Winter

Pistachio Rosewater Tea Cakes // Serious Crust

Pistachio Rosewater Tea Cakes

Pistachio Rosewater Tea Cakes // Serious Crust

Pistachio Rosewater Tea Cakes // Serious Crust
Pistachio Rosewater Tea Cakes // Serious Crust

During the holiday season, all I want to do is make cookies. All of the cookie recipes I’ve been eyeing throughout the year, this seems like the time to make them. I want chocolate cookies, I want mint crinkles, I want pecan shortbreads, I want soft sugar cookies decorated with frosting designs, I want ginger snaps. Maybe this is why I always add a layer this time of year? Maybe.

I recently bought a bottle of rosewater (mostly because there’s this dish in Jerusalem (the cookbook)- swordfish with harissa and rose – that I had once and I’ve been wanting to make it again), and it had been sitting on my pantry shelf, looking pretty but also lonely. And then I came across this recipe for “Pistachio Rosewater Snowball Cookies” in the latest issue of Kinfolk Magazine. They sounded like a beautiful twist on what some people call Mexican wedding cookies or Russian Tea Cakes or any other number of cookies: nutty with pistachio, and aromatic and floral from the cardamom and rose.

After making the recipe from Kinfolk, I made a few small changes to the recipe, and I wanted to share them with you. I thought the original was a little heavy on the rosewater, and a little light on the cardamom (though my roommates and Jonah really enjoyed them as they were). They’re buttery and crumbly. They’re sweet but with a unique flavor with them. And they smell beautiful.

Pistachio Rosewater Tea Cakes

Note: I found rosewater with the cocktail mixers at my local grocery store. It might also be in with the extracts in the baking aisle. If not, you can find it online.

Second note: Before you invest in making this recipe, you should definitely read through this recipe, and know that 1) pistachios are pricey, especially if you buy them already shelled and 2) there is a lot of kind of annoying pistachio prep. You’ve been warned.

Ingredients

1 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios
2 cups plus 2 Tbl all purpose flour
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) butter unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 tsp rosewater

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment, or butter them.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and blanch the pistachios for 1 minute. Drain them, and place them on a clean dish towel. Fold the dish towel over the pistachios and rub off the skins. (There may be some stubborn ones that you need to peel off.) Spread them in a small baking dish and roast them in the oven until they’re just dry, about 8 minutes. Set them aside and allow them to cool. When they are cool, pulse in a food processor or blender until they’re finely ground, but definitely not a paste. Transfer them to a small mixing bowl and whisk together with the flour, cardamom, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 1 cup of the powdered sugar and the butter until pale and fluffy. Add the rosewater, and mix it in. With the mixer on low, add in the pistachio flour mixture and mix just until a dough forms, scarping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Roll the dough into 1-1.5 inch balls. Arrange at least 1 inch apart on the pan, and bake until they’re just golden on the bottom, ~20 minutes (mine took a little less). While the cookies are baking, pour the remaining cup of powdered sugar into a wide bowl. Remove the cookies from the oven, allow them to cool from a minute or two, and when they’re cool enough to handle, roll them in the powdered sugar. Allow to cool the rest of the way on a wire race.

Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding // Serious Crust

Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding

Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding // Serious Crust
Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding // Serious Crust
Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding // Serious Crust
Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding // Serious CrustMiso Sticky Toffee Pudding // Serious Crust

Almost a year ago, there was a piece in the New York Times. I’m not sure where I found it – most likely someone posted it on Facebook – but it struck a chord. It’s called “When a Food Writer Can’t Taste,” by Marlena Spieler, a James Beard Award winning food writer. In the article, she writes about how a car accident, in which she broke both arms and sustained a concussion, completely demolished her ability to taste and smell.

Now, that sounds horrible no matter who you are. But when a food writer loses the senses that bring her the most joy and allow her to work, it’s devastating. Her descriptions of tasting what had once been some of her favorite foods are heartbreaking: “Cinnamon drops, a childhood favorite, were bitter, horrible.” “Bananas tasted like parsnips and smelled like nail polish remover.” “Gently sautéed mushrooms seemed like scorched bits of sponge.” Luckily, the nerves were only damaged, not severed, meaning that she would, in time, recover. She created her own rehabilitation plan, eating and tasting a huge range of foods, forcing herself to taste things like chocolate over and over again, starting with milk chocolate and slowly upping the cocoa content. Things she hadn’t particularly loved before – fish, especially – became a daily craving.

