Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Meal for the One-Handed
What’s cooking? Swiss Chard and Mushroom Tart with Whole Wheat Pastry

This post took forever because I couldn’t figure out what to call it. Mostly I came up with a lot of weak humor:

Falling All Over Again
You’ve Got Nailed
Shoulder to Shoulder
A Stitch in Time Adds Nine
The Slings of Misfortune
What Goes Around the Back Then Comes Around the Front

My friends and a few readers know that almost exactly five years ago, I performed a balletic leap out of my shower and onto the tile floor of our New Jersey bathroom. The resulting fall sent me into surgery to reconstruct my rotator cuff, and robbed me of a trip to the Amalfi Coast. A year and lots of physical therapy later, I made it back to Italy and have been fine ever since.

Then this year, we went to Sicily, where we wandered through wineries and ruins for a week. Our group rented a house for a second week, and that’s where my beloved tripped and fell on his shoulder. So we cut the trip short and returned to New Jersey where the same darling surgeon performed his magic on my hubby.

So now the shoe is on the other foot – or, better yet, the sling is on the other shoulder. The patient must be the nurse, and the nurse must be the patient. And when you have these ups and downs, it’s a good thing to store the memories. My husband and I are recalling, from our new vantage points, what life is like with a person in a sling. A person who can’t tie their shoes or cut their meat or even get dressed without some help. A person who might be a bit crabby now and then, because it’s hard to get 8 hours of sleep – or even 5 or 6 – when you can’t roll over in bed.

Even more, we’re reminded that the nurse must be patient, and the patient must let himself be nursed. The change in perspective has been illuminating for both of us, and we’re getting along much better than either of us anticipated.

* * *

One big improvement this time around is that the person cooking the meals is the Kitchen Goddess. So my imagination has been tested to produce meals that can be eaten with one hand – and not the dominant one, at that. I embraced the challenge. The best news has been that extending our stay in New Jersey gave me two bonus trips to my favorite farmers’ market. On my last foray, I picked up a big bunch of Swiss chard from the organic farmstand, and a bag of mushrooms from a guy who forages locally in the Garden State. A little digging on epicurious unearthed this delightfully healthy – vegetarian! – yet filling galette that originally showed up in Bon Appétit.

And what a hit it was with my poor, one-armed mate, who managed to eat it sort of like a pizza. The whole wheat flour in the crust produces a mild sweetness that works really well with the earthiness of the chard and mushrooms. And whatever you do, don’t skimp on the herb salad topping, as it balances the forest notes with a little bit of sunlight and crunch.

Kitchen Goddess note: A galette is the country cousin to a tart, made without the use of a tart pan and a bit frumpy looking because the crust is simply folded up around the filling. For my money, the galette is much more fun because you don’t have to worry about it looking perfect. You’ve seen recipes for galettes on this blog before, but mostly for desserts, although my Roasted Tomato-Bacon-Goat-Cheese Galette is another amazing and savory variation.

The crust for this galette calls for whole wheat flour, but you don’t have to use it. For a 100% all-purpose flour crust, click here to see the ingredients and methodology. But just between us girls, the Kitchen Goddess thought the whole wheat flour made the crust seem more substantial than usual. And although she grumbled and muttered to herself at having to buy even a small a bag of whole wheat flour, she now plans to use the rest for making more savory galettes. And maybe some interesting cheese sticks. Hmmm...

P.S. Don’t forget to allow an extra hour for chilling this pastry dough.

Swiss Chard and Mushroom Galette with Whole Wheat Pastry

Adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2014.

Serves 4.

