In 2014 I was a featured speaker at England’s first national “Real Vanilla Day.” Inspired and hosted by Janet Sawyer, owner and CEO of Little Pod, it was staged at Bickleigh Castle in Tiverton, Devon. It was a three day celebration, which included the launch of Janet’s cookery book (as they say in the UK), Vanilla, cooking demos by several name chefs and bakers, and a hands-on baking event for children. And while it might seem odd to celebrate “real vanilla,” to those of us who assume pure vanilla extract is everywhere, in Europe, vanilla beans or a synthetic coumarin/vanillin powder have been the available vanilla products until recently. Janet’s mission is to promote real vanilla in support of the smallholder growers and to encourage more flavorful English desserts using pure vanilla.
A friend of mine shares her copies of Bon Appetit with me, which I love as there’s a theme for each magazine. The photos are smart and some of the recipes beg to be tried. It’s a great way to get inspired and who doesn’t need that? This last month was subtitled, “The Foods We Crave Now And How To Cook Them.”
Living in the heart of artichoke country, we get the delicious thistles in all sizes nearly year ’round. However, late March through May and then again in September, are the two big harvest periods when the artichokes are at their most plentiful and the prices are good. Until relatively recently, artichokes were mainly enjoyed here in California; fortunately they’re now available all through the States and most people have enjoyed an artichoke or two (or more) just about everywhere. Prepared properly, they are so delicious and fun to eat as well.
One of my favorite indoor ways to let down from a busy day, is to read food magazines. It’s a great opportunity to mentally “taste” new recipes without the calories or effort. It also stimulates inspiration and ideas for our food blog, and for entertaining.
It’s cold outside and I’m thinking about cozy soups, fragrant stews and other warming foods that speak of waning sunshine and chilly nights. Especially when I was fighting with the wind while raking leaves. However, as I cruised the produce section I spotted bright yellow Ataulfo mangoes, one of the sweetest and most flavorful varieties that comes into our markets here in the States. What to do? I can’t imagine mango soup and stews call for root vegetables — parsnips and potatoes, carrots and onions. Then I remembered a wonderful dish I created when I worked with New Leaf markets. A black peppered, spicy mango chicken saute with cashews. Served over a rice pilaf, I could have the best of both worlds — a warming dish but with tropical overtones. I bought the mangoes!
First, I admit I’m not a vegan or even a card carrying vegetarian (though I lean in that direction), but I have friends who are and I like wowing them with a new dessert on movie nights. I also love learning new techniques, culinary styles and recipes from different cultures and regions. So cooking and baking vegan intrigued me.
Every January I go to San Francisco for a few days to see friends and celebrate my birthday. I time my visit to coincide with the San Francisco Specialty Food Show though this year I didn’t attend. Instead I spent time visiting friends, dining out and enjoying the City.
David Lebovitz’ latest book, l’appart: the Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, is a cringe-worthy tale of a multi-year ordeal that he might never have undertaken had he even an inkling of difficulties he would endure.
When he describes his old apartment and why it was so difficult to give it up to purchase a Parisian apartment, you can clearly imagine the spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower with its effervescent, bubbling lights and appreciate his ideal location on the edge of the Marais, the extraordinary neighborhood farmers’ markets and especially the rare elevator to the top floor of the building where he lived. He also shares the quirky downside of older apartments in the City of Light, issues which might be deal breakers for a lot of Americans, though it’s amazing what we can adjust to if the percs outweigh the pain. But the desire for a big kitchen with a full-sized oven, a big “American” refrigerator, the physical space to properly prepare and refine his recipes and write his books, would seal his commitment to the city he now considered his home.
In David’s inimitable voice, l’appart is his tale of the incredible challenges locating, purchasing and then renovating a Parisian apartment. As I read the nearly unbelievable complications of even finding a listing of apartments for sale, it struck me as so foreign and complicated, something that never occurred to me was possible in a country — and city — famed for their food, their wine, their chocolate, and what I presumed would be hundreds of years to refine a civilized life. In other words, until reading l‘appart, I was just as naive as most Americans in assuming we must have learned from the Europeans on how to set up and manage everything from banking to real estate to home maintenance and beyond. Nope. It’s a nearly incomprehensible, convoluted experience as the following passage indicates.
Courtesy of David Lebovitz from l’appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home
About the following recipe, David says, “Chocolate souffle remains one of my all-time favorite desserts, and even though I now have a variety of porcelain souffle molds in my kitchen here in Paris, I prefer to bake a chocolate souffle in a shallow baking dish. Some can barely wait to get past the crust, to dive into the warm, tender pool of dark chocolate underneath, but I like the fragile, cocoa-colored crust just as much as what hides beneath it. It’s a balance between the tough, and the tender, and one rarely exists without the other….Although I have my share of regrets, using good chocolate to make a souffle is never one of them.”
