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!


Strawberry Icebox Pie

I’ve been in a bit of a culinary rut, and I’m the first to admit it.  Making dinner and such has been more like a chore than something I’ve been looking forward to.  I blame work and not enough “me time,” but after sleeping in for the past few days and catching up on getting the house back to “base beauty zero,” and an excellent batch of blueberry muffins  I’m feeling more like myself.

So we tackled pie the other day with the local strawberries I picked.  I have a go-to strawberry pie recipe, but one of the key ingredients in it is soda, and since JGL and I have both attempted to sworn the stuff off, it seemed silly to use it in a recipe.  So naturally we whipped out the Epicurious app, and I was  delighted to find a soda-free strawberry icebox pie. It has very few ingredients (a plus!) and honestly set up better than my old pie.  Bonus?  I got to use some of the botched whole wheat pie crust I had frozen for a rainy day back in December (that I “neglected” to blog about).  Let’s just say it was a first attempt at using whole wheat pastry flour AND the first time trying to use a food processor to blend–end result was a delicious pressed crust, but one that wouldn’t roll to save my life.

But it’s perfect for this pie, and this pie is perfect for this time of year–sweet, fresh, and full of strawberry flavor.

Strawberry Icebox Pie 
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2003 (as found on Epicurious)
1 Crust 
5 Cups quartered and hulled strawberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 Tbs fresh lemon Juice
Place 2 Cups of the strawberries in a medium sauce pan and mash until chunky, like you were making jam (a potato masher works well).  Add sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice.  Stir over medium high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture boils and thickens, about 3 minutes.
Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool to room temperature.  Then add the remaining berries and stir to mix.  Mount into your pie crust, and chill pie until cold and set.  
Would be EXCELLENT with whipped cream!

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

I love recipes that inspire me to look at the garden in different ways.  When my dear friend made this recipe for dinner right before Christmas, I was delighted at it’s complexity, and grateful that she was willing to share it.  I was also incredibly intrigued at the thought that every part, more or less, of this could be grown here at the homestead.

This recipe has me specifically thinking about growing sweet potatoes (and other potatoes) and beans that can be dried.  It also has us thinking about canning salsa. Things to put on the list and plan for while we still have time to!

For this batch in particular I made it in triplicate–one large pan for this week, one large pan to freeze for later, and three bread pans which are about 1 serving a piece (two for the freezer, and one for one of my students at work).  It was super easy to make multiple batches at once, and I’m hoping it’ll add something different to the standard soup and casseroles that we have living in our freezer for those nights that we “don’t know what to cook.”

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas 
Adapted from, December 2011
Makes about 4 servings
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 3/4 cups low sodium broth 
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 sprig rosemary 
1 TBS olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3 cups)
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes 
16 oz salsa
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno
1 15 oz can black beans
1 12 oz round queso, divided
Olive Oil
8 8-inch whole wheat, high fiber tortillas
Limes cut into wedges and sour cream for garnish
To make filling, heat oil in deep saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and saute 3-5 minutes.  Add sweet potatoes, tomatoes, salsa, garlic, and  jalapeno; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft, about 30-40 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the sauce.  Bring all the sauce ingredients to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk to combine, and reduce heat to low and let reduce.  Pull out the sprig of rosemary when the leaves start to fall off.
Once the filling mixture has finished cooking, mash mixture with a potato masher or with an emersion blender.  Add beans, cook five mintes.  Stir in half of the queso fresco and remove from heat.  Brush a 13×9 inch baking dish with oil.  Spread about 1/2 cup of Sauce in the bottom of the dish.  Fill tortillas with Filling.  Rill, and pack close together seam side down in the dish.  Top with remaining Sauce and other half of queso fresco.  Bake 15-20 minutes, and then broil until the cheese is browned and bubbly.  Garnish with limes and sour cream.  

