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.
Patricia Rain is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of The Vanilla Company (www.vanillaqueen.com), a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide. She also does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest.
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.
Although I’m not vegan, I have dear friends who are. I’m also always looking for recipes that can accommodate family and friends with food allergies or food intolerance issues. When I read on food 52 about Joanne Chang’s cupcakes, I saw a winner. Joanne, who owns Flour Bakery in Boston, has created a recipe that is moist, deeply flavorful, and fully satisfies the craving for chocolate and the desire for a rich, moist cake or cupcake — vegan or otherwise!
The delicious autumn hard shelled squashes are so welcoming to find at the farmers’ market or in the produce section, especially as nights grow dark earlier and the weather turns chilly or cold. They all but beg us to take them home to make something warm, filling and comforting! What I love about this recipe is that you get an unusually silky, risotto as the butternut squash is used two ways. Half of the roasted butternut squash is pureed, which adds to the creaminess of this dish.
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 cake or pie — or latte, I might add? 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.
Life can certainly get complicated as new products flood the market and old products get rebranded. There are actually five different types of vanilla in the marketplace right now and we’re not talking five different species here. We’re talking labels and what’s inside the bottles. As I get asked about this frequently, I decided to write an article specifically addressing what’s in the bottle and why it’s labeled the way it is. We’ll start with pure vanilla extract.
Pure Vanilla Extract
There is a Standard of Identity for vanilla extract in the United States. To be labeled vanilla extract, a gallon measure must contain 13.35% vanilla bean extractives (10-ounces of moisture-free solids), 35% alcohol, and the balance in distilled water. What is not listed in the Standard of Identity is sugar, corn syrup, caramel color or any other additives. Some companies include one or more of these ingredients on their labels, but most do not. The same is true with alcohol. Grain alcohol is the most commonly used alcohol but sugarcane alcohol is also used. Sugar or corn syrup are often used to mask the harsh notes of alcohol or to make the extract smell and taste better if the quality of the beans used were not good quality.
This recipe (with some adaptations) comes to us from Jerry Di Vecchio, the woman who helped change the way the West eats. By West, I mean the Western United States. A gracious and amazing woman, Jerry spent her entire career working at Sunset Magazine, and many of those years as the editor/director of the food division. She also inadvertently launched my career as an international expert in vanilla. But that’s a story for another time. Instead, this easy-to-make, delicious entree is one you’re going to want in your collection of favorites, whether for a weeknight dinner or for a special meal with guests.
This is a spinoff of the World’s Best Cookies, but worthy of its own recipe. It’s a reliably good cookie, keeps well because of the relatively high-fat level (though they don’t usually last long enough for that to be a problem), and you can switch out white chocolate for milk or dark chocolate, as well as the nuts. Part of the appeal of these cookies is the slight crunch from the cornflakes and slightly chewy thanks to the oats.
When I was fifteen, I spent a memorable summer with my Connecticut cousins. Our Aunt Patricia (yes, I was named after her — we were known as Big Pat and Little Pat) worked and lived in New York City, and in our eyes she was all we aspired to be. My cousin Deborah and I took the train to Manhattan and spent a day with Big Pat. It was a classic New York summer day — hot and sultry — but my aunt had prepared a sophisticated cold lunch, which included the perfect dessert: half-frozen table grapes in sweetened sour cream. This was before yogurt was mainstream and sour cream was considered a gourmet item. I’ve been making some version of this refreshing dish ever since.
Too much summer squash? Whether your neighbors look the other way when they see you coming with an armload of zucchini or you’re just looking for another recipe to enjoy it, here’s my solution. When you roast squash, it shrinks like crazy and becomes deliciously sweet. I frequently roast potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash early in the morning before the heat sets in and one day I decided to see what ratatouille would look like if I roasted the squash and eggplant instead of braising them with onions and tomatoes. I’ve been making my version of ratatouille this way ever since. Yes, it requires an extra couple of steps, but I think it’s worth it. Here’s my “no recipe” for roasted ratatouille. You can decide for yourself if you want to make it or just roast the squash to add to salads, pasta or fritattas.
Enough customers have asked us this question that I realized that although I’ve mentioned this information in passing in blogs, we needed a blog that addresses this important question. My hope is that this will assist all of you who aren’t quite sure about the best way to preserve your products.
Can it really be possible to have summertime without frozen desserts? Anyone who fondly remembers the ice cream truck or going to an ice cream parlor and indulging in some of the amazing options, would agree that it would be a pretty boring summer without ice cream dripping down our sleeves whether it’s a simple bowl of frozen sweetness or indulging in a sundae, milkshake or popsicles.
Washington State may well remember 2017 for the abundance of its sweet cherries from the Yakima Valley. The record crop came in late but the fruit has continued for nearly two months, with unusually low prices and delicious, plump fruit. For those of us who nearly turn into myna birds during cherry season, it has been cause for celebration.
Several years ago I had a terrific recipe for shortcake biscuits. Naturally, I lost it. I didn’t know this, of course, when I decided that it would be the perfect dessert to bring to a party I was attending. Even though it was late in the season, the warm, sunny days we’ve had has meant a never-ending abundance of strawberries and, even as I write this, it appears it’s far from finished.
No one I’ve ever known has declined a piece of fresh, homemade pie. Although some version of pie is eaten in nearly all cultures, fruit pies are an American institution, and it isn’t limited to apple! After writing this last sentence, I wondered if the expression came about because of Johnny Appleseed’s having started apple tree nurseries across many of our midland states at a time when women made pies (often for breakfast), because they required less flour than bread. But no, it apparently was an increasingly common expression beginning in the 1920s attesting the goodness of all things American. Okay, back to pie.
Burrata, how I love thee and all your creamy deliciousness! If you’ve never tasted burrata, it may be time to treat yourself. It’s the rich cousin of fresh mozarella, which by the way, is infinitely more delicious than its other cousin, the more easily available, rubbery, vacuum-packaged mozarella. Burrata has an outer shell made from Mozarella, that is like a pouch. Cream and stringy curd pieces are stuffed into the pouch, so when it’s cut open, there’s a wonderful creaminess that keeps the interior of the ball deliciously soft and rich and leaks out onto the plate.
In late March I received an e-mail from Simran Sethi requesting an interview regarding the cyclone that struck Madagascar two weeks earlier and how it would impact the already troubled vanilla market. I responded that I would be happy to talk and a date and time were set. What happened next was serendipity. Within a few minutes of our meeting, Simran and I realized we have been traveling the same path with the same concerns and seeking the same outcomes on behalf of those who grow the foods we all love that are becoming endangered in ways that most of the world is unaware.
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.)
There’s nothing quite so frustrating as coming home from work tired and hungry, gazing into the refrigerator, then retreating because there’s nothing that says “make this” in there. We’ve all been there. I admit that packaged tomato soup and scrambled eggs have gotten me through several moves and writing deadlines. However, award winning cookbook author, Barbara Kafka, has helpful solutions for all kinds of daily culinary dilemmas and her 15 minute pasta solution is brilliant. Made with ingredients you are likely to have around (though I doubt everyone has heavy cream waiting for just the right moment), this pasta recipe is delicious, filling, and with a few additional ingredients, scores as healthy too.
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 also 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.