In the end, she recovered most of the way, and though her senses still occasionally go haywire, she can enjoy food to an incredible extent. But I’d like to focus on a specific part of this story: about halfway through the article, she tells us how, though she used to “lack a sweet tooth,” her sweet tooth now couldn’t be ignored. She lists a few things she baked, and they all sound delicious, but one jumped out at me: miso sticky toffee pudding.

When I studied abroad in London, I became a fan of sticky toffee pudding. It’s not pudding like we think of in the states. It’s a cake that is sweet but not too sweet, drenched in a warm toffee sauce that seeps into the cake, resulting in a moist, warm, absolutely fantastic dessert. Now I have looked for a recipe for Spieler’s mystical dish, and I am not the only one. The day after the article was published, someone tweeted at Spieler asking for the recipe. There’s a Chowhound thread asking if the recipe can be found anywhere (yes, I commented). But I couldn’t find it, and it seems, neither could anyone else. There are recipes for miso toffee, and for sticky toffee pudding with miso ice cream, but not this exact dessert. So, after talking with my baker friend Caitlyn, we decided to make one ourselves.

We decided to adapt David Lebovitz’s sticky toffee pudding recipe, and really, there were only a couple simple changes to be made. (In retrospect, I should’ve used Spieler’s sticky toffee pudding recipe, but I never happened upon it until I was sitting down to write this.) The resulting dessert is sweet, salty, caramelized, strong, and unique. Its flavors are perhaps a bit confusing at first, but I think the way they swirl around your tongue, combining to create a balance of sweet and savory is a fun adventure.

Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding

Note: I have made this recipe now with both red and white miso paste. While I personally liked the white miso better, Caitlyn, Jonah, and Caitlyn’s boyfriend Dylan liked the red. On one hand, I think the deeper, more caramelized flavor of the red miso was nice, and on the other, the white provided a little more brightness, while bringing the same level of saltiness. Both are good, so it’s up to you which you use.

Ingredients

Toffee Sauce

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup muscovado sugar (if you don’t have that, demerera or dark brown sugar will do)
2 1/2 Tbl molasses (we used Blackstrap)
2-3 tsp miso paste (start with two teaspoons, and add up to another teaspoon to taste)
1-2 Tbl toasted sesame seeds

Pudding

6 ounces pitted dates, snipped into small pieces
1 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt, preferably fine
4 Tbl unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
toasted sesame seeds, to serve

Instructions

Toffee Sauce

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and butter an 8 1/2 inch porcelain soufflé dish, or something of a similar size.

In a medium sized saucepan, bring the cream, muscovado sugar (or other dark brown sugar), molasses, and miso to a boil, stirring often to melt the sugar, and keeping a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn. Lower the heat and let simmer for about five minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened and coats the spoon. Try your best to break up any chunks of miso. Pour roughly half the sauce into your buttered baking dish, sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over the toffee sauce, and place the dish in the freezer. Set the pan with the rest of the sauce aside for serving.

Pudding

In another medium saucepan, bring the dates and water to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and ginger. Set aside, but keep slightly warm – leaving it on low heat isn’t a terrible idea.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large mixing bowl (you can use an electric mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla, stirring to combine. Add half of the flour mixture, then the date mixture, and then add the rest of the flour mixture, stirring between each addition. Be careful not to over-mix the batter.

Remove the baking dish from the freezer and pour the batter in over the toffee and sesame seeds. Bake for 50 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Allow it to cool slightly before serving. To serve, warm the toffee sauce, spoon portions of the pudding onto plates or bowls, and top with the warm toffee sauce and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream will make a nice topping. I’ve also topped mine with some homemade anise-cardamom ice cream (based on the anise ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop).

According to Lebovitz, if you’re making the pudding in advance of serving, bake it without the toffee in the bottom of the dish. Close to serving time, poke the cake about 15 times with a chopstick or skewer, and distribute half the toffee sauce over the top. Cover with foil, warm in a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes, and then follow the serving instructions above.

Soba Noodles with Shrimp // Serious Crust

Soba Noodles with Shrimp, Lime, and Crispy Shallots

Soba Noodles with Shrimp // Serious Crust

Yes, yes, at this point, we all know that I have a thing for soba noodles. They are healthier than normal wheat pasta, and when you’re more into Asian food than Italian, they make a great alternative. They serve as a fantastic base for lots of sauces, from heavy (like peanut sauce) to light (like this sauce made of sesame oil, tamari, and agave), and are great to toss with seasonal ingredients (mango and zucchini in the summerkale in the winter) and a range of proteins (shredded teriyaki chicken or seared tofu).

