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Food + Recipes

Celebrity Chefs, Food + Recipes

DIY Crackers: Olive Oil Crackers or Carta Musica Recipe

May 5, 2020
Carta musica olive oil cracker

I needed some unleavened bread yesterday, and didn’t feel like risking my health by squeezing into one of my little neighborhood markets for them.

So I went looking for recipes, and quickly found this exceedingly simple and delicious one. Or rather, the esteemed Mark Bittman found it, I’m just at good at Google.

The original recipe is from Sardinia, the island off Italy that’s renowned for olive oil and honey. This wispy flatbread is called carta musica which means sheet music in Italian. If you get creative and infuse the dough with soft herbs and flowers, like they do in this Food & Wine story, it will look more like sheet music with pale sheets with dark lines. (And they say this same dough can be used for ravioli too)

If you’re in need of matzoh as you celebrate Passover, or just want fresh crackers without having to go to the store, this is the recipe for you.

They’re round in Bittman’s recipe, but otherwise, these are almost identical to the olive oil flatbread crackers that are often sold in the cheese department.

Use a high-quality olive oil with lots of zesty green flavors, this is one of those ultra-simple recipes where every ingredient counts. Just four ingredients and about 30 minutes time, and you’re done.

Next time I make them, I’m going to cut the dough in strips, and sprinkle with seasonings like ground black cumin seeds, zata’ar, pink peppercorns or truffle salt. They’re good plain, with cheese, topped with hummus, labneh, fresh cilantro and spices or even scrambled eggs.

When you discover how quick and easy these are, you’ll be making your own olive oil crackers too.

Carta Musica or Olive Oil Matzo

Makes 12 round crackers

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 cup purified water

Preheat the oven to 500° Fahrenheit. Get your cookie sheets out.

Add the flour, salt and olive oil to a food processor or your KitchenAid mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn it on, then add the water. Process for a few minutes and the dough with form a nice little ball.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and form a log. Cut it in half, and then cut each half in thirds. Then cut each piece in half again. Hopefully you’ll wind up with 12 little lumps that are about the same size. Now’s the time to even them up if you like.

Flour your rolling pin lightly and roll the first one out, getting it as thin as possible without tearing. If you hold it up, you should be able to see light through it. Roll out a couple more, then place them on your cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with salt or whatever seasonings you’d like on top. Place the sheet into the oven and set the timer for 3 minutes. When the timer rings, your flatbreads will be starting to get bubbly and a tiny bit brown on the edges. Flip them over and set the timer for 2 minutes, since the second side cooks much faster.


Remove the first set from the oven and let them cool on a baking rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, or save some in the freezer for later.

Adapted from the Olive Oil Matzo recipe in The New York Times.













Celebrity Chefs, Dinner Tonight, Food + Recipes

Eat + Repeat: Nigella’s Asian Flavoured Short Ribs

March 31, 2020
simply nigella asian flavoured short ribs

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one and make a purchase, I earn a small commission, at no cost to you. 

You never know when you’ll discover one of those genius recipes that’s so satisfying that everyone wants to eat it again and again. I scored when I tried this Nigella Lawson recipe for Asian Flavoured Short Ribs from her cookbook Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food.*

Nigella Lawson forever summer book

Photo credit: Maria Hunt

I interviewed Nigella years ago when she was on a press trip for her book Forever Summer*. She was smart, engaged and lovely all around. She was plenty striking too, with black hair and a pale yet rosy complexion that defined peaches and cream. I don’t recall her outfit, but I do remember her aquamarine ring with a stone the size of a medjool date for what at the time was her secret engagement to Charles Saatchi. Most of all, I liked her down-to-earth approach to baking and cooking and her deliciously original recipes that cut out all the unnecessary steps, because who wants to spend extra time in the kitchen? (If you love baking, you’ll adore her first book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking.)

This recipe calls out beef short ribs, but I’ve remade it with boneless pork ribs and a beef chuck roast and it was still delicious. And the sauce is so flavorful, it can revive those meats you’re unearthing from the deep freeze right about now.

She recommends serving these short ribs with brown rice and green beans. But they’re also good with potato salad, pureed sweet potatoes or a spinach salad tossed with sesame dressing. Beverage Pairing: Since they have a little spice, these short ribs will be wonderful with a richer malty Belgian dubbel ale or any off-dry (slightly sweet) sparkling wine such as the delicious red Ottouve Gragnano from Italy.

Nigella’s Asian Flavoured Short Ribs


5 lbs. beef short ribs

1 cup hoisin sauce

2 cups water

4 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 cup Chinese (Shaoxing) rice wine

2 tablespoons Chinese 5-spice powder

1 tablespoon dried chilli flakes

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

4 fat cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or minced


1 fresh red chili, finely chopped

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

3-4 limes, cut into wedges

● Preheat the oven to 300 Fahrenheit. Place the short ribs into a large pan.

● Mix together all the remaining ingredients and pour over the ribs.

● Cover with a layer of baking parchment or greaseproof paper, tucking it in tightly to seal as best you can, before putting on a lid, or cover the top of the pan with foil and seal the edges securely. Cook in the oven for 4-4½ hours: the meat should be tender and starting to come away from the bones.

