In 1985 Greg Reynolds, who at the time worked for a catering service in Half Moon Bay, became enthusiastic about playing with sauces using vanilla. His enthusiasm was spurred by my telling him a bit about vanilla’s history as well as my handing him a handful of vanilla beans. Not long after he invited me to try the following sauce. It immediately became one of my go-to sauces to use on poached chicken and roasted vegetables. Later, I added it as a finishing sauce for grilled meats.
Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert that originated in Limousin. The name comes from clafotis, which means “to fill up,” in Occitan, an old French language with regional dialects throughout parts of Southern France. Traditionally the dessert was made with dark cherries, pits included, with a custard batter similar to pancake batter or a thin flan. Leaving the pits in the cherries creates a stronger cherry flavor, but can cause tooth damage to the unwitting diner. The same recipe using different fruits and vegetables are technically flognardes. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s as easy to make as a fruit-filled, baked pancake that you can serve anytime, whether for a special breakfast or as dessert.
Given that cherry season is so fleeting, take advantage of the beautiful cherries coming from the Pacific Northwest or, use apples, berries, rhubarb or plums. In fact, now that Limousin is known for their specialty apples, they are the more commonly used fruit.
Every year I make gallons of sparkling lemonade as I’m blessed with a Meyer lemon tree that produces fruit nearly year ’round. I don’t really think about it — it’s just what I serve.
When the heat’s on, the last last thing you want is kitchen time at the stove or have the oven blasting. This is when sorbets, granitas and popsicles are the best game in town. And what’s better than something bursting with summer flavor but light on the waistline? You can start the process early in the morning, and enjoy the fruits of your labor (pun intended) later in the day when you crave an icy treat.
Madeleines are the quintessential French tea cake, with a mouth-pleasing crisp exterior, and a dense cake-like interior. If you enjoy serving beautiful desserts, it’s worth investing in Madeleine molds, as the molds give them their distinctive hump in the middle and pleasing texture. When you’ve dusted them with powdered sugar, they’re gorgeous and sophisticated.
Here are a couple of “Madeleine secrets.”
Just about everyone has a summertime ice cream memory. We didn’t have the Good Humor Man where we lived, but when I was eight and my brother was four we visited our Connecticut cousins and discovered the joy of the arrival of the Good Humor Man in the neighborhood and the art of begging for a popsicle or ice cream bar.
One of the delightful things about granitas is that you can switch out the flavors and add herbs or spices without screwing things up. This is not baking where everything must be precise. Switch out the lemons for limes or pomegranate juice or watermelon or whatever comes up. With lemon granita you can easily add rum and have a Daquiri Granita or tequila and salt for a Margarita Granita. If you switch from lemons, to limes, add lots of mint to the lime zest/sugar syrup, remove it before freezing, add a little rum and, voila, you have Mojita Granita. Don’t add more than 2 – 3 tablespoons of alcohol to the granita mixture as it might not fully freeze, but you can serve the granita in glasses and pour a little more rum over the top.
This delicious summer cake is a hybrid cross between a classic French clafouti and a coffeecake. It has a very moist, dense crumb due to the high butter and eggs and low flour ratio. It is a perfect afternoon dessert to serve with tea as well as a brunch or dinner dessert, especially as it can be made a day ahead of time.
My all-time favorite plums are Santa Rosa plums, created by none other than the famous Luther Burbank, who lived in the Santa Rosa Valley at the turn of the twentieth century. The flesh is yellow and red, super juicy and sweet, and the skins are tart purple. They have a heavenly flavor whether you eat, cook or bake with them. I planted a Santa Rosa plum at my home and have missed both the plum and the Blenheim apricot tree since moving.
Well over a year ago I started noticing ads for meal kit delivery services on Facebook. Hmmm, cool idea but not something I’d use. But the ads kept on coming, with enticing shots of produce and interesting entrees. In retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t bite sooner, but I love the farmers’ markets, talking with the growers, tasting the fresh produce and deciding what to prepare for the week. And, I do love cooking.
Summer has arrived, which translates to grilling, barbecue and outdoor parties and activities. In other words, keep the food part quick and simple. That’s precisely what this salad is: Simple, crunchy, absolutely delicious.
Celery has a number of major health benefits, it’s low calorie, and combined with toasted walnuts, red onion or shallots and an oil and lemon vinaigrette with just a drop or two of vanilla, it’s an easy, light salad.
