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

Culinary

What’s not to like about good food? And who doesn’t want culinary news and tips as we celebrate a renaissance of delicious, healthy, well prepared foods.  With farmers markets opening all over our country and fascinating new foods arriving from around the world and onto grocery and specialty food store shelves, our options are phenomenal. Problem is, there’s so much going on there isn’t time to keep up with all that’s out there.
In redesigning my site I decided I should create a spot where I can write about some of the pros I know or discover in the culinary circles I move in.  The ones who open doors of knowledge and instruction for us as well as offer practical how-tos for everything from artisan chocolates and cheese to introducing us to a colorful palette of exotic ingredients and cuisine.
Are you a culinary pro?  Do you have a favorite instructor, writer or blogger you think should be part of this section? Please let me know about  blogs, classes, publications and articles and classes that deserve mention.  I’m happy to share your news and I invite you to send articles to be posted in this section.  It’s a great way to share your expertise with an appreciative audience. Bon appetit!
 
 
 

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.

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.

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.

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?

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. 

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.

Turkey Divan

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Thanksgiving’s over and you’ve eaten all you can stand of turkey “sundaes” and turkey sandwiches. I know it’s hard to have enough of all the sides and turkey with gravy, but just in case you’ve had one too many days of leftovers or, if you love turkey and want another easy-to-assemble, delicious turkey option, this recipe is for you!

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Pie

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This is an especially rich and creamy pie, one that is memorably delicious. You remove it from the oven before the custard splits but after it has cooked long enough to set up when it cools. It some respects, this Sugar and Spice Pumpkin pie is more like a cream pie than a regular pumpkin pie. If you bake the pie on a pizza brick in the oven, the bottom crust will get enough heat to remain crisp, one of the challenges when making a custard pie filling. This is a recipe you are likely to reach for more than once during the holiday season.

Persimmon and Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Pecans

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When the weather outside is cold and damp, salad isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m planning a meal. That said, salads are a refreshing contrast to a rich, heavy stew, a hearty grain dish, or roasted meat. I like the subtle sweetness and crispness of Fuyu persimmons and Japanese pears, but if neither is available or you prefer, substitute firm, crisp apples and grapes. The salty, sharp character of blue cheese balances the sweetness of the fruit. A good appetite stimulator! And trust me on the vanilla. It always brightens salads.

Cream Puffs and Profiteroles

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Cream puffs and eclairs aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of versatile desserts. But in reality they’re wonderful edible containers that can be big, medium or small, round or elongated, and filled with all kinds of delicious options sweet or savory! Whipped cream? check. pastry cream? check. crab salad? You bet.

Tips for Great Choux Paste

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The year I turned 15 I spent the summer with my cousins in Connecticut. I had been cooking since I was very young and especially loved to bake. One afternoon when my cousin and I were hanging out with a friend down the road, the friend’s dad asked if I would teach his daughter to cook. Being 15, cream puffs seemed like a great idea as we could eat the lesson.  Much more interesting than something practical like French toast, hamburgers or soup.  In the middle of making the cream puffs there was a thunderstorm. As California doesn’t get rain in the summer and we rarely have thunderstorms, I was quite surprised when we ended up with a soupy mess. While I don’t know that the thunderstorm and the humidity caused the fail, they were the likely suspects.  This is the first — and only — time I ever had trouble with cream puffs. Until this week.

Brussels Sprouts with Pistachios and Pomegranate-Vanilla Glaze

 

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In the mid-1980s I wrote the Artichoke Cookbook. It was quite successful and so the Brussels sprouts growers on California’s Central Coast asked me to write a cookbook for them. My then husband said he would leave me if I did; he hated them that much. I didn’t write the book though we did part ways a few years later and, after he left, I brought Brussels sprouts, among other things, back into my life.

Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze

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 This is an adaptation from a recipe off of one of my favorite blogs, Food 52 – Terrific for an autumn day like today when a storm is rolling in. It’s especially good with homemade applesauce, but this isn’t a requirement. Given most people don’t bake these days, I’m finding people are overjoyed to have fresh, homemade desserts and fancy is not necessary. In fact, recipes that bring up childhood memories seem to be the most appreciated.

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

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