Fearless Fridays: How to Use and Re-Use Your Vanilla Beans

This weekend you may come across a recipe that calls for a vanilla bean. Vanilla beans nowadays seem to be more common in cookbook recipes or as an ingredient in your favourite baked good.

Multiple uses for vanilla beans Using vanilla beans seems to be quite an investment when purchasing them in the grocery store or specialty food store.  So if you want to jump in with your feet first when working with vanilla (other than extract), here are some handy tips to use them and make them go farther than just one recipe!

How to use a vanilla bean:

Using the tip of a knife, slice the vanilla bean lengthwise. Then, using the back of your knife with slight pressure, scrape out the small black seeds. Use for any recipe that you would like to be vanilla flavoured, for example like cookies, custards, ice cream, buttercreams and cakes.

At this point you have many options to use the vanilla bean a second time. You can:

1.)    Infuse a hot liquid with the whole bean. Scrape out the bean as explained above . Then place the whole bean into the liquid. This will give the liquid an intense flavour with all the essence extracted from the bean with no waste. Once it has been in for 5-10 minutes or the duration of the cooking time, you can then strain it out.

Example for use: Ice cream, jam, caramel, simple syrup.

2.)    Dry the vanilla bean at room temperature for 1-2 days after you have scraped out the seeds for any recipe. Leave it on the counter in a cool dry area. Using a food processor or a clean coffee grinder, coarsely grind the dried pod. Keep in an air tight container. At a later use, you can add to any hot liquid to infuse vanilla flavour. Before serving, strain through a fine mesh sieve.

Examples for use: Custard, preserves that need to be strained, milk.

3.)    Make vanilla sugar. This can be made in  two ways; add a whole dried, scraped out pod to a container of granulated sugar or add the coarsely ground bean as explained in example two into a jar of granulated sugar. Using the whole bean will give a beautiful aroma and flavour to your sugar and using the ground bean will give you flecks of vanilla throughout the sugar.

Examples for use: Baked good recipes, in your coffee, rolled cookies, or dust on donuts.

4.)    Make vanilla vodka. Place a vanilla bean inside a vodka bottle and let infuse for one week before use.

Examples for use: Vanilla martinis or in any vodka based drink.

Multiple uses for vanilla beans

Happy Halloween!

I have fond memories of trick or treating when I was young with my brother and parents.  But as a kid with a peanut allergy, there were so many restrictions.

Every kid who has food allergies or restrictions should not feel like they are missing out on fun on Halloween. But it is so important to stay safe this time of year.

When I look back, my parents were really good at explaining to me the risks involved when gathering candy from neighbours with my peanut allergy and the rules that went along with my trick or treating days….

  • Wear your fanny pack of your medicine (and it NEVER matched my costume!!!!)
  • Do not eat anything while out collecting until there was a full inspection at home
  • Do not consume anything without the OK from parents.

Two of my mom’s strategies to not restrict my fun and keep me safe were

  • keeping sweets at home that she would trade for all of the candy I collected
  • bringing any peanut candy or treats to other peanut safe households with no dietary restrictions there.

Happy Halloween and safe trick or treating!

Fearless Fridays: Quiche

 Bacon Herb Quiche made in a peanut and fish free environment because I have allergies and have anaphylaxisTwo weeks ago J and I had no ideas for a Saturday lunch because of the lack of groceries in our house.  After opening all cupboards, freezers and the fridge we came to realize that we had enough to make a quiche! We had bacon…and fresh herbs!

Now, hear me out. I KNOW not everyone keeps a ball of pastry dough or a pre shaped crust in their freezer. (Seriously, why wouldn’t you!) But what people do have access to if they do not want to make their own dough is store bought crust.  I have also had success in making quiche that does not have a crust!I have also had success in making quiche that does not have a crust. Pouring directly into a baking dish gave me the same results as using a crust would. What a great gluten-free option! I think everyone should try and make their own crust though, even one time. Maybe a post should come shortly on that about pie dough.

Quiche is a great and easy recipe to make for a breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Quiche is a baked custard dish. It involves a ratio of eggs and dairy (milk or cream) plus any ingredient you choose to add to the recipe. Once you have the liquid proportion down that you enjoy most, the world is yours in your quiche! Just remember some tips about the milk, the higher the fat content…the creamier the consistency in your quiche. So if you are using skim milk the filling would be more watery than if you were to use a half and half cream at 6% which would result in a firmer and more well rounded flavour (fat is flavour!).

Bacon Herb Quiche made in a peanut and fish free environment because I have allergies and have anaphylaxisBacon and Fresh Herb Quiche 

I find a lot of recipes do not call for blind baking (pre-cooking) their crust.  For me personally, the added step of pre-cooking my crust yields a super crunchy crust that is never soggy.

