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%.
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!
We should all have a few show-stopping sauces to take a recipe from tasty to transcendent. Trust me, this is one is one of those sauces you’ll treasure and share.
A Quick history of pie
According to historical accounts, pie has been around since the Egyptians, and they probably learned about pies from the Greeks. The crusts weren’t always eaten, however, but acted as a way to encase meats. The first English pies were made from crows and meat fillings are still a popular Pub entree. Crow pie? Not so much.
This 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.
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.
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.
Having come of age in the 1960s in the San Francisco Bay Area, I experienced the folk music era, mini-skirts, peace marches and lots of good ole’ rock ‘n’ roll. In 1969 I moved to the Mendocino Coast and lived in a farm house built in 1886. All this is to say, I know granola!
Homemade frozen yogurt has become one of my passions this summer. I’ve especially enjoyed using freestone peaches and strawberries. You can use berries, nectarines, mangoes, and even poached apples or pears with most of the juices drained. Simply follow the basic recipe and adjust sweetener (use sugar if you prefer) to taste. I add a little sugar to the fruits to get the juices running; you can skip that step if the fruit is already juicy.
In 1985 Greg Reynolds, who at the time worked for a catering service in Half Moon Bay, became enthusiastic about playing with sauces using vanilla. His enthusiasm was spurred by my telling him a bit about vanilla’s history as well as my handing him a handful of vanilla beans. Not long after he invited me to try the following sauce. It immediately became one of my go-to sauces to use on poached chicken and roasted vegetables. Later, I added it as a finishing sauce for grilled meats.
Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert that originated in Limousin. The name comes from clafotis, which means “to fill up,” in Occitan, an old French language with regional dialects throughout parts of Southern France. Traditionally the dessert was made with dark cherries, pits included, with a custard batter similar to pancake batter or a thin flan. Leaving the pits in the cherries creates a stronger cherry flavor, but can cause tooth damage to the unwitting diner. The same recipe using different fruits and vegetables are technically flognardes. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s as easy to make as a fruit-filled, baked pancake that you can serve anytime, whether for a special breakfast or as dessert.
Given that cherry season is so fleeting, take advantage of the beautiful cherries coming from the Pacific Northwest or, use apples, berries, rhubarb or plums. In fact, now that Limousin is known for their specialty apples, they are the more commonly used fruit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These days when we think of rhubarb, we think strawberry-rhubarb pie. It wasn’t always that way, however. Rhubarb was a very popular vegetable, easy to grow and often served stewed with some sugar as a dessert. It was used so frequently in pies that it was referred to as the pie plant.
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.
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.
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.”