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

Culinary

What’s not to like about good food? And who doesn’t want culinary news and tips as we celebrate a renaissance of delicious, healthy, well prepared foods.  With farmers markets opening all over our country and fascinating new foods arriving from around the world and onto grocery and specialty food store shelves, our options are phenomenal. Problem is, there’s so much going on there isn’t time to keep up with all that’s out there.
In redesigning my site I decided I should create a spot where I can write about some of the pros I know or discover in the culinary circles I move in.  The ones who open doors of knowledge and instruction for us as well as offer practical how-tos for everything from artisan chocolates and cheese to introducing us to a colorful palette of exotic ingredients and cuisine.
Are you a culinary pro?  Do you have a favorite instructor, writer or blogger you think should be part of this section? Please let me know about  blogs, classes, publications and articles and classes that deserve mention.  I’m happy to share your news and I invite you to send articles to be posted in this section.  It’s a great way to share your expertise with an appreciative audience. Bon appetit!
 
 
 

Jam Cakes

Jam Cakes are a quick, cheerful, dessert with ingredients that you’re bound to have, unless you  haven’t been to the store in weeks. The recipe makes six or more cupcake size “cakelets,” depending on the size of your tins.  Perfect when you can’t stop thinking of something sweet but you don’t want an entire cake. That said, the recipe is a snap to double. 

Sicilian Lemon Tart (Torta al Limone)

Updated lemon torte

 This is an amazingly smooth, creamy, over-the-top delicious tart. I had been traveling through Italy and Greece for three weeks then spent two days in London before heading home. Along the way I had eaten more than my share of amazing cakes, tarts, and cookies, as well as the exquisite lemon desserts in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. The irony of this is that the last morning in London, we went to a coffee shop before heading to the airport and there, in the dessert case, was a Sicilian Lemon Tart that cried out to be enjoyed. Of course I obliged. It was hands down one of the best desserts of the trip. In London, for crying out loud!

Maple Vanilla Custard

Custards are a special comfort food that kind of fell off our collective radar in the last 30 -40 years, but they really deserve a place at the table. Eaten warm on cold, rainy or snow-slushy days, or room temperature, even chilled with fresh fruits in warm, sunny weather, they offer us a sense of well-being. What I love about Maple Vanilla Custard is the symbiosis of these two flavors as they play off each other. Maple syrup brings a delicate, almost woodsy sweetness that is complemented by the more complex flavor profile of pure vanilla. The magic happens when the flavors explode on the palate and tongue. Worries fall away, the awfulness of a sore throat eases, and for a few minutes all’s well with the world.

Dark Chocolate Truffles – Traditional or Vegan

 Chocolate Speaks: Who can resist Dark Chocolate Truffles? If you are new at candy making, truffles are one of the easiest candies to make. Even better, you can make traditional truffles using heavy cream and butter, or you can choose a healthier version by making them vegan. Follow the directions and I guarantee you’ll be a star. The trick is using the best ingredients.

Double Vanilla Creme Anglaise

Recently I made Creme Anglaise  to go with David Lebovitz’s recipe for Apricot Souffles. Normally I use heavy cream (double cream) to accompany a rich dessert or I whip the cream and flavor it with vanilla, but I rarely think Creme Anglaise. However, when I made it for the souffles it was like re-connecting with an old friend. I realized how perfect it is on so many things — fresh or dried fruit compotes, slices of warm cake or pie, fresh berries, even adding its creamy deliciousness over French Toast. In England it is nearly always offered with with “puddings,” which really means what we Americans call cakes, and David Lebovitz uses it to accompany not only the light Apricot Souffle but also with his dense, rich Chocolate Souffle. 

