I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet

Author Archive

Patricia Rain

is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of The Vanilla Company (www.vanillaqueen.com), a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide. She also does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest.

Easy Weeknight Chicken and Polenta

We all need something special, especially after a challenging day, whether we work from home, in an office, or especially if we’re cooking for a family. Easy Weeknight chicken and Polenta takes advantage of Marcella Hazen’s Three Ingredient Pasta Sauce. I keep a pint or two in my freezer for quick meals. Otherwise, keep a few bottles of your favorite store-bought pasta sauce in your pantry. Feel free to add minced garlic, herbs or whatever else you’d like to add more flavor and a dash of vanilla to soften the acidity.

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Guinness Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lime-Vanilla Frosting

 Adapted from David Lebovitz’ Ready for Dessert

In honor of Irish heritage (mine and a lot of other Americans who also have Irish ancestors), I wanted to make something special for those who celebrate St. Paddy’s Day. Unfortunately, the Irish are not known for their desserts. However, Guinness Stout is in every Irish pub and is the beverage of choice on March 17th.

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Mushroom Barley Soup

What’s not to love about soup? It doesn’t require a lot of kitchen experience to make a good soup. It’s warming, nutritious, and good any time of the day, especially when it’s chilly or wet outside or you’re under the weather. Further, soups are a great way to use up leftovers, and soup, like pasta, makes an inexpensive, comforting meal. I keep quarts of homemade soup in my freezer for all the reasons noted above, and Mushroom Barley Soup is one of my favorites.

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A Riff on Marcella Hazan’s 3 Ingredient Pasta Sauce

If the name, Marcella Hazan, doesn’t trigger immediate recognition, it’s understandable, as she slipped quietly into the American culinary world in the 1970s, bringing with her an introduction to a world of Italian cuisine quite different from the overcooked pasta, insipid tomato sauces and mediocre pizza Americans ate in the 1950s and 60s. (The difference was captured beautifully in the 1996 film, The Big Night, highly recommended if you are a fan of good Italian food.) 

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

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During my time in Devon, England, one of my goals was to try Sticky Toffee

Pudding. For those of you unaware of English vernacular, “pudding” is used interchangeably with “dessert” and includes cakes, and other baked goods. To add to the confusion, puddings can also be savory, such as Yorkshire Pudding, which is served with roast beef. So Sticky Toffee Pudding is actually a cake that can be baked or steamed and is smothered in a caramel-like sauce.

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Craft Cocktails Using Homemade Vanilla Rum

If you enjoy making and serving Craft Cocktails, then Vanilla Rum is a must-have in your home bar collection. Easy to make and most certainly versatile, Vanilla Rum is actually homemade extract made using a maceration process (soaking vanilla beans in spirits for at least six-to-eight weeks). While other spirits can be be used for making homemade extracts,

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Great Homemade Food Gifts for the Holidays!

The holidays are happening this minute! If you’re in deer-to-the-headlights mode, there’s still time to pull it together and make gifts for family and friends without needing to trek to the malls and deal with traffic jams and long lines. And, the good news is that homemade food gifts are far more appreciated than “stuff.” So roll up your sleeves and let’s get started.

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How to Make the Best Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Cordials

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Homemade vanilla extract is easy and fun to make. It often isn’t as strong as commercial vanilla extracts though it may have a larger flavor bouquet than extracts from the market. But the real pleasure is in making it for yourself or for giving as gifts. Before we get started, here’s some information about how commercial extracts are made. I’m including this information here as people have some misconceptions based on commercial versus homemade extracts.

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Pumpkin Muffins

Every autumn, as the temperatures drop, we are drawn to all things pumpkin and butternut squash. But is it really all about the squash or about the warming spices that bring these quintessential American foods to life? After all, winter squashes have a delicate flavor. The spices, on the other hand, were once worth a royal ransom and for good reason; they ignited our taste buds, warmed our bodies and provided an exotic pallet of flavors heretofore unknown in Europe. And who can dismiss the power of Pumpkin Muffins baking in the kitchen on a chilly late autumn or winter morning?

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Chilled Cucumber Soup with Dill and Vanilla

Don’t let the title throw you off — Cucumber Soup with Dill and Vanilla is delicious chilled on a hot day; room temperature or heated on a cool day, and refreshing any day. It is mild, with the lovely, subtle flavor of cucumber and the distinctive brightness of dill. If dill isn’t you’re favorite, substitute nutmeg — or live dangerously and add both.

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Fresh Berry Coffee Cake

 Living on the Central California Coast I almost feel guilty because of  the magnificent produce we have year ’round. This is especially true when the artichokes,  asparagus and fresh garlic start appearing in the markets in late March — the harbingers of spring. The strawberries aren’t quite ready but they’ll follow soon; by May the farmer’s markets are

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Persimmon and Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Pecans

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When the weather outside is cold and damp, salad isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m planning a meal. That said, salads are a refreshing contrast to a rich, heavy stew, a hearty grain dish, or roasted meat. I like the subtle sweetness and crispness of Fuyu persimmons and Japanese pears, but if neither is available or you prefer, substitute firm, crisp apples and grapes. The salty, sharp character of blue cheese balances the sweetness of the fruit. A good appetite stimulator! And trust me on the vanilla. It always brightens salads.

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Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Pumpkin and vanilla were meant for each other. Ditto with all the spices in this incredibly light, moist, delicious cake. Really, what could say autumn better than a freshly baked Pumpkin Chiffon Cake, a Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Spice Latte? Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate really fresh spices. I grate my nutmeg and grind allspice and cinnamon in a coffee grinder dedicated just for spices. The flavors really pop when they’re fresh. And our dear vanilla is the backup chorus once again, making sure all the flavors work synergistically.

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Crusted Baked Chicken with Mozzarella and Pesto

Recently I found an interesting re-do on Chicken Parmigiana in a magazine. The recipe came from  Kitchen Remix, by Clarkson Potter. I’m surprised that somehow I never had the wildly popular Chicken Parmigiana, or maybe I saw it on a menu but chose not to order it. Who knows? What caught my eye about this recipe is that this summer my teen grandsons are putting their stay-at-home time to good use by learning to cook. This delicious recipe sounded like the ideal easy chicken dish to teach them, from the crushed potato chip crust to the creamy mozzarella topping that could then be popped into warm buns with more melted cheese, and eaten as a sandwich.

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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