For the whole wheat dough:
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 cup (113 grams) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, each tablespoon cut into fourths, then chilled well
¼ cup Crisco, chilled
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, chilled
1 tablespoon vodka, chilled
3 tablespoons cold water

For the galette:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces mushrooms (preferably maitake or crimini mushrooms, or a mix), sliced thinly
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large bunch (12-14 ounces) Swiss chard, center ribs removed, and leaves ribboned or cut into bite-size pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup ricotta
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup milk
1 cup mixed fresh herbs [KG note: The KG used Italian (flat-leafed) parsley, mint, dill, and chives; other possibilities include cilantro, basil, and tarragon. Make your own special mix. Just make sure the herbs are fresh.]
Zest of 1 lemon, and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Flaky sea salt

Special equipment: baker’s parchment; large, rimmed baking sheet

For the whole wheat dough:

Put the flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 4-5 times to mix the ingredients and add air to the mix. Add the cold butter and Crisco and pulse another 12-15 times until the butter/Crisco is well distributed and a few pea-sized chunks remain.

Sprinkle the vinegar, vodka, and water around the flour/fat mixture and pulse just until the mixture begins to hold together in a clump. (If necessary, you can add another tablespoon of water, but I have not had to so far.)

Gather and press the dough into a ball, then knead it lightly until no dry spots appear and the texture seems consistent. Form the dough into a disk, wrap well in cellophane wrap, and chill at least 1 hour (up to overnight).

For the galette:
Preheat oven to 400º.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, bring 1 tablespoon of the oil to a shimmer, and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are golden. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat under the skillet to low and add a second tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Do not let the garlic burn. Raise the heat to medium and add the chard. Cook, using tongs to turn the greens until they are well wilted and evenly covered with the oil, about 4-5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and season the greens with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Cut a piece of baker’s parchment the size of your rimmed baking sheet and dust it with flour. Remove the dough from the fridge, and roll it on the parchment to about ⅛ inch thick. Trim the dough to a circle 12-13 inches in diameter, and move the parchment/dough to your baking sheet.

Spread three-quarters of the ricotta onto the dough, leaving a border of 1½ -2 inches all around. Sprinkle the cooked chard on top of the ricotta, and the mushrooms on top of the chard. Dollop the remaining ricotta around on top of the mushrooms, and toss the toasted pine nuts over all.

Fold the border of dough up and over the filling. Brush the exposed area of dough with the milk to encourage browning.

Bake the galette 35-40 minutes, until the dough is nicely browned, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Let the cooked galette cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes.

While the galette is cooling, whisk together the lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon of oil, and toss it with the herb salad. Top the galette with the herbs, the lemon zest, and a sprinkling of sea salt.

And watch that you don’t trip!

Monday, October 3, 2016

It’s Easy to Be Brave When You’ve Got GPS
What’s cooking? Zucchini Crudo and Caprese Salad

Before I launch into my story, I want to take a moment to thank Claudio Bisio and Patricia Thomson, of La Dolce Vita Wine Tours for their extraordinary knowledge and endless patience in putting together a most educational and thoroughly enjoyable experience for our group. If you’re interested in a wine tour through Italy, Sicily, Spain, or Portugal, check them out or drop them a line:

Until traveling there, I never understood the true nature of Sicily. I thought of it as an island, populated with dozens of tiny seaside villages. And what is an island but one long continuous beach? So I imagined my trip there to be designed for adding copiously to my collection of sand. I packed half a dozen baggies, figuring that every time we stopped, there’d be sand to collect.

This is about half of my collection. Another obsession. 

So imagine my surprise – and dismay – when Sicily turned out to be an island, yes, but an island of mountains. Steep, rocky mountains plunging headlong into the surrounding sea. According to a geologist friend on this trip, Sicily’s terrain developed from a complex plate tectonic region where three plates (a “triple junction”) collided in a furious mash-up of rock and soil. Hardly a beach in sight. And those tiny seaside towns were mostly clinging to the sides of the mountains or dug like fortresses into the tops.

The view from Taormina.
As our trip wore on, I became increasingly frustrated. From high on a rocky outcropping, I’d occasionally spot a strip of beach, but it was always too far away to reach, and not part of our itinerary, which focused on wineries and ancient ruins. I was thoroughly enjoying myself – but I kept thinking there’d be an opportunity for sand.

First, the wineries: Abbazia di Santa Anastasia is a 12th century abbey now transformed into a winery east of Palermo.

