How To Flavor With Vanilla

basket of vanilla beans - How To Flavor With Vanilla

Melipona bee pollinating a vanilla orchard

Image Credit: Athena Rayne Anderson 2008

Vanilla is a flavoring that is extracted from orchids, primarily from the flat-leaved vanilla Mexican species.

The first endeavors to propagate or grow the vanilla orchid outside of Mexico had shown to be in vain as this particular orchid has a synergetic alliance with its natural pollinator, the Melipona bee.

At least 40 species of this bee are known, and thrive in Mexico, as well as Argentina.

Other areas were the vanilla orchid is now successfully produced, such as in Tahiti and Madagascar among other places, is entirely dependent on artificial pollination.

The magazine – “Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution” states that the vanilla orchid is one of very few crops whose production depends entirely on artificial pollination.

How To Pollinate The Vanilla Orchid

This video provides details how to successfully pollinate the vanilla orchid that produces vanilla beans! This presentation was appropriated by the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden.

Using Vanilla In Baking

When it comes to baking, vanilla is a very important ingredient, and there are 3 ways to use it…

  1. Vanilla Bean
  2. Vanilla Extract
  3. Vanilla Paste

Let’s examine the differences between these three and how to best use them in your baking.

Vanilla Beans

 Whole Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Whole Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans themselves provide wonderful flavor to any recipe that calls for it. The bean can cost between $7 to $13  for a small jar of two or three beans. They are a little time consuming to work with, but you will find the flavor they produce to be well worth the time.

You want to find vanilla beans that are plump and smooth with a slight shine and that are highly fragrant. Avoid overly dried beans. Using the vanilla in dessert recipes that call for it, gives the finished baked good an intense vanilla flavor that you might never want to go back to using another form of vanilla.

Be warned though, the bean can leave specks of brown throughout the baked good. To some this is great, but if you are baking a white cake, then employing the vanilla bean for such recipes may not work. That brings us to another form: vanilla extract.

Vanilla Extract

 

Vanilla extract is the common form used in baking.

To acquire the extract, the bean is mashed, and it is infused with a mixture of alcohol, a clear drinking alcohol is used, like Vodka.

Vanilla extract readily available, not only as pure, but also artificially made. The extract is simple to measure out and use in your baking.

Vanilla Paste

Pure Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste

Pure Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla paste, though spendy (between $12 to $16 for a 4 ounce jar), is the best of both worlds when it comes to choosing between vanilla beans and vanilla extract.

Vanilla paste is the flesh of the pod scooped-out, and make available at market in small jars. So you are getting all of the flavor of the bean without all of the hassle. It will still provide those flecks of color in your baking like the actual bean does.

For vanilla paste, consult the jar to see how much to use in your recipes. It usually shows the conversions between vanilla extract and the paste.

When in doubt, gradually add to your baking, tasting after each addition to help you determine the right amount of vanilla flavor.

Which One To Use

Most recipes do call for vanilla extract but if you do decide to substitute the bean or paste for the extract, you can. One bean actually equals about three teaspoons of vanilla extract.

The next time you bake, try using vanilla beans or paste instead of the more common vanilla extract. Of course, what you decide to use depends on your personal preference.

Link Here For A Selection Of Dessert Recipes From Splendid Recipes and More

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How To Spice Things Up When Cooking

Large collection of metal bowls full of herbs and spices -How To Spice Things Up When CookingHerbs and spices are used to enhance the flavor of food, either it be for cooking spaghetti carbonara or baking an apple pie.

An herb or spice can be a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or leafy part of the plant. They are principally used for flavoring food among other uses. They can be used fresh or dried.

Herbs And Spices Through The Ages

It is said that by the Middle Ages, the most common spices and herbs being traded and used were black pepper, cinnamon (including the alternative cassia), cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

Herbs and spices are useful for many things, among others are medicinal uses, cosmetic or perfume production uses, and of course they are used add flavor to a meal.

By 1000 B.C. medical systems based upon herbs were found in China, Korea, and India. Also the Egyptians used herbs and spices for their embalming practices and their demand for exotic herbs and spices helped stimulate world trade.

Extracting A Spices Flavor

The flavor of an herb or spice is derived by exposing the volatile oil compounds of the seed or leafy part, that oxidize or evaporate when it comes in contact with air.

As an example, fresh ginger is usually more flavorful than its dried form, but fresh spices are more expensive and have a much shorter shelf life.

