Rustic Olive Oil Crackers

Frustrated by the price and frequency at which we were buying crackers, I resolved to learn how to make the dang things myself. Homemade crackers may sound intimidating, but they are actually quite simple, especially rustic crackers like these Olive Oil Crackers. This cracker recipe is wonderfully simple and adaptive to any favor you would like to explore. Some toppings I’ve tried are: toasted sesame seeds, fresh rosemary, coarse salt or herbes de Provence. Inspired by the Ines Rosales Tortas de Aceite, I am excited to try a sweet version with anis and coarse sugar very soon.

The trick to these crackers is a pasta maker, a gentle hand and some patience. It’s important to get them thin and fairly even so that they crisp throughout. Have your sheet pans ready and lined with parchment before you start rolling the dough as you’ll want to set them down as soon as you’re done rolling.

These crackers make large rustic shapes that will look beautiful next to a cheese platter on your next dinner party. This recipe was developed by Heidi Swanson and published in her blog 101 Cookbooks here.

Rustic Olive Oil Crackers
1 1/2 cups semolina flour or whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup olive oil
Cornmeal for dusting
Topping of choice (optional)

1. Add flours and salt to your standing mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. At low speed, add the water and olive oil in a slow steady stream. Mix the dough at medium speed for about 5 – 7 minutes. Alternately, feel free to mix and then knead by hand on a floured counter-top. The dough should be just a bit tacky – not too dry, not too sticky to work with. If you need to add a bit more water (or flour) do so.

2. When you are done mixing, shape the dough into a large ball. Now cut into twelve equal-sized pieces. Gently rub each piece with a bit of olive oil, shape into a small ball and place on a plate. Cover with a clean dishtowel or plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 – 60 minutes or up to a day.

3. While the dough is resting, preheat your oven to 450F degrees. Insert a pizza stone, if you have one, otherwise, line two sheet pans with parchment and set aside.

4. When the dough is done resting, flatten one dough ball. Using a rolling pin or a pasta machine, shape into a flat strip of dough – I can usually get down to the 4 setting on my pasta machine w/o trouble. Pull the dough out a bit thinner by hand (the way you might pull pizza dough). You can also cut the dough into whatever shape you like at this point. Set dough on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet.

5. If you will be topping the crackers, lightly wash water over the cracker with a pastry brush. Sprinkle your topping of choice and slide into the oven (onto the pizza stone). Repeat the process for the remaining dough balls, baking in small batches. If you don’t have a pizza stone, bake crackers a few at a time on baking sheets. Bake until deeply golden. Slide the crackers from the cookie sheet onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Makes a dozen extra large crackers.

Farinata – an Italian Treat

That Lynne Rosetto Kasper laughed a delightful gut laugh when asked about this dish on her radio show, The Splendid Table, gave away this as a must-try dish. Farinata (also known as socca) is a chickpea and olive oil pancake cooked over an open flame, traditional to Italy and the Meditteranean coast.
For dinner last night, I resolved to try my hand at farinata and discovered that it is as wonderful as Lynne described and very easy to make. Just whisk a simple batter of chickpea flour, water and olive oil until it resembles thin custard and then bake in a very hot, heavy cast iron pan until wonderfully crispy and golden brown. Last night I served the farinata alongside sautéed kale with garlic, onions and sundried tomatoes. Can’t wait to make it again!
Farinata is a perfect gluten free alternative to pizza and is also an ideal canvas for herbal and savory tones like fresh rosemary or sage, caramelized onions or kalamata olives.
1 cup chickpea
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for coating the pan
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 550° F and place a 10″ cast iron skillet to get very hot. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix chickpea flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk in warm water and olive oil to the consistency of a thin custard.
2. Remove the hot skillet from the oven and coat in approx. 1 Tbsp olive oil. Pour 1/3 of the batter while swirling the pan to spread the batter evenly.
3. Return to the oven and bake for about 12 minutes until firm, golden brown with crisp edges. Use the broiler to brown the top, if needed. Remove the pan from the oven and serve right away.
Makes 3 farinata.

