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

European Plum Cake

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This delicate, delicious, absolutely-must-make cake recipe comes from Maria Reiz Springer. Now living in Maryland, Maria is from Austria and has an infinite number of amazing European dessert recipes, and usually a wonderful story that goes with the recipe. Maria has a home cooking school and is truly a master baker. The plum cake can be made with other stone fruits as well, but if you are lucky enough to have French plums, they are both the traditional plum used as well as divine in this cake.

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Maple Vanilla Custard

Custards are a special comfort food that kind of fell off our collective radar in the last 30 -40 years, but they really deserve a place at the table. Eaten warm on cold, rainy or snow-slushy days, or room temperature, even chilled with fresh fruits in warm, sunny weather, they offer us a sense of well-being. What I love about Maple Vanilla Custard is the symbiosis of these two flavors as they play off each other. Maple syrup brings a delicate, almost woodsy sweetness that is complemented by the more complex flavor profile of pure vanilla. The magic happens when the flavors explode on the palate and tongue. Worries fall away, the awfulness of a sore throat eases, and for a few minutes all’s well with the world.

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An Almost Gluten-Free Northwest Food Crawl Part One

When I headed to Portland late last summer, I wasn’t thinking about eating my way through the city. I was on my way to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my college housemate, JulieAnn and her husband, Marlo. While I wasn’t envisioning dining out, I was thinking food. One of my assignments for the party was to bake cookies. Specifically, gluten-free cookies. I’ve been baking gluten-free for years as my daughter is celiac, my grandsons are gluten-sensitive, and I’m allergic to wheat. JulieAnn also has celiac. I arrived with a few tools of the trade and ready to make five different cookie recipes for the party.

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Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Pumpkin and vanilla were meant for each other. Ditto with all the spices in this incredibly light, moist, delicious cake. Really, what could say autumn better than a freshly baked Pumpkin Chiffon Cake, a Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Spice Latte? Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate really fresh spices. I grate my nutmeg and grind allspice and cinnamon in a coffee grinder dedicated just for spices. The flavors really pop when they’re fresh. And our dear vanilla is the backup chorus once again, making sure all the flavors work synergistically.

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A Vanilla Chiffon Cake to Celebrate Spring

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Spring weather is so fickle. Balmy and beautiful one day, windy and wild the next. But here on the California Coast, the organic strawberries are being picked on our local farms and are oh, so welcome, and begging to be included in dessert.

When I think spring and summer cakes, I think angel food, sponge or chiffon. Light, airy, the perfect foil for berries and other summer fruits. I decided on chiffon.

My friend and colleague Shirley Corriher, has this to say about chiffon cakes in her book, BakeWise :

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Tahini Cookies

It’s fun to watch trends come and go and when a particular trend reappears, the recipes using the current ingredient are often uniquely different. For the past eight months I’ve noticed tahini in a large assortment of recipes. However this cookie comes by it honestly as it comes to us from Mamaleh’s, a new incarnation of the classic Jewish Deli, in Cambridge MA. Rachel Sundet, pastry chef at Mamaleh’s claims the honey keeps these shortbread cookies really soft.

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Black Pepper and Vanilla Spiced Chicken Breasts With Mango and Cashews

It’s cold outside and I’m thinking about cozy soups, fragrant  stews and other warming foods that speak of waning sunshine and chilly nights.  Especially when I was fighting with the wind while raking leaves. However, as I cruised the produce section I spotted bright yellow Ataulfo mangoes, one of the sweetest and most flavorful varieties that comes into our markets here in the States. What to do? I can’t imagine mango soup and stews call for root vegetables — parsnips and potatoes, carrots and onions. Then I remembered a wonderful dish I created when I worked with New Leaf markets. A black peppered, spicy mango chicken saute with cashews. Served over a rice pilaf, I could have the best of both worlds — a warming dish but with tropical overtones. I bought the mangoes!

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l’appart: The Delights & Disasters of Making My Paris Home

David Lebovitz’ latest book, l’appart: the Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, is a cringe-worthy tale of a multi-year ordeal that he might never have undertaken had he even an inkling of difficulties he would endure.

When he describes his old apartment and why it was so difficult to give it up to purchase a Parisian apartment, you can clearly imagine the spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower with its effervescent, bubbling lights and appreciate his ideal location on the edge of the Marais, the extraordinary neighborhood farmers’ markets and especially the rare elevator to the top floor of the building where he lived. He also shares the quirky downside of older apartments in the City of Light, issues which might be deal breakers for a lot of Americans, though it’s amazing what we can adjust to if the percs outweigh the pain. But the desire for a big kitchen with a full-sized oven, a big “American” refrigerator, the physical space to properly prepare and refine his recipes and write his books, would seal his commitment to the city he now considered his home.

In David’s inimitable voice, l’appart is his tale of the incredible challenges locating, purchasing and then renovating a Parisian apartment. As I read the nearly unbelievable complications of even finding a listing of apartments for sale, it struck me as so foreign and complicated, something that never occurred to me was possible in a country — and city — famed for their food, their wine, their chocolate, and what I presumed would be hundreds of years to refine a civilized life. In other words, until reading l‘appart, I was just as naive as most Americans in assuming we must have learned from the Europeans on how to set up and manage everything from banking to real estate to home maintenance and beyond. Nope. It’s a nearly incomprehensible, convoluted experience as the following passage indicates.

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Chocolate Souffle

Courtesy of David Lebovitz from l’appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home

About the following recipe, David says, “Chocolate souffle remains one of my all-time favorite desserts, and even though I now have a variety of porcelain souffle molds in my kitchen here in Paris, I prefer to bake a chocolate souffle in a shallow baking dish. Some can barely wait to get past the crust, to dive into the warm, tender pool of dark chocolate underneath, but I like the fragile, cocoa-colored crust just as much as what hides beneath it. It’s a balance between the tough, and the tender, and one rarely exists without the other….Although I have my share of regrets, using good chocolate to make a souffle is never one of them.”

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Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love — A Review

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In late March I received an e-mail from Simran Sethi requesting an interview regarding the cyclone that struck Madagascar two weeks earlier and how it would impact the already troubled vanilla market. I responded that I would be happy to talk and a date and time were set. What happened next was serendipity. Within a few minutes of our meeting, Simran and I realized we have been traveling the same path with the same concerns and seeking the same outcomes on behalf of those who grow the foods we all love that are becoming endangered in ways that most of the world is unaware.

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A Tribute to Diana Kennedy

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gingerbread Houses and Christmas Candlelight Teas

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Maria Reisz has of way of creating magic and beauty, whether it’s her exquisite European baking, sumptuous parties and teas, her rose gardens, flower arranging, or just about anything else her talented hands touch. Now Maria has brought out her much awaited book, Gingerbread Houses and Christmas Candlelight Teas: How to Create Your Own Holiday Traditions. This lovely book is filled with detailed instructions and lovely photos on how to help children create their own delightful gingerbread houses and how to turn simple-to-prepare foods into a celebratory meal with family and friends.

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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