Birthday Dinner – Fit for a Baroness

Mr. BT made me a lovely birthday dinner last week. I couldn’t have had any better at a restaurant. My dinner began with my surprise gift. After 45 years of life, I was presented with a dark blue Kitchenaid, something I have wanted for years. It has already made a two honey cakes, whole wheat bread, and some beautiful challah for Rosh Hashana.

Dinner began with a very artistically displayed portobello mushroom framed by grilled asparagus. It looked like the evil eye was protecting me for my birthday.

The next course was grilled fresh barramundi stuffed with a bunch of fresh tarragon and served with a porcini mushroom and shallot sauce. Barramundi is especially popular in Australia and is now also farmed at a kibbutz in the Negev. We buy it fresh from the kibbutz. It is a lovely sweet, white, flaky fish. Mr. BT served the fish with sauteed fresh spinach and steamed rice.

Dessert were two lovely homemade sorbets: Pink Grapefruit-Campari and Granny Smith Apple-Calvados. They were both delicious and the granny smith apple sorbet was like a whole apple orchard in your mouth. It has an amazing appley flavour accentuated by Mr. BT having left the peel on.

We drank a delicious and fruity white wine blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Gewuertztraminer made by our local boutique winery, Yekev Mond (website only in Hebrew) at Moshav Mishmeret, which is literally a five minute drive from our house. This winery has been producing wines for several years, but only started selling three years ago. Moshe Keren, the winemaker, gave us the grand tour lasting about two hours, most of which was taken up by tasting his wines and liqueurs. We began by tasting grape juice that had been crushed four hours earlier. It already had a lovely fruity flavour. He then gave us a taste of a Shiraz, also straight from the fermentation tank, that had been fermenting for the past 28 hours. It was obviously quite young, but you could already taste the alcohol and it had it a lovely fragrance.

From there we went to the tasting room and tried a Merlot, the white blend (see above), Cabernet Sauvignon, and a blend of Merlot and Cab. However, the big surprises were a Muscat Alexandroni that had an absolutely intoxicating aroma of honey, a Port that wouldn’t have disgraced any Portuguese maker (and it’s the first Israeli Port we have tasted that is really worth drinking), a mulberry liqueur, and a mint liqueur. It is just as well the drive home was only five minutes on quiet country roads because we both happily skipped to our car.

Hankering for Tuscany

I can’t believe that it has been over a year since our trip to Verona, Tuscany, and Umbria. We are constantly talking about that trip and are longing to go back, so much so, that we hope one day we can buy a vacation home in Italy.

I have been meaning to finish blogging about our trip to Italy, but other events have distracted me. So, I am going to try and finally finish writing about our trip in the next few weeks.

Mr. BT and I did not spend a lot of time in Tuscany this trip because we concentrated most of the trip on Umbria. However, since neither one of us had been to Siena, we decided to make a detour on our way to Umbria. Siena was founded by the Etruscans and later refounded as a Roman colony. It grew to be one of the major cities of Europe and used to be as big as Paris was. It is really hard to believe that it was once that large and prosperous. Prosperity and innovation came to an abrupt halt with the Black Death, which reached Siena in 1348. The population went from 100,000 to 30,000 and never recovered. Today, it has a population of approximately 60,000.

The center of Siena is its great square, Piazza del Campo. Over four hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne described it as the most beautiful square in the world. I am not sure it is the most beautiful, but it is surely something to be seen. It is massive, you can see that this was the center of life for the Sienese. It was the  location of the city’s marketplace for produce and livestock, the scene of executions, bullfights, communal boxing matches, and the Palio. The Palio is a traditional medieval bareback horse race that is still held today, with all of its pomp and circumstance, one day in July and August.

The Duomo di Siena in its current size was built around 1215. Had it been completed, it would have been the largest cathedral in Italy outside Rome. Unfortunately, the expansion of the Duomo was halted due to the Black Death and lack of funds. But, it is still an awesome structure. It is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architecture made of black and white marble. The striped, almost zebra-like design is modelled after buildings in Pisa and Lucca. Walking in the cathedral with all of the inlaid marble floors and striped walls puts you in a trance.  Donatello, young Michaelangelo, Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni, Arnolfo di Cambio and Pinturicchio all contributed to the mass of beautiful art in the cathedral.