More than anything, for me, they’re easy. It’s easy to add lots of healthy vegetables, they make great leftovers, and I know that I can whip up a sauce for them in 10 minutes or less. Throw in some sautéed vegetables or shrimp and you’ve got a dinner. Can it get easier than that? No. So on a busy night a couple weeks ago, Jonah and I made this delicious simple soba noodles with shrimp. This recipe served Jonah and I, with no leftovers (keep in mind, we were hungry). Go ahead and double it if you’re feeding more than two.

Soba Noodles with Shrimp, Lime, and Crispy Shallots

Ingredients

6-8 oz soba noodles
2 Tbl sesame oil
3 Tbl tamari or soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
1 Tbl vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced and separated into rings
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
zest and juice of one lime
1/2 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined
salt
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced
~1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
red pepper flakes or sriracha to taste
lime wedges for serving

Instructions

Boil a large pot of water, cook your soba noodles until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a medium bowl, combine 1 Tbl of the sesame oil with the tamari or soy sauce, and agave or honey. Add the soba noodles and toss to evenly coat them with the sauce.

In a heavy bottomed pan (cast iron works great here), heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they’re golden and crisp. Remove the shallots to a plate covered with some paper towels. Lower the heat and add the garlic, cooking until it too is golden and crisp. Transfer to the paper towels too, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the lime zest and juice with the remaining 1 Tbl of sesame oil. Stir in the shrimp and season with salt, making sure the shrimp are evenly coated. Empty the contents of this bowl into the pan (the same one you cooked the shallots and garlic in), and cook them until they’re nice and glazed and just white throughout, about three minutes. Don’t walk away from the stove at this point – overcooked shrimp are not great.

Add the scallions, cilantro, and whatever amount of spicy ingredients you want to the noodles, and top with the shrimp. Serve with a lime wedge to squeeze over the top. Enjoy.

Banana Bread with Miso and Ginger // Serious Crust

Banana Bread with Miso and Ginger

Banana Bread with Miso and Ginger // Serious CrustBanana Bread with Miso and Ginger // Serious Crust

I heard people were getting worried. In the week before I posted the recap of Feast last week, at least two people said to me, “I was looking at your blog, and noticed you haven’t posted in a month! Is everything ok?” Which at least means they hopefully like coming over to this little corner of the internet. Mostly though, it has just been a wildly busy month. But hopefully things are calming down a little bit, and as we settle into fall, I can get back to more cooking and writing.

A few weeks ago we cleaned out our freezer to make room for a giant tub of Salt & Straw ice cream, and discovered that we had so many frozen bananas. You know, every time a banana or two gets overripe, you throw it in the freezer, thinking “Oh, I’ll use it soon.” But you always forget. Anyway, I saw this pile of bananas and thought to myself, ok, the time has come. But of course I didn’t want to make just a traditional banana bread. So I took a standard banana bread recipe from Food52 and added a couple things: miso and crystallized ginger.

If you’ve never baked with crystallized ginger before, I highly recommend it. My family likes to put it in apple pie at Thanksgiving. It lends a nice bit of spiciness, and makes you feel a little bit healthy about whatever baked good you’re eating. What is it about ginger that makes everything it’s in seem healthy? How misleading. In this bread, you’ll find little zings of it as you munch on this moist quick bread, a perfect combination of sweet and savory (thanks to the miso).

Banana Bread with Miso and Ginger

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

3 large or 4 small ripe bananas
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 Tbl butter, melted and cooled
4 tsp white miso (optional)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan (5×9 inches).

In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas. Add the egg and sugar, stir to combine, then add the butter and miso. Mix until thoroughly combined.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. In two additions, fold the dry ingredients into the wet, being careful not to overmix. Gently fold in the crystallized ginger. Pour into loaf pan.

Bake for 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick (or wooden skewer, which is what I had on hand) inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool for ~5 minutes in the pan, then remove onto a cooling rack. This bread is best served warm and fresh. If you’ve got some leftover, store in the fridge for best second-day results.

Easy Energy Bites // Serious Crust

Easy Energy Bites

Easy Energy Bites // Serious Crust

So these energy bite things have been popping up in my life for a while now. I’ve seen them everywhere: favorite foodie websites, blogs, Pinterest (duh, everything is on Pinterest), and on my sister’s Facebook. I tried a batch inspired by Sprouted Kitchen that was peanut butter heavy, but they weren’t really my jam (but maybe peanut butter is your jam, or jelly, as it were). After talking to my sister, she inspired me to try her version. And they were great. They were fruity, jammy, chewy, and a little nutty, similar to Larabars.

