Rosemary Shortbread

It’s that time of year again when I impulsively start buying extra flour, sugar, and butter, so don’t ask my why I ended up making a batch of pumpkin-flavored rice crispy treats. Finding a recipe off the web can be risky, and as I learned a few days ago, adding moisture like pumpkin puree to a perfectly good indulgence like rice crispy treats just doesn’t work (do you hear that ApartmentTherapy!). And since I was going to mail them to my son away at college, I’ve been eating them instead. Soggy, yes, but not that much different than when the plain cereal is doused with milk for breakfast.

So now I am going to use those baking ingredients that are taking up valuable counter space with a batch of Rosemary Shortbread. (His idea, not mine.) I got the recipe off of Epicurious.com and feel much better about using recipes where the comments are from people who actually make the recipe, confirming its accuracy, and not just responders saying they “look good”. Lesson learned. These are spot on perfect. Enjoy!

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

1 1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

2 Tbsp. honey

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1. Mix together first four ingredients; set aside.

2. Place butter in a standing mixer bowl or large bowl and whip until light and fluffy. Add honey and sugar and continue to whip until well incorporated. Add flour mixture and blend just until dough forms.

3. Remove half of dough from bowl and place on a 12″ sheet of wax paper; flatten and lengthen to form a rectangular log 1″ thick. Fold wax paper over until dough is wrapped. Repeat with other half batch of dough and refrigerate until firm, up to overnight.

4. Remove dough from refrigerator, unwrap, and slice in equal pieces and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet in a 350° oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Makes 32 cookies.

Artisan Fragrance Salon

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Last Sunday I had the pleasure of visiting the 1st Annual Artisan Fragrance Salon, sponsored by TasteTV. It took place in a SoMa gallery and the heady fragrance nearly knocked us out the moment we arrived. But nothing like the unavoidable department store haze that attacks you from all sides. Many of these niche or indie fragrance companies don’t rely on alcohol as a fragrance carrier. Therefore, no sprays to penetrate the air. These are high-quality close-to-the-skin fragrances that are oil-based. Most don’t test on animals or rely on animal musks. I went to sample Sonoma Scent Studio’s fragrances for an upcoming SF Chronicle story I’m working on. I was delighted with their vintage fragrances and clean-looking packaging and am really excited about the story. I was also intrigued by several other lines, including Portland’s 40 Notes Perfume and LA’s Sarah Horowitz Parfums. These are luxury niche fragrances that are on par with some of the most iconic fragrance houses around. You can find them on their individual sites, or can shop on Indie Scents. The outing was a revelation for me since I never knew such a niche existed. Really though, why not? Boutique wine, artisanal food, and locally made manufacturers are commonplace now, and that’s so great. I encourage anyone that is interested in supporting small businesses and fragrance to seek out these smart business women. Not all are run by women, but the women I met at the show were definitely smart.

The Last Crop

My article in today’s Home and Garden section is small in word count, but big in its importance. For more than half of my life I have driven the freeway between Sacramento and the Bay Area, and have watched the landscape slowly shift from fertile farmland to track home hell. Documentary filmmaker Chuck Schultz produced The Last Crop to shed light on the growing problem of shrinking farmland in the United States. His film features small-scale organic farmers Annie and Jeff Main who farm on 20 acres in the Capay Valley, which is not far from encroaching strip malls and subdivisions of the I-80 corridor. Their story is not unique, yet so important to the future of farming. At the moment none of their children want to tackle the challenges of farming, and the Mains are acutely aware of their dilemma. Currently, farming is not an economically viable profession. It’s also a lot of work. The film not only educates viewers on the need for farms, but introduces new ideas and models that the Mains developed to keep small-scale farms in business and out of the hands of developers. Several screenings are scheduled throughout Northern California. Check out their facebook page to get the latest information on when and where to view the film.

Cranberry-Olive Oil Muffins

It’s easy to assume that once the calendar says “January 1” we purge our shelves and cupboards of unhealthy foods that find their way into our homes and kitchens during the holidays. But not all of us are so eager to turn over a new leaf and initiate a new year goal that is as likely to stick as re-purposed postage stamps. The first couple weeks of January should be set aside for holiday-frosted Christmas cookies bought on clearance, leftover holiday candy that was forgotten when stockings were stuffed, and newly gifted cook books that now tempt us with the promise of perfect pies and sweets.

