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Cooking with Vanilla

Exotic, fragrant, and luscious (and, at the same time, a hard-working everyday spice) vanilla is downright indispensable in cooking. Vanilla's full, rich taste is crucial in cookies, cakes, custards, ice creams, fruit dishes, sodas, puddings and frostings. It even enhances an occasional savory dish (it's delicious with seafood).

Vanilla seems to boost the sweetness of foods, and it partners well with many other flavors. Choose the real, deal, though—authentic, quality vanilla, made from handpicked vanilla bean pods.

Home cooks most often use convenient vanilla extract, an amber, fragrant liquid that's made by steeping vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol and water. But if you love vanilla, you'll want to experiment with the whole vanilla bean, too. Quality beans are plump (full of seeds) and juicy; they can be sliced lengthwise in order to scrape out some of the pulp and seeds. The open pod is often added to dishes, such as sauces and teas, too, while cooking or brewing.

While artificial vanilla is less expensive per ounce than real vanilla extract, it has one flavor compound, vanillin, compared with pure vanilla, which has over 250 flavor and aroma compounds. (Synthetic vanilla is often made from wood pulp, and lesser quality vanilla is often adulterated with other products, such as tonka beans. Neither comes close to matching the taste and potency of pure vanilla extract.)

Keep in mind that it only takes a little vanilla to flavor an uncooked dish. But because the flavor dissipates upon cooking, you'll want to add it at the end of cooking dishes such as sauces.

10 Uses for Vanilla

Open any cookbook and you'll find a myriad of recipes calling for vanilla. But don't limit yourself to recipes! Here are some ideas for making use of this very popular spice from morning to night:

  • Add to oatmeal and other hot cereals. Or use to flavor milk to pour on cold cereals.
  • Add to pancake batter and French toast batter.
  • Stir into dipping sauce for shrimp.
  • Add to applesauce or any other cooked fruit.
  • For a relaxing, aromatic evening beverage, add to warm milk with honey at bedtime.
  • Make Mexican hot cocoa by adding vanilla and cinnamon to your traditional hot cocoa.
  • Add to potpourris for an inviting scent.
  • Make vanilla bean sugar. (In fact, this is the best way to store your vanilla beans.) Simply place vanilla beans in your sugar jar, using a couple of beans for five pounds of sugar. Vanilla bean sugar is delicious in beverages and can also be used for baked goods.
  • Use to make a cream soda. Simply add to sparkling water and sweeten to taste. (Add a little milk for a creamier beverage.)
  • Make your own vanilla extract: Split a couple of vanilla beans lengthwise. Scrape some of the seeds into 1 cup of brandy, then place the whole beans in the brandy. Cover and keep in a cool place for a couple of months, shaking occasionally.

Try some of these terrific recipes featuring Simply Organic Vanilla:

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting makes a delightful dessert for the holiday season, whether or not company is coming!
Pumpkin Pie Parfait is deceptively easy to make and a fun alternative to baked desserts.
Vanilla Bourbon Bread Pudding makes a perfect holiday treat.
Vanilla Date Smoothie offers a nutritional (and delicous) breakfast.
Vanilla Soda Bread is the perfect recipe for vanilla lovers. Serve it with a cup of hot cocoa.

When it comes to kitchen staples, vanilla is one spice you won't want to be without!

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