Life is crazy before you go on vacation and crazier when you get back, so what's point?
Vacation gives license to break the rules, and obviously we couldn't wait. Our first stop on Interstate 95 was not for gas, but for chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone. And a hot fudge sundae.
Thankfully, things didn't go downhill too much from there. We ate well (not too much junk) at our "destination," the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area of Florida. For one, we really enjoyed the fresh pompano and cobia, fish typically not seen in markets here, although anglers do catch them.
Our hearts ached for the locals, all of whom were worried sick about the oil mess lurking off the Panhandle's coast like a Cat 5 hurricane, gathering strength daily. There but for the grace of God, go we ... yet it remains to be seen if the Eastern Seaboard will be affected, too.
Travel is best when it offers new food experiences, no matter how short the distance. For example, seeing Swiss chard growing at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet and in downtown Charleston gardens inspired Mary Burton to grow some of her own. She wrote recently to ask if readers had any suggestions or recipes for cooking it.
Chard is a member of the beet family with a number of varieties. The leaves are usually green and the stalks reddish. The greens can be prepared like spinach and the stalks like asparagus, though I think most people focus on the leaves, or the two together.
Ernie Berger of Seabrook Island writes, "This is the easiest way to prepare Swiss chard. ... Wash the stalks well and cut into about 1-inch pieces including the leafy part. With water clinging to the pieces put in a pot (and) add about a tablespoon of olive oil; salt and pepper (to taste), a little chopped garlic and pinch of sugar. Put the lid on and cook on medium for about 5 to 8 minutes, being careful not to burn. That's it, dirt simple."
The taste is different from most greens, says Ernie, who also recommends tossing chard into dishes with eggs (like spinach) and says it pairs well with currants.
As for growing, Ernie says it's easy to do from seed and sprouts in a few days. Chard can be planted in the spring and again in the fall for a winter crop.
We also had an e-mail from Sharon Fratepietro of Charleston. "I've attached a recipe for a delicious main course dish, African Pineapple Peanut Stew. It's from a very old 'Moosewood' cookbook, the name of which I can't remember."
African Pineapple Peanut Stew
1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 bunch of Swiss chard (about 4 cups sliced), or kale
2 cups undrained canned crushed pineapple (20-ounce can)
1/4 cup peanut butter (with or without nuts)
1 teaspoon (or more to taste) Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste
Optional garnish: crushed skinless peanuts and chopped scallions
Saute onions and garlic in oil, stirring frequently, until onions are lightly browned. While onions saute, wash the Swiss chard or kale. Remove and discard the large stems and any blemished leaves. Stack the leaves on a cutting board and slice crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces. Put aside for a few minutes.
Add the pineapple and its juice to the browned onions, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the chard or kale, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until just tender. Mix in the peanut butter, Tabasco and cilantro, and simmer for up to 5 minutes more. Add salt to taste, and then serve over rice or couscous. Optionally, top with the crushed peanuts and chopped scallions.
Stephanie Stallings also e-mailed with a recipe for a Swiss chard pie that she got from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food Magazine. She made the pie and found it "really tasty and not very difficult," even with the homemade dough.
Swiss Chard Pie
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, cut into small dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 pounds Swiss chard, stems cut into small dice and leaves torn
3/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Grated zest of 1 large lemon, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 recipe Olive Oil Dough (recipe follows)
1 large egg yolk
In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and garlic; cook until onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add chard stems and red-pepper flakes; cook until stems begin to soften, about 2 minutes.
Pack chard leaves into pot; season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook until chard leaves wilt, about 4 minutes.
Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until chard is soft, about 4 minutes. Drain, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Place chard mixture in a large bowl and toss with parmesan, flour, lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Roll two-thirds of the dough to a 12 1/2-inch round; fit into an 8-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Fill bottom crust with chard mixture. Roll remaining dough to a 9 1/2-inch round; place over filling. Pinch edges of dough together and tuck in to seal; cut several vents into center of pie. Combine yolk with 1 teaspoon water and brush over dough, avoiding edge of pan.
With oven rack at lowest position, bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.
Alternatively, freeze unbaked pie in its pan, unwrapped, for 30 minutes. Wrap pie in plastic wrap and then foil. Store in the freezer, up to 2 months. To serve, preheat oven to 400 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Bake frozen pie until crust is deep golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Olive Oil Dough
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cold water
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
In a bowl, combine the flour, olive oil, cold water and coarse salt. Stir with a fork to combine, then turn out onto a work surface and knead 1 minute. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature, 30 minutes.
Kathy Rosselot saw the lemon cake recipes here a couple of weeks ago, which prompted her to ask about the one served at Olive Garden.
Joan McCutcheon of Charleston has the "America's Most Wanted Recipes" cookbook, and she offers author Ron Douglas' take on the well-known dessert.
Lemon Cream Cake
Makes one 10-inch layer tube cake
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
For lemon filling:
1 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 cups lemon pie filling
8 lemon slices
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make the cake, in a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Add the oil, egg yolks, water and lemon zest. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.
Using clean beaters in a small bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until peaks form. Slowly add in the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, and beat until stiff peaks form.
Fold 1/3 of the whites into the batter, then quickly fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.
Turn the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Invert the tube pan on a rack and let the cake cool completely in the pan. When cool, loosen the edges of the cake to remove it from the pan.
To make the filling, beat the cream to stiff peaks. Fold in the lemon pie filling. Refrigerate until firm.
To assemble, slice the cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Cover the bottom layers with 1/3 cup of the filling on each layer.
Spread the remaining filling on the top layer. Decorate with lemon slices.
Who's got the recipe?
--Here is a timely request, as fresh field peas soon will be in season: Sharon Fratepietro would like vegetarian recipes using field peas.
--Sammie Gourdine of St. Stephen seeks recipes for chopped barbecue and hush puppies.
--We have yet another request stemming from the recent tea room at St. Philip's Church. Joyce Waters would like the recipe for the cheese biscuit that was served with ham, and adds that it was not like Red Lobster's famous cheese biscuit.
--We also have been in touch with St. Philip's about a pie made from macadamia nuts with a caramel filling, and hoping the recipe can be tracked down. A lot of parishioners contribute desserts to the tea room, so it's not as easy as it sounds.
--On a restaurant roll: A reader also inquired about Cisco's Mexican Restaurant picante sauce. The locally owned Cisco's closed in early 2009 after more than 29 years in business.
"This was not the mild that was brought to the table with chips," he wrote. "This sauce had to be ordered special with the chips. It did not cost any more and had a better spicier flavor. It was a thick red picante.
"I have contacted the owner and manager of the now-closed Cisco's and he informed me that the sauce came from Sysco's food distributor. Or at least, this is what I understood. I would love to have a user-friendly recipe that would make 1-2 quarts at a time."
--On a roll, literally: Who knew hot dog chili had such fierce loyalists? We've had a spate of requests recently. The latest is from Eli Horne of Givhans, who recalls "the best hot dog ever" from the old Pete's on Meeting Street. Pete's is long gone, but Eli can still taste that hot dog in a warm bun, wrapped in wax paper. The chili was the crowning touch, though, and Eli says it was fine rather than chunky style.
Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor at 937-4886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.