It is really hard to take it all in in one visit. We were under pressure to get to Umbria before dark, so we didn’t get to spend as much time as we would have like. This church is a definite must-see.

You cannot leave Siena without trying some of their specialties, such as pici. This pasta, which looks like spaghetti but is about twice as thick, is usually served with a wild boar ragu, but we made it with pesto in our hideaway on a mountain in Umbria.

Some of their other specialties are pappa col pomodoro (bread and tomato soup), tortino di carciofi (artichoke omelette), and salsicce seche (dried sausages). They are also famous for delicious sweets, such as panforte and ricciarelli. The best place to try these are at Pasticceria Nannini , which has been selling its delicious panforte, ricciarelli, and other Sienese delights since 1909.

Ricciarelli (pictured above, upper left corner) are classic orange-laced Sienese almond paste cookies that were once a Christmas delight, but are now enjoyed year-round. We bought a couple of these and wished we had bought some more. But our waists thanked us half-heartedly for not doing so.

Panforte contains dried fruits, spices (such as black pepper) and nuts. Some say that an authentic panforte should contain 17 ingredients to coincide with the number of neighborhoods (contrade) within the city walls.  Documents from 1205 show that panforte was paid to the monks and nuns of a local monastery as a tax or tithe which was due on the seventh of February that year. Literally, panforte means “strong bread” which refers to the spicy flavour. The original name of Panforte was “panpepato” (pepper bread), due to the strong pepper used in the cake. There are references to the Crusaders carrying panforte with them on their quests. It is thought that the original panforte was made by nuns.

We tried a slice of the Panforte Margherita, which is made of sugar, almonds, hazelnuts, flour, orange zest, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. It was absolutely delicious.

All-in-all our short trip to Siena was well worth it. More to come….

The supermarket had a very good deal on an inexpensive cut of meat they called “Hamin”, which means a cut of meat for a slow-roasting Moroccan version of cholent. I really dislike cholent, but I figured I could find some other interesting slow-roasting recipe for this good deal. I remembered a wonderful beef and polenta dish that I had years ago in Firenze and I knew this was the perfect recipe for my cheap cut of meat.

Brasato al Chianti is a Tuscan slow-cooked beef dish that is typically made with Chianti wine, but I used a nice Israeli red table wine instead because Chianti does not cost 4 Euros here. For the Piedmont version of this dish, substitute a Barolo wine. A sangiovese or any light-bodied red wine can also be substituted.

The result was excellent: you wouldn’t have guessed that this was about the cheapest cut of beef they had in the supermarket, because it came out tender and full of flavour.

Brasato al Chianti

Serving Size: 4-6

(Italian beef braised in red wine)

1/4 cup olive oil

1kg (2 pounds) beef rump roast

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 bottle Chianti wine

1 cup stock or water

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 spring fresh oregano

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 bay leaves

6 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for 8-24 hours.

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high flame. Remove the meat from the marinade, drying it off before searing. Brown the meat on all sides. Add marinade and vegetables to the pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low, cover and bake at 150C (300F) for 4 hours. Add water as necessary to maintain liquid so it covers about half of the beef. Remove the meat to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest for 10-15 minutes.

While the meat is resting, strain the pot liquid through a colander. Discard the sprigs of herbs and puree the vegetables in a food mill, blender or food processor. Stir the pureed vegetables back into the strained liquid and adjust the seasonings. Slice the beef and place it decoratively on a warm platter.

If you like a lighter sauce like I do, you can serve the sauce and vegetables as is or remove the vegetables and reduce the liquid by half, adding the vegetables a couple of minutes before serving.

Serve over polenta or gnocchi, or make polenta cakes, like I did, by make polenta according to the directions on the package. Let the polenta cool, form patties, and fry them in a little olive oil.