Herb Butter (or how I started to roast a turkey)

When we moved here to our little homestead, there was an under utilized deep freezer hanging out on the car port.  The previous owners claimed it didn’t work, but after a deep clean (that sadly did include bleach….) and the realization that one must plug it in to work, I was elated to have extra freezer storage.  And let me tell you, a well stocked freezer will get you through the best of times, and the worst of times.

About a year ago our local Kroger had an amazing sale on turkeys, and as Mom always says, for $5 it never hurts to have an extra turkey on hand.  And she’s right–at 39 cents a pound, that bird could have saved the day if I needed a big fancy meal or just needed to serve a crowd.  But a fancy crowd never came, and something had to be done about the bird.  This week seemed like the right time to tackle to project (and subsequent culinary projects) since I have a few more days off before I have to head back to work.

I like to start my turkey off by stuffing herb butter just under the skin on the breast.  It’s not glamorous work, but what it does is both season the meat and keep the bird from drying out.  I used a mixture of lemon zest, rosemary, thyme and local honey because I like those flavors with poultry, and I have a plethora of rosemary and thyme on my hands thanks to our little herb garden.  I finely chopped about 3-4 long stems worth of rosemary and thyme leaves, grated the zest of one lemon, and mashed them all together with a fork in with the softened butter.  After the initial mashing, I added about a tablespoon of honey to add a bit of sweetness and also give the turkey a little something more to caramelize while it was in the oven.  I saved the stems of the herbs to use with the zested lemon to stuff the bird (waste not want not!).

But herb butter isn’t just for moisturizing meats–I save about two tablespoons of it because it is a great way to jazz up a slice of bread, add flavor to a soup, or a fun way to add flavor to most anything that you would add butter to.  The flavor combinations are endless as well–sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil would be outstanding, or anything that you have on hand that you like together.

Plus it’s just pretty.  Look at it, all festive and delicious–takes any old day and makes it a little fancy. And let’s be honest–with the inevitable post-Christmas slump and a New Year creeping up on us, putting a little fancy on your table never hurt anyone.

And stay tuned–the turkey has been picked clean, and we’ve got homemade stock and pot pies coming our way!

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

I come from the land of cranberries.  Growing up there never seemed to be a shortage of the tart and sweet berries.  I have always had a penchant for them, and I’m not picky as to what form they come in–dried, fresh, in the can, you name it and I like it.  And for me, it’s not quite the holidays without them.

This Christmas I was charged with contributing to the dessert table, and after much hemming and hawing I landed on the Cranberry Upside-Down Cake that I had scoped out in my mom’s newspaper during Thanksgiving.  It felt like the thing to bake for the holidays, and I was thrilled to try something new.  It turned out extra sweet and not too tart, and the batter was buttery and a great balance to the cranberries.  I would absolutely make this again, and it would be PHENOMENAL with some extra vanilla-y ice cream.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from the November 23, 2011 New Hampshire Union Leader, Page C3  
8 TBS butter at room temperature 
1 cup sugar (divided)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
dash of nutmeg, ginger, and cloves
1 3/4 cup fresh cranberries
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or regular milk is fine!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Rub bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with 2 TBS butter.  In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 cup sugar and spices together, and then sprinkle evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Pour cranberries in next and shake pan to distribute them evenly over the pan.
Cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy;  Add egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.  In a separate bowl combine flour, bp and salt.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture in batches, and then alternate adding with almond milk until well combined (batter will be nice and thick).
Spoon batter over the cranberries and smooth over the top.  Place on a cookie sheet and place in oven; bake 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.  When done, remove from oven and cool on wire rack for 20 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a pretty serving plate.  

Apple Butter French Toast

Christmas morning was perfect here at the Homestead.  We woke up early and “Santa” had turned on the tree, started a fire in the fireplace, and even turned on the record player so that David’s music filled the house.  After some coffee and some presents, we whipped up some french toast with bread from the local bakery that my dear friend Tasha gave us.  It had dried cranberries, raisins, golden raisins and walnuts in it, and was just perfect topped with apple butter and maple syrup.