Nero d’Avola grapes at Marco de Bartoli in Marsala.

Learning about wine production at Alessandro di Camporeale winery.

Tasting the wines of Cusumano, at their cellar in Partinico, in a thoroughly renovated 19th century baglio (fortress home).

The Cusumano lineup. These highly innovative winemakers use glass corks.

And then the ruins: the medieval castle at Erice is part of a walled city 2,460 feet above sea level, in the region of Trapani.

The Kitchen Goddess always enjoys a good temple. This one is the Doric temple at Segesta, thought to have been built between 430 and 420 BCE.
More ruins: the Teatro Greco (Greek theatre) dates from the second century BC. Its original use was for gladiator shows.

Then on our last day, as my hubby and I drove back across the island to the airport, I convinced him to take the scenic route. In the back of my mind – ok, ok, in the absolute front of my mind – I figured I’d spot a little beach somewhere and coerce him into stopping for sand. How hard could it be?

I spotted signs for San Stefano di Camastra a full 14km ahead and started working on my mate. “It won’t be hard – we’ll just cut over to the SS113 and pop into town. It looks like the beach’ll be right there. And then Fanny [the name I’d given to the British voice on our GPS system] will get us back onto the Autostrada.” And so, against his better judgment, he took the exit.

It turns out San Stefano is not nearly at the bottom of the hill. But just into the town, I spotted signs for a hotel, the Playa Bianca – white beach?! I was salivating. We followed the signs, but the hotel was only halfway down the hill, so with more grumbling from my driver, we headed farther down. Back and forth the road wound, narrowing all the time. I could see the water coming closer and closer. We made the last turn, and there it was... a small, weather-beaten warehouse with a few boats. Nothing you’d recognize as a beach. Like many shorelines along the Mediterranean, what’s there is smooth rock on top of sand. Sort of like pretty gravel. In fact, a lot like pretty gravel.

But there was water, and wherever water meets land, I call it beach.

My husband did not. “This isn’t beach, Lee. And you can’t get down that incline without hurting yourself.”

I made him get out of the car and at least smell the salt air – which was amazingly lovely and fresh – and listen to the water lapping against the shore. These moments are good for your soul, and his clearly needed a tiny lift.

“Not bad,” he admitted. Then my prince headed back to the car, with a word of caution tossed over his shoulder. “Don’t expect me to come save you.”

How silly he is, I thought. I’m just going over to the top of the incline and collect some of these nice rocks and a bit of sand.

I bent down and had just reached out for a particularly pretty stone when I heard a soft clatter. My reading glasses had fallen out of my shirt pocket. They bounced a few feet down the incline. Oops. And every time I tried to slide a little closer to them, they bounced a bit farther. This will not do. I could feel my husband’s glare through the windshield. Finally, carefully, I stretched out my foot and nudged the glasses up toward my hand.

I was covered with dirt and sand when I made my way back to the car, but I had my glasses and I had my sand. With Fanny’s help, we reversed course – up the hill and back to the Autostrada. And now I have this story to tell.

* * *

With all the travel, I haven’t done much cooking. But many of the restaurants we visited offered a delightful Caprese salad, and there was one night at the house we rented when the Kitchen Goddess appeared and made what I call Zucchini Crudo. So here at the end of the season, when you can still get good tomatoes and basil and zucchini, here are a salad and an appetizer you should try.

The Caprese salad is originally from Capri, but it was literally everywhere on Sicily, so here it is. And keep your hands off that balsamic vinegar. This combination is a perfect blend of flavors with nothing more than good olive oil.

Caprese Salad

■ Get the plumpest, juiciest tomatoes you can find. Do not refrigerate them.
■ Also the freshest mozzarella. If you can find a grocer or cheesemonger who makes the mozzarella fresh each day – and plenty do – that’s where you want to buy it. You’ll be amazed at the difference in texture really fresh mozzarella offers. And don’t refrigerate it if you are serving it today.
■ A small bunch of fresh basil, firm and bright green. Not limp.
■ Kosher salt or sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
■ Best quality olive oil.

