Although the first figs may come in sometime in June, late July heralds the second round of the US fig season. In Europe, most especially Italy, everyone who can, has a fig tree. Italian immigrants who came to the US in the late 19th and early 20th century, planted them in barrels in apartment courtyards and in cottage gardens, holding onto the memory of warm figs harvested from trees in sun-baked gardens and hillsides.
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.
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!
Recently I reconnected with a recipe I learned to make from a boat maker on the West Marin coast. He was raising his four children alone and, as they reached their teens, they rotated cooking chores, with each of them specializing in a type of cuisine. It made meals varied and interesting. Weekends, as I recall, were negotiable and depended on who was home. Ed’s specialty was Chinese; Master Sauce Chicken and Eggs Foo Young. While the latter was good, I fell in love with Master Sauce Chicken, as the sauce can be reused in a number of different ways. (One of my favorites is to use it over meatloaf instead of ketchup.)
Fresh salmon is amazing. Ask any bear living along the Pacific Coast, and it will fully agree, assuming it’s not considering you as its next meal. It is rich, meaty, and delicately flavored. As a result, whether you cook it over a fire, grill it, or prepare it in the oven, the sauce should enhance, not overpower, the salmon.
Risotto, when it’s good, is right up there on my comfort food list. I never had risotto, polenta or gnocchi until I was an adult as pasta was the signature Italian dish where I was growing up. For all I knew, pizza, spaghetti, meatballs, and lasagne were what Italians ate every night.
We should all have a few show-stopping sauces to take a recipe from tasty to transcendent. Trust me, this is one is one of those sauces you’ll treasure and share.
This quick and easy cake comes from Janet Sawyer, owner of Little Pod and author of Vanilla. It is an adaptation of a Mary Berry favorite. (Mary Berry is a well-known English culinary professional and cookbook author.) It’s perfect as an afternoon cake and can also be served for brunch. Vary the fruits based on the season; it’s as adaptable as it is easy to assemble.
In 1985 Greg Reynolds, who at the time worked for a catering service in Half Moon Bay, became enthusiastic about playing with sauces using vanilla. His enthusiasm was spurred by my telling him a bit about vanilla’s history as well as my handing him a handful of vanilla beans. Not long after he invited me to try the following sauce. It immediately became one of my go-to sauces to use on poached chicken and roasted vegetables. Later, I added it as a finishing sauce for grilled meats.
Every year I make gallons of sparkling lemonade as I’m blessed with a Meyer lemon tree that produces fruit nearly year ’round. I don’t really think about it — it’s just what I serve.
Commercial salmon season just opened on the California Coast. Sport fishing for salmon has been open for several weeks now and a friend of mine who crews on a few sailboats out of Moss Landing has shared both the prized Dungeness crabs and fresh salmon fillets from her friends at the harbor. In exchange, I’ve sent fresh pineapple upside-down cake back to her friends as a small thank you. What I’ve found is that those who fish love freshly baked desserts. Works well for all of us!
Homemade vanilla extract is easy and fun to make. It isn’t as strong as commercial vanilla extracts though it may have a larger flavor bouquet than extracts from the market. But the real pleasure is in making it for yourself or for giving as gifts. Before we get started, here’s some information about how commercial extracts are made. I’m including this information here as people have some misconceptions based on commercial versus homemade extracts.
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.
Living in coastal California, our summers come twice — it gets hot in May, then it remains cool and often foggy while the inland valleys are hot. When the valleys cool down, we have our second summer, usually in September. True to form, this September warmed up and I made this delicious beverage twice for friends.
My grandsons were asking my daughter for stories about her childhood and she told them about the box freezer her grandparents kept in their basement filled with ice cream. Wide eyed, they wanted to know what her favorite flavor was. She told them Tin Roof Sundae. Despite it’s popular surge in the early 80’s, Tin Roof Sundae has since declined both in popularity and availability, but when the boys heard it was made with peanuts, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream they knew they had to try it.
Baked Ricotta Custard with Cherries in Port Wine with Star Anise
Away from the Kitchen by Dawn Blume Hawkes;
Recipe by Chef Gail Gand
The natural sweetness of the port is enough for this light dish, and the frozen sour cherries are perfect when fresh fruit is not available.
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?
Who doesn’t love the divine, inimitable flavor of pure vanilla ice cream? While it goes with everything – pies, cakes, tarts, cobblers and more – it’s perfect just by itself or with so many other possibilities such as a lovely caramel or fudge sauce. Yummm!
Unfortunately, finding pure vanilla ice cream in the marketplace is a big challenge. Ever since the beginning of the 21st century there have been high-end pure vanilla substitutes called Natural Flavors. These substitutes are made with vanillin from plant sources other than vanilla beans. While they may smell and taste a lot like pure vanilla, natural vanillin, found in many plants besides vanilla, only contains part of the flavor profile of pure vanilla. So while they are a reasonable substitute, if you want to make certain that the vanilla ice cream you eat is made with pure vanilla and has all the amazing flavor notes contained in pure vanilla, purchase small-batch, artisan vanilla ice cream. Or, make your own.
This is a great pull-out-the-stops recipe for an elegant meal, but it’s also really easy to assemble. Pitting the cherries takes time unless you have a pitter, a handy gadget that speeds things up exponentially.
Fresh Vanilla Liquid –A Non-Alcohol Option
Courtesy of Rita Rivera Author of Milks Alive
A lot of people want an alcohol-free liquid vanilla option. Although there is vanilla flavor, I personally don’t like it as it is made with propylene glycol and it isn’t very flavorful. Rita Rivera also wanted an alcohol-free option and came up with fresh vanilla liquid. It doesn’t keep as long as vanilla flavor but you can make this recipe in small batches. Here is Rita’s recipe along with her comments.