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.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What to Do with All That Zucchini
What’s cooking? Shaved Zucchini Salad, Zucchini Muffins, and Hasselback Zucchini

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. When life hands you zucchini, you make, well, bread and a veggie casserole and salad and soup and.... And the list goes on. I’ve pretty much decided that zucchini is the most adaptable veggie around. Good thing, too, because it’s everywhere at the farmers’ markets these days, and in great abundance.

I’ve been looking for new ways to use the green beauties, and in doing so, I’ve been struck by the number of ways they’ve already appeared on this blog.

There’s my friend Laurie’s Zucchini Soup – cool, creamy, and tasting of summer.

There’s the Italian Vegetable Gratin casserole dreamed up by the Kitchen Goddess herself, as a means to testing out a Hamilton-Beach Food Processor. It’s a great accompaniment to a fall dinner.

I’ve featured zucchini “ribbons,” raw, in an Herbed Salad with Squash Ribbons, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and Pecorino Romano cheese.

And of course the slightly chunky Zucchini Sauce – redolent with herbs and garlic – served to me over pasta on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. What you see here is the Kitchen Goddess’s version, which was a very good approximation.

All squash is essentially an American plant – for this one, South American in origin. But then a funny thing happened in the 19th century. The plant migrated to Italy, where the Italians developed a variety of squash that was smaller, green and cylindrical. Because the larger, rounder version of squash was called “zucca,” these diminutive veggies came to be called “zucchini,” which in essence means “little zucca.” And then they traveled back to America (North, this time) in the early 20th century. Welcome home, mi amore!

“Little zucca” is a funny term for a fruit (remember, it’s the fruit of the vine) that can grow to be the size of a baseball bat. In the larger specimens, the flesh gets more watery, the skin gets tougher and less shiny, and you’ll want to scrape out the seeds before cooking. But what you typically find at the grocer’s or the farmers’ market is picked when the seeds are soft and young, and the fruit itself is 6-8 inches long. So for the best texture and the most flavor, look for zucchini that feel heavy for their size, with a smooth, shiny, dark green and lightly freckled exterior. Wipe them off with a paper towel and store them in the fridge – unwashed, please – in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible. The ones from the grocery store will keep for almost a week; farmers’ market purchases will keep even longer.

So here comes the easy part: the cooking. Even as I worked on this post, I discovered another amazing technique, which I’ve included as #3 below.

The first of my trio is another lovely fresh salad with an unusual texture. In addition to the herbed salad above, I’ve had ribboned/shaved zucchini salad in a couple of restaurants, and it takes to lemon-and-olive-oil dressing like peaches to cream. If you’re out of pine nuts, try toasting some almonds or pistachios.

Oops -- I forgot the cheese. It was good anyway.

1. Shaved Zucchini Salad

Adapted from Ian Knauer in Bon Appétit, August 2010.

Serves 6.

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon chili flakes)
2 pounds zucchini (6-8 inches long), trimmed
Scant ½ cup fresh basil, ribboned
¼ cup toasted pine nuts (can substitute toasted pistachios or almonds)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, about ¼ cup shaved

In a jar or small bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients together. If you’re using a jar, put the lid on and shake furiously for a minute – just the jar, shake the jar; if using a bowl, whisk the mixture well until emulsified.

Use a vegetable peeler or any other slicing equipment that can give you really thin slices (like 1/16th inch thick), and ribbon the zucchini lengthwise until you reach the seeds. Rotate the squash and continue ribboning until you’ve got only the core left. Discard the core and transfer the squash ribbons into a bowl. Add the basil and pine nuts (or pistachios or almonds), and toss with the dressing.

Depending on the size of your zucchini and how aggressively you ribbon it, you may not need all the dressing, so start with half of what you made and add judiciously. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle cheese shavings over the salad.

* * *

I have an extra incentive to bake during the summer, even if it does make the kitchen hot. I’ve made these zucchini muffins for my grandchildren, who rave about them. And it’s an easy enough process that if the kiddos in your family like to cook, they can help make these.

2. Zucchini Muffins

Makes 24.

The KG uses her food processor to shred the zucchini in seconds.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground clove (optional)
3 eggs
1 cup white sugar
⅔ cup dark brown sugar
⅔ cup vegetable oil
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups grated zucchini (from two squash, about 6 ounces each)
½ cup chopped walnuts (strictly optional – the KG’s grandchildren prefer no nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease muffin tins or use muffin papers.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and clove, and set aside.

In a large bowl, use a whisk to beat the eggs with the sugars until smooth and slightly fluffy. [Kitchen Goddess note: If using a stand mixer, start with the mixer at medium-low speed, and gradually increase to medium high. This action – which takes about 4 minutes – gives the muffins a lighter texture.]

Mix in the vegetable oil and vanilla. Add the sifted ingredients and mix well. Stir in the zucchini and nuts (if using). Pour the batter into muffin tins, filling about three-quarters full. Bake at 350º for 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool muffins in the tins on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the tins and let cool completely on the rack. (If, like the Kitchen Goddess, you cannot resist the urge to eat them warm right out of the oven, that’s okay. But if you’re packing the muffins up to take to your grandchildren, just have one and let the rest cool completely before boxing.)

* * *

You might have heard of Hasselback Potatoes. The dish, developed at the restaurant of the Hasselbacken Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden, describes a treatment in which the potatoes are thinly sliced, but not all the way through, then basted with butter and baked until the slices fan out like a crispy accordion. This clever treatment has been extended to chicken breasts, apples, and even carrots. And now here it is as a cheesy, buttery, herby way to cook zucchini. And if that string of adjectives doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know what will. It was a big hit at the Kitchen Goddess’s dinner table.

3. Hasselback Zucchini

Adapted from Kristina Preka at the Tasting Table Test Kitchen.

Serves 2. [But nothing could be easier than doubling or tripling these ingredients. Cooking time will be the same. And you’re smart people – go for it.]

For the Toasted Bread Crumbs:
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely ground bread crumbs
1 tablespoon parsley, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Compound Butter:
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For Hasselback Zucchini:
2 medium zucchini (5-6 ounces each), trimmed
Compound butter
Toasted bread crumbs
Finely grated Parmesan, for garnish
Roughly chopped parsley, for garnish
Chopped fresh oregano and thyme (optional)
Lemon wedges, for serving

Make the toasted bread crumbs: Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat, and add the remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the bread crumbs have reached a toasty brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the compound butter: Into a small bowl, add all the ingredients and stir together until well combined. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a baking pan with foil or baker’s parchment and set aside.

Cut the zucchini crosswise into ¼-inch slices, being careful not to cut all the way through the squash – it should still be in one piece when you’re done. [Kitchen Goddess note: The slicing is the hardest part of this recipe. One handy technique is shown at right – using chopsticks or pencils as “guards,” to keep the knife from slicing all the way through. Just take note if there’s a point at which your squash curves away from the cutting board.]

Transfer the sliced zucchini to the prepared baking pan and roast at 350º for 10 minutes.
Remove the zucchini from the oven and spoon bits of the compound butter into the spaces between the slices. The slices will be a bit soft but you may still want to use your fingers to pry them apart – more butter between the slices makes for tenderer, more flavorful zucchini.

Return the zucchini to the oven and roast another 15-20 minutes, depending on where your squash are in the 5-6-ounce range. Baste with the melted butter about halfway through this roasting stage.

After roasting. Ready for the garnishes.
Gently remove the zucchini to a serving platter, and garnish with bread crumbs, cheese, grated parsley and other herbs, if desired. Squeeze a lemon wedge over each and serve.