Slice the tomatoes and place them on a plate. Slice the mozzarella and sandwich it between slices of tomato, or layer it on top. Place basil leaves either around the plate or on top of the mozzarella. Sprinkle all with salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil across the salad and serve.

And now for the appetizer...

Crudo means “raw” in Italian, so the term is the one used for sushi in Italy. I’ve applied it here to zucchini, as the vegetable is eaten raw, after briefly marinating in olive oil and lemon juice. It’s the Kitchen Goddess’s own take on a dish she once had in a restaurant. I love the fresh flavor, and it is practically calorie free, so you might want to have an extra plate of the stuff in reserve.

Zucchini Crudo

1 medium zucchini squash
half of a lemon
kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1½  tablespoons good quality olive oil
1 tablespoon sliced almonds, lightly toasted and lightly crushed

Cut the zucchini into thin slices (about 1/16th of an inch) and arrange in a single layer on a plate. (This part will go faster if you have a mandoline, but mine was 2000 miles away.) Squeeze the lemon juice evenly over the zucchini. Drizzle the olive oil over all and add a light dusting of salt and pepper.

Let the zucchini marinate in the lemon juice and oil for 5-10 minutes, then sprinkle with almonds before serving. Set a supply of toothpicks (or small forks) next to the plate, as it’s too messy for finger food.

Kitchen Goddess note: When I went to make the dish for this post, I found that I had no almonds. What I did have were the toasted and salted apricot kernels I bought on my Danube trip earlier this year. If you, too are out of almonds, try substituting pine nuts or pistachios – just remember to toast them lightly and crush/chop them a bit before adding them to the dish.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Getting Away from It All – The KG Goes to the Danube
What’s cooking? Styrian Potato Salad

Back when our children started going to summer camp, my prince and I decided to finally take a real vacation. The kind without kids. We’d talked about going to England, but whenever we started the planning part, we ran into trouble. Turns out neither of us has that vacation-planning gene. So I proposed what I thought sounded like a great solution.

“Let’s go without reservations,” I said. “We won’t have a plan – we’ll just get up every morning and decide where to go that day!” I thought it sounded exciting. Vacation with a spirit of adventure! A leap into the unknown! A gentle unknown, admittedly – we were only talking about The Cotswolds.

Nevertheless, my hubby the lawyer was horrified. Not know where we’re going?! Not know what we’d have to spend for lodging?! (“Yes, of course, we have a room, Mr. Hilton, but it’s a bit pricey at this late date,” he suggested.) Moreover, he’d spent his entire professional life helping clients eliminate risk, and the idea of running into the burning building seemed, well, insane.

In the end, we compromised. I promised to get reservations just outside of London for the first night, and more reservations at our destination in the Lake District. In between, we’d go the Daniel Boone route.

It turned out to be a great vacation. We saw places we’d never have planned on (“Look – if we turn right up ahead, there’s a 15th century manor house
we can go through”). And at every stop, the hotelier was happy to call ahead in the general direction we were pointed. But I think it’s the last vacation either of us “planned.” Ever since, we’ve relied on well-organized friends who decide where they want to go and what they want to do there, and we jump aboard. We are classic Type B vacation people.

Which is how we ended up on a cruise down the Danube in April. Friends who were already booked were telling us about their plans and I said, “I want a full report when you get back. That’s one of the places we’ve talked and talked about going.”

“Well, why don’t you just come with us,” she said. So we did.

What a trip. For starters, the cruise line, AmaWaterways, did a first-class job. Small boat, really comfortable accommodations, impeccable service, and terrific food. And really knowledgeable guides at each of the towns and cities we visited. We started with three days in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and the “City of 100 Spires” – a grand city of baroque architecture – then took a boat from Vilshofen (Germany) to Budapest over the next eight days. (This is only our second cruise, but I love that you only have to unpack once.)

Prague is one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

Heading down the Danube, I had a continuous feeling of being part of a Corot landscape.

Durnstein in the Wachau Valley features 16th century townhouses...
...and the blue facade of this church cloister tower is considered the most beautiful in Austria.

