NEW YORK - Does summer seem too hot for cooking?
The season still has its hungry moments. We do the grilling thing, which is quick and simple, and we scoot into the air conditioning for formal dining.
That leaves long stretches of golden days with time to relax, to nibble a sweet mouthful, sip a cool something, and forget all sense of purpose even if we're not officially on vacation.
So here's a plan. Get up early, do a batch of easy baking, finish off the chores. Then spend lazy hours in the heat of the day just kicking back, perhaps lounging on the porch, or on the grass under a tree, or by the pool as early shadows creep in.
Load a tray with a fresh pitcher of homemade lemonade, chilly glasses of milk or iced tea; make space for a little dessert or a plate of cookies, perhaps including a touch of chocolate flavor.
The livin' can be that easy.
"The White Barn Inn Cookbook" (Running Press, 2003, $35) features menus and recipes for all four seasons from a renowned inn at Kennebunkport, Maine, a region where summer has a special aura.
The text by Susan Sully is illustrated with evocative color photos; recipes by executive chef Jonathan Cartwright include stylish food for fall, winter, spring, and summer - including the following cool delights.
Ice cream and brownies may be near the top of any national popularity poll, separately or together. Here's a festive, summery combination to enjoy; the recipe makes two sundaes and can be multiplied as desired.
6 small squares of homemade chocolate brownies
1/4 cup warm (prepared) bittersweet chocolate sauce
1 cup vanilla ice cream
2 tablespoons chopped, salted pecans
6 fresh Bing cherries with stem attached
Arrange 3 brownie squares on each of 2 serving plates or shallow bowls. Top each square with a small scoop of ice cream. Drizzle chocolate sauce over ice cream and brownies. Sprinkle nuts over the top. Top each scoop of ice cream with a cherry and serve.
Makes 2 sundaes.
11/2 ounces semisweet baking chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cake flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
11/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Lightly butter and flour a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler, then let cool. In a small bowl beat eggs and sugar until light in color and add to the chocolate mixture. In another bowl sift together the flour, salt and baking powder; add to the chocolate mixture along with the vanilla and nuts. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.
Makes 1 dozen brownies.
(Recipe for AP from the California Milk Advisory Board)
A classic can often be given an extra nudge toward perfection with some inspired tinkering. Take the chocolate chip cookie - here's an evolution that calls for using two kinds of chocolate, plus espresso coffee powder and pecans.
10 ounces (21/2 four-ounce bars) bittersweet chocolate baking bars, broken into pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
21/4 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
11.5-ounce package milk chocolate chips
1 cup pecans (or walnuts), coarsely chopped
Melt bittersweet chocolate in top of double boiler over hot water.
Beat butter and sugars together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Turn mixer down to lowest speed, add eggs and vanilla.
In separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder. Add 1/2 of flour mixture to creamed butter, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 of the melted chocolate. Stir until ingredients are well blended. Add remaining flour, stirring in completely; add remaining chocolate. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans. Cover and refrigerate dough for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Drop 2 tablespoonfuls of dough per cookie onto nonstick cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Remove cookies to wire rack to cool. Store in airtight container at room temperature or in freezer for longer storage.
Makes 4 dozen cookies.
(Recipe from Ghirardelli Chocolate)