Monday, October 31, 2016

No Tricks – Just a Holiday Treat
What’s cooking? Rosemary Shortbread Cookies with Tomato Jam

I read somewhere that most children think Halloween is the most important holiday after Christmas/Hanukkah. Makes perfect sense to me. After all, who doesn’t like pretending to be someone or something else and getting candy as a reward? Even the spooky/scary part is fun for many, because deep down, you know it’s not real fear, but excitement.

For me, the scariest part about Halloween is sticking my hand inside the giant pumpkin. I’ve mentioned before that the Kitchen Goddess isn’t fond of slimy or gooey, and hardly anything beats slimy and gooey more than a pumpkin’s innards. So I really have to brace myself before the annual pumpkin-carving ritual.

And it is a ritual. No one else in my family – and that would be my husband – seems to have any interest in buying the beast, deciding on the face, and gutting/carving the flesh. Just saying it that way makes me feel a little creepy. But I love Halloween even if no little ’weeners show up at our doorstep. More candy for me.

These days, I also have to send Halloween cookies off to New Jersey. One batch for the grandkids and another for the hospital staff where my younger son is a third year resident. I figure it can only help his popularity to show up with a tin of cookies now and then.

Once Halloween is over, though, the real pressure sets in. It’s the start of the holiday season, with all sorts of demands for hostessing and gift-giving. (I refuse on principle to use the non-verb “gifting.”) So today, I will get you started in that regard with a recipe for terrific shortbread cookies and a savory tomato jam you can use to turn those cookies into delicious tea cookies. It’s a combination from the kitchen of David Lebovitz, whose book, The Perfect Scoop, is my bible for frozen desserts.

I found this recipe on, where it received almost universal raves, for the cookies alone or as sandwiches with the marvelous tomato jam. The cookies are buttery but light, with a really sophisticated flavor that’s only mildly sweet. And the tomato jam is also terrific with a sharp cheese.

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies with Tomato Jam

Adapted from and Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes, by David Lebovitz

Makes 40-44 cookies, or 20-22 cookie sandwiches.

2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (40 grams) yellow cornmeal or polenta
½ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces Crisco
2 large egg yolks
1½  tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Tomato Jam (see below)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the sugar, butter, and Crisco together at medium speed, just until smooth. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating until well combined, then mix in the chopped rosemary. Add the dry ingredients in a couple of batches, mixing until the dough is smooth and holds together.

Divide the dough in half and place each half on a sheet of wax paper lightly dusted with flour. Using your hands and the wax paper, mold each half into a log about 6-7 inches long and 1¾-2 inches in diameter. Wrap the wax paper around the logs, and place the logs in the fridge until firm, at least an hour. (You can refrigerate the logs overnight, but if you do, wrap them again in Saran Wrap to keep them from drying out.)

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350º, with racks positioned in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. To make the dough easier to slice, stick the logs into the freezer for 5-10 minutes.

Line a couple of baking sheets with baker’s parchment. Slice the logs into disks about ¼ inch wide, and place the disks on the parchment about ½ inch apart. Bake about 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Keep an eye out as the time grows short, because they can get overbrown quickly. You want just the edges of the cookies to brown lightly.

Kitchen Goddess note: The KG must be more hot-blooded than she thought, because at some point the logs got a bit soft from holding them while she sliced, producing “disks” that were slightly off-round. Undeterred, she simply mashed them into shape, which meant that some of the disks had more of a mound shape. But they still developed a flat side in the baking, and made perfectly decent sandwiches. And they still tasted great. The lesson here is not to get your knickers in a twist over the shapes, as long as they’re reasonably round.

Let the cookies cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely before making them into sandwiches.

To make into sandwiches, spread 1-1½ teaspoons of the jam on the underside of a cookie, then add a second cookie, with the flat, bottom side into the jam. You can store the filled cookies in an airtight container for 3-4 days; or you could store the cookies without jam – again, in an airtight container – and add jam when you’re getting ready to serve. Also, you can make the dough and store it in the freezer for up to a month.

Tomato Jam

Adapted from and Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes, by David Lebovitz

Makes 2 cups.

2¼ pounds ripe tomatoes (about 5 large)
2 cups sugar
2 or 3 fresh grinds of black pepper
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. With a paring knife, core the stem end of each tomato, then cut a shallow X on the bottom.

Place the tomatoes, one or two at a time, into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and let cool. The skins will have loosened, so once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skins off. Discard the skins and the water.

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and gently squeeze or spoon out the seeds and juice. Dice the tomatoes into ½-inch pieces.

Put the diced tomatoes in the saucepan and stir in the sugar, pepper, and salt. Cook over medium heat for about 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to keep the tomatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Once most of the liquid has evaporated – i.e., you can draw the spoon across the bottom of the pan and the jam doesn’t immediately come back together – remove it from the heat and stir in the Aleppo pepper and lemon juice. If, during the cooking, you see foam  rising to the top, you may want to skim it off with a large spoon. (Removing the foam makes the jam clearer.) If you like to use a candy thermometer, the jam should reach 220º when ready.

Ladle the jam into clean jars. Cover tightly and let it cool before refrigerating. It’ll keep at least six months in the fridge. Or you can process it like preserves and it’ll keep outside the fridge for a year.

Happy Halloween!

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.