I cup light cream (6%)
3 large eggs
¼  tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper (or fresh cracked black pepper)
4 strips of bacon chopped (cooked until fat is rendered but not yet crisp)
1 tbsp fresh chopped chives (or 1 tsp dried chives)
1 tbsp fresh chopped oregano (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
1 tsp  fresh chopped thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
1/2 cup soft goat cheese

For a pre-baked 9” pie crust or greased baking dish.
If you are not pre baking a pie crust, add an extra 20-30 minutes of baking time to the recipe.

In a bowl, whisk eggs and cream together. Add salt, pepper and herbs.

Sprinkle over the bottom of the pie crust the bacon and half the cheese. Pour the filling over the crust and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until quiche has puffed up and the top is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Bacon Herb Quiche made in a peanut and fish free environment because I have allergies and have anaphylaxisOther flavour combinations!
Broccoli and Cheddar
Asparagus and Spinach with Smoked Gouda
Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese
Caramelized Onions with Thyme and Mozzarella
Mushroom and Bacon

Salted Caramel Popcorn with Vanilla for the Win

Salty delicious treats such as caramel popcorn tend to not be made in a peanut free facility or come from a source that can be trusted. Popular major brands of caramel corn also love to add peanuts in the mix.

Why be deprived when you can make it at home yourself in a safe environment?

This salty sweet treat is easy, quick and inexpensive to make. So many people on the internet have given me not only the inspiration to make caramel popcorn but the tools to make it awesome!

Because of this blog I came across someone who had a success story due to Aimee’s recipe for Caramel Popcorn and a “Perfect Popcorn” recipe post from Elise. Now I had all the tools to be a success story too!  Thank you!

I also tried out this recipe from Anna Olson from the Food Network site which inspired me to add more salt. (Huge fan of salted caramels…)

I had no idea how easy it was to make this snack at home. I now have tried multiple recipes (now that I am addicted) including ones from Anna Olson (omitting the peanuts of course!!!!!) and Aimee’s blog (omitting the pecans of course!!!!)

Salted Caramel Popcorn with Vanilla

 This makes a lot of popcorn! When making it for the first time or if you are not sharing, I suggest making half the amount. It can also makes half the mess if you bake like me and love to spill! I enjoy to make it in a roasting pan because the high lip on the pan helps to contain popcorn when I toss it at any point.

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup popcorn kernels
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 250F. Line a large roasting pan with parchment paper or a silicon mat; set aside. Pop popcorn kernals in any way you desire (air popper, microwave, stovetop).  Transfer to a large stainless steel or ceramic bowl. Place in preheated oven to stay warm while you make the caramel.

Cook sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until it comes to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until it reaches 255 degrees or five minutes exactly from the boiling point if you do not have a thermometer. (It is a risk but I have tried this method with success.)

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla extract, salt, and baking soda. Pour over popcorn mixture; toss to coat. Pour into roasting pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and toss lightly.  Bake, stirring every 20 minutes for 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool on wire racks. Popcorn can be stored in airtight containers up to 1 week.

It is important to use a good quality salt when sprinkling overtop the popcorn. It will give the finished popcorn a savoury mild flavour which will accent the caramel and popcorn instead of giving it a “salty “flavour. At this moment in my kitchen my finishing salt happens to be “Maldon Sea Salt” which I sprinkle over top once I have stirred in the caramel through the popcorn. The result is sparatic hits of deliciousness.

I LOVE caramel popcorn! A treat for all ages! If stored in an airtight container it will stay fresh for one week. This indulgent recipe is great for a trip, in a paper bag for goodie take home treats or in a glass jar with a scoop for a party. (Or DON’T make it and let me continue to make it for you for your birthday or Christmas!)

A New Friday Theme

I am flattered that my blog name sometimes gets called “fabulous” as an alternative to “fearless”. My friend B has inspired me this week with an idea to combine the two words for a new weekly Friday blog called “Fabulous Fearless Fridays”.

Each Friday I hope to inspire you with a new recipe, idea or meal plan for the upcoming weekend.  Sometimes an extra bit of motivation and encouragement is all one needs to be creative with food.  It has been an honour to have such an enthusiastic audience since the beginning of my blogging journey.  Thank you to you all who listen to my stories.  And thank you for stirring my creative juices. I have enjoyed taking pictures each day to post along with food ideas and information.

As with all my posts, it will be PEANUT, FISH and SHELLFISH free. I also hope to encourage myself in the future to create gluten-free recipes and make other substitutions.

FearlessFoods Goes Camping Part 2

Camping should be a relaxing way to unwind from the hustle of the city. I love to go camping but I am a bit “indoorsy” so I do like to bring the luxury of my indoor kitchen with me to the woods.

A trick for me when I go camping is to make a great meal plan for the duration of the trip and precook at home. Not only does this help me not forget small miscellaneous items (like a can opener or cheese grater) but it helps me create a meal that is exciting, healthy and hits all dietary restrictions.  Long gone is a meal plan that includes tuna salad sandwiches for lunch, peanut butter on toast and boxed convenience foods.

