Vanilla and Its Uses During The Holidays

Author – Carolyn Washburn


Enhance the flavor of your favorite cooking recipes with the vanilla bean.

Vanilla flavoring is a desirable sweet flavor that is used in many recipes from cookies and candies to drinks. Vanilla comes as an extract, powder and paste. These forms of vanilla come from beans that are grown on an orchid plant. Growers pollinate the long pods and ferment them for about 6 months before harvesting. This laborious process results in the flavoring becoming one of the most expensive. To cook with vanilla beans, you simply split open the pod and scrape out the pulpy seeds inside.  Each pod will have tiny seeds that have a strong vanilla aroma.

An imitation vanilla extract is made from synthetic flavorings with alcohol and may not be quite as desirable as an authentic vanilla flavor.

Vanilla beans take on the flavor and aroma from where they are grown. The most common types of beans are grown primarily in Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti. The Madagascar bean (also known as a bourbon bean) is very thin and very rich in sweetness. The thick skin covers many small seeds that provide a strong vanilla aroma. This accounts for about 80 percent of most vanilla extract. The Mexican bean is not as thin or sweet as the Madagascar bean. This bean has an earthy aroma and is more mellow in flavor. The Tahiti bean is plumper in size, darker in color and the least sweet of the beans. The perfect vanilla bean is 5 to 7 inches long and should feel moist and supple (not dry and brittle) when rolled between your fingers.

Fresh vanilla beans can be used in cooking as well as in making vanilla extract. One 2-inch piece of vanilla bean = 1 tsp. extract. Vanilla beans are made into an extract which is aged from 2 to 6 months and contains a minimum of 35 percent alcohol.

Vanilla beans will dry out and become brittle if left out in the air, so wrap them in foil, seal them in a zip-top bag and store them in a cool, dark area. They’ll last this way for at least several months.

Enjoy the flavor and aroma of the fresh vanilla bean!

Vanilla Bean Custard
2 cups milk
2 vanilla bean pods
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch

Bring milk to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the vanilla beans from the bean pod (split the pod and scrape them out with the tip of a knife).

In a bowl whisk together the sugar, eggs, yolks and cornstarch until smooth. Slowly add about half of the milk to the egg mixture and then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan containing the rest of the milk. Don’t heat the eggs too quickly or you will  have scrambled eggs in your custard.

Place the pan over medium heat and whisk well, making sure you get in the corners of the pan, until it comes to a boil and thickens. Cool, cover and store in the fridge.

carolyn-washburnCarolyn Washburn is a family consumer sciences agent for Utah State University Extension. Her responsibilities include financial management education, food safety and nutrition, healthy family relations, emergency preparedness and working with youth. Her goal is to help individuals and families become self-sustaining and resilient by being financially prepared and healthy for any emergency. She serves on the National Disaster Education Network and has just completed the new food storage manual for USDA. Her most cherished award is America’s Promise, awarded by Colin Powell.

The Art of Pie Making

Easy as Pie! The Art of Pie Making | Live Well Utah

It’s that delicious time of year again! Squashes and in abundance, and apples never tasted so good. And, what better way to eat all that tasty food than in a pie? While we all love to eat pies, sometimes it is intimidating to actually make. Let us show you how to make a delicious pie for your family to enjoy.

Go download our pamphlet – The Art of Pie Making, Easy As Pie! The pamphlet contains all you will need to know about pie making basics, pie crust recipes, and plenty of tips.

What pie will you be making for Thanksgiving?

5 Fruit Freezing Steps

Author – Amanda Christensen

How To Freeze Fruit in 5 Easy Steps | Live Well Utah

Want to preserve your harvest without busting your budget? Don’t want to fork out a ton of your hard-earned dollars? Whether you haven’t invested in the equipment for home canning or you just don’t have the time, don’t let your harvest go to waste. Freezing fruit is a great option. Here are five simple steps to follow to freeze fruit. I will use nectarines in this example but these steps can be followed for any fruit.

STEP 1: Wash your fruit well. Cut in half and remove pits. If desired, peel skins from fruit. (I prefer the skins on since we use these nectarines for smoothies during the winter and the skins are full of nutrients).5 Fruit Freezing Steps - step 1

STEP 2: Spread fruit out in a single layer on a baking sheet. (Optional: treat fruit with citric acid, lemon juice or Fruit-Fresh to help prevent browning over time). Freezing fruit flat on a baking sheet helps fruit freeze without it sticking together in big clumps.5 Fruit Freezing Steps - step 2

STEP 3: Freeze 2-3 hours. Fruit might not be completely frozen but won’t stick together once you place it in freezer bags.5 Fruit Freezing Steps - step 3

STEP 4: While fruit is freezing, label gallon-sized freezer bags with the name and date of the fruit you are freezing.5 Fruit Freezing Steps - step 4

STEP 5: Fill freezer bags ¾ full with frozen fruit. Store fruit flat in a freezer. It is best if it is used within 6 months but will last up to 1 year.5 Fruit Freezing Steps - step 5

amanda-christensenAmanda is an Extension assistant professor for Utah State University. She has a master’s degree in consumer sciences from USU and is proud to call herself an Aggie! Amanda loves teaching and enabling individuals and families to make smart money decisions.

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4 Ways to Prepare a Winter Squash for Dinner

Author – Nikki Capener

4 Ways to Prepare a Winter Squash | Live Well Utah

Fall is here, which means winter squash can be found in abundance. Whether you grew your own winter squash in your garden or picked one up at the local farmers market, farm stand or grocery store, there are many ways to prepare and enjoy it. Squash is a versatile ingredient that hides many nutrients in its sweet flavor and creamy texture. Winter squash is high in vitamins A and C and is a good source of vitamins B6, potassium and folate.

Here are a few preparation ideas:

  1. Bake It! Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Begin by slicing your winter squash in half, then scrape away any seeds and stringy bits. Season you squash with your favorite spices or brown sugar and drizzle with olive oil or a small slice of butter. Place prepared squash in a baking dish and add a small amount of water to cover the bottom of the dish. Bake your squash between 45 minutes to an hour. Under-baked squash produces a chewy texture and over-baked squash becomes mushy. You will want your squash texture to fall somewhere in between; it should be easily pierced with a fork.
  2. Make soup! Simply bake the squash as described above but omit the seasoning and place the squash open side down. While the squash is baking, heat your favorite stock and spices over medium heat in a soup pot. Once squash has finished baking, scrape out the flesh. If you prefer chunky soup, use a potato masher to mash the flesh, or for a more pureed soup, use a blender or food processor to puree it. Add the mashed or pureed flesh to stock, stir and heat through. Serve with a dash of pepper and enjoy!
  3. Fry it! Slice squash in half and scrape away the seeds. Cut squash into small chunks and dip in a beaten egg. Once the squash is coated with egg mixture, dip squash in cornmeal or flour. Place oil or butter in a pan and fry squash over medium heat for about 6-7 minutes.
  4. Grill It! It isn’t too late to fire up the barbeque; grilled squash is simply divine. Cut your squash into large chunks, drizzle with olive oil, and season with your favorite spices. Place squash on the grill in indirect heat. You can also try squash kabobs, which make an excellent side dish. Cut squash into large chunks, dip into honey or melted butter, and place on the grill. Grilled squash is cooked through when it can be easily pierced with a fork.

Nikki Capener is a student at Utah State University studying family and consumer science education. She is the family and consumer sciences intern in Box Elder County and has loved working with the Extension faculty and 4-H youth. Her experience working with Extension has been incredibly beneficial; she has learned so much while working with Ann Henderson. Her hobbies include running, cooking, sewing and making crafts.