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!
The warm, sunny Monterey Bay area got hit with a hefty freeze a week ago, early for the coastal area. My garden has “melted” and, although the weather has warmed up some, today has been cloudy with a damp chill that cuts to the bone. Even worse, the smoke from the December fire in Big Sur added a layer of gloom to the day.
My solution was to prepare pork tenderloin with an apple cider, maple vanilla glaze that warmed Gina and me as we worked to get out the last of the holiday season’s packages.
Pork tenderloin is a lean cut of meat that works equally well in the oven or the grill. Despite having a minimal amount of fat, it is tender and moist. I recommend Niman Ranch pork if possible. The pigs are sustainably and humanely raised. I spent time with the producers of the Niman ranch animals a couple of years ago and was impressed by the care they provide the animals as well as the quality of the meat. It is worth paying a bit extra for our health as well as for the health of our planet and the well being of the animals that sustain us.
I would have liked to have provided more photos today, but we’re running a tight schedule with the holiday season and I’m also living and working between two places at the moment, so I’m depending on words.
The tenderloins are rubbed with a blend of salt, pepper, smoked paprika, ground vanilla bean powder and cinnamon. I allowed the meat to come to room temperature, rubbed them, then waited about 25 minutes before cooking. While the tenderloins rested, I cut up garnet yams, yellow potatoes and parsnips, sprinkled them with olive oil and sea salt, and put them in to roast. Brussels sprouts would have added color and nutrients but I didn’t have any and Gina said she was grateful I didn’t. While they aren’t my favorite vegetable, I have come to an accord with them, especially if they’re very fresh.
I also sliced the last of the Sierra Beauty apples from my tree and poached them with some golden raisins in fresh apple juice. And while my recipe says apple cider, I like to purchase fresh, local apple juice for the flavor. I added Ceylon cinnamon and Tahitian vanilla when the apples were tender.
The pork is seared quickly then roasted in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on your oven’s heat. That’s why it’s best to start the root vegetables while the meat comes to room temperature and absorbs some of the flavors of the rub. The apples can be made at the same time as the glaze. The entire meal comes together in less than an hour. If you prep the vegetables the night before, it will take even less time.
In plating this dish I hunted through my garden for a garnish. Fortunately, the variegated sage and the oregano survived the freeze. I realized that some fried sage leaves would have been a nice finish to add over the glaze. If you have sage in your garden, give it a try.
Even if you are only cooking for two, I suggest making the full two pounds of pork as you will have leftovers or some great sandwiches for the next day.
Note: As I’ve mentioned before, maple and vanilla work beautifully together. If you don’t have ground vanilla bean, add a teaspoon or two of extract to the cider glaze after it has reduced.
Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider, Maple, Vanilla Glaze
2 (1 pound) pork tenderloins, cut in 1/2 crosswise
1 teaspoon each sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Pie
This recipe was originally published in Southern Living Magazine. It reappeared this autumn on Food 52. Full of caramel and chocolate, and topped with sweet, toasted pecans, it’s a classic, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” I’ve added vanilla and substituted agave for the corn syrup but feel free to use corn syrup if you prefer.
1- 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cups butter (melted)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (can substitute gluten-free flour)
1/3 cup 100% unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon light agave syrup
3/4 teaspoon Rain’s Choice Vanilla Paste or
1-1/2 teaspoons Rain’s Choice vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup toasted chopped pecans