Blackberry Vinegar

One of my favorite salad dressings of all time is a good old raspberry vinaigrette.  It makes a warm day seem sunnier, and a cold winters day seem more like springtime.  It’s just plain good.

There’s been so much going on here between clean up from the storm, renovations to our kitchen and bath, and heading back to work that I just want some simplicity and routine in my life.  Something happy, sunny and simple.  So after blackberry picking today, I decided it was high time to make my own berry vinegar so we would have it.

Like the vanilla extract, this is something that you make today and let steep for a while before you can actually use it.  In this case, it’ll be about two weeks before I know if I nailed this guy on the head or not.   But it looks and smells amazing, so I have high hopes for this one!

Blackberry Vinegar
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup blackberries
 
Put vinegar and blackberries into a pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer for 3 minutes.  Let sit for 30 minutes until cool.  Pour into a quart jar, place plastic wrap on top and seal with metal rim.  Let sit for two weeks, then strain berries out and put liquid into a pint jar.  Will store for up to six months.

Roughing It: Buttermilk-Peach Corn Bread

We had a half peck of peaches that I had been hoarding to take to New Hampshire with us. With this whole no power thing, we knew they would go really quickly. But honestly, what do you make when the power is out and all you have is a grill?

I did a lot of thinking, and then just started cutting until they were all taken care of, but I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. After some hemming and hawing and digging in the pantry I found my secret stash of powdered buttermilk and some cornmeal, and working up cornbread in the cast iron skillet seemed like the perfect solution.

 

Buttermilk-Peach Skillet Cornbread

Peaches
1 cup corn meal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup honey
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk (or one buttermilk packet and 1 cup water)
1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar

Peel and slice about 4 peaches and put the slices in the bottom of your cast iron skillet; drizzle honey on top to help caramelize. Chop remaining peaches and put them aside.

Mix dry ingredients together, and then incorporate the wet ingredients and the chopped peaches (minus the brown sugar). Pour mixture over peach slices, then top with brown sugar.

Throw in a hot grill until it looks done, about 30 minutes or so. Works as breakfast or dessert.

Black Out

Right now I should be on a porch with a cocktail enjoying the sun slowly setting on the pond. Instead we’re sweltering in the heat waiting for the power to come back on while JGL takes claims left and right.

Not quite the vacation we were hoping for.

But here in our corner of SWVA we have a lot to be thankful for during this Black out of 2012. Our home was not damaged, we had minimal clean up, and while we are living out of coolers and triaging the freezer on a daily basis, friends with power have been so kind to offer us freezer space, and we’ve found ways to keep our cell phones up and running (thus the post today). We are so, so lucky.

AEP, our power company, is promising power by the weekend, and if that is in fact the case I will be pleasantly surprised–I’ve never seen damage like this first hand (power line after power line torn out of the ground and tree covered), and cannot imagine the manpower it will take to clean up both on the scene and in the dispatch room. And as the daughter of a 40 year power utility dispatcher, I certainly understand the magnitude of what this means in terms of restoration. It’s not much, but if anyone from AEP makes their way to this corner of the Internet, thank you for your time, dedication, and service. We here at the Homestead (and our neighborhood) appreciate all of your efforts, and hope you all stay safe during the next several weeks.

More to come as we have better access to technology of pictures, roughing it recipes, and how we’re attempting to stay cool. In the meantime, though, if you have power, enjoy it! An if you’re in our situation as well, stay safe and cool!

Vanilla Scented Peach Jam

There is an inordinate amount of vanilla in my house right now.  I’m trying to be careful about how we best use it up, but when I brought home some peaches from the orchard up the road, I had a feeling I wanted to try to combine these two.  I always love peaches in vanilla ice cream, so it made sense that these two would go together.

I will warn you–making this is going to make your house smell so freaking good that you’re instantly going to feel like a culinary rock star.  What happens after that…well, just know you’ve been warned.

Because I didn’t want to waste my resources in case this was a tremendous flop, I made just enough to fill two 8 ounce jars.  Below is the recipe expanded out for a bigger batch–just ask if you’d like the measurements for the smaller batch.

Vanilla Scented Peach Jam 
 
5 1/2 cups Peaches, finely chopped
4 Tbsp lemon juice
6 Tbsp pectin (or one box)
6 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut legnth-wise and seeds scraped out
 
  1. Prepare waterbath canner, jars and lids.  While water heats, prepare fruit and measure out ingredients.
  2. Combine fruit, lemon juice, pectin, scraped vanilla beans and the vanilla bean pod together in an heavy bottomed saucepan.  Bring mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.
  3. Add all of the sugar, stirring to help dissolve.  Return mixture to a full rolling boil, and boil hard 1 minute.  Remove from heat and let sit, untouched, for 5 minutes (this will help make sure that the fruit is evenly distributed in the jars when you transfer it over).
  4. Remove vanilla pods (but don’t throw them out!  Wipe them down and stick in some sugar for vanilla scented sugar, or put in a small saucepan with 2 cups water, 1/2 sliced lemon, and 1 sprig of rosemary and let simmer on the back of your stove for an AMAZING potpourri).  Ladle hot jam into jars, put the lids on and process in waterbath for 10 minutes.  Remove from canner, and set in a safe spot.  Be sure to check in 24 hours to make sure all of your jars have sealed.

