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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National Fudge Day

National Fudge Day

If you do not have a reason to celebrate something today, why not celebrate National Fudge Day! Yes June 16th is the day chosen to celebrate fudge.

Fudge is a splendid confection made with sugar, milk, butter, and your favorite flavoring. Some popular varieties include mixing chocolate with peanut butter, maple, caramel, peppermint, and marshmallow.

Scottish Tablet

Whisky Flavored Scottish Tablet – photo credit: Sweets for Treats

Were you aware that fudge used to be chocolate-less? The modern-day fudge we enjoy evolved from a candy called Scottish Tablet, which originated in the late 17th century.

While the recipes are some what similar, Scottish Tablet has a much harder texture and lacks the most important ingredient, chocolate!

Candy ThermometerPreparing  fudge may seem easy enough, but it does require a candy thermometer, as fudge is very easy to overcook or under cook.

There are some fudge recipes that have been developed for the home cook.

The recipes may include corn syrup, which prevents the process of crystallization, sweet condensed milk, marshmallow cream or other ingredients that guarantee the perfect fudge texture.

Though they do not guarantee the same taste as original fudge!

To get that original fudge flavor, you will need to use a traditional recipe with a candy thermometer or buy your favorite fudge at your local See’s Candy store or favorite equivalent and enjoy National Fudge Day.

Our featured recipe is Easy Chocolate Fudge and here is what you will need.

12 ounces semi-dark chocolate

2 cups coconut sugar

1 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans

To make things even simpler, replace milk and coconut sugar with a 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk.

Prepare a 8 inch x 8 inch square baking pan lined with foil. Set aside.

Melt chocolate  in a glass bowl over hot boiling water. Once melted, remove hot water from pan and pour melted chocolate into pan and place back over heated element.

Add coconut sugar, and milk. Stir into chocolate, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to a simmer. Do not stir again.

If you are using a candy thermometer, place it  into the pan and cook until temperature reaches 238 degrees.

If you are not using a thermometer, then cook fudge until a drop it in cold water forms a soft ball. Feel the ball with your fingers to make sure it is the right consistency. It should flatten when pressed between your fingers.

Remove from heat. Add nuts, butter and vanilla extract. Beat with a wooden spoon until the fudge loses its sheen. Do not under beat.

If using the sweetened condensed milk, just add to chocolate after it has melted, and stir in. Remove from heat and stir in nuts and vanilla. When using the sweetened condensed milk, there is no need for a candy thermometer.

Pour into prepared pan and let cool. Then place pan in the refrigerator for about 2 hours or until firm. Lift foil and all from pan, and cut into about 50 squares. Save fudge wrapped in plastic wrap. 

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National Strawberry Ice Cream Day 2015

National Strawberry Ice Cream Day 2015

Today, January 15, 2015 is National Strawberry Ice Cream Day (USA).

Ice cream is a frozen food usually made from dairy products, such as milk and cream and often combined with fruits or other ingredients and flavors.

Ancient civilizations have served ice for cold foods for thousands of years. Around 200 B.C the Chinese served a frozen mixture of milk and rice. During Nero’s time of ruling over the Roman Emperor (37–68 AD) he had ice brought from the mountains and had it mixed it with fruit.

Introduction of Ice Cream to Europe

In Europe the first recipe for flavored ices appears in France around 1674, and made its appearance to England in the 18th century. In 1718 in England’s capital, London, was published a book titled “Mrs. Mary Eales’s Receipts” which contained an ice cream recipe.

Ice Cream…A New Find in the New World

In the “New World” (USA) ice cream sodas was first introduced in 1874 and by the late 19th century the ice cream sundae came to be. During the American Prohibition (US outlawed the making and serving of any alcohol) the ice cream parlor to some extent replaced the outlawed bars and saloons.

In 1851, in the city Boston, the first commercial factory was built for the production of ice cream.

Eating Ice Cream To Your Hearts Delight

Americans are the number one consumers of ice cream, an average person living in the USA eats 48 pints of ice cream a year. In 2011 the total amount of ice cream consumed in the United States was 1.58 billion gallons.

To make one gallon of ice cream, it requires 192 ounces of milk. Dairy cows produce about 1024 ounces of milk in a day (about 128 8 oz. glasses of milk). That means, if we have calculated appropriately, one dairy cow makes approximately 5.5 gallons of ice cream every day.