There were several cook books that tempted me this year, and I happily supplied a few titles as gifts. Thank goodness for the library because the titles that didn’t end up on my shelves are available at my local library. It was probably not a mistake that I chose to “borrow” Heidi Swanson’s new book, Super Natural Every Day, because most of it is filled with healthy recipes. The book is beautiful and full of inspiring ideas, but I will never find Tempeh in my refrigerator. Never. But several of her recipes have inspired me to create spin offs, or my versions with flours I have on hand, oils I prefer to use, or substitutions I know my family appreciates. (See Tempeh.)

This recipe for Cranberry-Olive Oil Muffins is inspired from the above cookbook. I tweaked it a bit and am very happy with the results. (And it doesn’t contain Tempeh.) Enjoy!

Cranberry-Olive Oil Muffins

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 cup unsweetened bran cereal

1/4 cup flax seed

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 eggs

1 6 oz. container of non-fat Greek-style plain yogurt

1/2 cup non-fat milk

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

zest and juice of one small orange

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1. In a food processor, whirl oats, bran cereal, and flax seed until finely ground. Remove from processor and place in a mixing bowl; add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and mix to combine.

2. In another mixing bowl, add eggs and whip; add yogurt, milk, honey, oil, extract, and zest and juice of orange and mix well. Add dry ingredients and cranberries and mix until batter forms. Place batter into a greased 12-count muffin tin, distributing evenly. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 20 minutes, or when lightly browned on top and cooked through.

Caraway Quick Bread

Lately I’ve been craving baked goods with caraway seeds. It could be the colder weather and the thought of fresh bread baking in the oven. It could also be the recent trip to the spice store that prompted me to purchase an item that I don’t currently have. I could wander Penzeys in Menlo Park and sniff and smell the samples for hours. I love how you can take a whiff of several different cinnamon or black peppercorn varieties before purchasing. Many of their spices come in different varieties from different locales, demonstrating how geography plays a key role in a spice’s flavor profile, heat level, etc.

The caraway flavor is very subtle in this recipe. The seed provides more of an herbal, parsley note rather than a heavy caraway flavor. I’m not a fan of whole seeds in food so I tend to crush them when cooking with them. A mortar and pestle is one of my most used kitchen items. I love how it turns a daunting item like an unusual or infrequently used spice into something delicate and fragrant.

Caraway seeds are grown commercially in Holland and Germany and are used heavily in Scandinavian cooking. Some say it’s the oldest cultivated spice known to man, having been found alongside other cooking relics dating back more than 5,000 years. In modern times, it was and still is associated with Northern European cuisine, but it was frequently used during ancient Greek and Roman times. For centuries, caraway has been used medicinally for stomach ailments and as a sleep aid.

Caraway Quick Bread

No yeast, no rising, and a little less romantic, but great when you have a craving for fresh-baked bread in a hurry.

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup ground flaxseed

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. sea salt

1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed

8 oz. honey-flavored Greek-style yogurt

1 large egg

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup whole milk (or more)

1. Preheat oven at 375°. Grease a 9″x5″ bread loaf pan and set aside. In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine first seven ingredients; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, egg, olive oil, and milk and whisk until thoroughly combined.

2. In a standing mixer or with a hand-held mixer, add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, if mixture appears dry. It should look like wet cookie or biscotti dough. Do not over mix. Spread dough into prepared loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until top is nicely brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the loaf. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Maple Frosting

There’s a sweet little cafe in downtown San Carlos that serves the most amazing treats. My instincts tell me that originally it started out as a cupcake shop, but has slowly transitioned to a cafe that serves savory and sweet edibles, including cupcakes. The proprietor was smart to name her shop something broad enough to ride the cupcake trend without pigeonholing her brand and ultimately limiting the success of her shop.

Last Saturday I popped in with my daughter on a mission to bring home their amazing maple-glazed oat scones, but also walked out with a pumpkin spice brown sugar cookie. Divine. Soft and cake-like with a swirl of vanilla-spiked brown sugar frosting. Here’s my version.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Maple Frosting

These are best served the same day, but can be stored for up to three days in an airtight container. Pumpkin spice consists of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. Because I’m crazy for spices, I like to mix my own. If you have this blend on hand, feel free to substitute 2 tablespoons of it in place of the individual spices in the recipe below.