Flavor of herbs and spices can be maximized by storing them whole and grinding when needed, as grinding greatly increases its surface area and so increases the rates of oxidation and evaporation.

If you decide to use dried spices, be sure to use them within 6 to 8 months of purchase. Ground spices are better stored away from light, as it also increases the oxidation of the volatile oils.

metal bowls filled with spices

How To Use Herbs And Spices

When using herbs and spices you’ll want to pick flavors that complement each other, such as the spice mix known as “pumpkin pie spice.” The ratios of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg add great flavor to the pie, and each spice doesn’t over power the other.

The key or rule of thumb to spicing things up is that less is more. Avoid adding too much all at once. Instead, add a little at a time and add more to taste.

A good example of over spicing and unable to fix it, is when you use oregano or cloves. Their volital oils are great for flavoring culinary and pastry dishes, but they are strong in flavor, and only require a small amount.

When using spices to flavor your meat or vegetables, use only 3 different types at a time. You can even use herbs and spice to replace salt. Choose your spice or spices, add a little lemon juice and unsalted butter.

Which spices pair well together for the best culinary dishes you can make? Let’s examine some of the most commonly used spices and which spices pair well with them.

Greek Yogurt Dill Spread with Ham and Red Cabbage On Wasa Crisp Bread

Greek Yogurt Dill Spread with Ham and Red Cabbage On Wasa Crisp Breadmultigrain Wasa crackersWasabröd is a Swedish company that is the largest producer in the world of Scandinavian style crisp bread.

Wasabröd produces a wide variety of crisp breads, with the original crisp bread made of rye. Other additions since 1919 include sesame,wheat, oats, flax seed, and other grains. Like matzo, Wasa is noted for its shelf longevity.

Wasa crisp bread is popular during the EuropeanOktoberfest‘ (a festival that takes place from mid-September through October).

Oktoberfest comes once a year, with vibrant music, over-flowing beer, sausage, and colorful German costumes. It is a festival held every Fall to celebrate German heritage, and includes lots of great finger foods.

Our featured recipe is an inspiration of the German festival and the Wasa crisp bread: Greek Yogurt Dill Spread with Ham and Red Cabbage On Wasa Crisp Bread. Here is what you will need.

Prepartion per serving:

1 multigrain Wasa crisp bread

2 teaspoons Greek yogurt dill spread

1/4 cup chopped red cabbage

1 fresh basil leaf, medium to large

1 slice uncured lunch meat, your choice, without nitrates

steps to preparing food ingredients with Wasa crisp breadYou can find the recipe for the Greek yogurt dill spread by linking here: Greek Marinated Chicken with Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad.

Prepare the yogurt-dill spread. Cut basil leaves from stems and wash (pat dry). Spread yogurt-dill onto a piece of Wasa crisp bread. Next top with a slice of lunch meat. We used a smoked black-forest honey ham. Next top the meat with a fresh basil leaf, and top that with the red cabbage.

multigrain wasa with cabbage - ham - and a greek yogurt dill spreadYou don’t need to wait util the next Oktoberfest to enjoy this healthy and awesomely delicious finger food. When making your shopping list be sure to include a package of Wasa Crisp Bread (your favorite), and the accompanying ingredients. Oh, and it makes a great party favorite finger food.

For more great ideas to topping Wasa Crisp Bread link here: Wasa – Since 1919.

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Satay Lima Beans in Peanut Sauce

Growing Lima Beans and Enjoying the Benefits

Satay Lima Beans in Peanut Sauce

Now is the time to plant lima beans. They are easy to grow, and they provide an excellent source of many different nutrients. They are a starchy vegetable that are sometimes known as butter beans because of their smooth, buttery texture.

You can buy lima beans dried or canned, but fresh lima beans are harder to come by, and therefore a great vegetable to grow in your garden.

Lima bean podsAs the lima bean grows it looks a lot like a green bean, although the pods are flatter, much like a sweet pea.

They ripen and are ready for harvest in the late summer and autumn.

When you harvest the beans, you will need to shuck the beans out of the pods, and each pod will yield between 3 to 4 fresh lima beans.

Christmas or ChestNut lima beans

Christmas or ChestNut lima beans

 

 

 

The color of the bean you may be familiar with is usually green or cream colored, but there are other colors, which include red, purple, black, brown, and white.

Health Benefits of Lima Beans

Lima beans are one of the few vegetables that contain molybdenum about 141 mcg, which is a part of an enzyme called sulfite oxidase. Sulfites are commonly found in wine, pickles, processed meats and dried fruit.