Courtesy of David Lebovitz: The Sweet Life in Paris
Tagines (also spelled tajine) are a perfect antidote to cold, wintry nights. Remarkably enough, they’re also wonderful on warm summer nights. Why? because they are so richly flavored, all of your senses will come into play. They’re also warming, filling and unique enough for serving at intimate dinner parties or even for a special date night for two.
This is a great lemon bar recipe – bright, tart-sweet and with a buttery crust with nice vanilla notes. Meyer lemons aren’t quite as tart as Eureka and other American lemon varieties. If you’re using Meyer lemons, you might need a little extra lemon juice.
It’s freezing outside, you’re exhausted, and you want something better than a can of soup for dinner. Here’s an easy solution. It requires some shopping in advance, so get the basic ingredients and have them on hand. You’ll be grateful you did.
Love salads as an entree but when the weather turns cold, not so much? That’s my problem. Easy to make, they can be as simple or complex as your mood or time allows, they’re healthy and, if you’re clever, you can get in your days’ worth of greens at one sitting. The problem? Facing a crisp, cold green salad on a cold, wet or snowy day! So, what’s the alternative?
If you’ve ever eaten a burger, a sandwich or anything else that features caramelized onions, you likely had a wow moment — a how could something as humble as an onion be so sweet and pack so much flavor? Really. Onions?
So, in late November, as I was stalling as long as a I could before climbing out of bed and into the chilly morning, I started thinking about something new I could make to give friends and family for the holidays. Onion jam came to mind.
Although I’m not vegan, I have dear friends who are. I’m also always looking for recipes that can accommodate family and friends with food allergies or food intolerance issues. When I read on food 52 about Joanne Chang’s cupcakes, I saw a winner. Joanne, who owns Flour Bakery in Boston, has created a recipe that is moist, deeply flavorful, and fully satisfies the craving for chocolate and the desire for a rich, moist cake or cupcake — vegan or otherwise!
The delicious autumn hard shelled squashes are so welcoming to find at the farmers’ market or in the produce section, especially as nights grow dark earlier and the weather turns chilly or cold. They all but beg us to take them home to make something warm, filling and comforting! What I love about this recipe is that you get an unusually silky, risotto as the butternut squash is used two ways. Half of the roasted butternut squash is pureed, which adds to the creaminess of this dish.
Understanding vanilla product labels can certainly get complicated as new products flood the market and old products get rebranded. There are actually five different types of liquid vanilla in the marketplace right now and we’re not talking five different species here. We’re talking labels and what’s inside the bottles.
As I get asked about the difference between pure, flavor, natural, and imitation vanilla frequently, I decided to write an article specifically addressing what’s in the bottle and why it’s labeled the way it is.
For those looking for a cheap substitute to the real thing because it’s so expensive right now, this is also good to know.
We’ll start with pure vanilla extract.
What Makes Pure Vanilla Extract Pure?
There is a Standard of Identity for vanilla extract in the United States. To be labeled Pure Vanilla Extract, a gallon measure must contain 13.35% vanilla bean extractives (10-ounces of moisture-free solids), 35% alcohol, and the balance in distilled water.
What is not listed in the Standard of Identity is sugar, corn syrup, caramel color or any other additives pure vanilla may contain.
Some companies include one or more of these ingredients on their labels, but most do not – even though their pure vanilla contains it. The same is true with alcohol. Grain alcohol is the most commonly used alcohol in vanilla, but sugarcane alcohol is also used. Sugar or corn syrup are often used to mask the harsh notes of alcohol or to make the extract smell and taste better if the quality of the beans used were not good quality.
This recipe (with some adaptations) comes to us from Jerry Di Vecchio, the woman who helped change the way the West eats. By West, I mean the Western United States. A gracious and amazing woman, Jerry spent her entire career working at Sunset Magazine, and many of those years as the editor/director of the food division. She also inadvertently launched my career as an international expert in vanilla. But that’s a story for another time. Instead, this easy-to-make, delicious entree is one you’re going to want in your collection of favorites, whether for a weeknight dinner or for a special meal with guests.
This is a spinoff of the World’s Best Cookies, but worthy of its own recipe. It’s a reliably good cookie, keeps well because of the relatively high-fat level (though they don’t usually last long enough for that to be a problem), and you can switch out white chocolate for milk or dark chocolate, as well as the nuts. Part of the appeal of these cookies is the slight crunch from the cornflakes and slightly chewy thanks to the oats.
When I was fifteen, I spent a memorable summer with my Connecticut cousins. Our Aunt Patricia (yes, I was named after her — we were known as Big Pat and Little Pat) worked and lived in New York City, and in our eyes she was all we aspired to be. My cousin Deborah and I took the train to Manhattan and spent a day with Big Pat. It was a classic New York summer day — hot and sultry — but my aunt had prepared a sophisticated cold lunch, which included the perfect dessert: half-frozen table grapes in sweetened sour cream. This was before yogurt was mainstream and sour cream was considered a gourmet item. I’ve been making some version of this refreshing dish ever since.