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

Pomegranate Molasses & Vanilla Chicken

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I’m  currently enamored with the combination of pomegranate molasses, Mediterranean spices and ground vanilla beans. Sweet, tart, salty, savory. With a fast turn of the wrist you can make a “same old” weeknight meal into an “oh yeah!” dinner. This recipe is liberally adapted from Sunset Magazine. They also used carrots but I think Maui or cippolini onion chunks, or sweet potatoes would be dynamite thrown into the pot with or without the carrots. I had asparagus roasting on the rack above the chicken and was pleasantly surprised by how well it blended, but I wish I’d also had some potatoes roasting too. In other words, adapt, adapt, adapt. I’m thinking pork chops or even pork tenderloin would soak in all this juicy goodness. What about you?

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Grilled Snapper with Tropical Fruit Salsa

 

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One of the pluses about living on the Central California coast is the fresh fish! I live down the street from a couple of fishermen and occasionally I go out on the Bay with them, though I admit, it’s more for the boat ride and being on the water than it is for the fishing. What I’ve learned as they’ve reeled the fish in, is that the markets use names like “snapper” and “cod” when the fish is actually one of the many varieties of rock fish. I mention this because it really doesn’t matter what firm-fleshed white fish you use to make this and many other fish dishes. It’s more about choosing fresh fish that ideally is also sustainable. If you are concerned about what fish to choose regarding sustainability, check fishwatch.gov.

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Artichoke and Asparagus Culinary Tips

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 Many years ago I swore that I would never live where I couldn’t easily get artichokes, asparagus, and avocados. Times have changed and we can now get just about anything anywhere, but living on California’s Central Coast, I live at ground zero for all three of these favorites of mine.

Just about everyone knows how to use avocados but artichokes and asparagus some have special secrets worth sharing. And while I could easily dedicate an entire blog to each of these two vegetables, they have certain shared characteristics and sauces worthy of each so, for the time being at least, I’m combining them into one meaty blog with links to recipes.

Asparagus
Asparagus is a fern. If you look carefully at the tips of asparagus, you’ll see that it has little segments that turn into a fern that looks like the asparagus ferns we grow in pots (and are likely closely related to the ones we eat). It can be grown from seed, but most asparagus that is grown commercially is grown from crowns that take around a year before they produce. Growing by seed takes longer.

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The Rich Flavors of Tagines

If you are unfamiliar with tagines but enjoy trying new recipes are up for exotic flavors, you are in for a treat. The richness and depth of flavor as well as the interesting pairing of ingredients are truly a sensory delight.

Tagines (also spelled tajines) are North Africa’s version of stew, a mainstay and comfort food of people everywhere. The Berbers of North Africa gave the world tagines as well as couscous; in Morocco, the tagine is both daily food and edible art.

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Spicy Stir-fried Chicken and Vegetables

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Whenever I prepare a really good stir-fry or have one at a restaurant or a friend’s home, I’m reminded of how delicious this cooking technique is. Fresh, crunchy vegetables, little bites of succulent protein, and ingredients that add brightness and pop in the mouth. That’s how I feel about this recipe. While there are several steps involved, you can easily prep the various segments while listening to music or watching a video, and you can then assemble everything right at the end and put it together quickly and easily.

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Sikarni

 

This recipe comes via Janet Sawyer, who got the recipe from Lalu Mahato, head chef at Nepal’s Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, which was opened by Edmund Hilary.  A long journey, but a lovely way to enjoy yogurt as a breakfast or dessert. If you’re serving it as a dessert, it would match well with our Cardamom, Pistachio and Vanilla Shortbread.

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Mango Lassi

Mango Lassi

If you are unfamiliar with lassis, they are a traditional Indian yogurt-based beverage designed to refresh and to cool you down. They can be served any time of day or in the evening.  This is a sweet lassi which also contains rose water an ingredient used in beverages and desserts in India. If you don’t have rose water, don’t worry; it’s not essential.

