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

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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!

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!)