Winery Hopping on the Judean Wine Trail

Last Friday, Mr. Baroness Tapuzina and I drove to the Judean Wine Trail with our good friend Mimi from Israeli Kitchen. Mimi and I decided to both write about the trip, as a kind of joint venture, and you can read her colorful aspect of the trip on her blog which is linked in the previous sentence. We are planning to do these joint blogging adventures from time-to-time.

Mimi is a great person to bring on wine hopping adventures because she is an amateur winemaker herself and I can attest that she produces some very nice and in some cases some very interesting wines. We just opened her delicious Tomato wine, which is a nice crispy wine that is excellent with fish and chicken. We are also great fans of her fruit wines, made from apricots, peaches, strawberries and other fruits. These are not dessert wines, they are fruity white wines that are a compliment to any meal.

The Judean Hills has become home  to one of Israel’s most important wine producing regions, stretching from the coastal plain to the Jerusalem Hills. Over the years, more than 25 wineries have consistently proved that they produce wines that are able to compete with the best in the industry world-wide, winning awards both locally and internationally.

I love driving along the winding roads with their lovely forests and vineyards. The wide curves and narrow turns carry you into deep valleys and along steep hillsides, as panoramic vistas spread out all around you. It really reminds me of our trip to Provence, except that a lot of the hills are planted mainly with pines, instead of the original mixture of trees (for example, oak, pine and chestnut) that were mainly deforested up to the 19th century.

Our first stop was to Tzora Vineyards Winery, founded in 1993 by Ronnie James, which is located in Kibbutz Tzora. This winery, which produces about 60,000 bottles of wine a year, was the first boutique winery in Israel to use all the grapes from their own vineyards, instead of buying grapes from elsewhere.

We tried several of their wines:

  • Giv’at Hachalukim Rose 2007
  • Judean Hills 2006
  • Single Vineyard Shoresh 2005
  • Dessert Wine – Or 2006

Giv’at Hachalukim means “Pebble Hill” and is named for the alluvial pebbles that have been washed down by the seasonal rains over thousands of years and which capture the suns heat during the day and release it to the soil at night, adding quality to the grapes.

I really enjoyed their fruity & floral Giv’at Hachalukim Rose, and the fruity & spicy Single Vineyard Shoresh, which is made with Merlot grapes.

Kibbutz Tzora was founded in 1948 by former Palmach members. Its name was taken from the Biblical Book of Judges (13:25); “And the spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Tzorah and Eshtaol.” One of the mainstays of the kibbutz economy is Tzora Furniture Ltd., which began in 1957 as a metal factory.

The kibbutz is beautifully landscaped.

The next winery we visited was Mony Winery, which is  located on the grounds of the Dir-Rif’at Monastery at the top of the hill above Tzora, and is owned by the Artoul family, an Arab-Christian family originally from the Galilee town of Mghar. The monastery’s church, is famous for having  “peace”  written on the structure’s ceiling in 340 languages.

Visitors can taste and purchase the vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, as well as its olive oil, olives, honey, and goat cheese. We tried their kosher and non-kosher Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines. We preferred the non-kosher wine.

The winery is named for Dr. Mony Artoul who tragically died of a heart condition in 1995.

The winery is located in tunnels dug 120 years ago by clergy from the church. One tunnel stores the wooden casks and the second tunnel houses an enormous table around which festive events for up to 50 people can be held.

We had planned to visit the Katlav and Seahorse wineries, which are in neighboring moshavim in the hills further towards Jerusalem, but they were both closed. Both of these wineries produce excellent wines.

After our unsuccessful trip to Seahorse winery, we decided it was time to stop for a picnic at a little picnic ground laid out at the entrance to Moshav Bar Giora (the whole of Israel is dotted with picnic areas like this with picnic tables rough-hewn from the local trees). Our picnic consisted of Mimi’s delicious vegetable soup, basil bread sandwiches with natural peanut butter and apple & pear jam, potato chips, olives and cucumbers.

