When it comes to good food, Southern Louisiana does not disappoint! Along with a bountiful harvest of seafood and the combination of traditional Southern, Creole and Cajun cooking, they’ve enriched our national cuisine with Jambalaya, Etouffee, Gumbo, Po’Boy’s — and that’s just a few of their long list of specialties.
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.
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.
If you aren’t sure whether or not you like rhubarb, this is a good place to start. If someone’s given you rhubarb, pick up some strawberries and make this jam. It’s quick and easy to make and you don’t have to process it as it will keep in the refrigerator for at least two weeks. Make some toast and try. If you like it, terrific. If you don’t, you have an automatic gift for someone who does.
Late July heralds the beginning 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 cottage gardens, holding onto the memory of warm figs harvested from trees in sun-baked gardens and hillsides. Although I love fresh figs, they aren’t on the radar of many Americans. When I offered some of this spectacular salad to my neighbors, several said they had never eaten figs or they tried them as kids and didn’t like them though after sampling this dish, they converted. Granted, their texture isn’t the most child-friendly, but if this was your experience, I highly recommend trying them again as an adult as you may discover how special they actually are.
This is one of the most versatile sauces you’ll want in your bag of culinary tricks. You can switch out toasted pecans, walnuts or macadamia nuts for the almonds, use sour cream instead of Greek yogurt, add pepper flakes or Siracha sauce…the list goes on. Even the basic ingredient measurements are flexible.
A good, traditional Hollandaise sauce is delightfully rich while also quite delicate. Delicious!
My version of Hollandaise is not quite as delicate as the classic version, which is actually part of its charm as the emulsion doesn’t break apart as easily. Also, because it is made with whole eggs, you don’t need to worry about how you’re going to use up the leftover egg whites. It is delicious, easy to prepare, and extremely versatile.
If you’re looking for an entree that pops to serve at a small dinner party or a romantic meal for two, a flavorful steak with a traditional French sauce will do the trick assuming you’re cooking for omnivores. The issue is timing. You don’t want to spend twenty-five minutes making a sauce at the last minute while also grilling or pan-searing steaks.
Cranberry Sauce is an essential side for any holiday meal. The addition of vanilla cuts the acidity of the cranberries, softening the tangy bite and enhancing the fruity flavors of this winter favorite.
Sofrito — So-free-toe. Isn’t that a great word? I don’t even remember where I found this recipe, but I’m crazy about it. Even though it’s very similar to salsa, the ingredients are all fresh and raw and whatever you put Sofrito on, it just pops!
This is a very velvety sauce, perfect over ice cream or frozen yogurt, but also lovely as a sauce over pound cake or other freshly baked cakes. Mix it into milkshakes or even cold or warm milk for a sexy caramel, vanilla milk. Personally, I think caramel is pretty wonderful warmed slightly and eaten by the spoonful. My grandsons agree, but our current favorite is freshly baked brownies topped with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Yummmm!
What I most like about this recipe is that it contains no corn syrup. Just make sure to cook the sugar/water mixture until it is at least a mid- amber color. The sauce in the photo is a little deeper amber in color, which gives it a more distinctive flavor. For a butterscotch or praline flavor, substitute light or dark brown sugar for the white.
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.
If you make salads, fresh fruit platters, grill fruits, vegetables and meats and/or make bar drinks, you should have pomegranate molasses as a go-to “magic ingredient.” You can purchase it in specialty food stores, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean markets and online. Or, can make your own.
This delicious dressing recipe comes from Michele Anna Jordan’s book, Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings: 60 Sensational Recipes to Liven up Greens, Grains, Slaws and Every kind of Salad. Here’s what she says about Balsamic dressings: The simplest balsamic vinaigrette requires nothing more than good vinegar, good olive oil, a bit of salt, and a few turns of black pepper; it’s a perfect daily salad dressing, if your preferences lean toward this popular vinegar. This version is richer than that simple mixture with a layering of flavors that is quite compelling, especially when made with excellent ingredients.
Anyone with a stove, a pot and apples can make applesauce. But, really good applesauce? Use heritage apples and a few special ingredients and you’ve got yourself a kick-ass good dessert!
In 1969 I moved to a ridge along the Mendocino coast. Through serendipity I ended up in the second oldest farmhouse on the Coast and it came with 29 heritage apple trees! Needless to say, we had apple everything from early autumn until spring. Apple pie, apple crisp, apple cookies, apple cake, baked apples, candied apples and a whole lot of applesauce.
Amazingly enough, I still look forward to autumn for the apples. Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like the snap of biting into a crisp apple and feeling and tasting the juices flood your palate!
In 2011 I traveled with my friends to Cinque Terra, “The Five Lands,” all built on hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Basil is used throughout the region as pesto and is also blended with spinach and pecorino as the filling for pansoti, a ravioli that is shaped like a triangle. Unless you live in an urban area or regularly make pasta, it’s nearly impossible to find pansoti. Use your favorite ravioli instead. Walnuts and almonds are also grown in this region and the Ligurian walnut sauce that I had over pansoti is seductive! When I returned home and made the sauce, I added just a little vanilla, which accented the walnuts nicely. I used artichoke and butternut squash ravioli in the picture above and served it with a roasted vegetable and white bean salad and Chardonnay. As spectacular as the view walking the ridge from Vernazza to Monterosso! (And, by the way, the sauce would be excellent served over poached chicken or fish.)
It has been over two weeks since I made jam this summer. I really didn’t want to make jam but I had to. Kind of the way that you have to make Christmas cookies. It’s in the genes.
The rich, saltiness of meats often benefit from the light, sweetness of fruits and vegetables. Although we don’t think of rhubarb as a vegetable because we nearly always serve it sweet, it’s technically a veggie. This refreshing sauce pairs especially well with pork (adds sparkle to ribs, for instance), but it will lift the flavor of a roasted chicken or poached chicken breasts and is great with all grilled meats and fish. Add some heat to it — Tabasco, pepper flakes or harissa, if you’d like.
For those of you unfamiliar with aioli, it is the delicate, French version of mayonnaise, easily made at home, and infinitely more delicious than the store-bought variety. Don’t be put off by the idea of adding vanilla extract. The vanilla adds a delightful lift to the aioli as well as the slightest hint of sweetness. The Tahitians know this. They would never think of serving mahi-mahi without vanilla in the cream sauce they are famous for!
(along with recipe for Walnut Sauce for Pansoti)
As I have now lost the 2-1/2 pounds I gained eating my way through Italian pastry shops, I will say that I am still happy but not quite as plump as I was when I arrived home. That said,
I just baked a fresh peach pie for my housemate’s birthday and I’m hoping he’ll give me a piece as I wouldn’t want to wither away, especially while writing about food.
We left Cortona for Venezia by train, arriving just before noon.