Vanilla extract – that ubiquitous ingredient called for in recipes for cookies, cakes, breads and more. The need to use high quality vanilla extract is stressed upon by many a chef. Given the considerable price difference between a bottle of ‘original’ vanilla extract and supermarket brand bottles, it’s not surprising if you would hesitate to pick up the expensive one. Especially once you know that all it is made of is vanilla pods and alcohol. I have been reading about how easy it is to make your own vanilla extract at home for a while now. It was time to try it out for myself and see if it really was easier than just buying a premium quality bottle of the stuff.
I’m kicking off the new year on my blog on the lighter side with, dare I say it, a healthier than usual recipe for vegetables simmered in Indian spices. This has got nothing to do with new year’s resolutions (I don’t believe in those) or a sudden change in diet. We were at the farmers’ market last Sunday and while there were plenty of winter root vegetables around, what caught my eye was a stand with really cute looking miniature squash called honey nut squash. I’d read about in my latest Saveur edition. So, naturally, I was curious and brought some home.
Madeleines are one of my favourite things to make. These perfectly sized bites of cake satisfy you without the over indulgence. To get into the festive mood, I spiced up a basic madeleine recipe with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice and a dose of crystallised ginger pieces. As these bake in the oven, a lovely aroma fills your kitchen and suddenly, all that rain outside doesn’t matter. The couch, a steaming mug of tea and a plate of these cookies are all you need in the world.
We had our first taste of the popular Raincoast crisps when we were visiting friends a while ago. It was I think the fig and olive flavour combination. From then on, I began hunting for the brand at every supermarket and store. So imagine my joy when I spotted their stand at the IFBC in Seattle that I attended in September! A pack of their cranberry and hazelnut crisps found it’s way into my goodie bag and I discovered that they were stocked at all local Whole Foods stores in the bay area.
If the title sounds foreign to you, then chances are that you have not yet had the pleasure of enjoying typical Dutch treats that make their appearance during the holiday season. Tomorrow, December 5, is Sinterklaas - the day on which children across the Netherlands wait in anticipation for the gifts that Sinterklaas or Saint Nicolas brought them.
Much like the Santa Claus tradition in most English speaking countries, Sinterklaas is something that’s exciting if you have children in the family. Traditionally, he arrives sometime in November. The event is marked with much fanfare – Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet (literally, black Peter, this character has become the centre of a controversy related to race and skin color very recently in the Netherlands – quite surprising considering the origins of the character are unrelated to race and has survived for centuries) arriving by steamboat in Amsterdam.