Photo credits today go to JGL–he’s super handy with that camera, and doesn’t give himself enough credit!

Apple-Butter French Toast
Adapted from Every Day Food, December 2011 edition, page 66
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
3 large eggs
1 tbs cinnamon sugar
dashes of ginger, nutmeg and cloves
1 tsp vanilla
5 think sliced bread
1-2 tbs butter
apple butter
Confectioners sugar or maple syrup to top (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 250, and head up a cast iron skillet.  In a shallow dish combine the first 5 ingredients and whisk together.  Place slices of bread in egg mixture and let the bread soak up the moisture.  In hot skillet, melt butter.  When butter starts to brown, add soaked bread slices and cook on both sides until brown and crispy.  Transfer to wire rack in oven while the other slices cook in the skillet.  
To serve, layer slices on top of one another with apple butter in between.  Dust with confectioner sugar and top with maple syrup.  

Coffee Cake

Years ago my grandmother gave me a bundt pan.  When I first moved out on my own I brought it with me, and it has served me well over the years–creating cakes, ice rings, flower-pot holders–all the good things a good bundt pan should do.  This time of year it’s not quite the holidays in my family unless you’ve made a boatload of Gram’s Sour Cream Coffee Cakes, and the bundt pan, particularly THIS bundt pan, creates a perfectly shaped cake, and it bears all of the battle scars of a well-loved kitchen tool to prove it.

But I lost it.  I went to make cakes last year and couldn’t find the blessed thing.  I had a freak out, and tore apart every cabinet and every shelf in the house, and tried to retrace my bundt-steps, and finally concluded that the thing grew legs and walked off.  I was inconsolable for about 24 hours, and then tried to accept my failure at handling precious heirlooms, and then gave up on coffee cake making all together.

This week I made my mind up to suck it up, use the other bundt pan, and get on with my life.  I reached into the cabinet that holds those pans, wrapped my fingers around one and pulled, and much to my disbelief Gram’s pan came out.  I have no idea where it was hiding, but like an old friend with whom the conversation is easy no matter how long you’ve been apart, this pan and I kicked some serious coffee cake ass.

The batter for these comes together super quick, and it’s very easy to bust out several (I made six in one day…eep!) in one session.  I love giving them as neighborhood gifts, but they also make welcomed additions at potlucks, breakfasts, or my favorite, Christmas Morning Breakfast.

Gram’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1/4 lb butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (or for a nice twist almond extract)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Add dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with sour cream.  Put half of the batter into buttered tube pan, and sprinkle filling liberally over batter.  Put the other half of the batter on top, and then top with filling.  Bake at 375 oven for 35-40 minutes.  Cool on rack, sugared side up, then serve.  
GAL’s note on filling:  I mix this in triplicate in a small tupperware container so it’s always on hand.  Makes for great cinnamon sugar toast or for when you want to whip up a quick apple pie.  

Blueberry Peach Crisp

As soon as I slip on my work clothes, jump in the car and then head up the road, Staycation 2011 will be officially over.  A part of me is really sad–I really have loved jumping into our version of homesteading wholeheartedly.  But the other part is really excited to get back–we have five new people in the office, and once I walk through my office door my new responsibilities will really start to kick in full force.  It’s bittersweet, but there’s always next summer, right?  Right!

But it is Monday Morning, and I figured everyone might could use a pick-me-up (I certainly could), so I got up early to whip this up–sweet, delicious, and not too terribly bad for you, too (if you’re following Weight Watchers like JGL and I, if you divide this into 8 servings, it is 3 points plus a serving).   I used some of the homemade ricotta cheese that I saw on the fabulous Smitten Kitchen (I swear, she’s a genius!) which made the topping rich and creamy, but if you don’t have ricotta you could certainly supplement with butter.