The beauty of these is that they could not be easier to make. Also, people have found them really impressive, even though they took a mere pressing of buttons to make. The other beauty of these is that you can make them using whatever you’re in the mood for. On this particular day, dried apricots and cherries were calling my name. But I also wanted a little decadence, so I threw in some semi-sweet chocolate chips. The possibilities are endless. And I like that.

Easy Energy Bites

Note: you will need a food processor to make these. You could try them in a blender, but I’m not making any promises about what might happen.

Ingredients

1 cup nuts (I used almond) – toasting optional
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup dried fruit (I went for half apricots, half sour cherries)
Optional: 1/2 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate, or cocoa nibs

Instructions

Get out a large piece of wax or parchment paper.

Combine the nuts, dates, whatever dried fruit, and chocolate (if you’re using it) in a food processor. Pulse a few times to break up the ingredients, stopping to separate the dates if they clump together. Now, turn the food processor on for 30 seconds or so. Everything should break down every more to crumbly pieces. Scrape down the edges of the bowl. Process again for 1-2 minutes until a paste starts to form and the ingredients clump together into a ball. Dump the paste/dough onto the piece of parchment or wax paper, and press it with your hands until it forms a square, roughly 8×8. Wrap up the dough, and let cool in the fridge for at least an hour, or up to overnight.

Once the dough is chilled, unwrap it, slice it into bars of whatever size. You can individually wrap the bars if you’d like, but I stacked mine in a tupperware and stored them in the fridge. Note that they don’t necessarily need to be kept in the fridge, but doing so will help them maintain their shape and firmness. Room temperature bars will be softer and pastier.

Mariam's Salad Rolls // Serious Crust

Mariam’s Salad Rolls

Mariam's Salad Rolls // Serious Crust

Mariam's Salad Rolls // Serious Crust
Mariam's Salad Rolls // Serious Crust

It was 100 degrees in Portland yesterday. The sun was not beating down, no. It was a cloudy, muggy day (by Pacific Northwest standards). And so when the time came to cook dinner, the thought of turning on any heating device just felt wrong. So I went to the store and picked up some fresh, crunchy, fruity, flavor packed ingredients to make salad rolls.

I had seen a recipe for salad rolls using lentils, but I didn’t really have time to cook them, so I thought I’d use another flavor of Mariam’s lentil dips (which I’ve written about before here). I went with the curry and green lentil flavor, thinking it would go nicely with the kind of Asian flavor. I’m not sure a few of these rolls would have made enough for dinner without the lentils – they’re packed with protein, and they made the rolls much more filling. They were delicious!

You can fill these rolls with whatever you’d like, really. You can slice up some tofu and put it in raw or cooked. You can grill some shrimp. You can add some vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, red onions, or even shiitake mushrooms. The possibilities are endless!

Mariam’s Salad Rolls

Note: If Mariam’s lentil dip isn’t available where you are, feel free to substitute with some cooked green lentils, tossed with a little sesame oil, soy sauce, sriracha, salt, etc. Or see above for other recommendations.

Ingredients

½ cucumber, thinly sliced
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 large ripe mango (or 2 small ripe mangos), thinly sliced
1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
Cilantro, picked from stems
Mariam’s Curry and Green Lentil Dip
Spring roll wrappers (available in the Asian section of most grocery stores)
Sweet chili sauce for dipping

Instructions

Arrange all of your ingredients in bowls or on plates, so that they are easily accessible. Set out a large bowl of room temperature water, and a damp dishtowel. Follow the instructions on the spring roll wrapper package to prepare, or if they don’t have instructions, prepare like this: soak in room temperature water for 15 seconds, until the wrappers have almost no crinkle left, and spread on a damp dish towel. Arrange a few slices of cucumber, carrot, mango, avocado, a few leaves of cilantro, and a few dollops of Mariam’s Curry and Green Lentil Dip down the center of the wrapper, leaving about an inch on either end. Fold in the short ends over the ingredients, fold the bottom half of the wrapper up over the ingredients, and roll up the rest of the way. Enjoy dipped in sweet chili sauce or other dipping sauces.

This is a sponsored post. All of the opinions below are my own.

Chocolate Banana Bread // Serious Crust

Chocolate Banana Bread

Chocolate Banana Bread // Serious Crust
Chocolate Banana Bread // Serious Crust
Chocolate Banana Bread // Serious Crust

Let’s talk about the beauty of roommates. After living with just Jonah in a studio apartment, we have been lucky enough to find the greatest housing situation either of us have ever really had. We live with two other couples, all of whom are friends from college. Six people may seem like a lot, but when it’s three couples, it’s really not that many. Each couple has our own bathroom (score!), and while the kitchen is small, we’ve almost never had everyone trying to cook at once.