We didn’t get to go this trip, but one of Mr. Baroness Tapuzina’s and my favourite wineries in this area is Flam winery. It is set back from the road among olive groves, in an ochre-stuccoed building that could have been lifted straight from Provence or Tuscany, apart from its modern architecture.

Golan Flam, one of the two brothers who runs the place, was born in Stellenbosch, South Africa, while his father Yisrael, who was the wine-maker of Carmel, was studying there, and wine has flowed in his veins ever since: he did his first degree at the Hebrew University’s agriculture faculty in Rehovot, went on to a second degree in oenology at the University of Piacenza in Italy, carried on learning on the job at Greve in Chianti (poor chap), worked for a couple of years at Hardy’s in South Australia, and went on from there.

Okay, don’t tell Mr. Baroness Tapuzina, but another reason I love this winery is because Gilad is a good example of a handsome Israeli man.

Golan and Gilad founded the winery in 1998 at Moshav Ginaton, a few miles from Ben-Gurion airport: then, like now, they bought their grapes mainly from farmers in the villages of Kerem Ben-Zimra and Dishon in the central Galilee; they also buy from farmers at Karmei Yosef and other vineyards in the plain west of Jerusalem.

We like most of their wines, but our favourite is Flam Classico, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.

Now all we need is a pretext to go on another trip.

Our First Sukkah

My wonderful husband built our first Sukkah. We got the poles and part of the Sukkah covering for free. The rest of the covering was from some canvas cloth that we had never used. And, we collected reeds, bougainvillea and tree branches for the rooftop. It is so beautiful, it reminds me of a chuppah (wedding canopy). It really brought me to tears when I saw the finished product because I have wanted to have a Sukkah ever since I moved to Israel. I missed decorating the Sukkah that my great-grandfather built. We used to hang fruit from the walls. I have such wonderful memories of that. Now we have started our own tradition.

I will be blogging about a special Sukkah adventure and a special meal on Sunday. Instead of the usual Challah, I decided to make a bread I had never tried before, Corsican Basil Bread. We planted some very fragrant basil that I have been meaning to add to bread dough for quite a while. This bread is very easy to make and the result was fantastic, although I should have put in a little more basil to accentuate the taste.

The recipe calls for the basil to be put on top of the bread and I decided to mix it into the dough. The recipe also said to make a puree, but the mixture was more minced than pureed.

Corsican Basil Bread

Yield: 1 kilo loaf (2lbs)

500g (1lb) white bread flour

25g (1 tablespoon) yeast

1 cup + 2-1/2 tablespoons water, warmed to 26C (80F)

2-1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup basil

3-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Puree the basil and olive oil in a blender or a food processor.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and water. Mix well, incorporating the salt at the end. Then mix in the basil puree.

Knead the dough for about 20 minutes. Place the dough in a clean oiled bowl, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and form it into a round ball. Place the dough on a baking tray covered with a towel and let rise for approximately 1 hour at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 220C (440F). Just before baking, score the top of the bread with a sharp knife.

Reduce the temperature to 190C (380F) and throw a small amount of water onto the bottom of the oven to create steam. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned.

Pre-Rosh Hashana Breakfast

I love weekend breakfasts. It is our time to talk about something interesting or just look at each other lovingly without saying anything at all for a couple of minutes. It is our time to read an interesting story or listen to early music. It has become our weekend ritual. So, in preparing for Rosh Hashana last week, my husband decided to make a lovely herb-potato frittata to go with the Whole Wheat Apple-Walnut Batard I made for the weekend.

My mother is a addicted to cookbooks and every time I go back to the States for a visit, I usually find one or two new ones on her cookbook shelves. She had the shelves custom made when she renovated her kitchen umpty-ump years ago. One visit, I spied a new cookbook that I quickly fell in love with. It is called The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside. The author, Amanda Hesser, wrote a lovely book about her year adventure that she spent as a cook in a seventeenth-century chateau in Burgundy. What I love about the book is that it is separated into the four seasons. She is a beautiful writer and really takes you on a visual trip to the French countryside. The recipes are quite precise and I find them easy to follow.

