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.
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.
It appears that saffron is a flavor we either love or loathe. I’m in the love camp, and thoroughly enjoy a good, earthy paella and tagine as well as freshly baked saffron bread tinted a delicate shade of yellow and with the slightly bitter flavor of this valuable stigma of the autumn crocus. I also drink saffron as a decaffinated tea, as it contains numerous health benefits, and a well made ice cream, redolent with saffron is a rare treat.
Five friends and I had 36 glorious hours in San Diego, including New Year’s Eve. We also spent 18 hours on the road coming and going, a small price to pay for a holiday in one of California’s big cities.
Diana Kennedy, 2016
If you’re interested in and enjoy Mexican cuisine, you’ll want to remember this name – Diana Kennedy, is arguably the world’s authority on Mexico’s incredibly diverse and unique foods, flavors, dishes and their preparation. She has written nine books on the subject. Her first book, The Cuisines of Mexico, came out in 1972, and is credited with opening American eyes to the extraordinary regional flavors of Mexico.
Love salads as an entree but when the weather turns cold, not so much? That’s my problem. Easy to make, they can be as simple or complex as your mood or time allows, they’re healthy and, if you’re clever, you can get in your days’ worth of greens at one sitting. The problem? Facing a crisp, cold green salad on a cold, wet or snowy day! So, what’s the alternative?
The year I turned 15 I spent the summer with my cousins in Connecticut. I had been cooking since I was very young and especially loved to bake. One afternoon when my cousin and I were hanging out with a friend down the road, the friend’s dad asked if I would teach his daughter to cook. Being 15, cream puffs seemed like a great idea as we could eat the lesson. Much more interesting than something practical like French toast, hamburgers or soup. In the middle of making the cream puffs there was a thunderstorm. As California doesn’t get rain in the summer and we rarely have thunderstorms, I was quite surprised when we ended up with a soupy mess. While I don’t know that the thunderstorm and the humidity caused the fail, they were the likely suspects. This is the first — and only — time I ever had trouble with cream puffs. Until this week.
A Quick history of pie
According to historical accounts, pie has been around since the Egyptians, and they probably learned about pies from the Greeks. The crusts weren’t always eaten, however, but acted as a way to encase meats. The first English pies were made from crows and meat fillings are still a popular Pub entree. Crow pie? Not so much.
Given all the bad press on the evils of sugar, we know we need to be judicious about our intake, but it’s oh-so-difficult! We’re hard-wired to love it; sweet is the first taste sensation a newborn baby experiences, and for many of us, sweets are downright addictive. Given that we’re constantly reminded to limit our sugar consumption to prevent obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and tooth decay, you can imagine my surprise when my favorite sugar — maple syrup — was recently declared a super food!
Visiting the San Francisco Specialty Food Show is always a January highlight for West Coast food professionals. It’s like a giant no-host cocktail party but with samples of 80,000 foods and beverages but no cocktails. Although I don’t remember when I first attended a show, it was sometime in the late 1980s. At that time, the event was housed in the main hall at Moscone Center, and it was possible to walk the entire show, visit with vendors and eat yourself silly in one day. Walking even one full row meant required a certain amount of discipline, however. Chocolates, olive oil, lots of cheeses, more chocolates, olives, sausages, hard candies, scones and soda might all be in the same row. It took me several shows to remember that I didn’t have to taste everything, no matter how enticing, especially in random order. Fortunately, there were pitchers filled with water strategically placed to clear jaded palates.
Adding a little creme fraiche when you are whipping cream will help to stabilize it. No deflating, leaking or other problems, and no need to add cornstarch or gelatin to keep the whipped cream looking good on top of the pie or cake. Creme Fraiche is a lightly cultured cream so it has a pleasant tartness to it — not too pronounced but just enough to give the whipped cream a slight edge.
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 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.
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.
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, the mainstay and comfort food of people everywhere. The Berbers of North Africa gave the world tagines as well as cous cous; in Morocco, the tagine is both daily food and edible art.
In 2011 I went to Italy with several friends, and we spent a week in Cinque Terra, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. As a dedicated lemon user, I was charmed by the Italian’s devotion to their precious harvest. In Monterosso there was a weekend fair dedicated to lemons. When I walked through the town very early in the morning, there were baskets and boxes of lemons waiting for someone to bring them down the hill. We sampled several favorite family lemon tarts and cakes and drank Limoncello as the fair got underway.
While waiting for the turkey to roast, and the pies to bake, chances are you haven’t eaten all day. Time for Appetizers! Here are three to whet your palate and get you ready for the Thanksgiving feast to come. Enjoy!
Two Fresh Appetizer Recipes using Ricotta Cheese
Whether you are a seasoned home baker, a beginner or a professional, when a new book by Rose Levy Beranbaum comes out, pay attention! Rose is the undisputed Diva of Desserts, with ten exceptional books on baking, and a very popular blog, Real Baking with Rose.
Her newest book, The Baking Bible, shines a welcoming beam of light on the best in the world of baking: Bread, cakes, pies, tarts, pastries, and confections.
Rose is known throughout the culinary industry for her meticulous attention to detail, her extensive research and testing of ingredients, and her precise instructions for each recipe she creates. She has raised the bar by encouraging home bakers to measure ingredients carefully by weighing them. She lists both the US standard system of ounces and pounds, and the International metric system, the preferred standard of most professional bakers, in each of her recipes, and she tests her recipes extensively so you don’t have to. Followed properly, her recipes are a no-fail proposition. This alone is reason for a standing ovation!
My friend Janet Sawyer is an exceptional woman who magically makes a 24-hour day stretch exponentially. She claims she has always been project-oriented, but my assessment is that she’s in love with the world and embraces ideas and opportunities that speak to her as remarkable and warrant further consideration. Once she commits to something new, she’s in 110%!! Having just spent three weeks with Janet in England, I have experienced firsthand her joie de vivre and how nothing pleases her more than an exciting challenge.
Away from the Kitchen
Untold Stories, Private Menus, and Insider Tips —
Favorite Regional Chefs Reveal, Confess and Speak Out
By Dawn Blume Hawkes; She Writes Press; 2014
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?