Cortés Chocolate Hot Chocolate

These cold winter months find me craving the hot chocolate of my childhood: a simple, light and sweet hot chocolate with salty melted cheese.
The 6 year old me would light up with excitement, when, every so often grandma Mima would declare that we were going to skip dinner altogether and have ‘chocolate caliente’ instead.  She would drop pieces of sweetened Chocolate Cortés into a pot of steaming hot milk.  Each cup of hot chocolate would then receive a couple of chunks of Gouda cheese, left to melt at the bottom of the cup.  Mima served her hot chocolate with export soda crackers slathered in salty butter.  This “dinner” was always a very happy and warm occasion for me and the memory always brings a smile to my face.  
Mima’s hot chocolate was a traditional Puerto Rican hot chocolate or “chocolate caliente”.  It is sweet and light with hints of saltiness from the Gouda cheese and the glistening beads of salty butter floating on top, the result of dunking your buttered crackers.
Love and enthusiasm for hot chocolate runs in the family. Read about Angelica’s reaction to the City Bakery’s hot chocolate here.
Puerto Rican Hot Chocolate
1 cup whole milk
1 oz  Chocolate Cortés, broken into smaller chunks*
Chunks of Gouda cheese (you can also use cheddar or Edam cheese)
In a small pan, bring the milk to a slow simmer.  When it begins to steam, add the chunks of chocolate Cortés and whisk until dissolve.  Do not boil the milk. 
Pour in a cup and drop a couple of chunks of Gouda cheese.  Serve with crackers and butter. 
*Chocolate Cortés can be found in your local Latin market or the international section of your grocery isle. To learn more about the rich history of this chocolate visit the Chocolate Cortés website.

Cranberry Orange Granola with Crystallized Ginger

Cranberry Orange Granola with Crystallized Ginger and Kumquats
Bowl by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
I love granola. It’s the perfect everyday breakfast and it’s even better when you make it at home.
The first few recipes I tried, and the most common recipes out there, are packed with sugar and butter. While I love what sugar and butter can do to a good pastry, I would rather stay away from it in my granola. When I came across Nigella Lawson’s granola recipe, I was intrigued as it used applesauce, honey and a tad bit of canola oil as a binder. Using her recipe as a base, I have experimented with a few combinations and like the version I share with you today as a healthy granola that I can feel good about eating on a daily basis.
This particular version uses some spiced cranberry orange relish that I had left-over from Thanksgiving. You can substitute the relish with equal parts of cranberry sauce and orange marmalade. The results are fragrant, slightly tangy and sweet granola. This is a super easy recipe, but do watch it when baking as it’s super easy to overcook.
Cranberry Orange Granola
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
1/2 cup flax seed
1/2 cup cranberry orange relish
1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup wildflower honey
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1. Preheat oven to 265° F. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Mix dry ingredient in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the cranberry orange relish applesauce, wildflower honey, and canola oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well incorporated.
3. Distribute the mixture evenly in the two cookie sheets and spread evenly. Bake until the granola is golden and feels dry to the touch, for about two hours. Allow to cool and dry completely before storing it in an airtight container.
Makes 8 cups of granola.