Apple-Walnut Batard

The texture of the batard is really nice. The only complaint I have is that either the bread did not rise enough or the recipe calls for too much filling. Next time I am going to gently knead the filling into the dough and see if it works out better. It turned it out more like apple-walnut stuffed bread. In spite of that, the bread is still appley and delicious, and it goes especially well with a thin slice of Gouda.

Apple-Walnut Batard Slice

Whole Wheat Apple - Walnut Batard

Yield: 1 Batard

Starter after 12 hours

Simple Bread Starter

1/2 teaspoon dry yeast or 25g (1 teaspoon) fresh cake yeast

2 tablespoons warm water

1/2 cup water, at room temperature

1 cup all-purpose flour

Whole Wheat Dough

1/2 teaspoon dry yeast or 25g (1 teaspoon) fresh cake yeast

1 tablespoon warm water

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon milk

1 recipe Starter (see above)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt

1/2-3/4 cup rye flour

Bread Dough

1 recipe Whole Wheat Dough (see above)

6 tablespoons raw sugar

2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

All purpose flour, for shaping

Whole wheat flour, for rising

For the bread starter:

Make the starter one day ahead. In a small bowl, stir the yeast into the 2 tablespoons of warm water and let the mixture stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining water and the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let ferment in a cool place, 8-12 hours.

For the dough:

n a medium mixing bowl, stir the yeast into the water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Then stir in the olive oil, milk, and Starter, stirring to break up the latter.

Thick as Paint

Dough Forming Ball

he texture should be that of house paint. Add the whole wheat flour, stirring to mix, then the salt and the rye flour, adding it 1/4 cup at a time and stirring to mix with a wooden spoon until the ingredients begin to clump together in a large ball.

First Knead

Turn out onto a floured board and knead, incorporating the remaining flour, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Use a pastry scraper to help lift and clear the dough from the work surface so you don't need to add to much flour. Make sure to work quickly, as whole wheat flour tends to stick more readily than white, and slap the dough against the work surface from time to time - this develops tenacity in the dough. Place the dough in a tall oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Then proceed with filling the bread dough.

Caramelised Apples

Prepare the filling. In a skillet (preferably an iron skillet) large enough to hold the apples, heat half of the sugar over medium-high heat until it melts and begins to bubble. Carefully, add the apple slices, spreading them out to cover the base of the pan. Saute until the apple begins to color, but is not cooked through, about 3 minutes. You should do this over medium-high heat because you want the apple to color as quickly as possible without burning the sugar. Adjust the temperature as necessary, and remember the sugar holds its heat well, especially in an iron pan. Sprinkle the uncooked sides with the remaining sugar and turn them over. Once they are well browned on the other side, 5 to 7 minutes, remove to a plate or bowl to let cool.

After the first rising, punch the dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape into a loose round loaf and let rest for 15 minutes. Lay a dish towel on top of a baking sheet and rub a thick layer of whole wheat flour into to it so the dough will not stick to the towel.

Apple-Walnut Filling

Using as little flour as possible to keep the dough from sticking to the board and your hands, pound out the loaf into an oval, 1/2 inch thick. Spread the cooled walnuts and apples evenly over the dough.

Batard Second Rise

Working lengthwise, roll the dough into a log, as tight as possible. Pinch the seam to seal it, and transfer to the dish towel, seam-side up. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

A half hour before baking, heat the oven to 220C (425F), and place the baking stone in the lower third of the oven. Place a small pan of water on the lowest rack.

When the dough is ready, invert the risen loaf onto the baking stone and bake until risen and browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the pan of water after the first 15 minutes. Test the loaf by tapping on the bottom of it with your knuckle. If it sounds hollow, it's done. Remove to a baking rack and let cool completely before slicing.

Niçoise Picnic

There are lots of beautiful places in Israel to have a picnic. You can choose to drive North and have a picnic near the Sea of Galilee:

Or to the Hula Valley:

Or drive south to the ancient desert of the Negev and the moon-like landscape of Mitzpe Ramon:

Wherever you choose to have a picnic, you should always bring lots to drink, a blanket on which to sit and beautiful food to eat.