Sulfite oxidase helps to eradicate and detoxify our bodies of sulfites. A person can be sensitive to sulfites if there is not have enough sulfite oxidase enzymes in the body. As was noted earlier, this enzyme is essential for detoxifying sulfites.

When sulfites are not properly broken down in the body, a person may experience rapid heart rate, headache and confusion.

Lima beans would be a great addition to your vegetable garden as the bean can help control and eradicate sulfites from the body.

The butter bean or lima bean is a source of minerals and B-vitamins, they help to control blood sugar levels and help to lower blood cholesterol levels.

If you are vegetable gardener that is diabetic or has high cholesterol, the lima bean would be a great addition to your garden.

Dietary Fiber and Lima Beans

Lima bean plants in a vegetable gardenLima beans are a starchy vegetable, and are also a great source of soluble fiber, which as we noted helps to lower blood cholesterol, sweeping away any excess buildup of cholesterol.

Because of the fiber, there is no need to worry a lot about the starch. Fibrous vegetables digest slower and do not spike blood glucose.

That is why it is encouraged to eat a potato with its fibrous skin, if not the starch can cause a spike in your sugar levels.

Fiber also binds with the bile acids in the duodenum. It is bile acids that process and make cholesterol.

This is why it is important to consume fiber on a daily basis. Not eating enough fiber can cause your cholesterol to rise to a dangerous level.

Therefore as fiber binds with the bile acids, it passes right through the digestive system without being absorbed and made into cholesterol.

Lima beans are also rich in insoluble fiber, meaning that it bulks up the stool and allows for regular bowel movements and less constipation. Insoluble fiber is excellent for people who suffer with diverticulosis or irritable bowel syndrome.

Lima Beans Can Reduce the Risk of Heart Problems

Lima beans can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems. Lima beans also provide a complete protein if you combine them with whole grains, such as whole grain rice.

Lima beans are a type of legume and legumes have been extensively studied as sources of heart disease protection. One 25 year study involved over 16,000 male participants across the world that was at risk for heart disease. The study found that those who ate more legumes had a reduced risk of heart disease.

Another 19 year study in the U.S.A involved male participants who ate high fiber foods, including lima beans. The study noted that those who ate 21 grams of fiber per day had a 12% lesser chance of coming down with heart disease when compared to people who ate less than 5 grams of fiber per day.

Water-soluble fiber was determined to have the best protection against heart disease, and legumes, including lima beans alone decreased the risk of dying from heart disease by 82%.

Magnesium And Folate

Lima beans contain high amounts of magnesium, manganese, iron, and folate per serving. The folate is a vitamin that lowers the quantity of homocysteine in the bloodstream, which is a risk factor for all forms of heart disease, including stroke, heart attack, and peripheral vascular disease.

The magnesium in lima beans acts as calcium channel blockers, which lowers blood pressure and improves the flow of nutrients and oxygen within the bloodstream. A lack of magnesium in the diet can lead to heart problems and the liberation of oxygen free radicals in the body, which are dangerous to all cells of the body.

The Best Way To Eat Lima Beans

You can eat them alone, salted, or incorporate them into soups and casseroles.

With their buttery flavor, lima beans are a great addition to soups, stews, casseroles. Cooked, cooled  lima beans are an excellent addition to green salads.  You can eat lima beans fresh in their pods in the summer, but only if you have a vegetable garden.

Try this great recipe with your fresh harvested lima beans.

Satay Lima Beans in Peanut SauceSatay Lima Beans in Peanut Sauce

Sauce:

1 (10 ounce) can coconut milk

1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter

1/2 small onion, grated

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut milk, peanut butter, onion, soy sauce, brown sugar, and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

If you are allergic to peanuts, use almond butter instead.

Next dice up one each of a green and red sweet pepper, and one small white onion, and set aside. Chop a bunch of  your choice of chard or kale, and mix with the sweet peppers, white onion, and 16 ounces of cooked lima beans in a large bowl. Next add the warm satay sauce, mix until well coated. Plate and serve.

Enjoy this recipe as a warm salad, side dish, main protein dish, and even as a vegan dish.

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Making Sour Cream Pie 

Sour Cream Blueberry Pie and Sour Cream Apple PieSour cream is a dairy product that we are familiar with. It is made using fresh cream and fermenting it with lactic acid bacterium. The bacteria is either introduced deliberately or naturally to sour the cream, though it is mildly pleasant sour tasting.

