Enough customers have asked us this question that I realized that although I’ve mentioned this information in passing in blogs, we needed a blog that addresses this important question. My hope is that this will assist all of you who aren’t quite sure about the best way to preserve your products.
Gourmet quality vanilla beans should be flexible, ideally with an oily sheen, and they should smell rich and fragrant. A lot of people have been surprised when they first purchase vanilla beans from us as they’re accustomed to the dry beans in the tube or other packaging they’ve purchased from the supermarket. Very likely they were flexible and oily when they arrived at the market, but the low humidity and bright lights make vanilla beans dry out very quickly.
So how do you store them? It helps to keep the beans in the heavy plastic packaging they arrived in when mailed. You can then put the beans and packaging in a glass or plastic jar or box. Store in a cool dark place like a cupboard away from the stove or, even in a closet. If you live in an area that is both hot and humid area, the beans can be stored in a glass jar without the plastic packaging. Beans are most comfortable when the temperature ranges from 60 degrees F (15.5 C) to 85 degrees F (29 C). Don’t store in the refrigerator or freezer! Although some customers have reported success, we don’t recommend it. The beans can dry out or rot depending on the humidity in the refrigerator. They typically become hard and the oils will dry out in the freezer.
Depending on how long Bourbon or Mexican beans are stored, they may develop small vanillin crystals, which are sometimes confused with mold. Take one or more beans outside to the sunshine. If they glitter in the light, you have natural vanillin crystals, which means they’re extremely high quality beans. The crystals are edible.
If, however, the beans smell badly and the white, powdery substance doesn’t glitter, it’s mold. You can “rehabilitate” the beans if the mold hasn’t permeated all the beans. First, separate out any beans with mold from the clean beans. Wipe the beans thoroughly with a paper towel or clean cloth. Now, wipe them very carefully with a damp towel. Allow the beans to dry completely and place them in a clean freezer bag and store them separately from the uninfected beans. If the mold reappears, they should be thrown out.
One last detail. Sometimes you will see brown streaks on the packaging. These are the volatile oils on and in the vanilla beans. You do want to make sure that the beans aren’t sweating in the packaging because the room where they’re stored is too warm or too humid. Conversely, you don’t want too dry an environment or the beans will dry out. Even if beans become dry over time, they will rehydrate if they are put in a warm liquid. For instance, you can still use dry beans by heating them in cream or milk if you are making ice cream, custards, puddings, etc. They can also be used for making extracts. Very dry beans can be ground in a clean coffee or spice grinder. Remove the tips at each end of the vanilla bean before grinding for best success.
Vanilla extract contains 35% alcohol by law, which translates to 70 proof. What this means is that extracts typically age and become more mellow and flavorful over the next year or two, assuming you haven’t used it up already. Extracts do best in temperatures from 55 degrees F ( 12.8 C) and 80 degrees F (26.6 C) and away from light. Store in a cool, dark cupboard away from the stove or oven.
Why we use plastic bottles for extracts in pints, quarts and gallons. While glass bottles (especially dark colored glass bottles) are the optimal container to store extracts, from a seller’s point of view, this works well only in small sizes. Restaurant and bakery kitchens typically purchase vanilla extract in pints-to-gallons. If a glass bottle shatters in a kitchen, everything shuts down while the glass is cleaned up. Anyone who has had a bottle or drinking glass shatter knows how small the shards can be and how far those shards can travel. Commercial kitchens want everything possible in plastic to avoid this dangerous issue. As a result, we bottle pints, quarts and gallons in plastic.
The second reason we use plastic is because glass is heavier and more fragile than plastic. As a customer this means your package is more likely to arrive intact and for less money than if we used glass. Feel free to decant the extract into a glass container if you wish. The plastic is food grade, but it will keep as well in glass as in plastic.
Ground Vanilla Bean Powder
Store ground vanilla bean powder in the same way you would store vanilla beans. The ground powder typically keeps its flavor for at least a year if stored properly.
Vanilla paste is a combination of a triple strength extract and ground vanilla bean powder. Although it contains natural sugars, it does not have added sugar. As a result, it should be stored in the refrigerator once it has been opened. As long as the paste is kept in the original container, it will typically last at least a year in the refrigerator.
Natural Vanilla Flavor
Our natural vanilla flavor is a blend of pure vanilla extract and natural vanillin derived from plants other than vanilla. It should be stored in a cool, dark cupboard in the same way as pure vanilla extract.
Can it really be possible to have summertime without frozen desserts? Anyone who fondly remembers the ice cream truck or going to an ice cream parlor and indulging in some of the amazing options, would agree that it would be a pretty boring summer without ice cream dripping down our sleeves whether it’s a simple bowl of frozen sweetness or indulging in a sundae, milkshake or popsicles.
Washington State may well remember 2017 for the abundance of its sweet cherries from the Yakima Valley. The record crop came in late but the fruit has continued for nearly two months, with unusually low prices and delicious, plump fruit. For those of us who nearly turn into myna birds during cherry season, it has been cause for celebration.
Several years ago I had a terrific recipe for shortcake biscuits. Naturally, I lost it. I didn’t know this, of course, when I decided that it would be the perfect dessert to bring to a party I was attending. Even though it was late in the season, the warm, sunny days we’ve had has meant a never-ending abundance of strawberries and, even as I write this, it appears it’s far from finished.
No one I’ve ever known has declined a piece of fresh, homemade pie. Although some version of pie is eaten in nearly all cultures, fruit pies are an American institution, and it isn’t limited to apple! After writing this last sentence, I wondered if the expression came about because of Johnny Appleseed’s having started apple tree nurseries across many of our midland states at a time when women made pies (often for breakfast), because they required less flour than bread. But no, it apparently was an increasingly common expression beginning in the 1920s attesting the goodness of all things American. Okay, back to pie.
