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Dilly Dip

by Lydia Whitlock — Nov 30th, 2016

It’s that time of the year again -- holiday cocktail party season! Maybe you’re hosting one yourself; maybe you’ve been invited and would like to bring a snack along. Either way, this is the dip for you -- it’s almost unbelievably easy, but tastes so much better than what you’d find in a package at the store. You can happily announce that it’s homemade while still appealing to everyone’s love of a classic creamy dip paired with something crunchy. 



  1. Stir together all ingredients until evenly combined, making sure no pockets of spices are hiding in the sour cream. Refrigerate at least one hour to allow flavors to meld -- if you can make this dip the day before, it will be even better!
  2. Spoon into a serving dish and garnish with a sprinkle of sweet paprika. Serve with potato chips, crudites, or (trust me on this one) freshly baked tater tots. This dip also makes a great salad dressing -- thin it out with a little bit of apple cider vinegar to the consistency and flavor you prefer, and toss with a nice crunchy lettuce.

Makes 1 cup. Adapted from Power Vegetables.



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Preserved Lemons

by Lydia Whitlock — Nov 28th, 2016

 There’s nothing better than a homemade holiday gift, especially one that keeps giving and giving throughout the year. Jams, pie fillings, cookie mixes — all of these are fun to make and wonderful gifts, but if you have a group of friends who love to cook more savory items, you should give preserved lemons a try this year! This fermented pickle is simple to make, requires only a few ingredients, and will keep in the fridge for around six months, if you or your gift recipient don’t use them up well before then.

Once you have a jar of preserved lemons in your fridge, you’ll never want to go without again. If you’ve ever had a really good Moroccan tagine and have wondered where that sharp, salty, citrus taste comes from — it’s preserved lemons. A little goes a long way towards adding a bolt of salty sunshine into any savory dish. Just remove the seeds and mince the rind and flesh to add citrusy flavor to grain salads, beans, stews, and pretty much anything else you can think of.



  1. If you weren’t able to get unwaxed lemons, first remove the wax. Place the lemons in a large colander and run them under hot water, either from a recently boiled kettle or from the hottest tap water you have. Then, holding each lemon under cool running water, use a vegetable brush to scrub away the warmed wax and any dirt that remains. Rinse the scrubbed lemons well. If you have unwaxed fruit, simply give them a rinse and scrub to remove any dirt.
  2. Trim the stem ends of the washed lemons by about ⅛-¼ inch. Cut 4 lemons into quarters, cutting them end to end to form four wedges.
  3. Rinse a glass quart jar for which you have a lid. Sprinkle about one third of the salt into the bottom and pack for of the lemon quarters into the jar, pressing with your hands or with a cocktail muddler to get them as tightly packed as possible. Sprinkle another third of the salt and a pinch of your chosen spices on top of the packed lemons.
  4. Pack another quartered lemon into the jar and sprinkle with remaining salt and another pinch of spices. Continue to pack quartered lemons into the jar until only ½ and inch of space remains between the lemons and the top.
  5. The lemons will have exuded some juice during the packing process, but it might not yet be enough to cover them. If your lemons are not covered by their own juices, juice your remaining lemons and pour the juice into the jar until it just covers the lemons, leaving about half an inch of space between the juice and the top.
  6. Screw the lid onto the jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to mix the salt and lemons. Unscrew the lid and top up with more lemon juice to return levels to half an inch below the top if necessary. Screw the top on again.
  7. Using masking tape, label the jar with the day’s date. Store the lemons in a cool, dark space for two weeks. Every day for the first few days, shake the jar vigorously for 30 seconds or so, until the salt has completely dissolved. Shake occasionally in the remaining days, just to make sure that the spices and juices are evenly distributed throughout.
  8. After two weeks, place the jar in the refrigerator. The lemons are now ready to use! Make sure to remove the seeds before using, and to rinse the lemons if you want to reduce their very salty flavor.

Makes 1 pint. Lemons will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months.

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by Meg Whitlock — Nov 13th, 2016

We're exhibiting at the Private Label Manufactures Association Show in Chicago. Visit us at booth F4301 through Tuesday. Every exhibitor here including Vanns is a private label manufacturer.

private label manufacturers association show

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Mulled Cider

by Lydia Whitlock — Nov 10th, 2016

Making mulled cider is even easier than pie. You might not even need a recipe for it, to be honest -- pouring some cider in a pot and chucking some Vanns Mulling Spices in there to simmer for an hour or so will probably work out pretty well! But if you want to make sure you get the maximum flavor out of the spices without overpowering the sweet-tart taste of the cider, here are some instructions on how much mulling spice to use, and how much time you should spend mulling the cider (it's longer than you think!)

This recipe can be made on the stovetop or in a slow cooker -- either way will make your house smell like the coziest, most welcoming place in your neighborhood.


