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

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

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If you aren’t sure whether or not you like rhubarb, this is a good place to start. If someone’s given you rhubarb, pick up some strawberries and make this jam. It’s quick and easy to make and you don’t have to process it as it will keep in the refrigerator for at least two weeks. Make some toast and try. If you like it, terrific. If you don’t, you have an automatic gift for someone who does.

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Chocolate Mousse Cake

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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.

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Ecotourism in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Reserve

178-IMG_4093Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve During the Dry Season

In my humble opinion, ecotourism is so much more fun and enlightening than staying at a resort full of amenities but short on soul. My visit to Costa Rica in March was full of soul, but even more, filled with many terrific experiences that I’ll savor for years to come.

Costa Rica has positioned itself as a world leader in responsible ecotourism. This is a wise move for a developing country with so many natural resources, a diversified, literate population, a relatively low crime rate (and no army!) and a stable economy. The Ticos, as they refer to themselves, say they were lucky that their country didn’t have resources like abundant gold, silver or oil, so their country was largely ignored instead of plundered like so many of the countries in the Americas.

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Fava and White Bean Salad With Mint, Vanilla and Pistachios

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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.”

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Salmon with Curried Rum and Vanilla Sauce

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Commercial salmon season just opened on the California Coast. Sport fishing for salmon has been open for several weeks now and a friend of mine who crews on a few sailboats out of Moss Landing has shared both the prized Dungeness crabs and fresh salmon fillets from her friends at the harbor. In exchange, I’ve sent fresh pineapple upside-down cake back to her friends as a small thank you. What I’ve found is that those who fish love freshly baked desserts. Works well for all of us!

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Villa Vanilla: A Farm In Harmony With Nature

088-IMG_4003As a serious food enthusiast, along with my dedication to equitable opportunities for farmers, one of my favorite activities is visiting farms. No matter if they flourish in a temperate or tropical climate, I always learn from the farmers as well as from the plants, birds, insects and animals who call the farms their home. I indulged this passion during my recent trip to Costa Rica where I toured farms in the mountainous San Carlos district, a rain forest region in Alajuela province, famous for fine Arabica coffee, sugar cane, pineapples and cattle production. Vanilla is now grown on a few farms in this district, usually in tandem with other crops, including commercial production of trees for use in home building. From there I continued down to a vanilla and spice farm in the lowland Central Pacific coastal region in Quepos district, Puntarenas province.

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A Sugar That’s Actually Good For You!

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Given all the bad press on the evils of sugar, we know we need to be judicious about our intake, but it’s oh-so-difficult!  We’re hard-wired to love it; sweet is the first taste sensation a newborn baby experiences, and for many of us, sweets are downright addictive. Given that we’re constantly reminded to limit our sugar consumption to prevent obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and tooth decay, you can imagine my surprise when my favorite sugar — maple syrup — was recently declared a super food!

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Butterscotch Cake

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This decadent rich cake can be served throughout the year but is perfect for welcoming Spring. You can enjoy it with or without the frosting or chocolate honeycomb, or you can serve it plain with a dusting of powdered sugar. As strawberries become available, enjoy it with a big of caramel topping or whipped cream and sliced berries. Any way you serve it, it will be enjoyed!

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Chocolate Dipped Honeycomb Crisps

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While these deliciously crunchy candies do not actually contain honey, the bubbles that give them their light air airy texture and their deep golden color, conjure up images of  bees and nature’s sweet treat. Perfect for topping cakes and desserts or just served on their own, we think you’ll be pleased with their surprising texture and rich flavor.

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Gluten Free Chocolate Peppermint Crisps

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This time of year it’s impossible to miss all the cute Girl Scouts selling their cookies on every corner, and no cookie sells better than the traditional Thin Mints. While the Girl Scouts are starting to offer gluten free options, not all of the girls carry them and they’re not yet available in every variety of cookie. We think these Gluten Free Chocolate Peppermint Crisps, are a good runner up to this American classic, and when you make them at home you can enjoy them year ’round!

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What’s the difference between imitation and pure vanilla?

Let’s look at the so-called vanilla from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for the answer

A common misconception exists about vanilla from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. People rave to me about the fabulous deal they got on a giant bottle of vanilla extract in Mexico, Haiti, Guadeloupe, etc. It has such a unique flavor and it’s stronger than any vanilla they’ve ever used. And wow, was it inexpensive!

Well, sorry folks, it isn’t pure vanilla extract. In fact, the cheap, dark (or clear) product in the big bottle is not vanilla at all.  It is imitation vanilla with unknown ingredients!

Because vanilla originally came from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, and because, at one time Mexico produced the world’s finest pure vanilla, it would seem plausible that it would still be true. In fact, more than 99% of all of the so-called vanilla extract bought in retail venues in Latin America is imitation vanilla.

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Off to Costa Rica In Support of Vanilla Farmers

 

1-LaFaza HITA Zibu cart w libraryIn 2013 I was contacted by the National University of Costa Rica to speak at a round-table conference on vanilla in 2016. I was both honored and excited by the prospects of returning to Costa Rica after 52 years (which sounds impossible, but it’s true).

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Sex, Love and the Vanilla Bean

 

Chocolate-VanillaAh, the delicious allure of romance, the intensity of a new infatuation, the rapture of falling in love. Pretty powerful stuff, the pleasures and passions of romance and love. Spring, summer, fall and winter, we’re in love with the idea of love. The perfume industry thrives on our desire to lure and captivate the object of our affection and vanilla performs an important role in the drama. While the romantic sunset at the seashore and that special song may make us swoon, taste and smell are big players in the game of love.

So, how does vanilla steal the show? Is it an aphrodisiac? Will it enhance our love lives? Let’s explore a few of the myths and facts surrounding the illustrious bean to see if, indeed, there are seeds of amorous evidence inside those sleek black pods.

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What’s New at the 2016 Fancy Food Show

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Visiting the San Francisco Specialty Food Show is always a January highlight for West Coast food professionals. It’s like a giant no-host cocktail party but with samples of 80,000 foods and beverages but no cocktails. Although I don’t remember when I first attended a show, it was sometime in the late 1980s. At that time, the event was housed in the main hall at Moscone Center, and it was possible to walk the entire show, visit with vendors and eat yourself silly in one day. Walking even one full row meant required a certain amount of discipline, however.  Chocolates, olive oil, lots of cheeses, more chocolates, olives, sausages, hard candies, scones and soda might all be in the same row. It took me several shows to remember that I didn’t have to taste everything, no matter how enticing, especially in random order. Fortunately, there were pitchers filled with water strategically placed to clear jaded palates.

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Let Them Eat Cake Pudding!

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It’s the end of the holiday season.  You’re cleaning out the refrigerator and discover a big chunk of stale pound cake wrapped in foil. Or, there’s the nut cake you were gifted; you’ve meant to serve it before now but it’s gotten too dry. No need to waste what you’ve already got as stale cake just begs for new life!

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