● Transfer the ribs to a vessel that will fit in the fridge later to cool, and then tenderly remove as many of the bones as possible, before covering and refrigerating for at least 1 day, or up to 3 days.

● Before you reheat them, remove the hard layer of fat that will have formed on the top (I do this with my hands, encased in a pair of disposable vinyl gloves, CSI-style), transfer to a large ovenproof dish that you can also serve the ribs in–I use a ceramic dish–and reheat, covered with foil or a lid, depending on what you’re cooking in, at 400 Fahrenheit for 1 hour, or until piping hot. (MH Note: I reheated them under a low broiler because I think oven ribs need some crispy edges.)

● Scatter some finely chopped red pepper and cilantro over the ribs on serving, and put some lime wedges on the table so that everyone can squeeze this sour juice into their rich, sweet stew, to taste.

Adapted from the Simply Nigella recipe on Daily Mail Online.

Photo credit: Simply Nigella




Food + Recipes

Sweet Potato Pie Cupcakes With Maple Bacon Frosting

January 26, 2020
Sweet Potato Pie Cupcakes With Maple Bacon Frosting

Growing up, I wasn’t that interested in sweet potato pie. My grandma, mom, and older cousins loved it because it reminded them of Mississippi and the women who made it for them.

Sweet potato pie beats the pants off  any pumpkin pie, but given a choice, I’d rather have Aunt Fannie’s chocolate meringue pie, Uncle Clarence’s German chocolate cake, or my Grandma Dorothy’s banana cake.

Sweet potato cupcakes with sugar sprinklesBut as it’s gotten harder to hold onto memories of my relatives, I’ve been craving those original family recipes.  I found it in a delicious pour-and-bake sweet potato pie batter from Mamie & Makhi’s. The founder Lois grew up in Berkeley, but her Grandma Mamie is from Mississippi, just like my family and it tastes just like I remember.

I’ve been making pies, smoothies, pop tarts, and pancakes with her batter, which led me to  these Sweet Potato Pie Cupcakes With Maple Bacon Frosting. They capture the flavor of sweet potato pie pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. I made them as mini cupcakes, because they’re so cute, and you don’t feel as guilty about eating them.

Start by making a few  pieces of thick applewood smoked bacon–the better the bacon, the better the flavor. I found a Fluffy Maple Frosting recipe on The Spruce Eats, and replaced a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of bacon grease. The cake recipe is from Mamie & Makhi’s website. Try the recipe and let me know what you think:

For the Frosting

  • 3 slices thick applewood smoked bacon, cooked until browned, oil reserved
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark, packed)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light cream (or half-and-half, milk, or evaporated milk; more as needed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon bacon fat

    1. Cook the bacon over medium heat until brown on both sides, but not burned. Blog the bacon and reserve the grease. When the bacon is cool, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slices.

    2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the maple syrup, bacon fat, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly.

    3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until the brown sugar has dissolved.

    4. Remove the syrup mixture from the heat and let stand until completely cooled.

    5. Pour the cooled syrup mixture into a mixing bowl. Gradually beat in 2 1/2 cups of the powdered sugar and the evaporated milk. Add the vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Add more confectioners’ sugar or more milk, as needed to make a spreadable frosting.

    The frosting makes enough for a two-layer cake, a rectangular cake, or about 18 to 24 cupcakes.

For the Cupcakes

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 2-1/2 cups Mamie & Makhi’s Sweet Potato Pie Batter
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup evaporated milk (only as needed)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Combine the sweet potato pie batter, the egg and the vanilla, then fold into the dry ingredients to form a moist batter. If the batter is too thick to pour into your cupcake liners, add 1/4 cup milk, up to 1/2 cup only as needed.

3. To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake mini cupcakes for 15 minutes, being careful not to over cook or they will be dry! Stick a toothpick into one and if it comes out clean, they’re done.

4. When the cupcakes are cool enough to handle, frost them with the Maple Bacon Frosting. Top each one with a little slice of bacon and garnish with gold decorative sugar if you like.

Makes about 6 dozen mini cupcakes

Wine + Food Pairing

The Only 5 Wines You Need for Thanksgiving Dinner 2019

November 27, 2019

One of the nice things about hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is that historical precedent has done much of the menu planning for you. And the seasonal produce calendar does the rest. There’s turkey, dressing (or do you say stuffing?), mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce.

But what about the wine? Wine for Thanksgiving is a big deal, especially here in California. Of course, we’re all free to drink whatever we like with what we’re eating since the days of rigid pairing rules are over. 

After a couple decades of adult Thanksgivings, I’ve noticed that some wines create more delight–and pair with Thanksgiving’s rich, earthy and sweet flavors–better than others. So I created a list of wines that win when paired with most anything on your Thanksgiving table. If you can’t find these exact wines that’s OK; just use these five categories as a guide to happy Thanksgiving wine pairings and keep these in mind for your next big holiday dinner. 

