Chef Fran Costigan

Can These Be Dried Out Vanilla Beans Be Saved?

Fresh Brown Organic Vanilla BeanA couple of years ago I bought a big bag of fair-trade vanilla beans and used the seeds–a.k.a. the caviar of the beans–often and deliciously. Somehow, I forgot about those the remaining beans. This week, while I was doing my monthly pantry reset, this time with the Essential Vegan Baking Course in mind, as it’s starting in just around 2 weeks, I found the beans in a container behind some bulk purchases. Although they were wrapped very well, they were dried out and brittle. I was understandably upset. Vanilla beans are precious and expensive. I decided to experiment with hydrating them. I’m sharing what I learned—so you don’t have to experiment, too! But do let me know if you’ve got a method that works.


Dried Out Vanilla Beans


Test 1 – I wondered, “what if I hydrated the beans by simmering them in almond milk?” Would I get beans that were just soft enough to cut open and recover the seeds along with vanilla flavored almond milk? Then, I’d add the spent beans to my jar of homemade vanilla extract, which is vodka and beans that I’ve been adding to for years.

Result 1 – The beans hydrated, and the almond milk, which was speckled with seeds, looked nice. But, it didn’t taste enough of vanilla to use as such. Or maybe it tasted like the packaged unsweetened vanilla nondairy milk I don’t care for. I will use this milk to make a sauce where the speckles of the bean will be apparent, and I’ll add some vanilla extract and sweetener.

Vanilla Test 1, Result 1

Result 2 – I read about snipping the bottom of the beans and standing them in vodka or rum to hydrate. I bet that would work with dry beans, but mine were already softened. I decided to go for it anyway, and I am embarrassed to admit this to you, but I forgot about them for 3 days. When I finally did remove the beans, they were indeed soft. The seeds were mush, though, and they tasted like booze. That was terrific to add to my years old bottle of homemade vanilla extract, but not okay to use as seeds as you can see – they are on the knife in the photo below.

Vanilla Test 1, Result 2


Test 2 – It is said that the best way to hydrate dried-out vanilla beans is to wrap them in a damp cloth or paper towel and microwave them briefly. I don’t use a microwave, and I’m not going to judge you if you do, but what I did instead was place the last of the dried out vanilla beans in a shallow dish and poured boiling water over them. I covered the dish with plastic wrap and set them aside for 10 minutes.

Vanilla Test 2

Result – Still hard at 10 minutes, but 20 minutes was the charm. The time depends, of course, on the relative dryness of the beans. The end result was beautiful vanilla bean seeds/caviar/cream.

Vanilla Test 2 Result

It’s now time to make to make some Vanilla Custard Cream, Panna Cotta, or Vanilla Ice Cream!

There are many fine brands of vanilla available, but remember to use pure vanilla extract and not the much cheaper synthetic vanillin which is fake vanilla, made from wood pulp, and may be produced using petrochemicals and byproducts from the paper industry. My preferred brand is Singing Dog Vanilla.


Did you know?

  • Vanilla is the second most expensive spice, after saffron.
  • Vanilla comes from an orchid, the vanilla orchid, which is a vine-like plant that grows up trees.
  • The part of the plant that is used is the pod or the bean. They are picked unripe and dry from 2 to 6 months.
  • Vanilla beans contain thousands of tiny black seeds that add a potent vanilla flavor to whatever you are making, and the black specks add color to the recipe.
  • Vanilla extract comes from macerating vanilla beans and mixing them with alcohol. Water- based vanilla extract is also available.
  • Most vanilla comes from Madagascar, followed by Mexico, and Tahiti.


DIY Vanilla Extract

There are many ‘recipes’ for vanilla extract, but all are based on infusing vanilla beans in spirits, most often vodka for it’s neutral taste. You set the jar aside in a cool, dark place for 6 months or longer, shaking it every once in a while.

It is essential to start with a clean jar, even though you are using alcohol as the base liquid. I use a jar straight out of the dishwasher, but you could pour boiling water in the jar. Place a metal spoon in the jar first so the glass doesn’t shatter. Pour boiling water over the lid, too.

The amount of beans per cup of vodka seems most often to vary from 3 to 6. The more vanilla beans you use, the more potent the resulting Vanilla Extract. I do use this homemade extract, but honestly I don’t find it as potent as ones I’ve purchased, and I do find the alcohol more pronounced. Homemade Vanilla Extract makes a wonderful holiday gift.


To make DIY Vanilla Extract:

  • Use excellent quality vodka and good vanilla beans!
  • Pour vodka into a clean glass jar, one with a tight fitting lid.
  • Put the beans on a clean cutting board. Using a small knife, slit each of the beans in half, lengthwise.
  • Put the beans into the jar of vodka, cover tightly and shake. Label the jar and include with the date.
  • Store in a dark cool place to infuse, for at least 6 moths. Make a note for yourself where it is and shake every so often.


I’d like to hear from you about your experiences making homemade extract. Have you ever made your own vanilla extract? What worked for you? Did you enjoy the flavor?