My husband and I were invited to a picnic with friends that we haven’t seen in a while at Park Yarkon in North Tel Aviv. We were so excited to see our friends, we forgot to take a picture of the park which is a strip of land along the Yarkon river. It is very nice there with plenty of picnic tables, a nice walking path, and a chance to see people rowing on the Yarkon.

I decided to make a savory tart that we had two years ago on our trip to the South of France. I made a Niçoise specialty called Tourte de Blettes. It is a double pastry filled with sauteed swiss chard, golden raisins, pine nuts, eggs, and a little cream. After it is baked, you sprinkle icing sugar on top. I know this sounds a bit strange, but it is delicious and it can be served along with a beautiful green salad or if you are brave, you can serve it as dessert. This tart gets its sweetness from the golden raisins. I think it is a perfect picnic dish because it can be made in advance and put in the freezer. It is best served at room temperature.

Tourte de Blette
For the pastry:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

170 g (1-1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

50g (1/4 cup) cold vegetable shortening or non-butter flavored margarine

1/2 teaspoon salt

7 to 9 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 cup water

2 lb green Swiss chard, half of the center ribs chopped fine

1 large egg

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

2 teaspoons icing (confectioners) sugar

For the pastry:

Blend together flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle 5 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture. Gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

Turn dough out onto a work surface. Gather all dough together with pastry scraper.divide dough with one half slightly larger, then form each into a ball and flatten each into a 5-inch disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to 2 days ahead.

Prebake Tourte de Blettes

For the filling:

Bring raisins and water to a boil in a heavy saucepan, then remove from heat and let stand, covered, 1 hour. Drain in a colander, then pat dry with paper towels. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 200C (400F).

Blanch chard in a large pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes. Transfer chard with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking. Drain chard in a colander, then squeeze out excess water by handfuls. Coarsely chop chard.

Whisk together egg, cream, granulated sugar, zest, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Stir in pine nuts, raisins, and chard until combined.

For the Tourte de Blette:

Roll out larger piece of dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 38- by 27-centimeter (15- by 11-inch) rectangle and fit into tart pan (do not trim edges). Chill shell while rolling out top.

Roll out smaller piece of dough on a lightly floured surface with lightly floured rolling pin into a 30- by 22-centimeter (12- by 9-inch) rectangle. Spread chard filling evenly into shell, then top with second rectangle of dough. Using a rolling pin, roll over edges of pan to seal tart and trim edges, discarding scraps. Cut 3 steam vents in top crust with a paring knife, then put tart in pan on a baking sheet. Bake until top is golden, about 1 hour. Transfer to a rack and cool 10 minutes, then remove side of pan. Cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Dust with confectioners sugar.

Cherry Heaven

I was so excited when I purchased my new computer because I new it would make blogging so much better. However, a few days after I hooked everything up, my monitor blew up, literally! I was sitting a my desk, reading my email and all of a sudden I heard a pop, the monitor turned black and a puff of smoke came out the top of it! So, I have been monitorless for a while. Now, I am up and running again and I have a few things to tell you about while I was monitorless.

Just picked Queen Anne cherries, Bulgarian cheese, sheep cheese, Gouda cheese

I went to a cherry picking festival at Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim with my husband and a colleague from Germany. We drove 45 minutes to the beautiful Judean Hills which always reminds me of the rugged terrain in Provence. The festival had booths with people selling kosher charcuterie, local wine and pottery. They also offered a free tractor ride around the kibbutz.

It was very hot, but there was a large crowd eager to pick big juicy red and Queen Anne cherries. We picked cherries, or rather my husband had a great time climbing trees picking the cherries, and my colleague and I had fun eating them! Don’t worry, we kept plenty to bring home with us. The Queen Anne cherries were tastier than the red ones. I was really impressed that my husband could still climb trees considering he hasn’t climbed one in over 40 years!

