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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!
 
 
 

Hot Fudge

Hot Fudge

This decadent Hot Fudge recipe, from Gourmet Magazine, is everything you’d expect from this traditional favorite dessert topping. Chewy and gooey, smooth and shiny, it’ll dress up everything from your hot fudge sundae to your cakes and brownies. Perfect served hot over ice-cream or even just a chilled spoonful, straight from the jar, it’s sure to become a household favorite.

Peach and Cherry Pie

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No one I’ve ever known has declined a piece of fresh, homemade pie. Although some version of pie is eaten in nearly all cultures, fruit pies are an American institution, and it isn’t limited to apple! After writing this last sentence, I wondered if the expression came about because of Johnny Appleseed’s having started apple tree nurseries across many of our midland states at a time when women made pies (often for breakfast), because they required less flour than bread. But no, it apparently was an increasingly common expression beginning in the 1920s attesting the goodness of all things American. Okay, back to pie.

Burrata with Fresh Asparagus and Fava Bean Salad

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Burrata, how I love thee and all your creamy deliciousness! If you’ve never tasted burrata, it may be time to treat yourself. It’s the rich cousin of fresh mozarella, which by the way, is infinitely more delicious than its other cousin, the more easily available, rubbery, vacuum-packaged mozarella. Burrata has an outer shell made from Mozarella, that is like a pouch. Cream and stringy curd pieces are stuffed into the pouch, so when it’s cut open, there’s a wonderful creaminess that keeps the interior of the ball deliciously soft and rich and leaks out onto the plate.

Master Sauce Chicken

 

IMG_4796_FotorRecently I reconnected with a recipe I learned to make from a boat maker on the West Marin coast. He was raising his four children alone and, as they reached their teens, they rotated cooking chores, with each of them specializing in a type of cuisine. It made meals varied and interesting. Weekends, as I recall, were negotiable and depended on who was home. Ed’s specialty was Chinese; Master Sauce Chicken and Eggs Foo Young. While the latter was good, I fell in love with Master Sauce Chicken, as the sauce can be reused in a number of different ways. (One of my favorites is to use it over meatloaf instead of ketchup.) 

Lamingtons

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While there seems to be some debate regarding the origin of their name, which you can read more about here, there is no debate that Lamingtons are a favorite treat among Australians – So much so that they have a full day dedicated to them – July 21st! We found them to be such a clever way to repurpose left over pound cake or sponge cake that you no longer have to go down under to enjoy this adorable little treat. Enjoy these tasty morsels of chocolate and coconut dipped confection in July or any other time of the year. Tiny bite sized cakes, they’re perfect for tea or an after supper sweet.

15 Minute Pasta Dinner

 

IMG_4743_FotorThere’s nothing quite so frustrating as coming home from work tired and hungry, gazing into the refrigerator, then retreating because there’s nothing that says “make this” in there. We’ve all been there. I admit that packaged tomato soup and scrambled eggs have gotten me through several moves and writing deadlines. However, award winning cookbook author, Barbara Kafka, has helpful solutions for all kinds of daily culinary dilemmas and her 15 minute pasta solution is brilliant. Made with ingredients you are likely to have around (though I doubt everyone has heavy cream waiting for just the right moment), this pasta recipe is delicious, filling, and with a few additional ingredients, scores as healthy too.

Russian Tea Cakes

Whenever I think about holiday baking, Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) are at the forefront of my mind. What’s not to love about the buttery, crumbly deliciousness of these cookies. with their fragrant toasted nuts and powdered sugar spilling everywhere? Okay, the powdered sugar part can be annoying. What I do love about these cookies is that they’re pretty much popular worldwide with essentially the same ingredients though some come with a few special touches.

I recently found a unique version of these cookies in Sunset Magazine. Created by Yigit Pura of “Tout Sweet Patisserie,” they are noted for their extreme crispness and toasty-brown butter flavor. I also like that they’re made with vanilla bean paste. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy. Prefer a different alcohol or want to substitute a liqueur? Why not? And, if you don’t want alcohol, you can substitute milk.

Yigit suggests creating cookies 1-1/2 tablespoons each. I personally prefer these cookies smaller because the powdered sugar can be overwhelming with big cookies. Just like the alcohol used, you get to decide on the size you’d like to make the cookies. Just remember to adjust the bake time accordingly.

Although the photo of these cookies was taken with a holiday theme, whether we call them Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, or by any of their many other names, they are always a welcome cookie, no matter the time of year.