Cookies:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup pumpkin puree

Frosting:

1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar

5 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tbsp. maple syrup

Cinnamon for dusting

1. In a bowl, sift together first seven ingredients; set aside. In another mixing bowl, beat butter using a hand-held mixer or standing mixer until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add sugars and beat again for another minute. Add egg and beat, scraping down sides of bowl, until well incorporated. On low speed, add vanilla and pumpkin puree and combine. Add flour-spice mixture and mix until batter forms, about one more minute.

2. Refrigerate batter for at least 15 minutes. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to half a day.

3. Preheat oven to 350° and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove batter from refrigerator and, using an ice cream scoop, scoop batter onto lined cookie sheet. Each sheet should fit 12 cookies. Dip fingers in water and smooth the tops of each cookie to flatten so that each cookie measures about 1/4″ x 2 1/2″.

4. Bake cookies, one sheet pan at a time in the center of the oven, for 15 minutes. Remove cookies from pan and place on wire rack to cool.

5. To prepare frosting, sift sugar into a mixing bowl to remove any lumps. Add butter and whip on high; slowly add syrup. Whip until frosting is fluffy and smooth, about 2 minutes.

6. When cookies are cool, spread frosting on cookies  and dust lightly with cinnamon.

Radicchio and Scamorza Focaccia

Successful cooking requires balance. This focaccia recipe is a good example of how pairing contrasting flavors results in a balanced dish. The bitterness of the radicchio is just the right amount to counter the richness of the smoky scamorza. Rosemary works as the bridge that brings the two flavors together.

Radicchio and Scamorza Focaccia

Serve as an appetizer, cut into 2-inch strips, or cut into larger pieces and serve as a light lunch with a salad or soup. Focaccia is more about the “bread” than it is about the toppings. Don’t worry about toppings not blanketing the dough.

2 cups very warm tap water

1 package dry active yeast

1 tsp. sugar

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. kosher salt

4 Tbsp. olive oil (additional drizzle here and there)

3 cups finely sliced radicchio

2 Tbsp. chopped rosemary

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

3 cups grated scramorza (smoked mozzarella) cheese

1. Fill standing mixer bowl with water; sprinkle yeast and sugar, stir to dissolve, and allow to sit for two minutes.

2. Add flour, salt, and 2 tablespoons olive oil to mixer bowl and mix with hook attachment until dough is thoroughly worked, about 5 minutes. If dough is too sticky, add additional flour, one tablespoon at a time. Dough should be tacky rather than sticky. Remove hook and cover bowl with saran wrap and cover with a dish towel. Allow dough to rise at room temperature until double in size, about 2 hours.

3. Drizzle olive oil on a cookie sheet and spread with a pastry brush so that the bottom and sides of pan are coated. Remove dough from mixing bowl and hand stretch dough so that it fits the pan. (Even if it doesn’t reach all sides of the pan, as it rises a second time, revisit the dough and stretch so that it covers all corners.) Cover with dish towel and allow to rise, about another hour.

4. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet and place skillet over medium-high heat. Add radicchio and rosemary to pan and saute quickly to wilt the radicchio, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and red pepper flakes; set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 400°. After the second rise, create small wells in dough by pressing down on dough with fingers. Brush dough with additional olive oil and evenly scatter radicchio mixture on top. Evenly sprinkle cheese on top of radicchio and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Slice and serve immediately or allow to cool and serve at room temperature.

Bacon Brownies in the Mission

In preparation for my son’s transition to Northwestern University, he’s joined a few Facebook groups for incoming Northwestern freshman. One Bay Area group organized a picnic in Dolores Park and George, wanting to make a good impression, asked me to make something special and representative of his growing food knowledge and expanding food palate. He came up with bacon brownies. I thought we should throw in some chocolate-covered caramels and finish the batch with freshly ground sea salt. I mean, if we are going for different, we might as well really test his new classmates on their adaptability and food-comfort level.

With a double batch of brownies securely wrapped and ready for the trip, he headed out yesterday in anticipation of making some new friends before his move next month. Eight other young adults showed up, mostly with sweets, and awkwardly greeted each other until the comfort of knowing that everyone was in the same boat set in.

