PRAIRIE SUNSET SOUP, AUNTIE EM'S CHEDDAR BISCUITS, AND SUNFLOWER PEAR SALAD WITH WARM BRIE CROSTINI

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PRAIRIE SUNSET SOUP Prairie sunsets begin at the horizon with a brilliant orange that fades upward to salmon, then pink, then a creamy yellow, continuing into a soft and then a deep, purple blue at the height of the heavens. Ahhhh.... 2 red bell peppers 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter 1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 1 large onion, peeled and chopped 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 4 cups chicken broth 2 cups fresh or frozen corn 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne) 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper 2 cups milk 1/2 cup crushed blue corn chips, to garnish Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place whole red peppers on baking sheet. Roast, turning occasionally, for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the skin is blackened. Cool, then remove skin, seeds, and ribs. Puree the pulp in a blender or food processor, then transfer it to a plastic squeeze bottle and set aside for soup garnish. In a large pot, melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until tender. Stir in the flour until smooth, followed by the chicken broth, corn, and red and white peppers. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until corn is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the milk. In a blender or food processor, whirl two cups of soup at a time until all is pureed. Strain the soup through a sieve to remove corn hulls. (May be made the night before and refrigerated overnight.) To serve, ladle the soup into individual serving bowls. Sprinkle the crushed blue corn chips over the upper third of the soup surface, and drizzle the red pepper puree along the lower third. Serves 6 to 8. AUNTIE EM'S CHEDDAR BISCUITS These are delicious served with country ham or as a topping to chicken pot pie. 10 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 4 tablespoons baking powder 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt 2 cups heavy cream 2 cups buttermilk 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted 2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In a separate large bowl, mix together the cream, buttermilk, and unsalted butter. With a wooden spoon, blend together the dry ingredients with the buttermilk mixture. The dough should pull together, but still be crumbly. Fold in the cheese and chives. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1 inch in thickness. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter, and place biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Makes 2 dozen. SUNFLOWER PEAR SALAD WITH WARM BRIE CROSTINI A wonderful marriage of flavors: sweet and sour, mellow and bitter. Great as a main dish for a light meal or as a show-stopper for a company dinner. 1 (10-ounce) package European salad greens (or use a blend of watercress, radicchio, frisee, Romaine, etc.) 2 firm, ripe pears, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces 2 Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced thinly 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon roasted and salted sunflower seeds VINAIGRETTE: 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1/4 cup raspberry vinegar 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons honey Rinse and dry the salad greens, and arrange on four plates. In a small bowl, toss the pears and Jerusalem artichokes with lemon juice and set aside. In another small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients. Arrange the pears and Jerusalem artichokes on each bed of greens and drizzle each salad with the dressing. Arrange two warm brie crostini (see recipe below) on each salad plate, sprinkle sunflower seeds over the salads, and serve immediately. (Optional garnish: sunflower petals, which are edible.) WARM BRIE CROSTINI: 8 slices French bread, cut 1/2-inch thick 4 ounces Brie cheese, cut into eight slices Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven at 350 degrees F. for five to 10 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. Remove from the oven, and while the bread is still warm on the sheet, top each slice with Brie. Return to the oven and bake for a few more minutes until the cheese has warmed and softened, but not melted. Serves 4.

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