Citrus and rosemary sparklers

Citrus syrup, champagne, ice, rosemary, candied citrus peel

Citrus syrup, champagne, ice, rosemary, candied citrus peel

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I had fun making Shutterbean’s candied citrus peel.  One of the happy byproducts of the candying process is a jar of bright citrus syrup, perfect for making cocktails.  The abundance of amazing citrus is the best part of winter, and this syrup, mixed with a little sparkling wine and a sprig of rosemary, made for a perfect cold weather treat.

This sort of drink is often served in a champagne flute, but personally I like both the heft of a tumbler in my hand and a little ice in my cocktail.

Citrus and rosemary sparkler

  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2-3 spoonfuls citrus syrup
  • 5 oz chilled champagne, cava, prosecco, or other sparkling wine (preferably on the dry side)
  • 1 candied citrus peel

Add a couple of ice cubes to a tumbler.  Twist and pinch the rosemary sprig a little—this helps the oils in the leaves steep into your drink—then place in tumbler.  Add citrus syrup and champagne.  Give the drink a good stir, garnish with one of your freshly candied citrus peels, and enjoy.

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Tomato and rosemary focaccia

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So far this year, we’ve had a nice slow transition to fall and I’ve been enjoying the crisp weather.  This past weekend, however, we had a short-lived warm spell, and for about 36 hours we enjoyed sunny 70° temperatures.

Since we were feeling summery, I decided to bake a quick focaccia for brunch topped with a couple of the over-ripe tomatoes from the farmers market.  We bake all our pizzas, flatbreads, and focaccia on a large pizza stone that sits in the bottom of the oven, and use a wooden pizza peel to transfer the dough onto and off of the stone.  The stone is one of our favorite cooking implements and gives the crust great texture, but leaves the crumb perfectly chewy.

I pre-heated the oven to 400°, and rolled out a large hunk of the everyday dough we keep in the fridge at all times.  We sprinkle semolina on the pizza peel to keep the dough from sticking, then transfer the plain, rolled out dough onto the peel.  Give it a little shake to make sure it isn’t sticking.  Brush the dough all over with a little olive oil–we ran out of our usual extra virgin so I broke out this garlic flavored olive oil we’d gotten as a gift.  Sprinkle the dough with about a tbsp of minced fresh rosemary and a healthy pinch of sea salt, then arrange thinly sliced tomatoes over the dough.  Transfer to pizza stone and bake for about 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then slice into squares and serve outside on the balcony, to make the most of any unseasonably warm weather.

Rosemary, tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt (dough not pictured)

Rosemary, tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt (dough not pictured)

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A few tips:

I kept this focaccia pretty simple, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a little grated parmesan or crumbled goat cheese.

If you are using a pizza stone and find the bottom just the right amount of browned, but the top needs a little more time, transfer the dough from the stone to a baking sheet and set on a rack higher up in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Your pizza crust bottom will stay crisp.

Lots of people use corn meal or flour underneath dough to keep it from sticking to the peel, but we find that semolina doesn’t burn as fast in the oven and sticks less to the dough than either cornmeal or flour.

Again, if you are using a stone, put the undressed dough on the peel first, then add your toppings.  This way you won’t have to worry about anything falling off and can go straight from adding toppings to transferring to the stone.  Using a peel does take a little practice but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Don’t skip the step of brushing olive oil on the dough to save a few calories.  It adds so much flavor, its really worth it.

Instead, try replacing a 1/3 of your white flour with whole wheat flour.  That’s about as much as I would substitute before I find that the dough quality really starts to take a dive.

As always, use dough that’s been aged for at least 24 hours.  Those sour flavors just can’t be beat.

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Rosemary olive oil cake

Garnished with a little powdered sugar and chopped pistachios

Garnished with a little powdered sugar and chopped pistachios

A few years ago I lived in a large, beautiful group house with several wonderful housemates.  We had an incredible kitchen in which we spent all our time, laughing and cooking and sharing food.  There were a number of cookbooks left in the kitchen by the landlords, journalists who traveled most of the time, and one of the roommates became obsessed with a recipe she found for rosemary remembrance cake.  She spent months thinking and talking about that recipe, and though she was an excellent cook, put off making it until just before she moved away to the other coast.

