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I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet

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.

Albacore Baked with Tomatoes and Beans and Garlic Caper Sauce

 

A week ago a friend gifted me some wild-caught albacore. How could I say no? I wanted to create something special that would highlight the character and flavor of the fish, while at the same time, keeping it moist and tender. I had just picked up a 2 pound package of multicolored cherry and pear-shaped tomatoes, that I wanted to include. I had also painstakingly shelled, par-boiled, and removed the skins off of almost two pounds of fava beans the day before. Clearly, they were destined for this dish.

Fresh Berry Shortcakes

Several years ago I had a terrific recipe for shortcake biscuits. Naturally, I lost it. I didn’t know this, of course, when I decided that it would be the perfect dessert to bring to a party I was attending. Even though it was late in the season, the warm, sunny days we’ve had has meant a never-ending abundance of strawberries and, even as I write this, it appears it’s far from finished.

If you’re reading this post in May, read on. You are at the welcoming end of the new season and the recipe I located is great. If you’re reading this in late September, this is the recipe to use with the last of the season’s berries.

Can you imagine warm shortcakes filled with juicy berries and whipped cream (or Greek yogurt if you must) for breakfast? This is what got me through a lot of cookbooks and ultimately led me online where I scored. The winning shortcake? Made by James Beard’s mother!

Here’s the surprise: James Beard wrote over twenty cookbooks but never included his mother’s recipe. However, he did confide in his friend, Larry Forgione that, “There can never be a better dessert, only fancier.” Forgione ended up with the recipe, included it in his book, An American Place (Morrow, 1996), and it was a hit.

Causa a la Limena

If you enjoy good food and love to cook or bake, you’ll understand how excited I get when I discover a must-make recipe, sample a tropical fruit I’ve never heard of (longon and guanabana are two that caught my breath!) or have an exceptional meal that features a memorable entree. It kind of evokes the feeling of being a little richer or at least culturally richer if not financially.

A Vanilla Chiffon Cake to Celebrate Spring

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Spring weather is so fickle. Balmy and beautiful one day, windy and wild the next. But here on the California Coast, the organic strawberries are being picked on our local farms and are oh, so welcome, and begging to be included in dessert.

When I think spring and summer cakes, I think angel food, sponge or chiffon. Light, airy, the perfect foil for berries and other summer fruits. I decided on chiffon.

My friend and colleague Shirley Corriher, has this to say about chiffon cakes in her book, BakeWise :

Headlands Inn Peach Baked French Toast

 

If you’re looking for a perfect brunch recipe to serve for Mother’s Day, a special birthday, or are hosting guests, this recipe from the Headlands Inn in Mendocino, CA will surpass everyone’s expectations. Even the presentation creates a “Wow” response. First, a few words about the Headlands Inn and how we were served this beautiful breakfast.

Chicken Salad Stuffed Artichokes

Years ago I made a declaration to always live where I could get avocados and artichokes.  I’ve held good to my dream and California continues to produce both of these iconic and versatile vegetables though they’re far more available now nearly everywhere. Nevertheless, while most Americans aren’t intimidated by avocados (thank you guacamole), the artichoke can be a thornier proposition for a lot of folks who aren’t quite sure how to tackle the illustrious thistle bud.

Toasted Pecan Everything Sauce

This humble, simple-to-make, sauce is a miracle worker! I developed it years ago and yet every time I serve it, friends and family act as if it’s the first time they’ve tasted it. Probably because you can switch out the nuts and add a variety of herbs to change the texture and flavor.  You’ll likely have most or all of the ingredients in the fridge and pantry and it comes together quickly, so what’s not to like about it, as even the most stubborn anti-broccoli eaters will chow down if you pass this sauce.

Tahini Cookies

It’s fun to watch trends come and go and when a particular trend reappears, the recipes using the current ingredient are often uniquely different. For the past eight months I’ve noticed tahini in a large assortment of recipes. However this cookie comes by it honestly as it comes to us from Mamaleh’s, a new incarnation of the classic Jewish Deli, in Cambridge MA. Rachel Sundet, pastry chef at Mamaleh’s claims the honey keeps these shortbread cookies really soft.

Real Vanilla Eton Mess

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.

Israeli Hummus

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.”

Will the 2018 Crop Bring Lower Vanilla Prices?

 

1-Bahrat 4 vines on jatropha

 

In December of 2017, a market report was released by a European company that has been in the vanilla business for more than 100 years and is known for their honest and reliable industry assessments. The report addressed the complicated conditions on the ground in Madagascar as well as an update on other major vanilla bean producers such as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, East Africa, Mexico, Polynesia and India. Countries such as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia have increased production considerably and will hopefully continue to do so and to create better quality vanilla beans overall.

Artichokes Stuffed with Seafood Provencal

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.

Black Pepper and Vanilla Spiced Chicken Breasts With Mango and Cashews

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!

Vegan Lemon-Vanilla Cupcakes

 

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.

l’appart: The Delights & Disasters of Making My Paris Home

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.

Chocolate Souffle

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.”

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds

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 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.

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