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Caprese Salad

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 The summer tomatoes are in – the small, intensely flavored dry-farmed ones, heirlooms of all sizes, colors and stripes and the tiny little cherry tomatoes— all soooo delicious! It’s hard to beat a combination of really ripe tomatoes, fresh, soft mozzarella, lots of basil and maybe a bed of crispy Romaine or tender butter lettuces to soak up the juices. Simple and delicious.

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Vanilla in Savory Foods — Really??

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Really.  In 1985, when I wrote The Vanilla Cookbook, my editors asked me what vanilla could be used in besides ice cream, dessert and beverages. Quite honestly, the idea had never crossed my mind. However, they threw down the gauntlet next to my half-written  manuscript.  Experiment or give back the advance — what would you do?

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Avocado and Green Peppercorn Cream

 

Avocado and Green Peppercorn Cream
Courtesy of Michele Anna Jordan; Vinaigrettes; Harvard Common Press

Michele says about this recipe: Early one morning in the mid 1980s, I accompanied some friends while they took their VW bus to be repaired at a dealership on the outskirts of La Paz, in central Baja California. As we left to walk into town to wait, we spotted a young boy, possibly in his early teens, wheeling a cart under a tree across from the shop. He quickly unfolded the equipment and before long was serving carnitas tacos that couldn’t have been simpler or more delicious. Two very small corn tortillas, heated on a propane-fired grill, were topped with chunks of succulent meat and then slathered with the most extraordinary avocado sauce I’d ever tasted. I stood there in the morning sun and devoured five tacos, stopping only for the sake of decorum. I’ve been making a version of that sauce ever since, and this one is my current favorite.

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Herbed Asparagus, Spring Onions, Peas and Arugula with Penne

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 As fresh asparagus and English peas are only available for a month or so, if you enjoy them, eat them as often as possible. Here’s one delicious way to do just that. Feel free, however, to substitute fava beans, baby artichokes or any other favorite early vegetables to this fresh pasta dish. Peas are frozen as soon as they’re harvested and hold their flavor well so don’t worry if you can’t find fresh ones. Finally, baby arugula isn’t bitter like its more mature counterparts, but if you can’t find it or don’t like it, substitute baby spinach leaves or a different vegetable.

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Couscous Waldorf Salad

 

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Several years ago I created this spin on Waldorf Salad for a natural foods market. It was an immediate hit. What I like about it is that you can easily adapt it. Instead of blue cheese, use chevre or feta. Substitute dried cranberries or apricots for dates. You can turn it into an entrée by sauteing chicken breast, tofu or tempe then adding some of the salad dressing to the saute pan to intensify the flavor. If you want this recipe gluten-free, I suggest using quinoa as a substitute.

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Haute or Hot Vanilla and Almond Lace Cookies

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What a strange winter this has been. I live in Santa Cruz, not far from the beach. We’re used to having occasional sunny interludes between winter storms but this year we’ve had an occasional stormy interlude between sunny, warm days. When I say warm days I mean as warm as 70 degrees in December and January, our chilliest months of the year!

Even stranger, we had the foggiest summer in decades. The kind of damp weather that gets to your bones. And we had no spring whatsoever as it rained right up until the end of June when the fog started. Weird.

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Tomatoes, Preserved Lemons, and Sweet Red Peppers

 

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Adapted from The Food of Morocco, by Paula Wolfert

In Morocco as in many Mediterranean countries, the salad course includes a variety of salads, and this lovely salad is a classic in that respect. It’s simple and delicious. However, as I was making this as a stand-alone salad, I added Greek olives. Olives, almonds or pistachios, cheeses, hummus and other salads would be included in a Moroccan spread, so adding a goat or sheep’s milk feta to this salad would be in keeping with Moroccan food. The vanilla? Not so much, but as it’s the theme of our site and because it actually does add a subtle boost to the cumin and red peppers in the salad, I’ve included it in this recipe. Feel free to use it or not.

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