Being Thankful for Ice Cream

Let’s give thanks to the cow for ice cream. Really without them, we would not have ice cream, nor would January 15th each year in the United States, be National Strawberry Ice cream Day.

For those of you who are adventurous and would like to make homemade ice cream, here is a recipe we found on food.com by Elizabeth Knicely.

The recipe calls for fresh strawberries. But if you are unable to find fresh ones at your local market, frozen will work as will.

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

3 cups fresh ripe strawberries, stemmed and sliced

4 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1⁄2 cups sugar

1 1⁄2 cups whole milk

2 3⁄4 cups heavy cream

1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl and stir. Allow to sit for up to 2 hours.

Strain berries and reserve the juices.

Puree half the berries.

In a medium bowl mix milk and remaining sugar until sugar is dissolved. Stir in heavy cream, leftover juice from the berry mixture, vanilla, and mashed strawberries.

Turn on Ice Cream Machine and pour mixture into the frozen freezer bowl for about 20 minutes.

Add the rest of the strawberries and mix for another 5 minutes.

A NOTE FROM Elizabeth Knicely…

The ice cream will be very soft and creamy. We transferred ours to a container and stuck it in the freezer for about an hour to thicken it up a little the way we like it.

I am looking forward to trying out some other new ice cream recipes now that I see just how easy it is to do! In fact, I have a container of blueberries in the kitchen that I think would be great in ice cream too!

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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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Ice Cream-Sundae Dark Chocolate Brownies

Ice Cream-Sundae Dark Chocolate Brownies

According to About.com (Inventors) this is what they had to say about the “History of the Ice Cream Sundae”, “In the mid-western parts of the  United States, laws were once passed that prohibited the selling of soda water on a Sunday. The town of Evanston, Illinois was one of the first town to pass such a law around the year 1890. As an alternative on Sundays, local soda fountains started selling ice cream sodas minus the soda, which left only the ice cream and syrup. That became the recipe of what was to become know known as the “ice cream sundae.”

It is written in the history books that ice cream can be traced back to at least the 4th century B.C. The Roman emperor Nero ( AD 37-68) ordered ice to be brought from the mountains and to be combined with fruit toppings.

The first ice cream maker was invented by Nancy Johnson in 1846. She patented her hand cranked freezer that established the basic method of making ice cream still used today.

Wikipedia says the first baked brownies came out of the oven in 1904. This is the earliest a brownie recipe, and appeared in a cook book, called “Home Cookery.

Since those inventions appeared on the scene,we now have an ice cream sundae brownies. Much like peanut butter and chocolate that came together back in the last half of the 20th century as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Ice Cream Trivia

According to the culinary magazine Food and Wine, President Ronald Reagan (US president 1981-89) declared July to be National Ice Cream month and the third Sunday of July to be the official National Ice Cream Day. This year that official National Ice Cream Day is July. 20, 2014.

We hope you enjoy your ice cream day and include this recipe as part of your day.

Ice Cream-Sundae Dark Chocolate Brownies

You will need:

  • Your favorite  ice cream
  • One Box of Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix or your favorite home made recipe
  • 2 muffin tins
  • Cooking spray
  • Chocolate sauce
  • Banana slices
  • Sprinkles
  • Nuts

Directions

  1. Follow the directions for your favorite brownie recipe to make the batter.
  2. Spray cups of a muffin tin with cooking spray, and add brownie batter to each cup until they’re about two-thirds full.
  3. Spray the second muffin tin, bottom side, with cooking spray and place on top of the first tin of brownies.
  4. Place in the oven and bake, following your brownie recipe’s directions.
  5. After the bowls are completely cooled, add a scoop of ice cream, top with chocolate sauce, nuts, sprinkles and a slice of banana. Enjoy!

Ice Cream Sundae Dark Chocolate Brownies

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Best Ever Strawberry Short Cake

Strawberry Short Cake

The days are getting longer and a little warmer. It still isn’t time yet for out door barbecuing. But strawberries are in season again. I bought 4 pounds at Costco for about $6.00. The time is right for Strawberry Short Cake. The recipe is adopted from the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine (BHG).

At our place we like to top the cake with real vanilla ice cream, but you can use whipped cream as well. The BHG recipe did use real whipped cream. Yummy!!