Want to learn to make the best ever vegan desserts? Of course you do!  Sign up now to save $200.00 on my Essential Vegan Desserts Course with Rouxbe. Course starts November 10th!  Check out the very cool video, too.


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Super Stuffed Baked Apples with Family in LA

Fran Costigan's Super Stuffed Baked Apples I think it is family time post!



Whenever I go to Los Angeles, my first dinner out is always at Crossroads Kitchen, and I do that as soon as possible. In fact, it’s rare that I go only once. Well, this trip was  different, and I did not get there as I was on home duty mostly, making lots of breakfasts and dinners for my granddaughters, who are now 9 and 11 now. While the girls were at school all day, I had lots of focued work to do on polishing the Rouxbe Essential Vegan Desserts Course with my colleagues. The course is launching Nov 10th, the day after I return from the Vegan Cruise to Panama! Talk about an embarassement of riches! I did take breaks to walk in the gorgeous weather and play with the Costigals three rescue dogs: Teddy, the oldest; Mushu, the middle brother; and Cocoa the baby. These boys are so sweet and friendly, and just love playing together.

I was helping out while my talented daughter- in-law Linda Hawkins Costigan was in Haiti working on season two of her new show, Lakou Kajou – Educational TV for Haitian Children. This show is the first of its kind, and honestly, it is superb! Word of the hurricane came soon after Linda landed. She assured us she was safe, but that the damage was grave. A shortage of food, a contaminated water supply, and a cholera outbreak could create a major humanitarian disaster in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, PIH Co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer said to ABC News. If you’d like to donate to Haiti, do not donate to the Red Cross. Donate to Partners in Health instead:



White Pomegranates, the first I’ve ever seen  at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market



Buddha’s Hands and Dragon Fruit

The girls, my son Michael, and I visited the always amazing Hollywood Farmers market and I saw a white pomegranate, which was new to me, and unshelled macadamia nuts. I bought fresh dates, which I can’t get in NYC. Amazing! Buddha’s hands and dragon fruit were gorgeous, and so were the tomatoes, mushrooms, avocados—so much goodness, including new season apples. Those apples gave me an idea – so read on.



Fresh Macadamia Nuts

The girls told me they like baked apples so I made them, using the recipe in More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally as jumping off point. The basting juices from the baked apples made a tasty plate sauce. If you care, this is a naturally no sugar added, no oil added, gluten-free dessert.



Peanut Butter Cookie Testing

Pictured here are a peanut butter cookie that Cecile helped me make. The recipe needs more testing but I can tell you it couldn’t have been more simple and yummy!



Fran and Suzy


Avocado Salad

Avocado Salad from Art’s Table

Two days before I was to return to NYC, I visited the Rowleys, my former Tribeca neighbors who’ve just moved back to the U.S. from London and have reloacted to Santa Monica. We had delicious salads at Art’s Table in Santa Monica. The next day, Suzy and I had lunch at Matthew Kinney’s Plant Food and Wine, in the garden. Suzy, who is not vegan, said she loved the tacos and the rosé we sipped in the garden.


Curried Cauliflower Tacos from Plant Food + Wine

Curried Cauliflower Tacos from Plant Food + Wine

After a one night stay with the Rowleys, I got back into an Uber to get back to my kids in time for the holiday dinner. And that’s how we rolled in LA.



Super Stuffed Baked Apples

Top a warm baked apple with a small scoop of your favorite dairy-free yogurt and have dessert for breakfast. It’s a decadent tasting but perfectly delicious way to begin the day.


  • 4 sweet apples
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 4 tablespoons raisins
  • 4 tablespoons chopped toasted nuts (see page 23)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup apple butter


  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8 x 8-inch baking dish or other baking dish large enough to hold four apples.
  2. Core the apples from the top, stopping 1 inch from the bottom. Peel the top quarter section of each apple. Put the apples in the baking dish, and pour the juice over them.
  3. Mix the raisins, nuts, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Spoon the mixture into the apples and sprinkle any leftover filling in the bottom of the baking dish.
  4. Cover the apples with a sheet of parchment paper and over- wrap with aluminum foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Uncover the dish and baste the apples with the pan juices. Bake 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until the apples are tender but not mushy. The total baking time will depend on the variety of apple.
  5. Remove the baking dish from the oven. Brush the warm apples with the apple butter, and stir the remaining apple butter into the pan juices. Serve the apples warm, spooning some of the pan juice over each.

Recipe from More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally, © 2006 by Fran Costigan.


Want to learn to make the best ever vegan desserts? Of course you do!  Sign up now to save $200.00 on my Essential Vegan Desserts Course with Rouxbe. Course starts November 10th!  Check out the very cool video, too.


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A Very Vegan Halloween with Kathy Hester

While I was thinking about who to ask to participate in my Fabulous Women in Food guest post series, Kathy Hester immediately came to mind for October. Kathy published her Halloween-themed e-book The Ghoulish Gourmet last year, and she’s an expert on making deliciously frightful vegan Halloween dishes.

For the last 10 years, Kathy’s thrown a multi-course vegan gothic Halloween dinner party for her friends, and she’s written The Ghoulish Gourmet so you too can invite all your friends over and have a spooky soiree. The book contains tips on hosting your own party as well as 25 unique vegan Halloween recipes that all ages will love.