The history of sour cream is believed to have developed in Eastern Europe by the Ukrainians. It was intentionally fermented and used in one of their well known food creations – Beef Stroganoff.

Our featured recipe involves sour cream. It is used in one recipe using two different types of fruit. Apples and blueberries, which by the way is not a true fruit but a berry as the name implies.

Our recipe is Sour Cream Blueberry Pie and Sour Cream Apple Pie.

First let’s make the crust. The recipe will make two portions, and here is what you will need.

Sour Cream Pie Crust

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoons of salt

2 teaspoons of sugar

2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 cup sour cream, full fat

Heat oven to 400 degrees

2 sticks of cold cubed butterPlace the cubed unsalted butter in a bowl and put aside.

mix flour and adding in cold cubed butterIn a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar.

Next add the cubes of butter into the flour mixture. Use your clean thumbs and fingers to squish the flour and butter together. Work the butter into the dough until you have what resembles a coarse meal with some chunks of butter.

mixing in sour cream to pastry doughNext add the sour cream to the flour butter mixture. Use a fork to incorporate into the mixture.

forming pastry dough into two disksGather the pastry dough together with your hands, and form into a large ball.

Use a knife to cut the ball in half. Form into disks. Sprinkle each disk with a little flour, top and bottom. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. If you want to freeze for future use, wrap again, this time with aluminum foil and freeze (leave in refrigerator overnight to thaw before using).

If dough has been in the refrigerator for more than 2 hours, let it sit for 5-10 minutes at room temperature to become more malleable before rolling out.

rolling out pie crust to place into pie pan to pre-bakeNow sprinkle a clean flat surface with a little flour. Place one disk over the floured surface, and begin to roll flat with a rolling pin. As you roll the dough, check to make sure the bottom is not sticking. If it is, lift it up and sprinkle a little flour underneath. Roll out pastry dough from 12 to 14 inches wide, to an even thickness.

Place the rolled pastry pie dough into a 9-inch glass pie pan. Place a piece of parchment paper over the raw pastry and then filled with pastry or pie weights. But if you don’t have these baking accessories, then dried beans can be used.

Place into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and remove paper and beans. Using a fork repeatedly pock the pie crust till crust surface is filled with tiny holes. This allows the steam to escape and prevents the crust from bubbling up.

Replace back into the oven for 15 minutes more. Set a side to cool.

Meantime, prepare the pie filling.

One pie filling will be a Sour Cream Blueberry filling  and the other will be a Sour Cream Apple filling. We also replaced the sugar with coconut sugar. The ratio of sugar to coconut sugar is 1:1. We also used Himalayan salt in place of regular table salt. Let’s get started.

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries or 3 cups of peeled chopped apples

Pecan Topping (for blueberry):

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons butter, softened

3 tablespoons chopped pecans

Walnut Topping (for apple):

All the same as pecan topping, but replace the pecans with chopped walnuts.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

pie filling for blueberry and apple sour cream pies

In a mixing bowl, beat together the sour cream, flour, sugar, lemon juice, salt, and egg until smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Gently fold in the blueberries or apples. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake at 400° for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the 4 tablespoons of flour, brown sugar, butter, and pecans or walnuts, mixing with fingers until you have a crumbly mixture.

Sprinkle the pecan or walnut mixture over the top of the pie and return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes longer. Let cool. Chill thoroughly before serving.

 

You will note the pie fillings are not white in texture, as we used coconut sugar.

 

side view of Sour Cream Blueberry PieThe texture of the coconut sugar is the same as brown sugar.

The coconut sugar doesn’t resolve a clear color, and is more dominate than brown sugar, but more healthy to the blood stream.

Also when fingering to mix the dry ingredients with the butter to make a crumble, make sure the butter is cold, and do not mix it between your fingers to long. The texture will be affected by the warmth of your fingers.

You will not have a good crumbly texture, as demonstrated with the Sour Cream Apple Pie, pictured below.

Once the pie’s have cooled, plate and serve.

Sour Cream Blueberry Pie and Sour Cream Apple Pie

 

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Apple Whole Wheat Bread Strata with Cream Cheese Glaze

Apple Whole Wheat Bread Strata with Cream Cheese Glaze

Strata or stratta is a layered casserole dishes founded in American cuisine.

