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.
It’s the time of year when writers wax eloquent about memories of ice cream trucks, bells jingling, and kids rushing from their homes for a sweet, icy indulgence like a multi-colored popsicle or an ice cream sandwich to fight off the humid heat. After getting brain freeze, the next step was playing in the sprinklers or the opened fire hydrant before being called in for dinner. Were there ice cream trucks in your childhood?
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.
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.
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.