The trees were covered with netting so the birds couldn’t eat the cherries. This kibbutz packs and sells its cherries for the shuk (open market) and the local supermarkets. The cherries that were available for picking at the cherry festival were the last of the crop. They were juicy and sweet, especially the ones my husband picked from the top of the tree. Unlike the older trees that grew as nature intended, the new ones were espaliered, like apple trees, to make the fruit easier to pick.

We packed a nice picnic lunch consisting of:

Baby greens, dried apricots, cranberries and walnuts with a mustard vinaigrette
Stuffed grape leaves
Roasted eggplant slices
French bread
Bulgarian cheese
Sheep cheese
Smoked Gouda cheese
Olive oil potato crisps
Pomegranate iced tea
Just picked Queen Anne cherries
Dried fruits and nuts
Chocolate-hazelnut cookies

Other people at the festival came up to us and complimented us on our beautiful picnic. One woman even took a picture of it with her mobile phone. We though this was a rather ordinary picnic and had a laugh about it.

We had a very nice time and will definitely go back next year.

Baroness' Hometown – Verona – Part I

Well, not exactly my hometown, but it was the home town of my ancestor, the Baron. However, after visiting Verona, I wouldn’t be ashamed to call it my home; it is a beautiful city. You won’t see any pictures referring to Romeo and Juliet because I avoided that trap. The city has much more to offer that fake balconies and possible houses of Shakespeare’s ill-fated lovers from his famous and beloved play. My only complaint about Verona is that it is very difficult to navigate around the city. The street signs have either not been replaced since the Roman Empire ;-), which means you can’t find them because they have faded on the facade of a building or there is no street sign. It is very frustrating.

We did not stay at a romantic hotel in Verona. We stayed at a Holiday Inn about 15 minutes drive from the old city because I had enough Priority Club points for two free nights. It was a decent Holiday Inn that had been recently renovated. The breakfast buffet was included and was not the best Holiday Inn breakfast buffet, but certainly not the worst.

Verona became a Roman Municipality in 49 B.C. So, the layout of the old city is based on the typical Roman military grid. Originally the Arena and Piazza Bra were on the outskirts of the city.

One of the most impressive pieces of architecture in Verona is the Roman Amphitheatre, called the Arena, which means sand and refers to the sand that was spread in the middle of the amphitheatre to absorb the blood and cushion the gladiators falls. It was built at the beginning of the 1st century AD, some 50 years before the Colosseum of Rome and was the third largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. It could hold approximately 30,000 people, which was more than the population of the city itself. In the Middle Ages, it was used as a fortress and its arches became workshops, shops and bordellos. In August 1913, a performance of Aida was held at the Arena on what would have been Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday and it has been hosting the summer opera festival ever since. It is an impressive structure and a real testament to Roman architecture.

Verona is a walkable city, with new surprises around every corner. Buildings with frescoes, like the ones above.

And, beautiful brickwork. This is the inner courtyard of and the Scala della Ragione or Steps of Reason leading up to the Scala family’s palazzo. The Scalas were one of the rulers of Verona in the 17th century.

There are also beautiful piazzi to walk around and dream about another time.

I guess you are wondering about the food…..

Since this was the beginning of our trip, we were trying to behave ourselves and believe it or not we didn’t buy any sweet treats. It is true!

We did have some decent food in Verona. Nothing fancy, just nice simple meals.

Our first evening in Verona we decided to go some where near the hotel and the front desk at our hotel recommended Osteria Mattarana. This was a nice and simple restaurant that was full of locals. We were the only tourists in sight and since we both speak Italian, we fit right in. We were a bit shy about taking pictures, but everything we had was delicious. We had the following:

Il tritone – we shared this

An antipasti consisting of carpaccio of smoked swordfish, triangles of polenta with smoked pike and smoked salmon with  rocket (arugala) butter

Il fettucine di pasta fresca ai porcini tartufati – my husband

Fresh fettucine with porcini mushrooms and a sprinkling of black truffles

Pizza Misto Bosco – me

A pizza with sauteed wild mushrooms

The food was delicious and not too expensive. I would definitely eat there again. They are famous for there inhouse cured meats and their steaks.