Strata is most commonly found among other prepared brunch dishes or recipes. Strata is compared to a quiche or frittata, made from a mixture which mainly consists of bread, eggs and cheese, including cream cheese.

Some bakers or cooks have even prepared strata with meat or vegetables.

Now for our featured recipe: Apple Whole Wheat Bread Strata with Cream Cheese Glaze, and here is what you will need.

Ingredients for the strata:

1 -24 oz. loaf of 100% whole grain bread

3 medium baking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4-inch wedges

8 large eggs

2 cups whole milk

1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Ingredients for the glaze:

3 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons whole milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

 

Line the bottom of a 9 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with organic parchment paper, and brush the sides with organic unsalted butter.

Unpack the bread, and use all of the slices less the ends. Cut the crust off each piece, and set the crusts aside.

Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with half of the crust-less bread. Layer apple slices on top of bread, and layer remaining bread slices over the apple.

In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk until well incorporated. Pour the egg mixture over the apples and Apple Whole Wheat Bread Strata with Cream Cheese Glaze - slicebread. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and refrigerate a 1 to 2 hours, or longer (If you wish you can remove strata after refrigerated time, leaving foil over dish, and let set for 30 minutes before baking).

Heat Oven to 350 degrees.

If you haven’t already done so, remove strata from the refrigerator, and place into heated oven with foil still over the dish.

Bake for 35 minutes, if the strata was room temperature or for 45 minutes if coming straight from the refrigerator. Remove foil, and bake for additional 15 minutes.

In a small sauce pot over medium heat, mix cream cheese, honey, milk, and vanilla. Continue to stir until cheese is melted and glaze is formed. Pour glaze over warmed strata. Spread glaze with back of a wooden spoon until evenly distributed.

Let sit 10 minutes. Sprinkle with organic powered cinnamon, and serve with apple slices and blueberries if desired.

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The Agitators of Good Food

The Agitators of Good Food

A blender or a food processor, even a Magic Bullet or the Ninja Kitchen Blender, are all kitchen aids known to blend or process food ingredients together. They could also be describe as agitators. Is this what we are referring to by the theme of this post? That they are the agitators of good food? Far from it.

The agitators we want to talk about are those that are mixed with spices and herbs to enhance their flavors.

Spices and herbs can enhance any dish from sweet to savory, but it is the agitators which must be used in conjunction with them to have any real effect. What are those agitators? Salt is one of them, but so is vinegar, citric acid and sugar. Sugar by the way is more popular with baking, but has a place at times in cooking.

Zest of lemons and oranges can also be used as an agitator in accompanying some of the spices and herbs to enhance flavor. Lemon zest, or the grated rind, is a popular flavoring for baked goods and desserts as well as in savory dishes, such as meats and sauces.

grating lemon zestThe rind holds the lemon oil, and adds exciting taste. After you have squeezed a lemon for its juice, don’t toss out the rinds, freeze them and use them for zest in anything from desserts, vinaigrette, and vegetable side dishes. Frozen citrus rinds graded for zest are as fresh as a fresh lemon or orange.

Lemon juice can replace or compliment vinegar in salad dressings, or to marinate and tenderize meat, poultry or fish.

Here are some seasonings without salt but have another agitator that can be used in some of our favorite recipes. See if you can guess the agitator being used in them.

Taco Seasoning: chili powder, domestic paprika, granulated onion, cumin, granulated garlic, Mexican oregano, brown sugar, black pepper medium, & cayenne pepper (the agitator is brown sugar).

Garlic Herb Seasoning: sesame seeds, black pepper, garlic powder, green onion, lemon zest and citric acid (the agitators are the zest and citric acid). Citric acid is sold packaged in powder form, and can be purchased at any health food store.

Italian Seasoning:  oregano, red pepper flakes, sweet basil, garlic flakes, parsley flakes.

In the Italian seasoning there is no agitator used. Do we add salt, then? No, but if you add it to spaghetti sauce which has tomatoes in it, then you have your agitator. Tomatoes have citric acid in them.

Pizza Seasoning - The Agitators of Good Food

Pizza Seasoning

Pizza seasoning: oregano, basil, garlic, onion, thyme, fennel seed, red bell pepper, crushed red pepper, parsley and marjoram.

As you can see, there is no agitator used. What does pizza have as part of it ingredients? Tomato sauce, which has citric acid, the agitator.

When using salt as your agitator, use Himalayan salt. Not only will you get a boost of trace minerals in the meal, but you can also use less salt than you would if using table salt.

 

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