The other fantastic thing about roommates is that they eat things. My roommates are wonderful about sharing food. Sure, borrow a banana. Let’s all make brunch, I have potatoes, you have bell peppers, frittata sounds great. One of the things that always used to stress me out about baking for this blog is that I always have all these sweets to pawn off on other people. Living with five other people means that I don’t have to look too far for someone to eat the rest of those cookies, or give me their opinion of this bread. And when I say things like, “I really feel like baking. Should I bake something?” their answer is usually, “Is that even a question that people ask?”

Jonah was away traveling the world, as he is wont to do, and I was home, wanting to bake. There were many contributing factors to my making a very slight variation on this chocolate banana bread from Pastry Affair. First, it had been a little cool out, and I wanted something less summery, a little chocolate, and cozy. Second, there was a can on the back of my pantry shelf, hidden from view, of cocoa nibs that I hadn’t used in a very long time. Third, we had some awfully ripe bananas. So this bread seemed like the perfect choice.

I like that this bread is chocolatey without being too sweet. I like the crunch of the cocoa nibs, almost like adding walnuts (which you could totally do also). I like that the banana isn’t overpowering at all. I like this bread.

Chocolate Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Note: If cocoa nibs are not your thing, or you don’t happen to have them sitting around like I do, feel free to substitute some chopped walnuts or pecans. Alternatively, if you’d like your bread to be a little more dessert-like, feel free to use chocolate chips.

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cacao nibs

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter a loaf pan. In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir to combine and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, mixing after each addition, then the vanilla extract and bananas. Mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flour mixture and mix again – no pockets of flour or clumps of cocoa powder here! Add the milk, mix, and the cocoa nibs, and mix again.

Pour the batter into the greased pan. If you’d like to sprinkle a few additional cocoa nibs on top, go for it. Bake for about an hour, give or take 5 minutes, or until your bread successfully passes the toothpick test (or if you’re like me and can never find toothpicks, the sharp knife test). Allow the bread to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing it to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way. A slice of this bread is best served warm, accompanied by a glass of cold milk.

Herb and Lemon Shortbread // Serious Crust

Herb and Lemon Shortbread with Straus Family Butter {Sponsored}

Herb and Lemon Shortbread // Serious Crust
Herb and Lemon Shortbread // Serious Crust
Herb and Lemon Shortbread // Serious Crust
Herb and Lemon Shortbread // Serious Crust

I love butter. Let’s be clear here, I don’t like to grab a stick and eat it like a candy bar, the way my mother used to. Certainly not. But there is something to be said for a good piece of sourdough covered in melty butter. Or a roast chicken that’s been slathered in butter and salt and pepper. You know what I mean?

Recently, Jonah and I have become more interested in buying “good” butter. Butter is butter – it’s good. But we were wanting to buy butter made with milk from grass-fed cows. It started a couple months ago when our roommate’s dad, Bruce, came to visit. Bruce is very knowledgeable about diet and nutrition, and while he was here we had many conversations about foods that people think are bad for you (aka butter) but aren’t really if you eat them well. Good fats are good for you, guys! Things like good olive oil, good butter, even chicken livers (fatty, yes, but full of nutrients), are things we can enjoy without feeling guilty about it.

So when I was sent some coupons for Straus Dairy products, I knew immediately I wanted to try their butter. I started with ye old piece of toast. What better way to judge a butter’s character? It was good. It was richer and creamier than your average butter. So I took things to another level. I had bought some chicken livers the day before, so I made some chicken liver paté (Julia Child’s recipe, in case you were interested). And let me tell you, it was some incredibly creamy paté.

Let’s talk for a second about Straus Family Creamery. After spending a fair amount of time on Straus’s website, perhaps one of the things I find the coolest is that they were the first 100% certified organic creamery in the country. For real! Evolving from a family dairy farm, Straus Family Creamery was officially founded in 1994, when Albert Straus saw going organic as a way to differentiate himself and save the state of local family farming. The butter has 85% butterfat content, and is less moist than normal butter. What does this mean for us bakers? It means it’ll brown more evenly and be more flaky. And for the cooks? It doesn’t burn as easily. Now I know, this butter ain’t cheap. But when you’re making butter heavy things like paté or shortbread, I think it’s worth spending the extra few dollars. You don’t skimp on a pork shoulder or buy cheap-o chocolate for your chocolate chip cookies, do you? I thought not.

Enough waxing poetic about butter, Annie. Let’s get on to this recipe for herb and lemon shortbread. On our front steps, we have a little pot of herbs that we carried with us from our last home. Our thyme isn’t looking so hot, but the sage is coming back strong this spring. And every time I walk by that pot, I start thinking of things I could do with those herbs. This week, I had an idea for this herb and lemon shortbread. And lo and behold, I had one stick of this beautiful butter left. It was perfect.