I found with thirty minutes of advanced kitchen time at my house I am able to make quick, delicious and scrumptious snacks. It also cuts down the amount of preparation time of meats if you choose to cook raw products at a campsite.

Some ideas of what to make in advance before a trip to make cooking a breeze:

–          Boil local nugget or baby potatoes for hash browns in the morning (there has been so many times I have been unable to roast potatoes on the fire the night because of a fire ban!)

–          Pancake mix ( the dry ingredients  in a bag and the wet ingredients in a litre mason jar)

–          Cut up vegetables for dinners and fruits for snacks

–          Fresh dips for veggies or a spread for sandwiches

–          Pre marinated meats for barbequing

–          Fresh seasoned ground meat for hamburgers

–          Yummy allergy friendly baked goods to curb any cravings for something sweet so everyone can enjoy a treat no matter what restrictions.

Some ideas of what to pack to take on a camping trip when travelling in a group if you have allergies or anaphylaxis:

–          Salt and pepper from a safe source (I bring my pepper grinder and salt in a mason jar) for no chance of cross contamination

–          Personal plates, serving utensils and cutlery

–          Your own cutting board

–          Knife

–          Dish cloth and dish towels

–          Easy and food-safe snacks for the road

–          Personal frozen water bottles to double as ice packs so there is no sharing of water bottles

–          Fresh herbs from the garden to make dull dinners or sandwiches delicious

Homemade roasted garlic tzaziki made in a peanut and fish free kitchen in Vancouver because I have anaphylaxis. Served on top a marble slab and stored in mason jars.Roasted Garlic Tzatziki

When working with a long English cucumber, cutting the cucumber lengthwise and removing the seeds give the dip a thicker consistency. For an even drier consistency, place the grated cucumber into a towel or cheesecloth and wring out any juice. I find when working with baby cucumbers there is no need to peel or seed when making this dip.

500 ml Greek yogurt

1 tbsp olive oil

½ cup grated cucumber

2 tbsp chopped mint

1 head roasted garlic, pureed

Juice and zest of ½ a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and mint in a bowl until well combined. Add yogurt and cucumber and mix thoroughly. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and store in the fridge and let sit one hour before serving. For a stronger flavour, let sit overnight.

Homemade roasted garlic tzaziki made in a peanut and fish free kitchen in Vancouver because I have anaphylaxis. Served on top a marble slab and stored in mason jars top left and bottom right. Mint leaves from the garden.

FearlessFoods Goes Camping Part 1

A couple years ago our family planned a trip to a local island to go camping.While packing I had my mind on other things but remained organized enough to make salted caramel popcorn though, recipe here).

At the ferry terminal, as we inched pasted the long line of cars and passed through the booth, the manic search for my purse occurred. Due to the rush to get out the door to “relax” I had forgotten not only my wallet and cell phone…but the more important medicine for my food allergies. I couldn’t continue this trip without my medicine so I parted ways with my family and went home while they continued on. The guilt of forgetting my medicine and missing a vacation was a feeling I would never forget.

We all look back and laugh…and caramel corn made the rainy weather more tolerable.

I am heading out on my first family camping trip of the season.  I am super excited to get out on the road to vacation in the woods.  Where the main focus is everyone catching up on sleep and seeing how much food we can stuff in our faces. An important time to be organized and ready for any events that could arise!

As an adult with anaphylaxis, I’m in control of my decisions and take full responsibility for my actions when it comes to my safety. I chose to travel with people who are dependable and conscientious because they make me feel at ease.

Road trips always include my mental “safety first” checklist:

  • Who am I travelling with?
  • How long am I going to be out of my house?
  • Do I have enough food for that amount of time?
  • Do I have all of my medicine?
  • Is everyone that I am travelling with aware of my allergies?

This year I’ve prepared a travel kit for my household for when we travel in a car. These are things I that stay in the trunk of my care .  A trip to the dollar store, a discount grocery store and previous purchased items made this an under $5 project.

In a plastic bin:

  • A box of tissues (great in a box because they do not smush and also do not get damp or fall out when camping.
  • Disinfectant wipes (doors, tables etc but also good for minor cuts or accidents in the woods)
  • Sanitizer
  • Biodegradable toilet paper (just in case!)

It is simple technique and most already do this especially if they have kids. But it has a convenience and a place when travelling which makes it an important safely must.

Summer Time, Waffle Cones and Sunny Days

Waffle cone components needed to make recipe in a peanut-free kitchen. I have anaphylaxis Summer does not equal rain in most cities, but here in Vancouver that is how the recent weather has been treating us. But keep your chin up! Everyone is still wearing shorts, visiting their local farmers market and filling their kitchens with summertime produce.  I am sorry for the lack of sunshine my little tomato and basil plants!

