Happy WIAW! Jenn at Peas and Crayons is over the moon now that her husband, Paul, is back form deployment (hooray!) But she still had time to serve up gorgeous food photos, and even one of her ferret! Check out her blog to see the happy couple, happy food, and a bunch of happy bloggers sharing their midweek treats!

Summer staples from last week included some zucchini that have been producing nicely in my garden, and this week I’d like to include yet another prolific producer–cucumber!

I love the taste and crunch of a fresh cucumber, and if you also like yogurt then yesterday’s Easy Tzatziki recipe is right up your alley. Vanilla Cucumber Smoothie might sound like some kind of body cream, but it’s a real, drinkable smoothie that has the clean, refreshing taste of cucumbers and the smooth sweetness of vanilla. I had one for breakfast, and it was a delicious and light post-workout snack:

Vanilla Cucumber Smoothie

Refreshing, packed with nutrients, and low in fat, carbs, and calories–just around 250 for 30 ounces of deliciousness (this glass is only 12 oz…refills!)

Lunch was another fruit & veggie yogurt bowl:

Cucumber, apple, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, and fat-free Greek yogurt mixed with vanilla protein powder & cinnamon. Celestial Seasonings Imperial White Peach tea.

Dinner was leftovers from the previous night, chicken tikka with biriyani:

Another good source of low-fat protein: chicken, yogurt marinade, brown rice and split yellow peas.

Dessert was an assortment of sweets, including some Dutch cookies sent by my husband’s grandma from the Netherlands (thank you, Omi!) We couldn’t eat everything, but it’s just nice to look at a bunch of assorted cookies:

Clockwise, top, L-R: spekulaas (traditional Dutch cookie, tastes like Xmas,) stroopwafel (“syrup waffle”,) roomboter bitterkoekjespencee (thick cookies filled with buttery, pasty filling,) Riesen chocolates, vanilla oreos, roomboter Fondantsprits (butter shortbreads,) fudge coconut oreos, Amarettini koekjes (tastes like almond cookies,) and gezouten drop (salted licorice.) Served with rooibos thee!

This smoothie recipe can be adjusted to your taste, and is yet another great way to use up all those extra cucumbers and zucchini piling up in your fridge. The mild flavors of the veggies add freshness, plus they provide fiber for bulk. The banana also helps thicken it up and gives it some sweetness. The vanilla protein powder gives it the creamy, vanilla flavor.

Vanilla Cucumber Smoothie
A thick layer of foam forms at the top, just stir gently to incorporate all the yummy goodness!

Ingredients:

12 ounces cold water
4 ounces almond milk (or milk, soy moo, more water)
1 1/3 scoops vanilla protein powder, or your favorite flavor protein powder
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves, rinsed and squeezed out
4″ cucumber, sliced thin
4″ zucchini, sliced thin (more cucumber is okay, too)
1/3 ripe banana, sliced
ice cubes (optional)

Directions:

In a blender, add water, milk, protein powder. Blend on low until combined, about 10 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients except ice. Blend on medium to medium-high until veggies are chopped up, 15-30 seconds. Add ice cubes and blend on high for 10 seconds until crushed. Makes about 30 ounces.

Vanilla Cucumber Smoothie-2

The bulk from the veggies makes this shake thick enough for a straw to stand up

Any favorite post-workout smoothies? What’s the greenest smoothie you ever tried? :D

Strawberries with Vanilla Coconut Cream: it’s the cat’s meow!

Our cat, Wolfie, likes to take walks with us around the property, occasionally scratching a rotting log and sniffing the ground to see who (or what) else may have crossed the path recently. After a few minutes he would start meow-complaining (about the tall grass, muddy path, anything!) but he’d tough it out and keep up with us at a pretty good pace.

Wolfie is the most curious one of the three and also likes to see what I’m up to in the kitchen. I don’t normally give him scraps when I’m cooking, but there’s a few things I’ll give him a tiny portion of…like coconut milk! Whenever I’d cook Thai curry, Wolfie would be there, waiting for a sample taste. And when I made this vanilla coconut cream, there he was, first sticking his nose into my picture,and then licking the cream off a plate when I wasn’t looking! Needless to say, I couldn’t use that plate of strawberries & coconut cream in the photos. :(

Continuing with our Flavor of the Week theme, here is the recipe for Vanilla Coconut Cream, a wonderful substitute for regular whipped topping (and the fake stuff, too!) The texture is soft, thick and incredibly creamy. Use it on other desserts, but be sure to keep an eye on it if your cat is lurking about!

These strawberries look too cozy in their fluffy cream topping to be eaten.

