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

Blackberry-Vanilla Sundaes

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On the California Coast, blackberry season begins when summer is already in full swing. The berries are slow to ripen as even on warm days the evenings are cool, so there aren’t evening hours to help turn the berries from red to black. When they’re finally ripe, it’s easy to forget the long wait for the reward of their sweet burst of flavors. And, the additional reward is when other summer fruits wind down, there are still blackberries into early autumn.

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Sorbets and Granitas

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When the heat’s on, the last last thing you want is kitchen time at the stove or have the oven blasting. This is when sorbets, granitas and popsicles are the best game in town. And what’s better than something bursting with summer flavor but light on the waistline? You can start the process early in the morning, and enjoy the fruits of your labor (pun intended) later in the day when you crave an icy treat.

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Cherry Vanilla Cake with Kirschwasser

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This delicious summer cake is a hybrid cross between a classic French clafouti and a coffeecake.  It has a very moist, dense crumb due to the high butter and eggs and low flour ratio.  It is a perfect afternoon dessert to serve with tea as well as a brunch or dinner dessert, especially as it can be made a day ahead of time. 

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Plum-Vanilla Sorbet

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My all-time favorite plums are Santa Rosa plums, created by none other than the famous Luther Burbank, who lived in the Santa Rosa Valley at the turn of the twentieth century. The flesh is yellow and red, super juicy and sweet, and the skins are tart purple. They have a heavenly flavor whether you eat, cook or bake with them. I planted a Santa Rosa plum at my home and have missed both the plum and the Blenheim apricot tree since moving.

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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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The Queen’s Best Stuffed Russian Eggs

Are you crazy for stuffed eggs too? Really, I can’t imagine spring and summer picnics – inside or out – without these silky smooth, delicious gems.

What’s interesting is there are so many variations, both regional and individual. Years ago I had a boyfriend who always referred to them as Russian eggs. I actually prefer that name over “deviled” or “stuffed” but I was curious if Russian eggs contained specific or unique ingredients.

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Not Your Grandmother’s Colcannon

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Most traditional comfort foods were born from necessity, are steeped in tradition and evoke such strong memories of childhood that no matter how simple, (and sometimes boring,) we tend not to stray far from the original recipe. Colcannon, the traditional Irish skillet dish of boiled cabbage and mashed potatoes, literally meaning white headed cabbage, is one of those dishes.

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Apricot Crumble – Tarte Crumble Aux Abricots

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Courtesy of David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen; Ten Speed Press; 2014

I grew up on apricots, both fresh and dried as well as apricot desserts. David had never had fresh apricots until he went to France, at which time he “got it” about how amazing they are when they’re baked. If you haven’t used fresh apricots in desserts, you’re in for a wonderful treat!

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England’s Lively Food Community

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My visit to Devon, Somerset and London, this last October was more exhilirating than I could have possibly anticipated. At times I felt a little like Alice; I too had tumbled down a rabbit hole into a world I hardly knew. How delightfully unaware I was about the burgeoning artisan food community of Southern England, and what fun I had learning many new and interesting tidbits about the region’s inhabitants, food, and local culture. My only regret is because I was speaking at a number of the events, I didn’t have my camera with me.

My hosts Janet and Dave went out of their way to introduce me to as much of the region and people as possible. And thanks to Colin and Carol Stanaway, my consummate hosts and guides in Somerset. I knew that Devon is largely rural and noted for its dairy products, most especially its rich clotted cream. I had driven through the area in 1986 as well as visited Bath and traveled through Somerset. But 1986 was light years ago when it comes to the specialty food movement.

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Gianduja — Homemade Nutella

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The first time I had Nutella was in a very unlikely place — on the island of Tahiti! Tahiti, being a French Protectorate, means that all kinds of delicious European treats are readily available in markets except on some of the smaller islands. Also, fresh baguettes are delivered several times a day to even lowly gas station convenience stores! It was crazy wonderful.

At any rate, I was staying at a pension where they provided natural alarm clocks for everyone in the form of a band of semi-wild chickens. Fortunately, they also served breakfast, which included the aforementioned baguettes along with a variety of jams and Nutella.

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Chocolate Oblivion Tart

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 Long before the California food revolution began, my mother was given one of these dazzling tarts as a gift. It was a predecessor of the exceptional chocolate desserts that emerged in the 1980s. We were impressed by the simplicity of ingredients and the deep, rich, creaminess of the tart.

At some point in the 1990s, the recipe was featured in Gourmet magazine, complete with raspberry coulis and a glaze, both of which are optional. It became a regular in my repertoire for special events, and when I launched my online business I featured it in my chocolate section.

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