  • 8 cups apple cider, to serve 4-6 people (scale up recipe as needed)
  • 2 Tbs. Vanns Mulling Spices (1 Tbs. per 4 cups of cider, for scale)
  • Brandy or whiskey (optional)


  1. If desired, place the mulling spices in a reusable spice bag.
  2. If using a slow cooker, pour the cider and the mulling spices into the slow cooker, cover, and heat on high for 4 hours, or until flavor is well infused. If at any point the cider starts to simmer, reduce the heat to low. 
  3. If using the stovetop, pour the cider and mulling spices into a heavy bottomed pot, cover, and heat over low heat for 4 hours, or until flavor is well infused. If at any point the cider starts to simmer, reduce the heat or move the pot slightly off the burner.
  4. Serve cider plain, with brandy, or with whisky. If you’re planning to keep the cider warm while serving it for another hour or so, remove the spices. If you chose not to use a removable spice bag, it’s a nice touch to offer the cider with a tea strainer next to the ladle, so people can strain out the spices themselves as they pour.

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Pumpkin Maple Muffins

by Lydia Whitlock — Nov 6th, 2016

It’s pumpkin muffin season! But these aren’t your typical giant, overly orange, super sweet cupcakes-masquerading-as-muffins -- these are the real deal.

They’re sweet, but not so sweet that you’d feel bad having them for breakfast. Half of the flour involved is whole wheat, which makes for a moister muffin and adds extra fiber to boot. The balance of spices asserts itself without overpowering all of the other wonderful flavors of the muffin. Maple syrup and brown sugar add complexity to the sweetness, and a crunchy raw sugar and pumpkin seed topping rounds them all off!


  • 1/2 cup/114 grams unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1 cup/145 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup/140 grams whole-wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp. Vanns Kosher Salt
  • 2 tsp. Vanns Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. Vanns Ground Ginger
  • ½ tsp. Vanns Turmeric
  • ½ tsp. Vanns Ground Nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cups/355 grams pumpkin puree (about 1 15-oz. can)
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup/100 grams light brown sugar
  • ⅔ cup maple syrup
  • Raw cane sugar (optional)
  • Pumpkin seeds (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a muffin tin with nonstick spray or liners.
  2. Make the brown butter: melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. As the butter starts to foam and brown, swirl it gently, so that it cooks evenly. In about 5 minutes, the butter should be a deep, hazelnut brown. Remove the pan from the heat and scrape up any brown bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pot. Set aside and allow to cool slightly, but not to solidify.
  3. Combine the all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Whisk until evenly combined.
  4. In a bowl large enough to accommodate both wet and dry ingredients, combine the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, and maple syrup and whisk until completely smooth.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until just combined. Pour in the brown butter, making sure to get all those delicious brown bits, and whisk until the batter is smooth.
  6. Using an ice cream scoop or medium-large spoon, evenly fill each of the prepared muffin tins, gently smoothing the tops.
  7. If desired, sprinkle the top of each muffin with a pinch of pumpkin seeds and ¼ tsp. raw cane sugar to create a crunchy topping.
  8. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are domed and spring back when pressed gently.

Makes 12 muffins. Adapted from The New York Times.



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Spiced Cauliflower "Couscous"

by Lydia Whitlock — Nov 2nd, 2016

Cauliflower is a real shape-shifter these days. There’s cauliflower fried rice, cauliflower pizza crust, buffalo cauliflower “wings” -- it’s great to see this versatile vegetable stepping out of its steamer basket comfort zone! One of the magical things about cauliflower is the way that, when blitzed raw in a food processor, it takes on a fluffy, couscous-like consistency. This version of cauliflower “couscous” is spiced up with Vanns Zahtar, Cumin, and Aleppo-Style Chili Flakes for the perfect, surprisingly light side dish to your tagine or kebabs.

This dish makes a great side dish for any meal -- if you're looking for a light, fresh take on a grain salad for your Thanksgiving table, give this "couscous" a shot! This dish also makes a great picnic side -- refrigerate before packing it, and then allow it to come up to room temperature as you make your way to your picnic spot.



