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I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet

Guiness Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lime-Vanilla Frosting

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 Adapted from David Lebovitz’ Ready for Dessert

In honor of Irish heritage (mine and a lot of other Americans who also have Irish ancestors), I wanted to make something special for those who celebrate St. Paddy’s Day. Unfortunately, the Irish are not known for their desserts. However, Guinness Stout is in every Irish pub and is the beverage of choice on March 17th.

Shrimp with Remoulade Sauce

http://vanillaqueen.com/new-orleans-style-beignets/

http://vanillaqueen.com/new-orleans-style-beignets/

When it comes to good food, Southern Louisiana does not disappoint! Along with a bountiful harvest of seafood and the combination of traditional Southern, Creole and Cajun cooking, they’ve enriched our national cuisine with Jambalaya, Etouffee, Gumbo, Po’Boy’s — and that’s just a few of their long list of specialties.

Smoked Rainbow Trout and Endive Salad

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Just a few weeks ago I’m sure I came across a recipe for Smoked Trout and Endive Salad. It was posted by someone who said she had discovered the recipe in Alice Waters’ American Vegetable Cookbook. It sounded like a great base for a full meal salad. Later, when I attempted to check on the dressing ingredients, I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere, including Alice’s cookbook, which leads me to wonder if I dreamed it.

Chicken Tetrazzini

Food history is always fascinating. It’s like an archeology dig that you can then eat. My mother made Chicken Tetrazzini for dinner when I was growing up and it was a favorite of mine because it was the right kind of cozy on a cold, wet winter night. It’s an ideal recipe to use up leftover roasted or rotisserie chicken (or turkey), which was precisely why I just made it again for the first time in ages. It is also an incredibly wet, dreary February so it served as a useful way to warm my body and spirit as well as warming my kitchen and office thanks to the oven.

Why is vanilla so expensive?

Have you noticed that the cost of cookies, cakes and ice creams have gone up? Most  desserts use vanilla, and vanilla prices have skyrocketed since 2014. Could that be it? And why is vanilla getting so expensive? The answer may surprise you. Read on.

As vanilla prices rise, so do baked goods. Picture credit: http://experimentalgastronomy.wordpress.com

As vanilla prices rise, so do baked goods.  Or do they? Picture credit: The Experimental Gastronomy

Like everything else, the cost of vanilla is affected by supply and demand, and today the vanilla supply is down – WAY DOWN. The reasons will surprise you!

Tropical farmers who grow coffee, cacao, vanilla, sugar and a few other crops, constantly face fluctuating prices for their crops due to supply and demand. And because vanilla is by far the smallest of the tropical luxury crops, the vanilla industry faces dramatic fluctuations.

Will the 2017 Vanilla Crop Bring Lower Prices?

 

1-Bahrat 4 vines on jatrophaIn late February of 2017, a market report was released by a European company that has been in the vanilla business for more than 100 years and is known for their honest and reliable industry assessments. The report addressed the chaotic conditions on the ground in Madagascar. It also provided a clearer picture of what to expect when the 2017 crop is harvested in May/June and what to anticipate in November when the beans are ready to be sold on the wholesale market.

Is Fair Trade vanilla really fair?

Did you know there is a dark side to fair trade vanilla?

According to the World Fair Trade Organization, the definition of Fair Trade is as follows:

“Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seek greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair Trade Organizations, backed by  consumers, are engaged actively  in supporting producers,  awareness  raising  and  in  campaigning  for  changes  in  the  rules  and  practice  of conventional international trade.”

What’s not to like about this? Fairness for farmers, which helps them and their families to thrive as well as to continue to produce the foods, spices and other ingredients that we love and use regularly.

A Tribute to Diana Kennedy

diana-alone-dsc_4855_fotorDiana Kennedy, 2016

 If you’re interested in and enjoy Mexican cuisine, you’ll want to remember this name – Diana Kennedy, is arguably the world’s authority on Mexico’s incredibly diverse and unique foods, flavors, dishes and their preparation. She has written nine books on the subject. Her first book, The Cuisines of Mexico, came out in 1972, and is credited with opening American eyes to the extraordinary regional flavors of Mexico.

Stylish, Delicious Winter Salads

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Love salads as an entree but when the weather turns cold, not so much? That’s my problem. Easy to make, they can be as simple or complex as your mood or time allows, they’re healthy and, if you’re clever, you can get in your days’ worth of greens at one sitting. The problem? Facing a crisp, cold green salad on a cold, wet or snowy day! So, what’s the alternative?

Persimmon Cookies with Lemon-Vanilla Glaze

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Whenever I’ve been fortunate enough to score persimmons, I’ve always made Persimmon Puddings (the word for dessert in the UK but, in the US, it’s actually cake). My mother always made it for Thanksgiving and served it with a lemon sauce instead of a hard sauce. I discovered it was worth “gilding the lily” by serving whipped cream on the side.

Buche de Noel

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Although the French name for this beautiful dessert means Christmas Log, the origins of the custom of bringing in a Yule log, building a blazing fire, then lighting candles from it are pagan in origin as is the Christmas tree and decorating with holly and other greens.  I like to think of these ancient traditions as a way to bring light and joy into the dark nights of winter for everyone, regardless of our ancestry or religion. And what could be prettier than a chocolate sponge cake filled with cream, frosted with chocolate ganache and dusted with snowy powdered sugar? Add some meringue mushrooms or sprigs of holly, and you have a lovely and meaningful completion of a holiday meal. 

Molten Chocolate Cakes

Current Chocolate Molten Lava Cake

 

Guittard-chocolateIMG_0281-300x225These cakes are my latest downfall.  I discovered that you don’t have to use them right away to enjoy the smooth

exterior and melted center of these chocolaty mini-cakes. Make the recipe, bake it off and use however many of the little cakes you want.  Wrap the rest and refrigerate or freeze.  When you’re ready for a rich chocolate hit, pop the room-temperature cakelet into the microwave for about 10 seconds.  The center will be soft and oozy and ready to give you the rush you’ve been hoping for. These  cakelets are really rich. If you want three-bite desserts, make eight or ten instead of six.

Vanilla Festival Santa Cruz, 2016

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The first annual Santa Cruz Vanilla Festival came together as precisely the magical event Chef David Jackman and I imagined when David proposed the idea back in September. We weren’t quite sure how many guests we could accommodate in his cozy restaurant downtown on Pacific Avenue. While there are tables in a lovely covered patio in front of the restaurant, December can be chilly or rainy. I suggested that we take advantage of the long wooden tables to create community seating so that guests could meet one another while enjoying the three course meal. We were ready to expand to the patio if necessary, but felt 50 would be an ideal number. As it turned out, every seat inside was filled, and the restaurant was closed inside for our party.

Luscious Gianduja Squares

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 Carole Bloom has graciously shared a toothsome recipe from her new book, Intensely Chocolate (Wiley, 2010), which not only is delicious, but is also an ideal gift to make for a chocolate lover.  Carole says, “A blend of bittersweet chocolate, dark milk chocolate, hazelnut paste, and chopped toasted hazelnuts create a candy that fills the mouth with intense flavor. These go very well with coffee or tea after dinner.”

Gougeres

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Gougeres are a French comfort food. Not a mac ‘n cheese kind of comfort food, but the kind that’s served fresh from the oven with a glass of wine or a cocktail. Or maybe stuffed with warm brie or some crab or smoked salmon and creme fraiche. The fun part is deciding how you want your gougeres (goo jeres)– small or medium in size, what kinds of cheese to add to the dough, or whether to stuff them with something substantial that works perfectly with a drink or as part of a small plates party.

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