I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

The Queen’s Coeur a la Creme

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Coeur a la Creme is rarely seen on dessert menus, which is too bad as it’s both rich and light at the same time, a perfect accompaniment to fresh berries and stone fruits and fun with lightly sweetened, crisp cookies. It’s also lovely with sliced pound or chiffon cake. I clearly remember the first time I had it. It was 1978

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Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala has been around since the 19th century, but it’s well worth dusting off and enjoying. The recipe itself  probably originated in Western Sicily within a community of British ex-patriots in the region where Marsala wine is produced. 

Not only is it an entree you can have on the table in roughly 30 to 45 minutes or less, it’s a one-pan-dish, it makes its own gravy via a reduction sauce, there’s a romantic edge to it, and it appears far more complicated to prepare than it actually is.

Serve with polenta, a wild rice and basmati pilaf, risotto, or roasted new potatoes.

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Vanilla Creme Eggs

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Crème Eggs – Time honored store bought confections indicating the arrival of spring ­– Now available at your fingertips!

With the crack of their hard chocolate shell revealing syrupy yolk centers, these decadent treats have been delighting kids and adults for generations. Candies that have traditionally been available annually, can now be yours the whole year through. This recipe, adapted from Food 52, will light up your dessert buffet.

Wanting to take a more sophisticated approach? With the simple modification of removing the yellow centers, this recipe can easily be transformed, resulting in delicate vanilla crèmes.

Enjoy!

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Cherry-Vanilla Rugelach

Melissa Clark wrote about Cherry Rugelach in the NY Times saying, that bakers should have as much fun making this recipe as eating them, and that they are “sturdy and pretty” so ideal for giving as gifts, holidays or not. Being the Vanilla Queen, I tampered with the recipe right away by adding a bit more  vanilla, because we all know that Montmorency cherries always go better with extra vanilla!

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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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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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Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce

No Cranberry Sauce with the turkey? A few years ago there was a cranberry shortage and word spread quickly. Within a few weeks, there were no packages available in the markets. Fortunately, this year, we’re in far better shape. This is a good thing as everyone knows we need cranberry sauce with turkey! They’re both native to the Americas, along with Maple Syrup, allspice and vanilla.

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

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