Burrata, how I love thee and all your creamy deliciousness! If you’ve never tasted burrata, it may be time to treat yourself. It’s the rich cousin of fresh mozarella, which by the way, is infinitely more delicious than its other cousin, the more easily available, rubbery, vacuum-packaged mozarella. Burrata has an outer shell made from Mozarella, that is like a pouch. Cream and stringy curd pieces are stuffed into the pouch, so when it’s cut open, there’s a wonderful creaminess that keeps the interior of the ball deliciously soft and rich and leaks out onto the plate.
In late March I received an e-mail from Simran Sethi requesting an interview regarding the cyclone that struck Madagascar two weeks earlier and how it would impact the already troubled vanilla market. I responded that I would be happy to talk and a date and time were set. What happened next was serendipity. Within a few minutes of our meeting, Simran and I realized we have been traveling the same path with the same concerns and seeking the same outcomes on behalf of those who grow the foods we all love that are becoming endangered in ways that most of the world is unaware.
Recently I reconnected with a recipe I learned to make from a boat maker on the West Marin coast. He was raising his four children alone and, as they reached their teens, they rotated cooking chores, with each of them specializing in a type of cuisine. It made meals varied and interesting. Weekends, as I recall, were negotiable and depended on who was home. Ed’s specialty was Chinese; Master Sauce Chicken and Eggs Foo Young. While the latter was good, I fell in love with Master Sauce Chicken, as the sauce can be reused in a number of different ways. (One of my favorites is to use it over meatloaf instead of ketchup.)
There’s nothing quite so frustrating as coming home from work tired and hungry, gazing into the refrigerator, then retreating because there’s nothing that says “make this” in there. We’ve all been there. I admit that packaged tomato soup and scrambled eggs have gotten me through several moves and writing deadlines. However, award winning cookbook author, Barbara Kafka, has helpful solutions for all kinds of daily culinary dilemmas and her 15 minute pasta solution is brilliant. Made with ingredients you are likely to have around (though I doubt everyone has heavy cream waiting for just the right moment), this pasta recipe is delicious, filling, and with a few additional ingredients, scores as healthy too.
Fresh salmon is amazing. Ask any bear living along the Pacific Coast, and it will fully agree, assuming it’s not considering you as its next meal. It is rich, meaty, and delicately flavored. As a result, whether you cook it over a fire, grill it, or prepare it in the oven, the sauce should enhance, not overpower, the salmon.
Can we ever have too many recipes using chicken? Amazingly enough, while meat consumption is down, Americans eat about 60 pounds of chicken a year which breaks down to about five pounds a month. So, in my opinion, the answer is no! And, if rotisserie chicken grabbed on the go is your default (and even if it isn’t), it’s time to try something deliciously different. You can prepare the chicken up to two days ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. This also allows the flavors to fully develop.
Spring farmers’ markets and produce stores are so wonderful to peruse and fill our bags and baskets with their deliciousness. Finally, choices other than kale, cabbage and iceberg lettuce! Everything just pops and begs to be eaten — lettuces, baby spinach, leeks, garlic shoots, baby carrots, English peas, snap peas, asparagus, fava beans, even little zucchinis and squash blossoms. Woo-hoo! Sadly, some things are harder to find, specifically artichokes. This is a big blow for people like me who adore them. The problem? A lack of bio-diversity.
Risotto, when it’s good, is right up there on my comfort food list. I never had risotto, polenta or gnocchi until I was an adult as pasta was the signature Italian dish where I was growing up. For all I knew, pizza, spaghetti, meatballs, and lasagne were what Italians ate every night.
From Desserts in Jars 50 Sweet Treats that Shine by Shaina Olmanson
Courtesy of Weezie Mott
Weezie Mott ran a cooking school in Alameda. She and her husband, lived in Italy for several years and later led European culinary tours for years. When Weezie served me this cake, it was love at first bite. I immediately asked for the recipe and promised my undying loyalty. It’s a little labor intensive, but you will receive so much praise for your effort that you won’t mind in the end.
Saffron has been a coveted spice used by people across many cultures for roughly 3,500 years. A little more than 200 years ago England was the world’s largest producer of saffron, growing it in the loamy soil in Essex County. Interestingly enough, David Smale has revived the art of growing saffron near the village of Saffron Walden. The town’s name was changed to its current moniker during the Middle Ages when saffron was first grown there.
It appears that saffron is a flavor we either love or loathe. I’m in the love camp, and thoroughly enjoy a good, earthy paella and tagine as well as freshly baked saffron bread tinted a delicate shade of yellow and with the slightly bitter flavor of this valuable stigma of the autumn crocus. I also drink saffron as a decaffinated tea, as it contains numerous health benefits, and a well made ice cream, redolent with saffron is a rare treat.
While a chilly winter day complete with snow flurries is thrilling in November or December, by March who needs it, especially a late season blizzard or ice storm! And it isn’t just the weather. Market produce looks tired (except for the kale and cabbage), and finding good lettuce can be a fantasy . While I now live near America’s “salad bowl,” I was born in Cleveland, so I know how winter can drag on and on.
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.
When it comes to good food, Southern Louisiana does not disappoint! Along with a bountiful harvest of seafood and the combination of traditional Southern, Creole and Cajun cooking, they’ve enriched our national cuisine with Jambalaya, Etouffee, Gumbo, Po’Boy’s — and that’s just a few of their long list of specialties.