These days when we think of rhubarb, we think strawberry-rhubarb pie. It wasn’t always that way, however. Rhubarb was a very popular vegetable, easy to grow and often served stewed with some sugar as a dessert. It was used so frequently in pies that it was referred to as the pie plant.
Have you ever stared at the vanilla extracts on the store shelves and wondered which is the best vanilla extract to buy? In some respects, choosing a vanilla extract is like selecting a fine wine. How do you know which one to buy?
Read on for an insider’s view of vanilla extract, how to choose what’s best for you and why high-quality vanilla makes a world of difference in flavor.
The best quality vanilla extracts come with a price
The simple answer for what is the best vanilla extract often boils down to price. Good vanilla is not cheap. And because it is so pricey (it’s the world’s most labor-intensive crop), customers are often put off by sticker-shock.
Most supermarket vanilla extracts are mediocre
So stores try their best to buy the cheapest extracts they can find. That means most supermarket vanilla extracts — both brand name and store brands — while they may be pure vanilla, are usually of mediocre quality in comparison to the really fine quality extracts that are available elsewhere. This is also true in the big-box stores where bulk vanilla is fairly inexpensive.
If you aren’t sure whether or not you like rhubarb, this is a good place to start. If someone’s given you rhubarb, pick up some strawberries and make this jam. It’s quick and easy to make and you don’t have to process it as it will keep in the refrigerator for at least two weeks. Make some toast and try. If you like it, terrific. If you don’t, you have an automatic gift for someone who does.
The uniqueness of this cake is that it is both cake and mousse in one. Dense and killer-rich, it delivers an intense chocolate flavor that isn’t diluted with flour. I often cover this cake with a simple chocolate glaze made from the same chocolate as the cake and enough butter to give it some gloss. A slender piece served with a raspberry liqueur or espresso provides an elegant end to a memorable meal.
In my humble opinion, ecotourism is so much more fun and enlightening than staying at a resort full of amenities but short on soul. My visit to Costa Rica in March was full of soul, but even more, filled with many terrific experiences that I’ll savor for years to come.
Costa Rica has positioned itself as a world leader in responsible ecotourism. This is a wise move for a developing country with so many natural resources, a diversified, literate population, a relatively low crime rate (and no army!) and a stable economy. The Ticos, as they refer to themselves, say they were lucky that their country didn’t have resources like abundant gold, silver or oil, so their country was largely ignored instead of plundered like so many of the countries in the Americas.
Move over brownies. The World’s Best Blondies are gaining popularity one bite at a time! A meringue-like top, chewy bottom and really delicious!
You can use chocolate in blondies if chocolate isn’t an issue. I like chopping chocolate from a large bar and include all the little pieces as they melt into the dough, though chips work fine as well. You can substitute butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, even chopped Heath bars. Or, keep it simple and just use chopped nuts. If you are adding chips, however, you may or may not want a whole cup of toasted nuts — it’s your call.
Every spring I look forward to at least one dish that includes fava beans. Like artichokes and asparagus, favas burst delicious green energy flavor. Truthfully, I never tasted favas until well into adulthood as my mother, who spent summers on her grandparents’ farm in Canada, always said that fava beans were animal feed. To that I say, “It’s good to be a cow.”
Commercial salmon season just opened on the California Coast. Sport fishing for salmon has been open for several weeks now and a friend of mine who crews on a few sailboats out of Moss Landing has shared both the prized Dungeness crabs and fresh salmon fillets from her friends at the harbor. In exchange, I’ve sent fresh pineapple upside-down cake back to her friends as a small thank you. What I’ve found is that those who fish love freshly baked desserts. Works well for all of us!
As a serious food enthusiast, along with my dedication to equitable opportunities for farmers, one of my favorite activities is visiting farms. No matter if they flourish in a temperate or tropical climate, I always learn from the farmers as well as from the plants, birds, insects and animals who call the farms their home. I indulged this passion during my recent trip to Costa Rica where I toured farms in the mountainous San Carlos district, a rain forest region in Alajuela province, famous for fine Arabica coffee, sugar cane, pineapples and cattle production. Vanilla is now grown on a few farms in this district, usually in tandem with other crops, including commercial production of trees for use in home building. From there I continued down to a vanilla and spice farm in the lowland Central Pacific coastal region in Quepos district, Puntarenas province.