Tiny Cesky Krumlov looks like it hasn't changed a bit from its medieval origins.

Regensburg in Germany features 11th-12th century architecture.

Those castle walls in Cesky Krumlov (along the Czech-Austrian border) aren't stones;
 they're just painted to look that way. It’s a feast of trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye).

St. Stephan's cathedral in Passau houses one of the world's largest pipe organs, with 17,774 pipes.
Magnificent government buildings dot the downtown area of Vienna.

At night, Budapest's government buildings along the Danube are lit like Christmas trees.
Fortunately for all of us, this part of the world escaped the destruction of World War II. Most of the region is small towns many hundreds of years old, perched along the river’s banks, and even the larger cities – Vienna and Budapest – weren’t military targets. So the cathedrals and cobblestone streets are much as they’ve been for centuries.

In addition to the many grand structures, I love to focus on small architectural details, like doors and windows.

And then there’s the food. The Kitchen Goddess has developed a souvenir-buying philosophy designed to minimize the clutter at home: I buy whatever foods are produced locally that are allowed back in the U.S. (I learned my lesson when a customs agent confiscated the Amalfi lemon I’d carefully packed among my sweaters.) So on this trip, I bought chocolate-covered almonds in Prague (sorry – no photo – they’ve long ago been consumed by my friends and me); spicy mustard that’s the specialty of Regensburg, Germany; a bottle of wine from Austria’s Wachau Valley vineyards; and salted apricot kernels and apricot liqueur from the tiny town of Passau, in Germany. (Apparently, apricot trees thrive in the area, and are planted among the vineyards.)

A farmers' market in Prague. Imagine that!

The Kitchen Goddess could not resist a stop at the Hotel Sacher, home of the original sachertorte.
As I said, the food aboard our boat was quite good. Using all her powers of persuasion, the Kitchen Goddess got our boat’s Executive Chef to share the recipe for one of her favorite items from the luncheon service. It’s ridiculously simple, relying for much of its flavor on the pumpkin seed oil. And because this dish doesn’t have any mayonnaise, it needn’t be refrigerated. So it’s a great addition to an end-of-summer grillfest. Also, the proportions are easy to adjust – what you see in my photos is a half recipe, since I was only feeding two people.

Please don’t be put off by the mention of pumpkin seed oil in this recipe. Styria is an area in Austria, and one of the region’s most famous food products is pumpkin seed oil. Luckily, you don’t have to go to Austria to get some, as many grocery stores with a good selection of cooking oils will carry it; and in a pinch, you can find it at In addition to its use in this recipe, it’s apparently good drizzled on butternut squash soup.

Kitchen Goddess note on Pumpkin Seed Oil: Because the color of the oil ranges from dark green to almost black, it’s called Styria’s “black gold.” To get the oil, the pumpkin seeds are dried, ground up and roasted, a process that creates a distinct walnut flavor. According to Wikipedia, it is also rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids. The color comes from the chlorophyll and carotene in the seed pods. Use it only as a flavoring  you don't want to cook with it, as heat destroys the essential fatty acids.

Styrian Potato Salad

Adapted from Executive Chef Daniel Tanase on AmaWaterways’ ship AmaBella.

Serves 6.

6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (can substitute red-skinned potatoes or white potatoes)
1 small red onion, minced
¼ cup white wine vinegar or white Balsamic vinegar
¼ cup pumpkin seed oil
½ cup pumpkin seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Into a large, heavy saucepan, place the potatoes with water to cover by about an inch. Bring to a boil and cook about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a sharp knife.

While the potatoes are cooking, mince the red onion and marinate it in a shallow bowl with the vinegar. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until they begin to brown, and set them aside.

When the potatoes are done, remove them from the water and allow them to cool until they can be handled. Remove the skins and cut the potatoes into a half-inch dice.

Toss the potatoes with the pumpkin seed oil. Add the marinated red onion and vinegar and mix well. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and sprinkle with the toasted pumpkin seeds.