Herb and Lemon Shortbread

Note: I used solely sage for this recipe, but any combination of sage, rosemary, and thyme would be great, I think.

Ingredients

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbl plus 1 tsp sugar
1-2 tsp freshly chopped herbs (I used 1 tsp of freshly chopped sage, and wish I had used more)
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 stick (8 oz) Straus Family butter, unsalted, at room temperature

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour and salt together in a medium bowl, set aside. In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbl sugar plus chopped herbs and lemon zest. Rub these ingredients together with your fingers – this will make sure the sugar absorbs the oils from the herbs and lemon, making it perfectly aromatic. Add the sugar mixture to the flour, and stir until combined. Cut the butter into chunks, and combine it with the flour/sugar mixture with a fork or a pastry knife, blending until you’ve got a beautiful soft dough.

Gently press the dough into a 9×9 baking dish or a 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sugar over the top. Bake until it’s golden brown around the edges. Once you’ve removed it from the oven, carefully cut it into wedges or squares or whatever shape you like while it’s still hot. Allow to cool before separating it. It helps to run the knife along the lines again.

I think this shortbread would make a fantastic base for lemon bars or rhubarb bars or any kind of bar topped with curd. Just saying.

This is a sponsored post. I was given coupons for Straus Dairy products, and all of the opinions below are my own.

Thai Larb // Serious Crust

Thai Larb with Lettuce Wraps

Thai Larb // Serious CrustThai Larb // Serious Crust

A couple of weeks ago, my roommates had a problem. I had gone with them to the climbing gym, and on our way home, we decided to stop at the store to get some food for lunch. We were thinking about what we already had in the house that we could use, and they started talking about how they had too much lettuce. See, they’re more spinach eaters (in salads and scrambles and such) than lettuce eaters, and so had a head of lettuce that they didn’t particularly want to eat or know what to do with. I had an idea: Thai larb.

This Thai larb, a chicken dish with lettuce wraps, immediately popped into my head. I quickly looked up a couple recipes on my phone, and grabbed the ingredients at the store. It was a warm day, and this bright, tart, crunchy dish was perfect. Plus, they were impressed that I made lettuce into something so delectable.

Today it was 85 degrees in Portland, and tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter. In fact, it’s supposed to be beautiful (and hot) until Saturday. My suggestion? Make this Thai larb: it’s so refreshing on a hot day. I’d serve it with maybe a green papaya salad and rice (sticky rice if you can swing it).

Thai Larb with Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4

Ingredients

Dressing

1/3 cup lime juice
1 Tbl fish sauce
2 Tbl light brown sugar
1/2 tsp Sriracha

Chicken

2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
1 large shallot, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass , thinly sliced (see this article for instructions on prepping your lemongrass)
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 red chile, jalapeño, or thai chile, depending on your desired spice level
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbl vegetable oil
1 head romaine or iceberg lettuce, rinsed
Cilantro for garnish (optional)

Instructions

To make the dressing, stir all of the ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine the chicken, shallot, lemongrass, garlic, chile pepper, fish sauce, and salt. Add 1 Tbl of oil, and pulse until the chicken is finely chopped, or how you would imagine ground chicken would look. In a large nonstick pan, heat the remaining 2 Tbl of oil over medium-high heat. Once the pan and oil is hot, add the chicken mixture and cook, breaking up into smaller pieces with your wooden spoon, until the chicken starts to turn golden brown and is cooked through.

To eat your larb, spoon some chicken onto a lettuce leaf, and top with the dressing and a little cilantro if you like. Be sure to eat over a plate – I can guarantee there will be dripping.

Meyer & Black Lemon Sorbet // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Meyer & Black Lemon Sorbet

Meyer & Black Lemon Sorbet // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Meyer & Black Lemon Sorbet // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Meyer & Black Lemon Sorbet // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Meyer & Black Lemon Sorbet // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

My mother gave me some spices for Christmas. Three little bags from Oaktown Spice Shop: cinnamon, juniper berries, and ground black lemon (also known as Omani). I was able to find recipes using the cinnamon and juniper berries (still working on making some of my own gin…), but the black lemon was trickier. It’s a traditionally Persian ingredient, and I don’t know a whole lot of Persian cooking resources.

I wrote in to a few places, asked some intelligent minds what I should do with it, and I mostly came away with meat and fish. Rub it on meat and fish, put it in a stew with meat or fish. And even with those suggestions, I couldn’t really find any jumping off points, or recipes to start from or be inspired by. So the ground black lemon had been sitting sadly on my pantry shelf. Until last week, that is.