  1. If you’re starting with raw cashews, preheat the oven to 400°F. If your cashews are pre-roasted, skip this step. Once the oven is preheated, spread your raw cashews in an even layer on a small baking sheet and toast until just golden, 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. 
  2. Roughly chop the roasted cashews.
  3. Place the raisins or currants in a small bowl and pour the red wine vinegar over them. Cover them with warm water and leave to plump for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Roughly chop.
  4. Rinse the whole cauliflower and dry well with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Break into medium florets, keeping as much of the stem as possible, then chop the florets into small pieces. Place 2 handfuls of the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until the pieces are finely chopped, but still have some texture, resembling fluffy couscous. Do not over-process or over-crowd the processor. Place the chopped cauliflower into a large bowl and continue the process with the rest of the florets in batches.
  5. Heat 3 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat in a large cast iron or other heavy-bottomed saute pan. Add the chopped cauliflower and cook, stirring frequently, until it loses its rawness, about 7 minutes. The goal here is not to brown the cauliflower, just to saute some of its raw crunch away.
  6. Remove the cauliflower from the heat and transfer to a large bowl. Let cool slightly, then stir in the raisins, cashews, zahtar, cumin, Aleppo-style chili, parsley, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, and the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Let the couscous sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together. Taste again for seasoning before serving at room temperature.

Serves 8. 

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Raz El Hanout Roasted Squash

by Lydia Whitlock — Oct 28th, 2016

Roasted squash is one of the easiest but most satisfying side dishes of autumn. Corners, edges, and outside surfaces brown and crisp in the oven, while the insides become deliciously creamy. Tossing the squash with simple olive oil, salt, and pepper is a great way to season it, but sometimes you have to mix things up a bit and use other spices to bring out the different qualities of the squash's flavors.

Vanns Raz El Hanout is one great roasted squash remix! The warm flavors of the spice blend go beautifully with the squash's sweetness, while a touch of spice  adds some excitement. Rax El Hanout is one of those great spice blends that straddles the line between savory and sweet, much like a butternut squash, and then two work together perfectly. A little extra cumin and a hearty dose of salt and pepper keep this side dish firmly in savory territory. And this is just a starting template for spice roasted squash! For an Indian twist, try it with Vanns Garam Masala; to add it to a burrito bowl, toss it with Vanns Spicy Fajita Rub. The flavor possibilities are endless!



  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Peel the squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 1-inch cubes. Here’s a great guide from Serious Eats on how to do this in the easiest and most efficient way possible.
  3. Place the squash cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle the Raz El Hanout, cumin, salt, and pepper on top. Toss with your hands to coat evenly.
  4. Spread the butternut squash cubes in an even layer on the baking sheet, making sure that none are on top of each other. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and tender.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

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Moroccan Carrots

by Lydia Whitlock — Oct 25th, 2016

Moroccan carrots are a fairly ubiquitous dish, and with good reason. The common thread throughout the many variations is the combination of sweet, earthy carrots, tart lemon juice, a luxurious amount of olive oil, and the perfect blend of spices. 

This version adapted from Zahav is a genius take on the recipe, using the liquid in which the carrots cook as a super carrot-y addition to the dressing. Served chilled, these carrots are a great accompaniment to a grilled meat or as an addition to a mezze platter. And, if you're looking for an easy make-ahead side dish for your Thanksgiving dinner that's a little off the beaten path, try this one!


  • 6 large carrots, peeled and trimmed
  • Vanns Kosher Salt
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup orange juice, preferably fresh-squeezed, from 1-2 oranges
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • ¼ cup cilantro, leaves and tender stems chopped
  • 1 Tbs. mint leave, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Vanns Aleppo-Style Chili Flakes
  • 1 tsp. Vanns Ground Cumin


  1. Lay the whole carrots in a large, deep skillet. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and just barely cover the carrots with cold water. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10-12 minutes, until carrots are just beginning to soften. This may take more or less time depending on the size of your skillet and your carrots, so take care not to overcook them.
  2. When the carrots have just started to soften, remove them from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool. Don’t throw away the cooking liquid! That will become your dressing.
  3. As the carrots cool, reduce the carrot cooking liquid by simmering over medium-high heat, until it becomes almost syrupy, about 10 minutes. Again, this will depend on the size of your pan, so use your best judgement -- you don’t want it to be too watery. Once reduced, add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute, just to take away the raw edge.
  4. Remove the liquid from the heat and whisk in the olive oil, orange juice, Aleppo-style chili flakes, ground cumin, cilantro, mint, and 1 tsp. Kosher salt, or more to taste.
  5. When carrots are cool enough to handle, slice lengthwise, then crosswise into half-inch half moons. Toss the carrots in the dressing and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, to allow the flavors to meld.

Serves 6 as a side dish. Adapted from Zahav

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Focaccia with Smoked Paprika Butter

by Lydia Whitlock — Oct 14th, 2016

Both of these recipes are kind of magical -- they take super simple ingredients like water, flour, butter, salt, and Vanns Smoked Spanish Paprika and turn them into beautiful, impressive golden brown focaccia and a deeply orange-red, perfectly flavored smoked paprika butter to be spread on top. It makes a great appetizer for any occasion, but be careful that your guests don’t fill themselves up on it! It’s a little bit addictive.

