November 22, 2014

crescent city sojourn

Last week I was fortunate enough to make it back to New Orleans for the fourth time this year which is almost humorous to me after never managing to pass through this captivating city until this past February. The trip was a quick four days, a final escape before the rush of the holidays and also a hopeful break from the steadily declining temperature here in Athens. Unfortunately an overnight downpour brought dramatically chilled weather only after hours of arriving to our destination. Even though the wind whipped a bit there was plenty of sunshine and of course, the colors and flavors of New Orleans. I have developed a strong crush on this city, one that assures me I won't ever stay away too long.

November 10, 2014

peering into the past

Last week, on a beautiful autumn afternoon I got out of the house and explored some of the oldest, most storied homes in Athens. My photo essay tour has been posted on The Broad Collective and you can see it for yourself here.

October 21, 2014

autumn escape

It had been sometime since I had retreated to the mountains. Longer than I can remember really. An Autumnal excursion was the norm for my family and annually we would excitedly pile in the car and make the two hour drive from Philadelphia, wandering and winding up into the Pocono Mountains. Sometimes there were cabins and overnight stays but most often we made do with long day trips paused by afternoon picnics. Always there was spectacular color. The mountains, burning bright with their harvest palette, always struck a chord in me. Like I mentioned, it is lost to me how long ago I spent this season anywhere near a forest or a cabin and so when I was faced with a choice to spend a few days during the end of Autumn by the sea or in the mountains I chose the later.

Blairsville, Georgia is about a two hour drive from Athens and at a little past halfway the ride it was time to put down any maps or reading because the scenery truly becomes a feast for the eyes and the roads start curving and curling pretty wildly. This change in the landscape can be attributed to the entrance to the Chattahoochee Forest which is a part of the North Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains. This is an area that is fertile with farms, parks, hiking trails, waterfalls, vineyards and local artistic and folk culture. Our retreat from our everyday would be a brief one but as long as we were surrounded by trees and trails and had a sturdy roof overhead we would have just what we were looking for. We rented a cabin far up the mountain road surrounded by kaleidoscope hills and spent grape vines. This tiny pinewood home was charmingly rustic, thoughtfully decorated, clean, cozy and inspiringly simple. I immediately felt at home. Rocking on the porch was enjoyed equally as much as a long soak in the jacuzzi tub or falling asleep to the sound of acorns rolling across the roof. After only one night and day I began to imagine life paired down to the bare necessities. Fantasies of getting rid of everything, cooking from one pot, eating from one plate with one fork, sweeping out my simple wood shanty in the mornings and rocking away the afternoons on the front porch grew in my mind. This humble hearthstone immediately begged me to stay longer than planned and now I sit here at my computer typing and simultaneously scheming a return. Though admittedly too brief, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing more of my new southern surroundings and am now even more curious to return and really dig into this neck of the woods.

September 20, 2014

mushroom galette

Often times for me, a meal gets inspiration from one ingredient. That usually comes from what is on hand and needs to be eaten before it turns to waste. Mushrooms are usually a staple in the kitchen here because we love them and because of their versatility and the flavor they add to almost any dish. Now that summer is finally receding, the time seems ripe for baking and also perhaps, more mushroom eating. I had an open pint of Baby Bellas, my go-to market mushroom, unless of course they are offering something more unique and interesting. Bellas are firm and fleshy and stand up to being sautéed, baked and even roasted. I decided to add more flavor by using dried wild Porcini mushrooms as well. Start by cleaning and soaking your mushrooms.

Cleaning mushrooms can be as simple as a rinse under the kitchen faucet with a drip-dry in a colander but cleaning them this way does tend to leave them water logged. Since I knew I was going to have to soak the Porcinis I opted to clean the Bellas by gently brushing them with a dry towel. Time consuming, slightly, but effective and better for the recipe I believe. The Porcinis I set in a bowl and covered with hot, not boiling, water and left soaking for about a half hour. After straining the Porcinis, I reserved the mushroom "broth" and put it in a ziplock inside the freezer for a future meal. Risotto perhaps.

Now, to the business of making the pastry. This recipe can surely be made with a store bought pastry dough but I urge you to try your hand at making your own. I love making dough mostly because after a few rounds of trial and error I have become good at it and more importantly I love eating it. It is an incredibly rewarding and satisfying pleasure to eat something so simple and delicious that has been created with your own hands. For this crust I used Thomas Kellers pâte brisée recipe. This was definitely a more buttery, flakey crust than I have used in the past for my quiche or crostata rustica doughs. Take note that his recipe is suitable for using with both savory and sweet dishes and it is a doubled recipe so you can make enough to freeze the extra batch and use on a rainy day.
I opted to blend the pastry by hand rather than my food processor but doing either will work equally as well, it is honestly up to you. Putting a physical effort into a dish tends to instill a meditative calm in me while blending the flour and butter together until it turns to a fine crumble. Buster, my kitchen assistant seems to enjoy it as well.

Once the mushrooms have been cleaned and/or soaking and the pastry is finished and is chilling, it is time to prep the filling. I based my recipe off of one that the lovely Miss Beth Kirby posted on the Local Milk blog, but the real beauty of it is that I used what was on hand. Don't limit yourself. Be inspired to use what is in your cupboards, crispers and coolers!

pastry recipe here

ingredients for filling
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 pinches of kosher salt
  • small bundle of 5-6 sage leaves
  • tsp dried oregano
  • large pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 6-8 Baby Bella mushrooms sliced thickly
  • 1 oz of dried wild porcini mushrooms
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/8 cup heavy cream
  • 2 oz good, pungent soft cheese (I used a gorgonzola dolce)
  1. in a skillet melt the butter over medium heat. add the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt, cooking without browning until fragrant & turning translucent, about 1-2 minutes.
  2. add in the herbs and another pinch of salt.
  3. add in the mushrooms, lemon juice, and the final pinch of salt and cook just until mushrooms are softened and just cooked through.
  4. remove from heat and stir in cream and set aside in a bowl to cool completely.
  5. heat oven to 425°f
  6. meanwhile roll out your dough on a well floured work surface into a rough circle.
  7. gently place dough onto a sheet tray, and mound the cooled filling in the center, dot the top with the pieces of cheese and fold up the edges, trimming them to make it a move even shape if desired.
  8. bake at 425°f for 25-35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  9. remove from oven, allow to cool slightly at which point it can either be served warm or allowed to cool further and be served at room temperature.