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

CASEM COOP: A Story of Commitment, Endurance and Love

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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to changeAttributed to Charles Darwin

If you’ve traveled to Costa Rica, you’ve experienced its beauty and the many ways to enjoy all it offers. A small, narrow country angled between Nicaragua and Panama, it is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west, the Pacific. It has a high literacy rate, no military, is politically stable and welcomes tourists to enjoy its warm, tropical weather, outdoor activities and eco-tourism.

Peach Delight Frozen Yogurt

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Homemade frozen yogurt has become one of my passions this summer. I’ve especially enjoyed using freestone peaches and strawberries. You can use berries, nectarines, mangoes, and even poached apples or pears with most of the juices drained. Simply follow the basic recipe and adjust sweetener (use sugar if you prefer) to taste. I add a little sugar to the fruits to get the juices running; you can skip that step if the fruit is already juicy.

Vanilla Glaze for Grilled or Poached Meats, Fish, Poultry or Vegetables

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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.

Cherry Clafoutis

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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.

Sorbets and Granitas

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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.

Vanilla-Scented Madeleines

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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.” 

Vanilla Coconut Cream Ice Cream

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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.

Lemon-Vanilla Granita

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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.

Cherry Vanilla Cake with Kirschwasser

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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. 

Plum-Vanilla Sorbet

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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.

Exploring Meal Kits: Choosing Blue Apron

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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.

Celery Walnut Salad

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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.

What’s the best vanilla extract?

So many choices. So many prices.
Are they all the same? What is the best vanilla?

What's the best vanilla extract?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 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.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

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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.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

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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.

Ecotourism in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Reserve

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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.

The World’s Best Blondies

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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.

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