atop a bowl of colorful ratatouille. This latter dish was so good that I reproduced it at home! 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lunch on the Terrace in Provence

They take eating outside seriously in the South of France. The house we rented in Provence, like most in the region, included a terrace. Right off the living room and the bedrooms was a beautifully stoned area covered by an overhead arbor of trailing wisteria. It was an irresistibly inviting spot to read, snooze, or enjoy a meal. Our family loved snacking and lunching at the round metal table surrounded by those quintessential French folding chairs. Many afternoons we spread tapenade on crusty baguette slices, tried different cheeses, and sipped rosé, and midday we often savored lunch outdoors. 

One of the easiest déjeuners I prepared included Goat Cheese and Radish Panini. I spread slices of good peasant bread with creamy chèvre scented with lemon, and then added a layer of paper-thin radish slices, and a mound of arugula. There was no panini machine in our kitchen so I simply cooked the sandwiches in a heavy skillet coated with olive oil until the cheese melted and the bread was lightly browned and crisp.  Olives, French pickles, and chips made simple garnishes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Provence -Ten Reasons Why Food Lovers Love it!

1. Olives
Picholine, Niçoise, and countless other varieties abound in Provence’s markets. Black and green tapenades are produced from the local crops, and make great appetizers to spread on crusty baguette slices. Of course, olive oil is sublime in Provence, and replaces butter in most recipes.