Vanilla Extract Six Month Later

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Back in June we started the process of making homemade vanilla extract.  We have been waiting patiently, and right before Christmas we bottled up the first batch.  We didn’t have a funnel quite small enough to fit the bottles, but JGL had the ingenius idea to use a condiment container we found at the grocery store for less than a dollar.   It made it easy to get the liquid out of the bottle, and easy to dispense into the smaller containers.

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And the vanilla extract itself?  Amazing!  I’ve never had such flavorful or potent vanilla extract to work with ever, so even with my lower than normal energy I’ve been looking for reasons to bake and use it.  The best part?  Aside from knowing exactly what has gone into each bottle, all in with ingredients, supplies and bottling equipment, each 2 ounce bottle only costs a little over $2.00.

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Expecting

It’s been a whirlwind few months.  We’ve continued to plod along with our home renovations (more on that later), we made it through another travel season and field hockey season at work, put our gardens to bed, put up a bunch of apples and fall produce, and finished up the first batch of vanilla (and more on that soon!).

The biggest thing to happen, though, and the reason for the radio silence here is JGL and I found out shortly after my last post that we are expecting.  What has followed is one of the craziest five month stretches ever–thinking I had early onset arthritis and getting x-rayed and scanned only to find out nothing conclusive was wrong; peeing on a stick a week later and thinking I’d inadvertently scrambled my eggs; morning sickness while traveling (and let me tell you, can tell you the best places to stop and lose your business from here to Maine), seeing Squirt for the first time and feeling the sweetest relief ever that I hadn’t killed this beautiful gift we’d been trying for so long to create;  hitting the second trimester and NAILING IT (I feel AWESOME, thank goodness!); and the list goes on.  Squirt, as we’re calling him, is due the first week of May, and is happy, healthy and growing like a weed.  And JGL and I are elated and humbled at this incredible opportunity.  Becoming parents to a real “human baby” is a gift we are not taking for granted.

But there is much more to catch up on here, and I’m hoping to be better in this new year about posting and seeing where our new adventures are going to take us.  Wishing you all the very best as we head into 2013!

A Kitchen Upgrade: Part One of Three

 

 

 

 

 

It feels like we started this process ages ago.  We had a thought (Hey, let’s redo the kitchen this summer!), put some money down on new counter top and told Home Depot “Let ‘er rip!”  We were thinking at most that this process would be a week from start to finish.

And then the Derecho hit.  And then work got crazy for JGL.  And now work is crazy for me.  And until last night we were still left with phase one of a potentially three part process still not done.  But after some cracker jack timing by my dear JGL, we can officially call part one a wrap.

What was part one?  Part one was replacing the countertop.  And because we can never do anything easy here, when the countertop assessment crew came they shared that we would have to take the first line of tile out in order for the new countertops to fit.  So replacing the countertop and retiling.  Check.

The old countertops were the original laminate ones the house was built with years ago.  You would look at them and just think, I shall can tomatoes today, and before you even started the project they were stained.  I fought valiantly against the stainage for the first year or so we lived here and then gave up.

 

So with no power and during the hottest week of the summer, we ripped the old countertops out.  So long, farewell, good riddance!  From there we were able to get in and knock the line of tile out, and then the wonderful countertop crew came in and put in our new countertop.  A countertop that is stain resistant.  Stain Resistant!  It’s truly a miracle.  We also found new facets that we love, so last weekend JGL installed those as well.

 

But then we hit a snag.  We had thought purchasing new replacement tile would be the way to go, but sadly our local home store didn’t have an exact match for our kitchen.  So after a week of soaking the old tile, my Dad came up with the solution that would eventually work–put them in the crock pot overnight.  And as crazy as it sounds, it actually worked–the old mastic peeled right off.  So last night we cut, replaced, and grouted the tile, and laid a bead of silicone at the base to seal it all up.

 

And folks, part one is now a wrap.  It’s not a huge change, but I’m so happy with how it’s starting to look.  It’s a small kitchen and for me it has to be one that can take a beating, and we are well on our way there.

Part two is painting the cabinets and ceiling, and replacing the hardware to match the new faucets.  We’re a little nervous that once we paint the cabinets it’s going to make the rest of the house look like it desperately needs a paint job as well, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Part three, you ask?  See the ugly range above the stove?  My dream is to take that out and take the cabinets above the stove out and replace it with a Microhood Combination Convection Microwave Oven.   Like I said, it’s a little kitchen and for our family it needs to be a workhorse, and if I can’t have my Julia Child-esque double ovens just yet, this might be the next best thing.  Baby steps, though, baby steps 🙂

 

 

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!