Strawberries and Vanilla Coconut Cream
If you don’t have xanthan gum, coconut cream can be used, but the texture will be less thick

8oz coconut milk, chilled in fridge overnight
1 tablespoon vanilla syrup (or 1 tablespoon sugar + increase vanilla extract to 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon gluten-free xanthan gum
8-10 fresh strawberries, washed

With a mixer, beat coconut milk on high until thickened, about 1 minute. Add syrup or sugar and extract, beat on high until combined, about 15 seconds. Sprinkle half of xanthan gum, beat on high for ten seconds and check consistency. If you want it thicker, add remaining xanthan gum and beat on high for another ten seconds.

Serve with fresh strawberries.

The vanilla coconut cream is a wonderful dairy-free substitute for regular cream.

 


Several weeks ago I got a care package from my parents. In addition to mom’s delicious cookies, Uncle Kenneth’s coffee and some nori rice crackers, I had a special request for these home grown beauties:

Mom and Dad’s vanilla

Gorgeous, plump pods of flavor-packed vanilla! My parents have several vanilla plants growing outside the house. They’re orchid plants, and are not easy to cultivate because they require self-pollination from a specific type of insect. To make it even more difficult, the flowers bloom for only one day, making the window of opportunity rather small for natural reproduction. My dad keeps an eye out for blooming buds, so when the opportunity arises, he uses a ball-point pen to transport the microscopic pollen from stamen to pistil, then lets nature take care of the rest.  Here’s the ripening fruit of the plant several days after pollination, the dried blossoms are shriveled and ready to fall off the ends:

Vanilla plant, image source: http://www.orchidsasia.com/vanil16.htm.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it? And after several months of staying on the vine, they are ready to be harvested, dried, and used in your culinary delights.

Everybody is familiar with the distinct taste of vanilla, which is often second-banana to chocolate (did you know that both were cultivated by the Aztecs?)  and we often take this rather nondescript flavor for granted. But vanilla is a truly wonderful spice that not only gives its own easily recognizable flavor, but enhances others, including chocolate.

Chocolate just wouldn’t be chocolate without vanilla.

So how about adding some vanilla to your life? Let’s start of with the basics:

Vanilla Bean Syrup – Bring 1/2 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add 1 split vanilla bean, scraping both pod and seeds into mixture, stir and let cool. Reserve the vanilla pod and dry completely before storing for other uses. Pour into clean glass jar, keep tightly closed and let sit one day before using.

Vanilla Bean Paste – Scrape a vanilla bean and mix just enough light corn syrup to make a paste. Can use in place of vanilla extract.

Vanilla Extract – In a jar or bottle, add 2 cups of vodka and 6 vanilla beans. Store in a cool, dark place and let age for 4-6 months, shaking the bottle once a week to distribute the flavors.

Vanilla Sugar – Place a split pod in your sugar container for a delicate fragrance and hint of vanilla flavor.

Beautiful glistening seeds from a Tahitian vanilla pod.

Now that you have the basics, here are some recipes to use your newly made concoctions:

Vanilla Cream Soda – Mix vanilla bean syrup with cold seltzer and add a couple drops of lemon juice.

Panna Cotta (from epicurious.com)In a small bowl, sprinkle 1 envelope (1 teaspoon) gelatin over 2 tablespoons water, let soften for about ten minutes. Menwhile, in a medium saucepan bring 2 1/2 cups heavy cream, 1/2 cup whole milk and 1/3 cup sugar to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in gelatin until dissolved. Split a 2″ piece vanilla pod, scraping seeds and adding into milk mixture (alternatively, add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.) Divide between four ramekins, chill 8 hours or overnight. (options: float 1 star anise in each ramekin, serve with fresh mixed berries, or top with fruit compote.)

Spiced Vanilla Peach Jam – This was an accident when I tried making Rem Cooks’ Vanilla Peach Butter by following his recipe for Spiced Peach Preserves. As I was heating the peaches I thought, “Boy this smells great…but where’s the vanilla?” Looking over his post, I realized it was the wrong recipe! After pulling up the correct recipe I decided it would be easier to make a few modifications and simply add the vanilla bean. It still came out tasty, especially by following his lead and having it with cream cheese on sourdough toast…delicious!

Ingredients:

2 cups peaches peeled, pitted & roughly chopped
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
tiny pinch nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
4″ piece vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions:

Put everything in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 15 minutes or until peaches break up into smaller pieces. Remove from heat and let cool before transferring to a clean glass jar. Will keep in refrigerator for about 10 days.

This peach jam is great on toast, or as a glaze for chicken, ham, or roast pork loin.

In addition to all this sweetness, vanilla can also be used to enhance the flavor of savory dishes, and on Wednesday I will post a special recipe I concocted to celebrate my second wedding anniversary! Here’s a sneak peek at what I’m talking about:

Vanilla can season even the most savory of dishes!

More vanilla goodness coming your way, so stay tuned!