The Ghoulish Gourmet is available for Kindle from Amazon or as a pdf that you can read on your computer, iPad or phone. (You can also open the pdf using the free Kindle or iBook software on your mobile device.) If you’re having a Halloween party this year, this book is a must have! Now I invite you to read why Kathy decided to do a book about Halloween and get one of the recipes as well as a chance to win a copy of the book!


Pumpkin Pecan Shake from The Ghoulish Gourmet by Kathy HesterI have been in love with Halloween since I was little. Every year I’d look forward to taping the cardboard ghost and haunted house cut-outs on our windows. In the background I’d have my Halloween album playing the music from the Haunted Mansion in Disney World. It was the best!

While Halloween can have elements of horror, it really goes beyond that into celebrating autumn. There’s something magical about carving pumpkins, adding a few spooky touches to your house, and inviting your friends and family over to celebrate.

I love a good theme party and it’s so easy to throw a fun Halloween dinner. Get a few decorations including some spider webs or if you have the motivation go on to get some over the top pumpkin carving and decorating ideas.


Chocolate Bat Cookies from The Ghoulish Gourmet by Kathy HesterThis year we’re having a Harry Potter themed dinner party complete with butterbeer and pumpkin juice. I’ve been hosting a multi-course Gothic dinner party for the past 10 years and it’s the highlight of my year.

You don’t need to invest a lot of money in a Halloween dinner set, just go to a thrift store and get some mis-matched fancy plates and glasses. It’s even better if you can get some tarnished silver platters to go with it.

Decorations are nice, but the most important thing is the food. You can make salads spooky by using little ghost cookie cutters to cut salad turnips, make pumpkin-shaped carrots slices, or even ghost cut outs of vegan cheese slices.

Vegan main courses can be a little harder to come up with so I’m sharing my Swamp Monster Slow Cooker Jackfruit Gumbo. It so easy to make and it gets its spook factor from the black forbidden rice and the green puree.

Happy Halloween!


Swamp Monster Jackfruit Gumbo  from The Ghoulish Gourmet by Kathy HesterSwamp Monster Slow Cooker Jackfruit Gumbo

Recipe by Kathy Hester from The Ghoulish Gourmet: A Bewitching Collection of Vegan Halloween Recipes copyright 2016 printed with permission

makes 4 to 6 servings

This chunky stew is full of okra, tomatoes, vegan sausage and stringy jackfruit. One of my testers, Robin Fetter of The Real Vegan Housewife, says the soup had “an awesome foamy green effect on top” when she served it immediately, but that the green became less bright after twenty minutes. She highly recommends puréeing the greens into the soup.

For the main gumbo:

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups sliced okra (fresh or frozen)
  • 3 cups diced tomatoes or 2 (14.5 ounce) cans
  • 1 cup minced bell pepper (any color)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (20 ounce) young green jackfruit in brine, rinsed with seeds removed *
  • 2 large vegan sausages (Italian, Chik’n Apple, or Andouille), cut into quarters lengthwise and sliced
  • 2 bouillon cubes (vegetable or vegan chicken flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning blend (see recipe below)
  • 3 bay leaves

For finishing:

  • 1 cup chopped spinach, kale or other mild green
  • just enough water to puree, about 1/4 cup
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • more Cajun seasoning blend, to taste – optional

For serving:

  • steamed rice (white, brown or forbidden)
  • hot sauce


  1. In the morning: Add all the main gumbo ingredients to your 4 quart slow cooker. Cook on low 7 to 9 hours.
  2. 15 minutes before serving: Add the greens to a blender with a little water and purée until smooth. Then add salt, pepper and more Cajun seasoning if needed.
  3. Remove bay leaves and serve gumbo topped with the green “swamp” purée and a scoop of rice.

* shred the jackfruit with your hands – it will happen easily as you remove the large seeds.

Make Your Own Cajun Seasoning Blend

If you’re looking for a salt-free version or just can’t find it in your area, this little recipe will keep you in spicy goodness for awhile. The best part is you can make it as spicy or mild as you like!


  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 teaspoons oregano or marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves

Combine all the ingredients well and store in a lidded container. You can also use a spice grinder to make it look more like store-bought.


Kathy Hester Vegan HalloweenKathy Hester is the blogger behind and author of 6 traditionally published cookbooks, including the bestselling book, The Vegan Slow Cooker. She has also ventured into self-publishing with her first ebook, The Ghoulish Gourmet, a vegan Halloween cookbook.

Her newest traditionally published book, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot, comes out January 2017 from Page St. Publishing.


the-ghoulish-gourmet-by-kathy-hesterKathy has a copy of her e-book The Ghoulish Gourmet for one lucky winner. Follow the instructions below to enter. Contest ends at midnight  on October 18th. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway



Want to learn to make the best ever vegan desserts? Of course you do!  Sign up now to save $200.00 on my Essential Vegan Desserts Course with Rouxbe. Course starts November 10th!  Check out the very cool video, too.

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