After dining at a local Afghani restaurant recently, I came away with a new favorite soup. I wouldn’t have thought I’d fall in love with a bean soup! It’s the combination of the herbs and spices that elevate this soup to genius status. Believe me, it’s wonderful. Unless you are one of the people for whom cilantro and coriander taste like soap. (If you are, eliminate the coriander and you’ll be fine.)
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.
Although I can’t remember quite how I first met Michele Anna Jordan, I have been a fan of hers for decades. She stayed overnight at my home years ago when she did a reading at a local bookstore, and I remember being entranced by her knowledge of wine and food. We both also share a love of vanilla though Michele is a savory food and good wine gal (but always wears a vanilla-based perfume), and I’m a “Sure I like savory foods but I also want dessert!” queen.
It’s no surprise that Michele is so knowledgeable; she is the author of 16 food books, including California Home Cooking (IACP Cookbook Award nominee), The New Cook’s Tour of Sonoma, and Salt and Pepper. She also is known as the “Quintessential expert on California Cuisine,” a title she most certainly deserves.
Michele is also a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and a restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. She has a regular radio show, “Mouthful,” for which she has been a four-time James Beard Broadcast Journalism Award nominee. I have been on her show a couple of times over the years, most recently when my book, Vanilla, came out. If you live in Northern California, do try to listen to Mouthful if you can pick up the signal. Michele’s a pro at showcasing her guests and brings out the finest in what they offer.
Despite all the kudos to Michele, you may wonder, “Why a book on salad dressings?” Personally, I think it’s brilliant, especially after running a demo program at a local organic food store for several years. It was then that I discovered that most people have no idea of how to make a good salad dressing! Really.
My grandmother ran a restaurant and taught me how to make her vinaigrette, always with a little dry mustard and paprika. My mother taught me her more traditional version of vinaigrette, and I have tweaked mine over the years (I love a splash of fresh lemon juice and smoked paprika along with the oil and wine vinegar, and sometimes even toss in a pinch of sugar and a little vanilla to brighten greens with chicken and fruit). So I have to admit, I assumed that most people make their own salad dressings. That is, until I worked at the store.
In case you need convincing, here are several excellent reasons to consider purchasing Michele’s new book:
Michele offers some very interesting suggestions for salads, side dishes and even entrees that would benefit from the use of each of the dressings and even provides a “variations” section to expand dressing options.
To give you a mouthwatering taste, so to speak, consider the silky Walnut, Spicy Honey Pepper and warm Bacon-Maple vinaigrettes for salads, marinades and sauces. Yes, you can use many of the dressings for marinades or as a sauce for meats. Creamy dressings, spicy and piquant dressings, and velvety sweet dressings: Michele has given us a great selection of flavors and methods to consider.
Here are two dressings from Michele’s book that I think you will enjoy:
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.
Makes About 1-1/2 cups
1 large or 2 medium ripe Hass avocados, pitted, peeled, and cut in cubes
1/2 serrano or jalapeño chile
1 teaspoon brined green peppercorns
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons water, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Put the avocado in the work bowl of a food processor (preferably a small work bowl) fitted with a metal blade. If you like a lot of heat, chop the chile without seeding it.
For a milder flavor, remove the seeds and chop. Add to the work bowl, along with the green peppercorns, lime juice, water, salt, and several generous turns of black pepper.
Pulse several times and then process until the mixture is quite smooth.
Taste, correct for salt as needed, and, if necessary, adjust for texture by adding another teaspoon or two of water if it seems too thick. Transfer to a small bowl and fold in the cilantro. Use immediately, or refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days.
Little Gem or iceberg lettuce wedges topped with diced celery, bay shrimp, or crumbled bacon; salad greens and grilled shrimp; as a dip with radishes, carrots, celery, jicama, cherry tomatoes, and tortilla chips; taco salads; chilled cucumber soup
Note: Michele’s recipe doesn’t include vanilla extract. That said, a few drops of pure vanilla extract would work quite well with the creamy avocado and the chile peppers, so feel free to add it. I know she wouldn’t object.
True old fashioned fudge (not the kind with marshmallow crème) deserves to be elevated to the same lofty status as really good truffles and other high-quality, handmade, small-batch candies. You need the best possible ingredients and, as my grandfather often said, “elbow grease.” Your reward will be a prize-winning, melt-in-your-mouth confection that family and friends will beg you to make again and again.
If you’ve read my blog on a regular basis, you know how crazy I am for pure maple anything. Not a conflict of interest here as vanilla and maple complement each other perfectly. After all, they’re both flavors of the Americas! So when I first met my friend Andrew Jue and learned that he is an exceptional fudge maker, I asked if he had a good recipe for maple fudge.
If you have teenagers, you’ll probably want to skip this blog as the main ingredient in trifle is stale cake. If you actually do occasionally have stale (or extra) cake — with or without teenagers — read on!
If you’re unfamiliar with trifle, it’s a British invention for using stale cake. Which does lead one to wonder if stale cake is a common problem for the Brits because their teenagers are sent off to boarding school.
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 andMediterranean markets and online. Or, can make your own. As a DIY specialty, you control the amount of sweetening in this sweet/tart syrup. You also have a unique gift to give family and friends. Best of all, it’s easy to make!