Flour, pistachios, lemon, eggs, rosemary, yogurt, olive oil

Flour, pistachios, lemon, eggs, rosemary, yogurt, olive oil

When she finally decided to make the cake, for her going away dinner if I remember correctly, we realized we didn’t have any rosemary.  Our house was next to a co-op with an amazing garden.  They had a the largest rosemary bush I have ever seen and the neighbors had told us to help ourselves if we ever needed any.  My roommate relieved the giant bush of one long branch of rosemary and this was baked right down the center of the cake.  It was so beautiful we even did a little photo shoot with it on our front porch.

It’s been about five years since she made that cake, and though I can’t recall the name of the cookbook in our old house, I’d done a little research online to try to find something similar.  The original cake was baked in a loaf pan, but I wanted to bake a round cake, and ended up choosing this recipe from Cayuga St. Kitchen.

In general, I’m more of a savory person who enjoys sweets in small quantities, so this warm, aromatic cake is right up my alley, and was the perfect accompaniment to morning coffees and afternoon tea.

Rosemary branches baked on to the cake top

Rosemary branches baked on to the cake top

A few tips:

While I did follow the recipe in adding two tablespoons of fresh minced rosemary to the cake, I saw a number of other recipes with branches of rosemary baked into the top, so I felt safe amending this one.  I selected three 5-in branches of new growth from my rosemary plant, choosing the new growth so that the branches would be flexible enough for me to shape them a bit and arrange the rosemary in a circle around the cake.  Fresh rosemary should have lots of natural oils that will be released while baking, so the leaves will dry out, rather than burn, as it bakes.

I felt that the cake might have benefited from a little more lemon zest.  Next time I make it, I might try zesting another half or whole lemon.

The powdered sugar and chopped nuts topping suggested in the recipe were a nice addition to the cake I remember.  Raspberries or fresh sliced pears would also pair nicely when serving.

The original rosemary cake

The original rosemary cake

Making Herb Salt

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Living in a crowded city, we feel very lucky to have an apartment with a sizable balcony and we take advantage of the outdoor space by making it as lush and green as possible in the warmer months.  Over the last few years, we’ve learned that while tomato plants don’t love our space, herbs thrive and we cram in as many varieties as possible.  These fresh herbs are wonderful for cooking, but as the temperatures begin to drop I know I’ll need to make a final harvest and wonder what I should do with the bounty.  Usually in the past, I’ve stored them in freezer bags or hung them up to dry, but this year I wanted to try making herb salt.

I found a promising technique on Food52 and decided to give it a whirl.  I’m not very comfortable leaving the oven on overnight or when I’m not at home, so I waited until I had a day off to tackle this project.

Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Balm

Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Balm

Sweet Mustard, Lemon Basil, Thyme

Sweet Mustard, Lemon Basil, Thyme

Using some kitchen shears, I snipped off big bunches of the herbs I wanted to use and gave them a good washing, then set them on a tea towel in front of a fan so that they would dry thoroughly–that herb scented air filled the whole apartment and smelled amazing!

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When the herbs had dried I spread them out in a number of metal baking sheets and pans, and covered them generously with regular kosher salt.  I turned the oven dial until I heard the pilot light click on (I’m guessing it hit just a little over a 100 degrees but I didn’t have the oven thermometer on), put the trays of herbs in, and set my timer for 8 hours.

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Later that evening, I pulled the trays out of the oven, checked to make sure they seemed thoroughly dry and got out the food processor.  In a few short minutes, I had my finished herb salts all nicely poured into a few unused mason jars. I’m so excited to use these all winter, especially the rosemary salt, which funnily enough, I plan to use on popcorn!

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A few tips:

Before you start, think about which herbs you would like to combine or keep separate.  I made one mixed herb salt that used a little of everything I had in my garden, but also made batches of single-herb salt for those with flavors that I use very specifically in certain dishes.

Be sure to have plenty of salt on hand.  I used nearly half a box of Morton Kosher Salt, which is about 1.5 lbs of salt.

If your herbs have stalks that become woody (most of mine do, especially at this point in the year) consider removing the leaves from the stalk prior to drying.  I only removed the leaves from the rosemary, and after drying the other stalks become brittle and it was harder to remove the leaves without them breaking into the mixture.

Once dried, some of the smaller leaves were harder to break up in the food processor.  They kept “floating” to the top uncut.  You might want to give them a little crush before processing.

Since this is intended to be more of a finishing salt, you may want to use something nicer that kosher salt.  Next year, I may try fleur de sel or Himalayan rock salt.

If you have lots of herbs, go ahead and make a large batch.  These would be great gifts to give to friends and family around the holidays.

After I popped these in the oven, I started doing further research on methods and next year I may try this one from Food Wishes.  I think this slightly different technique might address some of the problems I ran into.

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