Russian Tea Cakes
A fresh spin on an iconic favorite
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup (140 g) hazelnuts (can substitute different nuts)
  2. 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons (310 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks, at cool room temperature
  3. 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  4. 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  5. Scant 1 tablespoon (10 g) vanilla bean paste
  6. 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy
  7. 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (435 g) flour
  8. About 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar for rolling
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet until light golden brown and skins start to split, 8 to 10 minutes. Rub warm nuts in a kitchen towel to remove most of the skins (it's okay if some stick). Let cool and chop coarsely.
  2. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer with beaters; cookies will be slightly crumblier), beat butter, granulated sugar and salt on medium speed until evenly mixed and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together vanilla bean paste and cognac. Scrape into butter mixture and mix to incorporate.
  4. On low speed, gradually mix in flour, scraping bowl as needed. Add hazelnuts and mix 30 seconds more.
  5. Immediately scoop cookies into 1-1/2 tablespoon (25g) portions and roll into balls. Chill, covered, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Stack a baking sheet on a second sheet (to help cookies get evenly golden brown). Repeat with 2 more baking sheets. Line top sheet in each stack with parchment paper and set chilled cookie portions on parchment about 1 inch apart.
  7. Bake cookies 20 minutes. Switch positions of pans and rotate each 180 degrees; then bake until medium golden brown, almost like biscotti, 25 - 30 minutes more. Slide parchment with cookies onto cooling racks and let cool completely.
  8. Put powdered sugar in a large, wide bowl, then roll cookies in powdered sugar. Repeat, lightly pressing sugar onto cookies to form a thick, fluffy coat.
Notes
  1. Pura recommends weighing ingredients on a kitchen scale as it's more precise.
  2. Make ahead through step 5 up to 2 days, chilled airtight, or 2 months, frozen (thaw overnight in fridge before proceeding). Baked cookies, 2 to 3 days, airtight at room temperature, or up to 2 months frozen.
Adapted from Yigit Pura -- Tout Sweet Patisserie
Adapted from Yigit Pura -- Tout Sweet Patisserie
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Asian Inspired Salmon

Fresh salmon is amazing. Ask any bear living along the Pacific Coast, and it will fully agree, assuming it’s not considering you as its next meal. It is rich, meaty, and delicately flavored. As a result, whether you cook it over a fire, grill it, or prepare it in the oven, the sauce should enhance, not overpower, the salmon. 

Flo Braker’s Tangy Lemon Custard Tart with Pomegranate Gelee

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Flo Braker is a fabulous baker and her book Baking for All Occasions is filled with wonderful creations. One of our all time favorites, which is a hit with everyone who tries it, is her Tangy Lemon Custard Tart with Pomegranate Gelee. Decorate the top with halved cherries and blueberries and it makes a perfect dessert for the Fourth of July, but don’t be limited to these fruits; use any stone fruits you’d like!

Persian Saffron Chicken

Can we ever have too many recipes using chicken? Amazingly enough, while meat consumption is down, Americans eat about 60 pounds of chicken a year which breaks down to about five pounds a month. So, in my opinion, the answer is no! And, if rotisserie chicken grabbed on the go is your default (and even if it isn’t), it’s time to try something deliciously different. You can prepare the chicken up to two days ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. This also allows the flavors to fully develop.

Savory Vegetable Galette

Spring farmers’ markets and produce stores are so wonderful to peruse and fill our bags and baskets with their deliciousness. Finally, choices other than kale, cabbage and iceberg lettuce! Everything just pops and begs to be eaten — lettuces, baby spinach, leeks, garlic shoots, baby carrots, English peas, snap peas, asparagus, fava beans, even little zucchinis and squash blossoms. Woo-hoo! Sadly, some things are harder to find, specifically artichokes. This is a big blow for people like me who adore them. The problem? A lack of bio-diversity.

Saffron Bread

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Saffron has been a coveted spice used by people across many cultures for roughly 3,500 years. A little more than 200 years ago England was the world’s largest producer of saffron, growing it in the loamy soil in Essex County. Interestingly enough, David Smale has revived the art of growing saffron near the village of Saffron Walden. The town’s name was changed to its current moniker during the Middle Ages when saffron was first grown there.

The Truth About Saffron

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It appears that saffron is a flavor we either love or loathe. I’m in the love camp, and thoroughly enjoy a good, earthy paella and tagine as well as freshly baked saffron bread tinted a delicate shade of yellow and with the slightly bitter flavor of this valuable stigma of the autumn crocus. I also drink saffron as a decaffinated tea, as it contains numerous health benefits,  and a well made ice cream, redolent with saffron is a rare treat.

Shrimp and White Bean Salad with Citrus-Mint Dressing

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While a chilly winter day complete with snow flurries is thrilling in November or December, by March who needs it, especially a late season blizzard or ice storm! And it isn’t just the weather. Market produce looks tired (except for the kale and cabbage), and finding good lettuce can be a fantasy . While I now live near America’s “salad bowl,” I was born in Cleveland, so I know how winter can drag on and on.

Guinness 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.

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

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