Spicy Squash Soup with Vanilla

Spicy Squash Soup with Vanilla

Use pumpkin or winter squash interchangeably for this recipe. The vanilla may seem unusual but it sweetens and marries the flavors. Some squash are so sweet and scrumptious they only need a few drops.

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup half & half (nonfat ok)

2 cups mashed or processed  squash or pumpkin

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or Chili powder

(¼ to ½ teaspoon vanilla hold in reserve)

 

On the side offer additions of sharp cheddar, chopped cilantro, small corn chips. Heat stock and cream together in a heavy saucepan, whisk in pumpkin and seasonings. Let slowly simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vanilla last wait five minutes and then increase if you wish. The chips and cheese usually add sufficient salt but again season to taste.

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

I’ve been making this for my own use and as gifts for several years. Vanilla extract is easy to make, richly flavorful, and fragrant. Use one vanilla bean per each four to five oz. bottle. Split the bean in half lengthwise and then chop into ½ inch pieces. Stuff these pieces into your bottle and top off vanilla extractwith full strength vodka or brandy. Cap and let sit for 2 to 4 weeks. Every few days give it a little shake. You will love this vanilla. When a third of the extract is used top the bottle off with more vodka or brandy. Alcohol efficiently extracts the essence of vanilla and makes what herbalists would call a tincture.

I find a securely capped glass container is the best. Corked bottles don’t seem to work as well, perhaps because they breathe a little. Many commercial extracts contain a touch of caramel coloring don’t be concerned if your extract doesn’t turn a dark brown. Store in a cool dark place. The flavor increases with time as long as you don’t remove the vanilla bean.

Vanilla comes from an orchid native to Mexico, Guatemala and parts of Central America, Vanilla planifolia. The flower is fairly inconspicuous but each one produces a long slender seed pod on the plants’ 10’ vines. These are the beans, which are harvested, sweated, cured and dried to develop the unique flavor.

Vanilla is not only used in our favorite desserts but for perfumery and aromatherapy. Shalimar perfume contains vanilla as do many modern fragrances, usually incorporating vanilla into the name. Aromatherapists tell us the fragrance soothes and calms. I once knew a woman whose husband was so fond of the scent of vanilla that she took to dabbing a bit behind the ears when she was in the kitchen.