They also gave other ingredients you could add to the batter for other great flavors, such as

  1. Strawberry Lemon-Poppy Seed Shortcake
  2. Mixed Berry or Mixed Fruit Shortcake
  3. Strawberry-Nut Shortcake

Just link here if you want the recipes for those variations: Better Homes and Gardens.

The original recipe includes real cream to whip up as part of the topping, but I omitted it, as we use real vanilla ice cream.

Here is what you will need:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup cold butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (we used plain Greek yogurt)
3 tablespoons milk
5 cups sliced fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Grease an 8 x 1 1/2-inch round baking pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl combine flour, the 1/4 cup sugar, the baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Using the back of a spoon, make a well in the center of the flour mixture. In a small bowl stir together egg, sour cream, and milk. Add egg mixture to flour mixture all at once, stirring with a fork just until moistened.

Spread dough evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Using a small metal spatula or knife, loosen sides of shortcake. Place a wire rack on top of pan; place one hand on top of rack and other hand under pan and carefully invert pan with rack (use pot holders to protect your hands). Lift pan off shortcake. Cool on wire rack until completely cool.

Meanwhile, combine 4 cups of the strawberries and the 3 tablespoons sugar and set aside.

To serve, cut shortcake into 4 to 6 individual slices. Then cut  each slice in half horizontally. Place in a bowl and top with desired amount of strawberries and 1 to 2 scoops real vanilla ice cream.

strawberry short cake (2)

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Balsamic Vinegar Compliments More Than Just a Salad

Balsamic Vinegar Compliments More than Just a Salad

A balsamic vinaigrette dressing can turn a nominal green salad into a refreshing mixed fresh spring salad with a zest of Italian flair. Using an aged balsamic, adds a bit of gourmet into anyone’s kitchen. Send a bottle to a friend for a gift and you may turn their culinary world upside down.

“The keynote to happiness within the four walls that make any home is plain, wholesome, well cooked food, attractively served.” — Louis P. De Gouy

Balsamic Vinegar has an almost other worldly flavor that enhances nearly any food it touches. You can see a visible change on the face of someone who is trying Italian balsamic for the first time. Their face is transformed by awe and delight.

Cost and Quality

The cost of balsamic vinegar is tempered by the fact that a little bit goes a long way. Typical recipes use little more than ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar, so the cost of the bottle is generally offset by the long-term usefulness and good taste of the product.

Cooking Tips

You may be interested in knowing that balsamic vinegar is used for much more than an ingredient in salad dressings. For instance, aged balsamic vinegar can be added to a bowl of fresh strawberries.

If you are a fan of fresh vegetables you should know that balsamic vinegar can make a perfect marinade for grilled veggies such as bell peppers and eggplant. That same marinade can be used when grilling fish and chicken. Red meats can also gain a complimentary taste using an Italian balsamic like Villa Bellentani.

Adding balsamic vinegar to your favorite dish or recipe will, in fact, enhance the flavor, but heat mellows the taste and may be best applied after the cooking is finished.

The blending of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil results in an incredible accent to fresh seafood as well as to fresh asparagus and artichokes.

There are even exclusive ice creams that use balsamic vinegar to create a one of kind desert. Such as drizzling a small amount of thick balsamic vinegar over vanilla ice cream is a popular dessert in Europe.

Beware though of the very inexpensive varieties due to the fact that they are often developed using caramelized brown sugar (to add color and sweetness) and common vinegar. They may also include preservatives that you could be allergic to.

Flavors Infused with Balsamic Vinegar

There is the traditional balsamic vinegar or you can buy those that are infused with different flavors such as but not limit too:

  •  Chile Balsamic Vinegar
  • Garlic Cilantro Balsamic Vinegar
  • Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar
  • White Sesame Ginger Balsamic Vinegar
  • Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar
  • Cranberry Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic Vinaigrette Made Easy

Should you desire a homemade bottle of balsamic vinaigrette the instructions are as follows:

  • One part balsamic vinegar
  • Four to five parts olive oil
  • Season and pepper to taste

A teaspoon of mustard (Dijon is often preferred) per half cup of dressing

Additional ingredients can include chives, sage or finely chopped shallot or ginger root.

Image credit: cogipix / 123RF Stock Photo

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