Last week, Portland had a little heat wave. Like, 93 degrees kind of heat wave. Yeah. I was itching to make ice cream. I have a flavor I’d been brainstorming, but decided, in the end, that instead of buying a bunch of heavy cream I would just buy Meyer lemons instead. So that’s what I did. And I decided to finally try using that lonely looking black lemon. And so today I give you Meyer lemon sorbet with black lemon.

Now, if you don’t have black lemon, don’t worry. You can still make a lovely Meyer lemon sorbet and it will be delicious. But if you are feeling curious, or you magically somehow do have black lemon sitting around, use it. It brings a nice, dare I say it, depth of flavor to this sorbet – something unique and hard to describe. The best words I can think of are that it’s a kind of dark citrus flavor… not necessarily sweet, but more complex than that. It lent a lovely je ne sais quoi to the sorbet. And I love that.

Meyer & Black Lemon Sorbet

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground black lemon (optional)
1 tsp Meyer lemon zest
1 cup Meyer lemon juice (from about 5 Meyer lemons)

Instructions

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and black lemon if you’re using it. Bring to a boil over medium heat, allowing the sugar to dissolve and the black lemon to steep. While that is cooking, in a heat-proof bowl combine the lemon juice and zest. Place a sieve over the bowl. Once the sugar is dissolved and syrup has become amber in color from the black lemon (again, if you’re using it), pour through the sieve into the lemon juice. Stir to combine, and place over ice bath to cool. Once cool, churn in your ice cream machine according to instructions. I churned mine for about 20-25 minutes. Pour into a container to freeze. Enjoy while sitting in the sunshine. Or with a bunch of friends, in your living room, playing Cards Against Humanity, like I did.

Kale Stem Pesto // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Kale Stem Pesto

Kale Stem Pesto // Serious Crust by Annie FasslerKale Stem Pesto // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

I often find myself frustrated with how much stuff I put in my compost. I guess I should stop right there and say, at least I have a compost, right? The beautiful city of Portland has roadside pickup every week, making it so wonderfully easy to make more environmentally conscious choices. There aren’t a lot of cities that do that. Anyway, I know I could save some bones and carrot tops and onion tops and parsley stems for stock… But I just don’t do it. I mean, I do sometimes… But not as often as I should. And there’s one thing lately that I have always felt guilty after putting it in the compost: kale stems. Jonah and I eat a fair amount of kale – usually sautéed with butter and garlic or something like that, sometimes in a salad. But I always am frustrated at the toughness of the stems, and wish I could do more with them.

After a little research and looking around, I mostly found that people who do use their kale stems either sauté them with their kale, simply adding the stems first so they cook for longer, or put them in smoothies. I wasn’t really into either of these options, so I made myself a third one. With the all-in pesto in mind, and a container of pine nuts whining from my pantry, I got to work making some kale stem pesto. I wasn’t planning on sharing this pesto here, since the recipe is really improvised, but I got so many comments and questions about what it was when I posted pictures on my Instagram and Facebook, that I thought, why not? This pesto is certainly a product of whatever you’ve got around, which is generally my theory about pesto. Herbs are good, parmesan is good, and other than that, you can kind of go crazy. Nearly any kind of nut will work, any greens, and you can really play until you find some flavors that you like. I didn’t do any measuring here – mostly just throwing in handfuls of this or that – but below is an approximation of what I used.

The beautiful thing about pesto is that it can be a complete reflection of your kitchen: if you just went to the market and have some radish greens, use them. If you don’t have any pine nuts but plenty of pistachios or walnuts, use them. If it’s raining and you want something heartier, add more cheese.

We tossed our kale stem pesto with fresh spaghetti (you can find a recipe here) and topped it with sliced grape tomatoes, which added a really nice juicy brightness. I also like to make a thick piece of toast and slather it with fresh pesto.

Kale Stem Pesto

Ingredients

1 bunch of kale stems, plus probably the equivalent of 1 leaf of kale
1 cup spinach
1/4 cup parsley
~ 3/4 cup pine nuts
Parmesan cheese
Garlic
Olive oil
Salt

Instructions

Fill a small pot halfway with water, salt well, and bring to a boil. Roughly chop kale stems into about 1/2 – 1 inch pieces. Add to boiling water, and cook until stems are easily pierced with a knife. Drain and cool.

