I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

Peach Delight Frozen Yogurt

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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.

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Asparagus and Sugar Snap Pea Salad

 

Is it even possible to have too many salad recipes? Possibly if you hate fruits and vegetables, but then you wouldn’t be reading this recipe, right? The options are limitless, especially if you’re willing to experiment. So when I read a recipe featuring only sugar snap peas, I paid attention. They grow well on the California Coast, so we eat them with dips, cut into chunks in salads, and of course a stir fry, but it never occurred to me to use them as a single ingredient salad.

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Strawberry Smoothie

 Smoothies are a perfect breakfast food, and they’re also a fabulous addendum to a book and a hammock or any other slow-food activity. Use whole or 1% milk if you prefer, soy milk or fruit juice, and choose your favorite fruits. The second best thing to being a healthy fast food is that they’re very adaptable. Here’s one version. Make up your own – just be sure to perk it up with vanilla!

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Jam Cakes

Jam Cakes are a quick, cheerful, dessert with ingredients that you’re bound to have, unless you  haven’t been to the store in weeks. The recipe makes six or more cupcake size “cakelets,” depending on the size of your tins.  Perfect when you can’t stop thinking of something sweet but you don’t want an entire cake. That said, the recipe is a snap to double. 

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Chicken Marbella

In the mid-1970s, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins launched The Silver Palate, a tiny take-out shop in Manhattan, featuring really good food to be enjoyed at home, on a picnic, or a special occasion or office party. The shop was an instant success and the food was uniquely special as the 1970s was a gateway to a new way of cooking, a combining of – or inspired by- recipes from many cultures but with a distinctly modern twist. Chicken Marbella is one of the recipes these two very smart women prepared.

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Sicilian Lemon Tart (Torta al Limone)

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 This is an amazingly smooth, creamy, over-the-top delicious tart. I had been traveling through Italy and Greece for three weeks then spent two days in London before heading home. Along the way I had eaten more than my share of amazing cakes, tarts, and cookies, as well as the exquisite lemon desserts in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. The irony of this is that the last morning in London, we went to a coffee shop before heading to the airport and there, in the dessert case, was a Sicilian Lemon Tart that cried out to be enjoyed. Of course I obliged. It was hands down one of the best desserts of the trip. In London, for crying out loud!

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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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Dark Chocolate Truffles – Traditional or Vegan

 Chocolate Speaks: Who can resist Dark Chocolate Truffles? If you are new at candy making, truffles are one of the easiest candies to make. Even better, you can make traditional truffles using heavy cream and butter, or you can choose a healthier version by making them vegan. Follow the directions and I guarantee you’ll be a star. The trick is using the best ingredients.

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Baked Stuffed Squash

A few months ago, I saw a winter squash I hadn’t seen for a long, long time at a local farmers market. I asked the seller what he called the squash; he said, “Mexican squash.” I chuckled, as squash, like corn and beans, are the three most important foods of the Americas that fueled Mesoamerica, long before the conquest.  I told him that I had eaten this very same variety of squash in the 1960s when I lived in Guatemala. There, the indigenous name for the squash was Guicoy. I immediately purchased it as it triggered memories of being charmed by the baked stuffed squash filled with ground meat, onions, rice and spices.

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Double Vanilla Creme Anglaise

Recently I made Creme Anglaise  to go with David Lebovitz’s recipe for Apricot Souffles. Normally I use heavy cream (double cream) to accompany a rich dessert or I whip the cream and flavor it with vanilla, but I rarely think Creme Anglaise. However, when I made it for the souffles it was like re-connecting with an old friend. I realized how perfect it is on so many things — fresh or dried fruit compotes, slices of warm cake or pie, fresh berries, even adding its creamy deliciousness over French Toast. In England it is nearly always offered with with “puddings,” which really means what we Americans call cakes, and David Lebovitz uses it to accompany not only the light Apricot Souffle but also with his dense, rich Chocolate Souffle. 

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Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies

 

When it’s cold or stormy outside, it’s so nice to have a warm beverage and a few freshly baked cookies to enjoy while hunkering down and binging on Netflix or reading a book. Frankly, both Gina (our Contessa) and I enjoy having freshly baked cookies on hand whenever we’re in for a long stretch of work on the computer. It’s a nice incentive to keep going. So when I found this recipe for Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies in the holiday issue of Bon Appetit, I knew it would be our new favorite.  I made a batch for Gina’s birthday in November, sending her over-the-moon.

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Moroccan Lamb Tajine

As a big fan of Mediterranean food, I’m always excited when I find a new recipe or see a recipe that I can tweak to taste. I found the original version of this Moroccan Lamb Tajine in the New York Times but have I have adapted it considerably. I have to say that it has become a signature dish to serve for friends who love lamb.

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

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