Vanilla Extract

I’ve been fascinated by making my own vanilla extract since reading about it on several of the different blogs I read–it seemed to be the thing to do last summer, and I never got around to doing it.  But a few weeks ago Olive Nation had a 20% off coupon that made purchasing a bunch of whole vanilla beans seem a little less daunting.   They arrived really quickly, and as soon as we cut into the vaccum sealed back, the whole first floor instantly smelled amazingly delicious.  We were certainly impressed with the product, and I should have known that a company from my home state would be exceptional!

After reading a bit on the best way to do this, we settled on the “soak the cut in half beans in cheap-ass vodka for 4-6 months” method.  For a half gallon of vodka, you need 40 vanilla beans, and all you do is split them in half, but in a jar, pour the vodka over it, and put in a cool dark place and forget about it.  In 4- 6 months you revisit the jars, strain, bottle the liquid and enjoy.  The leftover beans should still have a little oomph left in them, so you can dry them off and stick in sugar to create vanilla sugar (AMAZEBALLS).

Why go through all this trouble just to say you have homemade vanilla?  Two reasons:

  1. It’s cheaper.  Like, significantly cheaper.  Even though it’s seems like a lot upfront (I’m in it about $35 dollars at this point), it’ll end up being about 50 cents and ounce once all is said and done.  Have you priced out pure vanilla extract lately?  Last I looked it was about $4.26 plus tax for two ounces.
  2. Do you really know what’s in your vanilla extract?  I looked for giggles on my off brand big-box store vanilla and saw the following, “Vanilla bean extractives in water, alcohol, corn syrup”.  Um, I spend $3.50 for “pure” vanilla extract, and you put corn syrup in it? Really? Something doesn’t sound right with this one….

The concoction is currently sitting in the basement curing away, but we’ll be sure to report the final result once we hit that 6 month mark.  In the meantime I’m dreaming up ways to use up the remaining beans, and I think I’ve convinced the fam to make some more when were up visiting in a few weeks.  I think we have a lot of ice cream and vanilla scented jams coming our way!

Bee Balm

Last year I bought this bee balm on a whim (and full price) at our local big-box home store.  I had been eyeing it up for months, and after the tag enticed me with “raspberry colored blooms” I snatched it up and excitedly planted it and waited. And waited, and waited.  The thing got taller, but never produced blooms last year.  I was thrilled when they came back this year, and even more thrilled as I was watering this morning to discover that they do, in fact, have raspberry tinged  blooms.  What an amazing surprise to start the first weekend in a while that JGL and I get to spend together.

Happy Friday!

Backsplash

To say that the past week was a whirlwind is a gross understatement.  There was a “quick” journey north to visit family and attend the wedding of a dear high school friend, a stomach bug that jumped on board unbeknown to me in VA and traveled up to NH, a Dad who made the connection that tablet meant iPad and yes I could use my iPad to read his “This Old House,” and the list goes on and on.

A crazy week, yes, but a very, very good week.

And the countertop man came yesterday to get the official measurements in the kitchen and the bathroom–huzzah!  After a lot of research and a bang up deal at the Home Depot, we decided to go for a solid surface countertop in both the kitchen and the bathroom (Samsung’s Staron in Bright White).  We did both the kitchen and the bath because our kitchen is so small it lacked the required countertop square footage for a) our more local home store to even look at doing the job and b) in order to get the free sink we needed the extra square footage.  What we’re telling folks at all of the cocktail parties we’re going to is that we’re doing it to help create a cohesive feel in our small humble abode, not that we’re cheap.

We’re totally just cheap.

And the countertop man was great–on time, professional, and willing to answer our questions.  The only snafu that he shared was that our current countertop is not solid, and as such our new countertop will either have to be molded to fit the current design (at a more expensive price), or we can simply just put the solid surface on top without molding it, raising our current countertop 3/4 of an inch. If we go with this option, we are going to have to take some existing tiles out of our wall and either cut tiles to put in, or add a decorative backsplash to fit.

So do remember that part where a) we’re totally cheap, and b) I just had almost an entire year of This Old House handed to me?

I’m considering using corks to DIY a cork backsplash.  I cut one up this morning and used craft glue to stick it to the existing tile, but the juries still out.  It certainly would be incredibly cost effective and solve our backsplash problem, and I love the idea of using something that we have on hand and means something to us to integrate that into the house.  I just worry that it’s not going to look right in our matchy-matchy white-on-white kitchen.

Thoughts?