I’m hoping this will make my reentry into the work force a little sweeter, and here’s hoping it’ll make your morning a little sweeter too.

Blueberry Peach Crisp
2 pounds peaches, peeled and sliced
1-1 1/2 cups blueberries
2 TBS lemon juice
1-2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup homemade ricotta cheese
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp almond extract 
  • Combine sliced peaches, blueberries, lemon juice and fresh ginger in a bowl and toss.  
  • In a separate bowl combine last seven ingredients, and mix until crumbly.  If the mixture is too dry, add 1 TBS of almond milk or regular milk to help the mixture come together.  
  • Pour peach mixture into a cooking dish, then top with the crumble. Place into oven and bake about 30 minutes, or until the crisp is bubbling and browned on top.
  • You can serve this for breakfast, but it would be really delicious served as a dessert with some ice cream

Gingerbread Peach Ice Cream Sandwiches

Growing up around the holidays it was always such a treat to get the ice cream sandwiches that had gingerbread flavor rather than chocolate.  Pure love, right in an ice cream treat.  Since then, I’ve had a love affair with ginger and ginger bread.  Last summer during the wedding canning I discovered what an amazing pairing ginger and peach are together, so in thinking about what to do with our mountain of peach ice cream, I immediately thought about combining those two loves again.

If I had it to do over, I just would have made round cookies rather than trying to make them into bars, but either way I think this is going to be a fun, delicious treat.

So here you have it–Gingerbread Peach Ice Cream Sandwiches, fresh and ready in a freezer near you!

Gingerbread Peach Ice Cream Sandwiches
Peach Ice Cream
Gingerbread Cookies (I cheated and used a box mix, but you can use any gingerbread recipe that you like)
Parchment Paper
  • Take gingerbread cookies and pair them with another cookie approximately the same shape and size
  • Scoop ice cream on one cookie, and then place the other cookie on top
  • Wrap in parchment paper and return to freezer to it can harden up
  • Enjoy!

Peach Ice Cream, Part Two

There’s an amazing shop about 10 minutes from our house that sells homemade pies, cakes, lunches, and shakes.  The peach shake is about as close to heaven on earth that you can get to around these parts.  Every year we try to replicate them, which is why when I asked JGL what I should do with these peaches he said, “Peach Ice Cream!.”

We haven’t attempted the shakes yet, but straight out of the churn this ice cream was as good as any shake out there.  Happy Dog-Father’s Day to JGL–I hope this ice cream helps make it extra special for you!

Peach Ice Cream
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2008 by Ruth Cousineau 
2 pounds ripe peaches
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 3/4 cups half and half
1 3/4 cups 2% milk*
1 TBS Powdered Milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

  • Peel peaches (you can blanch them in boiling water to help loosen the skins, but the variety I had didn’t loosen very well).
  • Dice peaches into 1/2 inch pieces, then toss with lemon juice and 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar in a large bowl.
  • Let macerate, covered and chilled, at least 8 hours.
  • In a separate saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, 1/4 tsp salt, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar and powdered milk.
  • Add half and half and milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.
  • Add to yolks in a slow stream, whisking constantly, to temper, then pour mixture back into saucepan.  
  • Cook until custard coats back of spoon and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer, 1 to 2 minutes (mixture will be thick).
  • Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl and stir in extracts.
  • Chill custard, its surface covered with parchment paper (to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least 4 hours.
After the long wait….
  • Transfer 2 cups peaches with slotted spoon to a bowl and then purée remaining peaches and liquid in a blender until smooth.
  • Add purée to custard and freeze in ice cream maker, then transfer to a bowl and stir in reserved peaches.
  • Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, about 2 hours.  Or enjoy straight out of the churn for a soft serve texture.  Either way, it is good eatin’ on this very warm Daddy’s Day!
*You can use heavy cream and whole milk, but since we’re trying to watch our waist lines, I intentionally reduced the fat content