An Almost Gluten-Free Northwest Food Crawl Part One

When I headed to Portland late last summer, I wasn’t thinking about eating my way through the city. I was on my way to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my college housemate, JulieAnn and her husband, Marlo. While I wasn’t envisioning dining out, I was thinking food. One of my assignments for the party was to bake cookies. Specifically, gluten-free cookies. I’ve been baking gluten-free for years as my daughter is celiac, my grandsons are gluten-sensitive, and I’m allergic to wheat. JulieAnn also has celiac. I arrived with a few tools of the trade and ready to make five different cookie recipes for the party.

Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies

 

When it’s cold or stormy outside, it’s so nice to have a warm beverage and a few freshly baked cookies to enjoy while hunkering down and binging on Netflix or reading a book. Frankly, both Gina (our Contessa) and I enjoy having freshly baked cookies on hand whenever we’re in for a long stretch of work on the computer. It’s a nice incentive to keep going. So when I found this recipe for Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies in the holiday issue of Bon Appetit, I knew it would be our new favorite.  I made a batch for Gina’s birthday in November, sending her over-the-moon.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

1-Sticky Toffee 2

During my time in Devon, England, one of my goals was to try Sticky Toffee

Pudding. For those of you unaware of English vernacular, “pudding” is used interchangeably with “dessert” and includes cakes, and other baked goods. To add to the confusion, puddings can also be savory, such as Yorkshire Pudding, which is served with roast beef. So Sticky Toffee Pudding is actually a cake that can be baked or steamed and is smothered in a caramel-like sauce.

Buche de Noel

buche-de-noel-simply-framed

Although the French name for this beautiful dessert means Christmas Log, the origins of the custom of bringing in a Yule log, building a blazing fire, then lighting candles from it are pagan in origin as is the Christmas tree and decorating with holly and other greens.  I like to think of these ancient traditions as a way to bring light and joy into the dark nights of winter for everyone, regardless of our ancestry or religion. And what could be prettier than a chocolate sponge cake filled with cream, frosted with chocolate ganache and dusted with snowy powdered sugar? Add some meringue mushrooms or sprigs of holly, and you have a lovely and meaningful completion of a holiday meal. 

Almond Rum Cake

This delicate Rum Almond Cake was conceived as a coffee cake  but it deserves to be elevated to a much higher status if for no other reason than it’s too boozy for a 10:00 am coffee break! As you can see from the photo, it was the ideal New Year’s Eve cake — moist, flavorful and rich enough that a small slice was sufficient.

Russian Tea Cakes

Whenever I think about holiday baking, Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) are at the forefront of my mind. What’s not to love about the buttery, crumbly deliciousness of these cookies. with their fragrant toasted nuts and powdered sugar spilling everywhere? Okay, the powdered sugar part can be annoying. What I do love about these cookies is that they’re pretty much popular worldwide with essentially the same ingredients though some come with a few special touches.

I recently found a unique version of these cookies in Sunset Magazine. Created by Yigit Pura of “Tout Sweet Patisserie,” they are noted for their extreme crispness and toasty-brown butter flavor. I also like that they’re made with vanilla bean paste. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy. Prefer a different alcohol or want to substitute a liqueur? Why not? And, if you don’t want alcohol, you can substitute milk.

Yigit suggests creating cookies 1-1/2 tablespoons each. I personally prefer these cookies smaller because the powdered sugar can be overwhelming with big cookies. Just like the alcohol used, you get to decide on the size you’d like to make the cookies. Just remember to adjust the bake time accordingly.

Luscious Gianduja Squares

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 Carole Bloom has graciously shared a toothsome recipe from her new book, Intensely Chocolate (Wiley, 2010), which not only is delicious, but is also an ideal gift to make for a chocolate lover.  Carole says, “A blend of bittersweet chocolate, dark milk chocolate, hazelnut paste, and chopped toasted hazelnuts create a candy that fills the mouth with intense flavor. These go very well with coffee or tea after dinner.”

Great Homemade Food Gifts for the Holidays!

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.

Chocolate and Beet Fudge Cake

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 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.

Vanilla Scented Delicata Squash and Asian Pear Salad

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!

Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

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.

Couscous or Millet Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Smoked Turkey

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.

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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