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

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 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.

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.

Fava and White Bean Salad With Mint, Vanilla and Pistachios

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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.”

Salmon with Curried Rum and Vanilla Sauce

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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!

Flo Braker’s Flourless Chocolate Torte

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This rich, creamy, dense flourless chocolate cake serves as a perfect dish for Passover Seder. A little goes a long way, so it can easily feed a crowd, but it also keeps well for left overs. A delightful dessert for those on a gluten free diet, this cake is versatile and delicious. Don’t expect leftovers unless you are four or less enjoying this cake. It’s exceptionally good!

Villa Vanilla: A Farm In Harmony With Nature

088-IMG_4003As 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.

A Sugar That’s Actually Good For You!

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Given all the bad press on the evils of sugar, we know we need to be judicious about our intake, but it’s oh-so-difficult!  We’re hard-wired to love it; sweet is the first taste sensation a newborn baby experiences, and for many of us, sweets are downright addictive. Given that we’re constantly reminded to limit our sugar consumption to prevent obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and tooth decay, you can imagine my surprise when my favorite sugar — maple syrup — was recently declared a super food!

Butterscotch Cake

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This decadent rich cake can be served throughout the year but is perfect for welcoming Spring. You can enjoy it with or without the frosting or chocolate honeycomb, or you can serve it plain with a dusting of powdered sugar. As strawberries become available, enjoy it with a big of caramel topping or whipped cream and sliced berries. Any way you serve it, it will be enjoyed!

Chocolate Dipped Honeycomb Crisps

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While these deliciously crunchy candies do not actually contain honey, the bubbles that give them their light air airy texture and their deep golden color, conjure up images of  bees and nature’s sweet treat. Perfect for topping cakes and desserts or just served on their own, we think you’ll be pleased with their surprising texture and rich flavor.

Best Damn Lemon Cake

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Recently I’ve been revisiting some of the recipes posted on The Vanilla Company site to enhance them with photos.  I admit, I keep choosing desserts that I love and that go well with fresh berries. After all, it’s the season! That said, who doesn’t like a lemony-fresh, dense,  slice of cake that has been partially covered with strawberries or raspberries soaked in raspberry wine?

Gluten Free Chocolate Peppermint Crisps

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This time of year it’s impossible to miss all the cute Girl Scouts selling their cookies on every corner, and no cookie sells better than the traditional Thin Mints. While the Girl Scouts are starting to offer gluten free options, not all of the girls carry them and they’re not yet available in every variety of cookie. We think these Gluten Free Chocolate Peppermint Crisps, are a good runner up to this American classic, and when you make them at home you can enjoy them year ’round!

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