The focaccia and butter can be used separately, of course. The focaccia, carefully halved horizontally, makes for a luxurious sandwich bread, while the smoked paprika butter is great for adding a smoky flavor to savory dishes -- toss a knob in at the end of pan-frying a piece of fish, or frying eggs, or even use it to finish off a pasta dish! The possibilities are endless. (I wouldn’t recommend using it as a cooking fat, however; the spices in the butter tend to burn if heated for too long at cooking temperatures.)



Smoked Paprika Butter:


  1. Make the focaccia: Whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Add the warm water and stir with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated -- it will form a very sticky, wet dough. This is good! This is what makes the end result so tender and moist.
  2. Pour ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil into a large bowl, one that will give the dough room to rise significantly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rise for at least 8 hours or for up to 2 days. The longer it rises, the better the flavor, in my opinion, but if you’re short on time, 8 hours still works!
  3. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450°F and oil an 18” x 13” baking sheet. Transfer the focaccia dough to the pan and use your hands to spread it out over the pan as much as possible -- it will try to spring back from the corners, but some gentle, patient pushing will make it stay.
  4. Place the dough in a warm place to rise again, until it about doubles in bulk. This can take 20 minutes in the summer and an hour in the winter, so pay attention to its original size. When the dough is ready for baking, it should be room temperature, fully spread out on the sheet, and looking nice and fluffy.
  5. Pat down the dough to an even 1-inch thickness and then poke your fingertips into it at 1-inch intervals to make a series of dimples over the whole surface of the dough. Drizzle the entire surface with some extra-virgin olive oil -- this helps it get a beautiful golden-brown color -- and sprinkle generously with some English Flake Sea Salt.
  6. Bake for 20-30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the top is a beautiful golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and then remove from the pan.
  7. This bread is best eaten the same day or, at the very latest, the next day. “That’s a lot of focaccia to eat in one day!” you might be thinking. Well, even though it’s delicious, I agree. This bread also freezes quite well -- cut it into single-serving rectangles and freeze it in a freezer bag. It will defrost and crisp up nicely in a 350°F oven later on. If you’re planning to make sandwiches with it, cut it in half horizontally before freezing, for a much easier and faster defrosting process.
  8. Make the butter: blend all ingredients together thoroughly, making sure there are no white streaks. The butter will keep in the fridge in a sealed container for a few weeks.

Serves 8-10 as an appetizer. Adapted from Saltie and Prune.


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Carrot Cake for a Crowd

by Lydia Whitlock — Oct 5th, 2016

Making dessert for a crowd can be difficult. Something like a pie is almost big enough, but you'll have to carefully dissect it into tiny slivers to really make it work. A layer cake looks spectacular, but presents the same slicing problem. The way to go is with a rectangular dessert, like a cobbler or a sheet cake. When I think of sheet cakes, I think of the typical yellow cake/chocolate frosting combination, which, while satisfying, isn't particularly sophisticated. But this sheet cake is a different animal -- a moist, well-spiced carrot cake topped with a tangy cream cheese frosting.

The crushed pineapple in the cake batter creates a perfect texture, while the optional step of soaking the raisins in some whiskey before stirring them into the batter adds a little zing to the flavor. A hearty helping of cinnamon and vanilla round out the flavors to create something that is flavorful and indulgent, but not at all heavy. Bring it to a summer barbecue or a fall potluck -- the crowd will definitely be pleased!



  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. Vanns Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. Vanns Vanilla Extract
  • 3 cups peeled and grated carrots, about 4 large
  • ½ cup canned crushed pineapple
  • 1 cup raisins
  • ¼ cup whiskey, optional


  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. Vanns Vanilla Extract
  • ¼ tsp. Vanns Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13” baking pan with butter or cooking spray. Line with parchment paper if you’re at all concerned about the cake sticking.
  2. If you’d like to add a little extra zing to the cake, place the raisins in a small heatproof bowl, and heat the whiskey in a small saucepan until hot but not boiling. Pour the whiskey over the raisins and allow to plump for 15 minutes. Drain the raisins and set aside. Or, you can just add the dry raisins to the cake!
  3. Stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and sugars in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, if you have one.
  4. Using the stand mixer, a handheld mixer, or just elbow grease, beat the softened butter into the flour mixture until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla until well combined. Finally, add the carrots, crushed pineapple, and raisins, stirring until evenly distributed throughout the batter.
  5. Spread the batter into the prepared baking pan -- it’s a bit thick, so it will take some smoothing to even it all out. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 15-20 minutes in the pan before carefully turning out onto a platter or cutting board.
  6. While the cake cools, make the frosting. Put the cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla extract, salt, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.
  7. If you’re taking this cake to a party or other location, I recommend you store the icing in a separate container in the fridge and ice the cake once you arrive. It’s easy! Just spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake, slice, and serve.

Serves 15-20. Adapted from Serious Eats.

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