Salmon with Dill-Pistachio Pistou

Sockeye Salmon with Dill-Pistachio Pistou over a bed of Snap Peas and Yellow Peppers
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
It was a Friday night in late December and I was coming back from Montreal after an exhausting third week of travel to train for a new job. That day I had no chance to get lunch and rushed to the airport toward the end of the day feeling dizzy from the stress and hunger. At the Montreal airport, I stopped at the first restaurant I saw and ordered a salmon salad and a stiff drink. What the waitress brought was a plate of rotting spinach topped with a cold, pale piece of salmon and rings of red onion that tried their best to hide the mess of dangerous food below. I could only imagine how long ago this salmon was prepared and as I contemplated the risk of food poisoning, I imagined the state of the kitchen and asked myself if the cook would dare to eat the salad he just served me.
I poked at the salad, growing angrier because I was frustrated and hungry and this was my only chance to eat something before the flight home. The waitress came over and as I sent the salad back I asked her if she would eat a salad in this condition and she said “sure, I would just cut through the bad parts”.
After a short flight, I got home around ten that evening and was greeted by a hug of savory smells coming from the kitchen. Scott was there preparing an amazingly fresh meal of fiery pink wild sockeye salmon on a bed of crisp, bright and glossy snap peas and peppers. The salmon was topped with a mound of fragrant dill pistou made of coarsely chopped pistachio bound together with a splash of lemon and extra virgin olive oil. I could not stop smiling as I sat to enjoy this dish that stood in such stark contrast to my earlier food experience. Every bite I took filled my heart with deep gratitude and appreciation for the man who cooked it, and as I slowly felt real nourishment breathing back into my body, the food trespasses of that Montreal airport restaurant were slowly forgotten.
I might be biased because of my experience leading up to enjoying this meal, but I have to say that this is a truly inspiring dish. It’s simple, crisp, light and packed with flavor. It’s a meal that lets each ingredient speak for itself. I would highly recommend it.
There is nothing better than coming home to a thoughtful meal prepared with love by your husband after a long week of work and stress. It’s the kind of experience that melts the struggles of the week away and is a humble reminder to be grateful for the simple delightful moments shared with the people you love. Thank you, Scott, for rescuing me that Friday and every day. Happy Valentines Day!
Salmon with Snap Peas, Yellow Peppers, and Dill-Pistachio Pistou
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions (about 2)
1/2 cup shelled natural pistachios or almonds, toasted, finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons pistachio oil or extra-virgin olive oil
2 yellow bell peppers or orange bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed, strings removed
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup water
4 6-ounce salmon fillets
1. Mix dill, green onions, pistachios, and 1/4 cup oil in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add peppers and sauté until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add snap peas, garlic, and 1/4 cup water; sprinkle with salt. Sauté until vegetables are just tender and water evaporates, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1 rounded tablespoon pistou. Transfer vegetables to platter; tent with foil to keep warm. Reserve skillet (do not clean).
3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in reserved skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Place salmon, skin side down, in skillet; cook until skin is crisp, about 3 minutes. Turn salmon and cook until almost opaque in center, about 3 minutes longer. Arrange salmon fillets over vegetables on platter. Spoon some pistou down center of each fillet and serve, passing remaining pistou alongside.
Makes 4 servings.

Refreshing Oatmeal Drink – Homemade “FrescAvena”

On hot summer days I love a cool, nourishing drink like oatmeal drink served over ice. This simple drink of oats is refreshing and nourishing without the heaviness of a traditional oat smoothie. The gently sweet taste of pure oats promotes a feeling of well-being and balance that I look for after feeling over-strained from the sun and the heat.
Oatmeal drink takes me back to childhood when I often called it “jugo de avena” (litterally “oatmeal juice”) or “FrescAvena” for the instant Quaker-branded version of this drink. I remember my grandparents scooping big scoops of instant FrescAvena into full glasses of icy milk. You can still find FrescAvena in Latin Markets, but I find the instant drink to be overly sweet. As an adult, I prefer the home made dairy-free version of oatmeal drink which consists of water, oats, brown sugar and ice. Simple and sweet with that wonderfully subtle taste of good oats.
To make this drink you will need a blender. Oatmeal drink has a very short life – if you let it sit for more than a few minutes, the oats settle and become goopy. Prepare it only when you are ready to drink enjoy it. Best served over lots of ice and topped with a bit of cinnamon.
Oatmeal Drink
2 cups water
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 Tbsp brown sugar or to taste
pure vanilla extract (optional)
cinnamon (optional)
1. Place oats, brown sugar, water, vanilla extract in a blender. Blend for 15 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy. Add three cubes of ice and blend again until ice is dissolved. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 servings.