Half of the plate of brownies remained when the picnic wrapped up and as he gathered his things and made his way through the park and back to BART, he was stopped by someone inquiring about his brownies. “Hey man, are those edibles?” “No, sorry.” George smirked as he continued his course through the park, laughing at the thought of his mother’s brownies being mistaken for the pot-laced snack. Once on 18th Street, he decided to stop and make a call in front of Bi-Rite. While the plate of brownies rested on a ledge outside, a man passing by in a business suit slowed down and took a good long stare at them. George noticed his lingering look and asked him if he wanted one. “My mom made these for a picnic and there’s plenty left over. They’ve got bacon and caramel and sea salt in them.” The man happily took one, said they were delicious and to thank me, and went on his way. Once George got to the BART entrance, he really didn’t feel like carrying the plate of brownies all the way to North Beach. As he passed a homeless man standing outside, he asked him if he would like them. “What’s in them?” he asked before deciding if he wanted them or not. After a few seconds of contemplation, he accepted them. And with that George passed them on and experienced an only-in-San Francisco afternoon.

Lambda Olive Oil

My very generous father-in-law gifted me the most amazing find recently. A bottle of the world’s most expensive olive oil. It was stashed away in a protected place for a couple of months. I was completely unable to crack it open. Every time I would bring home a delicious loaf of fresh bread and pour myself a glass of wine I would say to myself, “is today the day?”

The day finally arrived a couple of weeks ago. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and we had nothing to do so we hopped in the car and drove to the Ferry Building to source food items worthy of the oil. By the time we arrived it was almost noon and we rushed to the Della Fattoria stand, only to find that they were nearly sold out of all loaves. Surveying the handful breads left, we settled on a loaf of their campagne bread. Next we headed to Cowgirl Creamery and discussed appropriate cheeses with the cheesemonger. We ended up with a piece of Fiore Sardo, a hard sheep’s milk cheese from Sardinia, and a piece of Wisconsin cheddar. In between bites of bacon-stuffed hot dogs from 4505 Meats  and blood orange gelato, we managed to pick up some perfectly ripe plums and tomatoes.

With our pockets considerably lighter, we headed back to the car and drove to the in-laws to share the bounty (and olive oil). With bread and cheese sliced and tomatoes seasoned with sea salt and cracked black pepper, I did the honors.

Llambda Olive Oil is classified as a ultra premium olive oil. This means that it has the highest levels of polyphenols among other antioxidants and low levels of “acidity” or free fatty acids that make extra virgin olive oil so healthy. Usually polyphenols equate to bitterness, but in Lambda’s case, the oil is balanced and smooth.

This oil is limited and there aren’t that many ultra premium oils out there in the world. It’s an exclusive club of which I’m excited to join, at least until the bottle runs out. I’ve tasted a lot of quality extra virgin olive oils in the last few years and my palate usually prefers a more pungent flavor. But I truly appreciate the finesse of this oil. It is so smooth and refined and goes down so easy that if it weren’t so expensive it would be the ideal oil to drink straight out of the bottle.

Thanks Mba-mbas!

Cedar Plank Salmon

Once again, I find myself planning a dish based on what I’ve discovered in my cupboards. Last time it was culinary lavender and this time it’s cedar planks. I haven’t grilled with these in a couple of years and I guess I picked these up on impulse. Once I discovered them I immediately had the urge for cedar-infused salmon. I’ve tried using planks for other items such as scallops and chicken, but really like the smoky cedar flavor with salmon best. I am sure sturgeon would be incredible and maybe I should put that on my list to try next. It’s going to be a hot day today; hope I can wait until dinnertime to fire up the grill.

Cedar Plank Salmon

I love to use whole spices whenever possible, but if you don’t have whole coriander or brown mustard seed on hand, simply substitute equal parts ground coriander and half the amount of ground mustard.

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup dark rum

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. coriander seed, toasted and ground

1 tsp. brown mustard seed, toasted and ground

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 1/2 lb. salmon fillet

1. Place all ingredients except for salmon in a large shallow glass or ceramic pan and stir thoroughly until sugar is dissolved.

2. Place rinsed and de-boned salmon fillet, skin side up, in marinade, cover, and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to 12 hours.

3. Soak cedar plank in water so that it is fully submerged for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.

4. When ready to grill, preheat grill and place water-soaked plank on grill grates. Set grill at low to medium temperature, about 350° to 375°, and place marinated salmon fillet on plank, skin side down, close lid, and cook salmon for 25 minutes. Monitor temperature and flame periodically so that wood doesn’t burn and salmon is cooked through.