Kalamata Olive and Cracked Pepper Shortbread

When I had friends from Los Angeles stop by for a couple days, I wanted to make a good impression, down to the last bite. Most of our meals we ate out, but for their last evening I thought that a homemade dinner would be more enjoyable than anything we could get at a restaurant. Exhausted from the week, I wanted to do something simple and easy to throw together.

At lunch, my two friends expressed a lack of interest in goat cheese and brie. Rather than accept their personal taste, I took it as a challenge: they weren’t going to leave my house without enjoying my two favorite cheeses. I had been waiting patiently for the perfect moment to make olive biscuits, and there it was, dropped right into my lap.

These shortbread biscuits are made much in the same way that a dessert sable is. The only difference is the savory flavor as opposed to sweet. As much as these crackers look like and crumble like a good sugar cookie, they are much better eaten with cheese and wine than ice cream and decaff coffee.

You don’t have to be a huge olive fan to enjoy them. More than anything, they’re buttery, with a spicy kick from the cracked pepper. I started out eating them smothered in an herbed goat cheese, but found that they are delicious on their own (or incorporated into a quinoa salad, like I did the next day for lunch).

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March Madness

It’s officially spring, the week of cherry blossoms have come and gone, and we’re starting to get temperatures in the 70s, yet I’m still not ready to let go of winter. I’d like to blame the couple days of rainy weather California has seen in the past few weeks and not my own desire to keep wearing my absolutely too-comfy winter coats.

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream

When I first started seeing salted caramel treats popping up around LA, I loved it. I’ve always been a salty-sweet fan — as I kid, I’d sprinkle salt on top of my chocolate chip waffles — so the salted caramel trend was right up my alley, and I felt a bit special for being “in” on it. Now, it’s everywhere, and starting to feel a bit played-out. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to be an elitist, especially about something so tasty. It’s more that I think a dash of sea salt and a squirt of caramel onto any dessert dish is a cheap way of saying, “I’m hip to the culinary trends,” when you’re actually saying quite the opposite.

Still, the popularity of salted caramel speaks volumes about the power of the actual flavor profile. It’s popular for a reason, and that reason is that it is absolutely, undeniably delicious.

If you like salted caramel, homemade salted caramel ice cream is a must. It’s smoother than any gelato and richer than any caramel ice cream you can buy in a carton. If the final product isn’t salty enough for you, do like they do at Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica: ditch the chocolate sprinkles and toss a pinch of sea salt over your ice cream instead.

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Bittersweet Chocolate Milanos

I frankly don’t trust anyone who hasn’t, at some point in her life, eaten a whole pack of Pepperidge Farm cookies by herself in one sitting. After finishing my first serious paper at college, I unwound by buying a bag of Captiva Dark Chocolate Brownie cookies and eating every last one of them before dinner.

Still, there’s nothing better than a homemade cookie. No matter how convenient the Farm is, especially for a college student, you really can’t beat something fresh out of the oven.

As I ate a few Milano cookies last week, I thought to myself, “… I could make these.” There’s really not much to them: a thin layer of dark chocolate sandwiched between two sugar cookies, and that’s it. They say the best plans are the simplest ones, and that’s certainly true for this little treat. Now the homemade kind may not be quite as uniform as the real thing (after all, I don’t have an industrial cookie-making plant), but it’s the taste that counts, and in that regard these a more than a fair match for the Pepperidge originals.

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Pumpkin Spice Muffins

I’m a bit of a pumpkin fiend. I think it’s a result of shying away from pumpkin pie for most of my childhood (the thought was too radical for me, so I stuck with my chocolate mousse and apple pies). Now that I know how great all things pumpkin are, I’m always trying to make up for lost time.

Since my favorite past time is abusing free wifi privileges at cafes, I’ve been exposed to my fair share of pumpkin muffins. For the most part, they’ve been delicious. But I do have my complaints. I’m a firm believer in cream cheese frosting on cupcakes, but I don’t really want it in my muffins. I especially don’t want it in there if it’s going to be distracting from a perfectly good pumpkin flavor.

These pumpkin muffins are no frills. Of course, you could thrown some chopped nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips in there. Next time I make them, I plan on going with pecans, cranberries, and dark, dark chocolate. But there’s no need to mess around and turn this into a kitchen sink muffin because the pumpkin speaks for itself. This is a light, moist, and flavorful cake that is just short of a cupcake-like sweetness. The spices on top lend a little crunch, but if you wanted to gussy it up, you could go the cream cheese route (I’ll forgive you).

These are great alongside some granola and yogurt for breakfast, or paired with a hot latte.

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Mint Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

I’ve never been a big fan of mint. Why anyone would want to eat a dessert the flavor of toothpaste was beyond me. As a flavor, I’d give a pass to mint in tea form, but really only the spearmint kind, not the peppermint. The worst, though, would always be any combination of chocolate and mint. I’d stare resentfully at Thin Mints being passed around amongst classmates, thinking, “Why didn’t you buy the Samoas?” I’d peer over my chocolate fudge brownie ice cream cone with contempt at the sight of friends licking their mint chocolate chips. I’ve never enjoyed an Andes mint cookie. And the concept of a “grasshopper” anything (brownies, cupcakes, and forbid, even mochas) makes me about ready to give up on the world.

While grappling with some serious body image issues, I happily agreed to join a neighbor in baking some chocolate mint cookies. My logic was that I’d have fun baking and could share them with mint-loving friends and family, but would be able to spare my own waistline because mint meant no temptation.

Turned out my calculations were all wrong. These cookies were rich, gooey chocolate crinkle cookies, one of my biggest weakness. And the mint, smeared across the top and melting into the cracks, was delicate rather than overpowering. I had split off a little piece just to save face in front of my neighbor (it’s pretty weird not to eat what you bake), but it was so tasty that I popped the whole thing in my mouth. And another. And another.

I’m still not a mint fan, and you certainly won’t see me rushing to make another mint dessert anytime soon. Even so, I’m sure this won’t be my last encounter with these cookies.

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