Glazed Lemon Muffins

Glazed Lemon Muffin Recipe
Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Tangy and sweet, these lemon muffins are a summertime breakfast favorite. Our family’s love affair with lemon muffins began at the Daily Coffee Bar in Bozeman, Montana. During our years in college, we went there often and almost always ordered the same thing: lemon muffins and a mocha. We loved their lemon muffins so much that I began making them once we moved to New York City when we felt particularly homesick.
This lemon muffin recipe makes a light, lemony and not particularly sweet muffin. The glaze completes the muffin with sweetness and the tart and fresh elements of real lemon juice. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water.
For light and airy lemon muffins, the trick is to work quickly when mixing the flour into the liquids, mix the ingredients by hand with a wooden spoon and do not over mix. Make sure that the flour is completely incorporated into the liquids, but stop mixing as soon as there are no longer flour lumps in the batter.
Favorite Glazed Lemon Muffins
Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Glazed Lemon Muffins
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon extract
1/2 buttermilk
1/3 cup oil
Lemon Glaze
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 12-cup muffin pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk, oil, lemon juice, lemon extract, sugar and eggs until just combined (do not over beat). Using a wooden spoon, fold in the flour mixture in a few swift strokes to form a smooth batter.
3. Divide the batter into the 12 muffin tins. Bake for 20 minutes or until the muffins are lightly golden around the edges and a wooden pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
4. While the muffins are baking, prepare the lemon glaze by stirring the sugar into the lemon juice until all the sugar crystals are completely dissolved.
4. Remove the muffins from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove them from the muffin pan and brush them generously with the lemon glaze. Allow them to sit at room temperature to cool completely and soak the lemon glaze.
Makes 12 muffins.

Deviled Eggs

Easter Deviled Eggs Recipe
Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
The Easter egg hunt is for children, but deviled eggs are for adults. After the egg hunt is done and the children are playing, scoop up those decorated Easter eggs and have yourself a deviled egg feast.
Deviled eggs are a quick, easy, and delicious appetizer perfect for a dinner party. You can boil the eggs a day before serving, whip up the filling the morning of the party and fill and garnish right before the guests arrive.
The recipe I share with you today is a very basic recipe. I add the wasabi powder to give the filling some punch, but you can get creative with the garnish. What about some fresh chopped chives, dill or even some finely diced applewood smoked bacon? The one garnish I do not compromise on is the smoked paprika. It is an absolute requirement for my deviled eggs. The smoky sweet pepper compliments the creamy spicy filling so well.
Deviled Eggs with Wasabi and Smoky Paprika
6 boiled eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder
smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón)
1. Cut the boiled eggs in half and carefully remove the egg yolks onto a medium bowl. Add mayonnaise and dijon mustard and mash the ingredients with a fork until the are a light, smooth and creamy paste. Add salt to taste and stir to incorporate.
2. Scoop a heaping teaspoon of filling into each egg cavity. Use a fine wire-mesh sieve to dust each egg with wasabi powder. Garnish with a pinch of smoked paprika.
Makes 6 deviled eggs.

Mini Chocolate Chip Scones

Mini Chocolate Chip Scone Recipe
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
From June to September each year the Bozeman, MT community would gather to support local farmers, craftspeople and bakers like me at the Farmer’s Market in Bogert Park. Vincent Van Scone was our small operation that consisted of baked breakfast goods, especially scones, and a weekly auction of Scott’s chalkboard reproduction of a Van Gogh painting. We were twenty six then and already dreaming about how to carve out a little place in the world.
During the summers, our home would smell like coffee cake and chalk on Friday nights as Scott would prepare the chalkboard Van Gogh, spreading the big box of chalk all over the floor. The living room and dining room would slowly fill up with coffee cakes as I baked them in batches through the night. In early Saturday mornings, it was the aroma of strong Puerto Rican coffee brewing in large quantities and the gentle buttery smell of scones baked with blueberries, raspberries, peaches or plums that would wake Angelica up.
Scott and I would load up our rickety old wooden picnic table (no, not the ones that fold) onto the roof of our copper Salvation Army Store-bought 1972 Jeep Wagoneer. The crates of still-warm scones, coffee cakes, coffee and other supplies would go in the back. Little Angelica would jump in next to us and Scott would drive us a block to the Bozeman Farmer’s Market to set up. After hauling the heavy wooden table to my spot, Scott and Angelica would disappear – Scott to return the car home and Angelica to get her best friend Chloe to play in Bogert Park. Scott often came back with a bunch of fresh wildflowers or sweat pea blossoms for the table, just in time for the Farmer’s Market “opening bell”. Friends and customers would stop by for their morning fix of baked goods and fresh brewed Puerto Rican coffee and we would catch up on the week’s events.
Our weekends these days are very different, but each time I make scones, my heart swells for those great Vincent Van Scone weekends and those sweet pea blossoms on my rickety red picnic table.
If you are new to making scones, you might be interested in these tips.
You might also be interested in my other scone recipes: Raspberry Almond Scones, Spiced Pumpkin Scones.
Mini Chocolate Chip Scones
2 cups flour
2 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 450°. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the mini chocolate chips. Stir in the whipping cream, egg and vanilla extract with a few swift strokes until a crumbly dough forms. Don’t worry if there are still some dry spots.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather the dough into a ball. Gently press the dough into a ¾ inch thick disk.
3. Brush the disk with heavy cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut the disk into 8 even wedges.
4. Arrange the wedges 1 inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with fresh whipped cream.
Makes 8 scones.

