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- Des, The Grommet

Comfort Foods

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 cake or pie — or latte, I might add? 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.

Apple Fritters

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It’s apple season again. Makes me think of returning to school with the ubiquitous apple in my lunch box. How about you?
 
While the supermarkets carry the standards like Red Delicious, you can usually find the tastier heritage varieties filling the farmers markets and countryside fruit stands. Yesterday when I drove the back roads of Watsonville to visit a friend, there were rows of trees loaded with Yellow Delicious, Newtown Pippins, Jonagolds and other heritage varieties. I picked up some Jonagolds and Yellow Delicious at my local farmers market; the old fashioned apples are worth seeking out.
 

Simply Fabulous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Like most of us who were raised on chocolate chip cookies, I’m crazy about them. However, I find a lot of ccc’s boring because they’re a little too bland and sugary. Kind of the “white bread” version. That’s why I like them with toasted oats and nuts.  But what makes these cookies most interesting is the chocolate. Chocolate chips are fine, but most of the brands contain paraffin so they don’t melt easily and become gooey. If you can find them, I like Guittard’s pistoles, which are chocolate discs that have a lower melting point and are quite tasty. I chop them coarsely. They come in an extreme milk chocolate at 38% or bittersweet at 66%.

Apple and Blueberry Cake

IMG_4429_FotorThis quick and easy cake comes from Janet Sawyer, owner of Little Pod and author of Vanilla. It is an adaptation of a Mary Berry favorite. (Mary Berry is a well-known English culinary professional and cookbook author.)  It’s perfect as an afternoon cake and can also be served for brunch. Vary the fruits based on the season; it’s as adaptable as it is easy to assemble.

Blackberry-Vanilla Pie

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Those of us crazy about fruit watch the farmers markets and stores like hawks, waiting for the first berries to arrive as the signal that yes, summer is coming! Similarly, we know that summer is in full swing before blackberries are ripe on the vines and ready to harvest though technically they’re available somewhere in the States between mid-June and early September.

Blackberry-Vanilla Sundaes

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On the California Coast, blackberry season begins when summer is already in full swing. The berries are slow to ripen as even on warm days the evenings are cool, so there aren’t evening hours to help turn the berries from red to black. When they’re finally ripe, it’s easy to forget the long wait for the reward of their sweet burst of flavors. And, the additional reward is when other summer fruits wind down, there are still blackberries into early autumn.

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.

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.

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.

Let Them Eat Cake Pudding!

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It’s the end of the holiday season.  You’re cleaning out the refrigerator and discover a big chunk of stale pound cake wrapped in foil. Or, there’s the nut cake you were gifted; you’ve meant to serve it before now but it’s gotten too dry. No need to waste what you’ve already got as stale cake just begs for new life!

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

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