In the bowl of a food processor (or blender), combine kale stems, a few small chunks of parmesan, about half the pine nuts, 2 cloves of peeled garlic, and a few glugs of olive oil. Pulse to combine. Add spinach, some parsley, and a hefty sprinkling of salt. The key here is to taste and add. If you want a little more spice, add another clove or two of garlic. If you want it creamier, more nuts, and olive oil. If you want it greener, add more spinach and parsley, or some fresh basil or chard if you’ve got some around.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Bread // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Cinnamon Raisin Bread // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Cinnamon Raisin Bread // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Cinnamon Raisin Bread // Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

I like being home. Traveling the world is awesome, don’t get me wrong. I will happily go on adventures like the one to Vietnam any time. But there is something about coming home to your own bed, your own shower, and your own kitchen. I feel like I need to give all my kitchen tools little hugs and tell them I’ve missed them. Which, at this point, I’ve basically done, because I’ve been cooking up a storm this week.

Portland, however, is being slightly less welcoming than my kitchen. Mostly just in its weather-related mood swings. Seriously, this whole week has been days of sporadically alternating sunshine and rain. Sometimes each lasts 5 minutes, sometimes an hour. But it’s making it awfully hard to cook. What I’m going to make is always determined by my mood, which is often influenced by the weather. Between the rain and sun breaks, I can’t decide if I should be making spring recipes or winter recipes.

This cinnamon raisin bread is the perfect balance between spring and winter, though I already know I’ll be making it year round. It’s homey and warming thanks to the springy crumb and the way it fills your kitchen with the most comforting smell. But the raisins and cinnamon bring a little fruitiness and fun to the mix, a little surprise if you will. This isn’t just plain ol’ bread, you know. This has a beautiful swirl of cinnamon sugar and beautifully juicy pops of fruit throughout it.

This recipe made two loaves, and I thought for certain I’d freeze one loaf, because my roommates just don’t usually eat that much bread (unless it’s beer bread). But I was wrong. In two days, we are down to half a loaf left. Everyone has been enjoying this bread, toasted, slathered with butter, or raspberry rhubarb jam, or nutella for breakfast and dessert and a snack here and there.

Point is, make this bread and your house will smell like heaven, your friends will love you, and you’ll be perfectly toeing the line between the seasons.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

2 1/4 tsps (1 package) dry instant yeast
2 1/4+ cups warm water
3 Tbl and 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 Tbl salt
3 Tbl butter
6 -7 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup raisins
canola/vegetable oil
1 Tbl cinnamon

Instructions

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or not. If you don’t have one, this can easily be made with the strength of your own two arms.) combine 1/2 cup warm water, the yeast, and 1 Tbl of sugar. Set aside and let sit until it’s foamy. In another bowl, cover the raisins with warm-hot water, at least 2 cups. This step is optional, but it will plump the raisins, making them a bit juicier in the bread. After about 3 minutes, pour 1 3/4 cups of the raisin water off into a measuring cup and discard the rest. Pour the raisin water into the mixing bowl with the yeast, in addition to 2 Tbl sugar, the salt, 2 Tbl melted butter, 3 1/2 cups of flour, and all of the raisins. Mix with the paddle attachment until thoroughly combined, adding up to 3 more cups of flour until the dough is smooth enough to handle, but still moist. Switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook, and knead for about 7 minutes (10 minutes if you’re kneading by hand). Dump the dough out onto a floured surface, coat the mixing bowl with canola or vegetable oil, and put the dough back into the bowl, turning it to coat, and cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel. Set the bowl in a warm spot (I like to turn on the light over my stove and set it under that) and let it rise for about an hour, or until it’s doubled.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and 1 Tbl of cinnamon and mix well. Butter two bread pans. When the dough has doubled, remove it from the bowl onto a floured surface and punch it down, then divide it in half. Roll out one half of the dough into a rectangle that measures roughly 16 by 8 inches. Once rolled out, sprinkle the dough with 1 Tbl of water, and half of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll the dough up starting from the short end, and pinch the seam shut. Drop the roll of dough into one of the greased loaf pans. Repeat with the second half of dough. Brush the top of both loaves with the remaining 1 Tbl of melted butter, and cover them again with a clean dishtowel to let them rise for another hour in a warm spot.

About 15 minutes before your bread is done rising, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Bake the bread for 30 minutes, or until the loaves look beautiful dark brown on top. Remove the loaves from the pans (beware, as cinnamon sugar may have oozed and become rather sticky – aprons are your friend) and set on a cooling rack. I recommend slicing into one of these bad boys when it’s still pretty warm. You can toast it and put a nice layer of cream cheese on top, like I did with my cinnamon raisin bread when I was younger, but a little butter will do nicely as well. Enjoy.