Traditional Sofrito

Traditional Puerto Rican Sofrito Recipe with Culantro and Aji Dulce
Woodfired plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
The preparation of many dishes that are close to my heart begin with a simple ritual: chop an onion, chop some pepper, mash two garlic cloves, set a handful of washed cilantro aside, heat a little oil in a heavy cast iron pan, add the onions, add the peppers and the garlic and then lovingly stir and watch over this mix until the onions become glossy and the aroma fills the kitchen. The simple preparation of these ingredients is the base to many Puerto Rican dishes and it is called sofrito.
I learned this ritual in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was a young girl. When it was time to cook at Mima’s house I would grab hold of the pilón (mortar and pestle) to mash the garlic and help her prepare the sofrito. This ritual became second nature and when it was time for me to start cooking, these were the ingredients that I naturally stocked in my kitchen. Back then, my sofrito consisted of these ingredients: a yellow onion, one half a green bell pepper, two cloves of garlic and a handful of fresh chopped cilantro – these were the ingredients that were available in most grocery stores in Montana. This sofrito would flavor anything from arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and empanadilla filling to habichuelas guisadas (stewed pink beans).
It has always been my belief that rice and beans is the measure of a Puerto Rican cook and in my family, Mima has always won the ‘best beans award’. For over fifteen years, I have been trying to make Mima’s beans but was never quite satisfied with the results – my beans were good, but were definitely missing that Mima quality. So, last year when Angelica and I visited my grandparents, I asked Mima to please show us exactly how she made her beans. I took notes.
What I learned was that the secret to Mima’s beans is her sofrito. She uses fresh local ingredients which include: yellow onion, pimiento del pais (green cubanelle pepper), ají dulce (small sweet peppers), garlic, culantro (also known in Puerto Rico as recao) and cilantro. The flavors of the local peppers and herbs, especially that of the ají dulces and the culantro really give the sofrito that “grandma’s garden” taste that I was missing by using bell peppers.
Although sometimes hard to find, cubanelle peppers, ají dulce and culantro can be found in some latin markets. In New York City you can usually find these ingredients in any grocery store in Spanish Harlem or at the Essex Market in the Lower East Side, which has a great selection of fresh latin ingredients. Now anytime I want to make rice and beans, I make a special trip just to get these ingredients. The flavor payoff of making sofrito with the right ingredients is well worth the effort.

Puerto Rican Ají Dulces. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Note: Ají dulces are small colorful peppers that have a strong herbal flavor, they are not spicy. However, they can be easily confused with a very spicy pepper like the habanero because they are similar in size and coloration. Be careful when selecting them or ask your grocer to make sure they are ají dulces. Learn more about the ají dulce here. Learn more about culantro and cubanelle peppers.

Cubanelle peppers in Ponce’s Plaza del Mercado market. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Traditional Sofrito
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 green cubanelle pepper, seeded and finely diced
3 ají dulces, seeded and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced or mashed with a mortar and pestle
3 culantro leaves, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet over medium heat until the oil begins to ripple. Add the onions and stir to cook until they become glossy but still crisp in texture. Add the cubanelle peppers, ají dulces, garlic and cook for a few minutes longer until the ingredients begin to release their aroma and the onion becomes transparent and soft, add the culantro and half the chopped cilantro (see note).
Note: Sofrito is the base to many dishes. This basic preparation will be followed by your main ingredients and finished off with cilantro. In some cases, you will also add annatto to the sofrito. I prefer to add the final half of the fresh cilantro toward the end of the cooking process to brighten the flavor of the dish.