After dining at a local Afghani restaurant recently, I came away with a new favorite soup. I wouldn’t have thought I’d fall in love with a bean soup! It’s the combination of the herbs and spices that elevate this soup to genius status. Believe me, it’s wonderful.
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.
There are moments when winter feels like it’s dragging on endlessly — dark, cloudy days, rain, sleet or snow outside, and predictably tedious days at work. We want a treat but, the holiday pounds we gained won’t leave, or we want to look great at the reunion. What to do? Simply delicious fruit desserts!
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.
During my time in Devon, England, one of my goals was to try Sticky Toffee Pudding. For those of you unaware of English vernacular, “pudding” is used interchangeably with “dessert” and includes cakes, and other baked goods. To add to the confusion, puddings can also be savory, such as Yorkshire Pudding, which is served with roast beef. So Sticky Toffee Pudding is actually a cake that can be baked or steamed and is smothered in a caramel-like sauce.
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.
When I attend parties, especially in the autumn and winter, I’m always drawn to the fresh from the oven appetizers. You too? Sure, the cheese, fruits and nuts platter is a draw and the dessert platter is a must-check, but the multi-sensory appeal of something meltingly warm, especially when it’s chilly, is always welcome. I can assure you, these divine Savory Cheese Cookies will be a hit!
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.
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.”
The holidays are happening this minute! If you’re in deer-to-the-headlights mode, there’s still time to pull it together and make gifts for family and friends without needing to trek to the malls and deal with traffic jams and long lines. And, the good news is that homemade food gifts are far more appreciated than “stuff.” So roll up your sleeves and let’s get started.
Courtesy of Janet Sawyer, Little Pod, UK
Chocolate and Beet Fudge Cake may sound off-putting but, in fact, the beets provide moisture, sweetness and some heft to the cake but the cake doesn’t taste at all like beets. Chocolate wins the honors here, so you want to use good quality chocolate when making this rich cake. It’s truly a delicious recipe that Janet served for the first anniversary party for Little Pod, our “sister” vanilla company, which was held at the Chelsea Physic Gardens in London.
I love to peruse the farmers market each week to see what’s just come in and stock up when it’s last call on something I don’t want to leave. Late summer and early autumn are an especially interesting time. A wealth of squashes and tomatoes, pears and apples are demanding attention but there are also late peaches, plums and berries that will soon be gone. What are we supposed to do; buy it all? When I went last week, I’d been thinking about what a squash salad would look like. Butternut always comes to mind, but I wanted something different. Standing in front of the Delicata squashes, my mind said, YES. Then a vendor gifted me two Asian pears. Perfect combination. And then I thought radicchio. The combination of colors, and the slight bitterness of the radicchio would complement the sweet squash and pears. Welcome Vanilla Scented Delicata Squash and Asian Pear Salad!
Cha-Ya is an exceptional vegetarian Japanese restaurant in San Francisco that I love to visit when I’m in the city. The problem is I rarely get to San Francisco, so I’ve re-created some of their recipes to enjoy at home. Japanese Soba Noodle and Vegetable Salad is bright, fresh, filling and delicious. It also bridges the seasons well. I especially enjoy it in the spring when asparagus and fava beans are coming in, or in the autumn when nights are cooler and I want something more hearty than a greens-based salad. Use whatever vegetables you like based on the season and availability.
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 Chiffon Cake, a Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Spice Latte? 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.
After a summer filled with luscious stone fruits, every kind of berry imaginable, and even beverages, ice creams and sorbets made with summer fruits, you’d think I’d be ready to embrace the autumn harvest filled with pears, apples, persimmons and more. I love autumn fruits and squash and heritage tomatoes. But I don’t want to let go of the peaches and berries until the last possible minute. Fortunately, there’s the Autumn Flame peach to help ease the pain. They’re a late, freestone peach bred to carry us through September and into early October. They’re a semi-firm, sweet peach with low acidity but enough character and body to use in fruit salads, for eating out-of-hand, for baking and for canning or freezing. Autumn Flames have a dark, rich blush, are easy to use as they’re freestone and they hold their shape when cooked. My lead-in to Rum and Vanilla Poached Peaches!
Receiving the Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, Sent by Queen Elizabeth II, Delivered by the Lord Lieutenant
Serendipity. I love this upbeat, joyful word that heralds its meaning: “the occurrence and development of events in a happy or beneficial way.” It perfectly describes my friendship with Janet Sawyer. We met by chance when Janet threw a fundraiser featuring vanilla for her hamlet in Farringdon, Devon, in Southern England, and a close friend of hers ordered a case of my vanilla cookbooks for attendees. At the time, Janet had no thoughts of opening a vanilla company. But that’s what ultimately happened. Less than a decade later, Janet experienced the ultimate in serendipity: Her business, LittlePod, was honored by Queen Elizabeth II with the Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, the highest honor bestowed on a business in the UK! Up to 200 companies are honored each year, but nearly all are well known, large, established businesses. Janet’s business acumen and creative marketing put her company, LittlePod, on the Queen’s radar a couple of years ago, but she never imagined that they would receive such a prestigious award.
This is a salad with autumn and winter written all over it. As the days grow shorter and the weather turns colder this salad has the heft to fill you up as a main dish and it doesn’t require lettuce unless you want it to. You can make it ahead of time and serve it chilled or room temperature or make and eat it when it’s slightly warm. Add a cup of soup and dinner is solved. It travels well and doesn’t wilt — perfect for work or a potluck. You can use leftover Thanksgiving turkey, instead of smoked turkey, or use some of each as the smoked turkey flavor makes the salad pop. It keeps well in the fridge and the Honey Mustard Dressing is addictive. Couscous takes just minutes to cook, you can shell the pistachios while watching Netflix and throw the last ingredients together in 15 minutes.
Does anyone ever really get tired of homemade cookies? Whether it’s a broken heart, a badly stubbed toe, a big disappointment or a bad day at school or work, a couple of cookies with milk, coffee or tea, can make things right again, or at least, a lot better. And, let’s face it: chocolate is a near miracle ingredient for almost everyone. So, when I saw this recipe for Chocolate Whoppers, I knew I had to bake and share it. Thank you, Donna Maurillo for posting this very chocolatey deliciousness in our local paper!
I had the good fortune to grow up next to the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. Although the region no longer hosts endless miles of orchards — it’s now Silicon Valley — between the beginning of the 20th century and the early 1970s, Santa Clara Valley was the most beautiful and productive place on earth for cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums. Summers were warm and dry but ocean breezes kept the evenings cool and fresh, and the winters had enough chill for the trees to produce abundant, flavorful fruit from May into mid-September. Every holiday season flat, round baskets laden with dried fruits and nuts, were shipped all over the United States, most especially to families living in the snowy Midwest and Eastern United States. Luscious, sweet, dried fruits to enjoy in the dead of winter.