Stay tuned for Part II 


The medieval walled town of Bergamo is a charming town with piazzas, palazzi and frescoed churches that owes much of its beauty to 370 years of Venetian rule.

We decided to stop here on the way to our first stop of our trip, Verona. I had been to Bergamo about 14 years ago when I was living in Lugano and I remembered it as a charming town. It was still as charming as I remembered and it was a perfect stop on the way to Verona.

Bergamo is made up of Bergamo Basso (Lower Bergamo) and Bergamo Alta (Upper Bergamo). Bergamo Alta is high above the lower town and can either be reached by taking the funicular or driving up and parking in one of the public parking lots that are hidden in the narrow cobble-stoned streets of the old town.

The main sites in Bergamo Alta are:

  • Piazza Vecchia (old square)

  • Palazzo della Ragione. It was the seat of the administration of the city in the communal age. It is now the site of exhibitions. Erected in the 12th century, it was rebuilt in the late 16th century by Pietro Isabello. The façade has the lion of St. Mark over a mullioned window, testifying to the long period of Venetian dominance. The atrium has a well-preserved 18th century sundial.

  • Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major). It was built from 1137 on the site of a previous religious edifice of the 7th century. Construction lasted until the 15th century. Of this first building remains the external Romanesque structure and the Greek cross plan, while the interior was widely modified in the 16th and 17th centuries. Noteworthy are the great Crucifix and the tomb of Gaetano Donizetti. The dome has frescoes by Giovanbattista Tiepolo.

  • Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni chapel), annexed to Santa Maria Maggiore, a masterwork of Renaissance architecture and decorative art.
  • The Rocca (Castle). It was begun in 1331 on hill of the Sant’Eufemia by William of Castelbarco, vicar of John of Bohemia, and later completed by Azzone Visconti. A wider citadel was also added, but it is now partly lost. The Venetians built a large tower in the Rocca, as well as a line of walls (Mura Veneziane) 6,200 metres long.

  • Palazzo della Ragione and the nearby Biblioteca Angelo Mai (Palazzo Nuovo), designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi.

One of Bergamo’s famous son’s is the famous opera composer Gaetano Donizetti. He was most famous for writing the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

Bergamo is also famous for its polenta and cheeses. Unfortunately, we did not have time to try either of these, but I have fond memories of eating polenta with taleggio cheese and a wild mushroom ragu. The soft, creamy polenta mixed with taleggio cheese and sage and served with a delicious wild mushroom ragu. It was the perfect meal for a cold day. Of course the cold didn’t stop me from having gelato. I had some at the same gelateria with my husband and the pistachio gelato was a good as I remembered it.

Soft Polenta with a Wild Mushroom Ragu

Serving Size: 4 to 6 as first course

For the polenta:

1 cup polenta

4 cups water

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan Reggiano

For the ragu:

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon fresh, minced (¼ teaspoon dried) thyme

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1 teaspoon virgin olive oil

1 cup small cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and quartered

1/2 cup assorted wild mushrooms, cleaned and, if large, sliced

2 medium shallots, minced (2 tablespoons)

1 small clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

Place the polenta and water in a heavy-bottomed 2 ½ quart saucepan (preferably one with fluted sides) and stir to combine. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the grains are soft and hold their shape on a spoon, about an hour. Whisk in the salt, pepper, butter, and parmesan. Cover and keep warm. (The polenta may be transferred to a bowl, covered and set over barely simmering water. If necessary, thin the polenta with hot water before serving.)

While the polenta is cooking, pour the cream into a second heavy-bottomed saucepan and simmer over low heat until it is thick and reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Whisk in the thyme, nutmeg, and parmesan. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat, 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat. Add the cremini mushrooms. Sear and stir intermittently until the mushrooms release their juices and begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in the wild mushrooms, shallots and garlic and continue to sautée over high heat until the mushrooms are tender, 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper. Add the reserved cream and parsley and stir to coat. Taste for seasoning.

To serve: Scoop the polenta onto warm appetizer plates, leaving an indentation on the top. Spoon the mushroom ragout over. Serve immediately.

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