Since the weather is not a scorcher outside, I am still able to turn on the oven guilt free. This means that J can enjoy warm strawberry rhubarb cobbler, roasted asparagus and brown rice pilaf all from the joy of the oven. (If it was a scorcher though, all of these could be done on the barbeque!!)

But any weather should involve ice cream. Anyone with a peanut allergy should be able to enjoy ice cream .

Like many, my allergies give me the misfortune to not be able to experience ice cream from a restaurant or local cafe. With flavours like peanut butter or pistachio, never mind the shops that have over a hundred flavours like seaweed and tuna, it is not safe for anyone with a nut allergy to eat safely in a cafe. So my choices are either to make it myself or recently I have been enjoying Avalon Ice cream that I am purchasing from my local green grocer. It is made in a peanut free facility.  If you are eating ice cream or waffle cones that are store bought, please make sure you find a brand that is made in a facility that is made without the contamination of ingredients you are allergic to. Always check the ingredient list! You can also call the 1-800 number of the company and ask them any questions if you have any hesitations.

The weather is perfect outside (right now…) to enjoy ice cream in these waffle cone bowls. They will be filled later with vanilla ice cream and apple rhubarb compote.

Homemade waffle cones for summer made in a peanut-free kitchen Waffle Cones

1 cup flour

¾ cup sugar

1 egg

½ cup milk

¼ cup water

1 tbsp melted butter

2 tsp vanilla

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the rest of the wet ingredients and beat with a wire whisk.

Pour 2 to 3 tablespoons into waffle iron until golden brown. Remove and immediately press into any shape you desire.

For a crispier cone, add an additional one or two tablespoons of water into the batter.

Avalon Dairy- http://www.avalondairy.com/products.html

Check Your Labels!

Foods in Canada have to declare all ingredients that are present in foods. Recently a bill in Canada has been passed that all “hidden” allergens, gluten or sulphates need to be declared in the food product. This will be in complete effect by August 4, 2012, but already many companies are adjusting their labels.

Food Allergy Labelling Regulations:  http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/nr-cp/_2011/2011_23-eng.php

Checking the ingredient list is very important when purchasing food or products if you are concerned with allergens being present. If you (or people you are serving/buying food for) have allergies, this is a very important place to confirm that it is safe.

 Note: people who are allergic to certain ingredients may not feel comfortable consuming items that say “May contain traces of…”, or “Made in a facility that processes…”

1.)    Check all labels for the ingredient list.

2.)    Keep all packaging if you are serving guests with anaphylaxis or allergies to be able to show them if they want to read the information themselves.

3.)    Do not assume a product is safe just because it is something you or your guest is not allergic to. There could be trace amounts or hidden ingredients written on the label. (i.e.- pesto contains tree nuts, Caesar salad has anchovies, sauces may contain soy)

4.)    Ingredients can change in your favourite store bought foods! Do not take this for granted and always check.

5.)     Submit questions to the company who made it if you have any questions or concerns.

6.)    If it is not you with the allergy but a guest, never hesitate to ask questions about allergies or ingredients. This shows your concern, and it is not at all annoying even if it is the twentieth time.

7.)    If you are hesitant about the ingredients, DO NOT CONSUME!

In my many years of travel, I have read numerous labels.  It is crazy how many items I took for granted to be safe that I did not consider safe to my standards. For example, when I was backpacking in New Zealand I did not always have access to a full kitchen so I tried to purchase some processed items like sauces or dry ingredients when cooking on the go. Always making my own pasta sauce at home, I never experienced purchasing it until New Zealand. I was shocked that when in the pasta aisle that out of twenty options, only ONE did not contain items I was not allergic to or was not processed in a fish, shellfish or peanut free facility. It drove travel companions nuts to find something that was suitable for me to eat with them. “What the heck do you eat!!?!?!”

But, I’ve never gone hungry.

Berries + Blender = Long Weekend

Local Vancouver strawberries made into daiquiri made my someone with anaphylaxis

Happy Canada Day Weekend!

How should you celebrate the long weekend? By enjoying local strawberries and a blended alcoholic beverage of course!

This quick post will inspire you to grab your blender, score some fresh strawberries from the market and use the ice in your freezer.



Strawberry Daiquiri –Serves Two

Tip: To hull a strawberry, use a sharp knife and pierce the top underneath the leaves. Circle around the centre of the strawberry making a complete round using the sharp tip of the knife. This should remove both the white centre and the leaves.

Two shots white rum

Juice of one lime

Juice of one lemon

1 Tbsp simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)

Handful of strawberries (approx. eight medium strawberries)

Scoop of ice

Place all ingredients into a blender. Process until smooth and thick, pour into glasses and serve immediately.

Handful of strawberries for strawberry daiquaris