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.
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 :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?