No. 1: Bubbly

Sparkling wine is always festive and it’s a happy way to begin any dinner party, but especially one where you’re counting your blessings for the year. The acidity in a fine traditional method sparkling does a good job of priming your palate for dinner, and the toastiness from aging a bit will give the wine depth. This one made from 100% Chardonnay will pair beautifully with seafood starters like cracked Dungeness crab to creamy dips and chips and even white turkey meat.

My pick: 2016 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, $40


schramsberg blanc de blancs

Photo credit: Schramsberg

No. 2: Pinot Noir

So last Thanksgiving, everybody at the table was going on about how much they loooved Cab. But what wine did they all pounce on? My bottle of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. I shouldn’t have been surprised. There’s a reason Pinot Noir is considered the most food friendly of all the red wines out there.  With its lovely aromatics and flavors that take you through bright acidity, red fruit, smoke, spice and earth it does all the things.  Whether you’ve got a forkful of turkey and cranberry, mushroom bread pudding, or Brussel sprouts with bacon, Pinot will make it better. 

My pick: 2016 Bohème Wines Stuller Vineyard Pinot Noir, $55


Boheme Wines Stuller Vineyard Pinot Noir

Photo credit: Bohème Wines

No. 3: Zinfandel

While the grape is originally from Croatia, the wine called Zinfandel is an American creation. And so it seems perfectly fitting for Thanksgiving dinner. Plus, with its tangy, berry-forward flavors, juiciness and soft tannins, it’s the kind of easy-drinking wine that’s perfect with dark turkey meat, pork roast, stuffing and gravy and all the other deliciousness on your holiday table.

My pick: 2017 Brown Estate Eastside Zinfandel, $55


Brown Estate Eastside Zinfandel

Photo credit: Brown Estate


No. 4: Older Napa Valley Bordeaux Style Wine

Some people couldn’t imagine having a special dinner without some Cabernet Sauvignon. I get that, but for me, pouring a young Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (with the possible exception of one by Heitz Cellar) at Thanksgiving evokes Godzilla stomping all over the dinner table, sending peas and onions, sweet potato casserole and gravy flying.

The exuberant fruit, tannins and alcohol make Cab and its Bordelais brothers way too big for this meal, unless you’re swapping ribeye for turkey. Ah, but a wine that’s nine or 10 years old? That’s a very different story. Over time that fruit calms down, allowing earthiness and spice to emerge, and the texture to become sublimely silky. See why Robert Parker called this wine “one of the finest California Cabernet Francs I have tasted.”

My pick: 2010 Turnbull Cellars Leopoldina Vineyard Cabernet Franc, $110


Turnbull Leopoldina Cabernet Franc

Photo credit: Turnbull Wine Cellars

No. 5: Tawny Port

Maybe you believe in drinking dessert with whatever red wine or Chardonnay you have lingering in your glass. It makes economic sense, but don’t you want your Thanksgiving dessert experience to be the ultimate? Do this by uncorking a tawny port. Tawny port has warm sweetness mingled with tangy dried fruit and nutty notes that are made for autumn. It will make you look at a pecan, sweet potato and pumpkin pie in a whole new light. And it’s delicious with aged Gouda too. 

My pick: Prager Noble Companion 10-year-old Tawny Port, $80

Photo credit: Prager Winery & Port Works

Food + Recipes, Wine + Food Pairing

Cheddar Cheese Coin Recipe

May 6, 2018

I needed hostess gifts for a couple Sunday visits, so I decided to race to Sunshine Market and grab the ingredients for some Cheddar Cheese Coins.

The friendly checker, sizing up the content of my basket, said “Enjoy your cookies!” When I told him I was making savory cheese crackers to pair with wine, the woman in line behind me jumped in with “I want some of those.”

If you think you’re too busy to bake or don’t always like the way your creations turn out — trust me, these Cheddar Cheese Coins are foolproof, easy and deliciously worth your time and effort. I like to make the dough ahead of time, keep it wrapped up in the freezer, and then slice and bake a log or two when I need something for a party or surprise guests.

A former co-worker named Elizabeth shared the original recipe. They’re basically classic savory shortbreads. Over the years, I’ve added some of my own touches — and you should feel free to do the same.

Cheddar Cheese Coins

Make 7 dozen

  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated and at room temperature
  • 4 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon piment d’Espelette

In a large mixing bowl, add the butter, cheddar cheese, flour, pecans, salt, cayenne, ancho chile powder and piment d’Espelette. Using your hands, mix well until all the ingredients are well-combined and it forms a dough.

Working on a lightly floured surface, take a hunk of dough and roll it into a 10 to 12 inch long log the diameter of a quarter. Wrap log in plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining dough. Put the dough you don’t plan to bake into the freezer, stored in a resealable plastic bag. Let the dough you plan to bake chill in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, slice the chilled log of dough into discs one-eighth inch thick. Place discs ¼-inch apart on a baking sheet that’s been greased lightly or is covered by a Silpat baking mat. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until the coins are golden and the kitchen smells like toasty cheddar cheese and butter. Remove pan from the oven. Let the coins cool completely before removing them from the pan, or they might fall apart.

You might be tempted to cut the recipe in half so you won’t have so many on hand, but I don’t recommend it. Once you taste them, you’ll need more.