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How To: Make Vanilla Extract

31 Jan

When I moved to Germany three months ago there were things I was prepared for and things that I wasn’t.

What I was prepared for: language differences, crazy techno, drinking until 8am (shhhhh), snow, the absence of sunlight in winter, and a dearth of Mexican food.

What I WASN’T prepared for was the difference in baking supplies. Things I had always considered compulsory-vanilla extract, brown sugar, chocolate chips-were suddenly either completely unavailable or ridiculously expensive. You guys. A tiny-ass package of chocolate chips (maybe half a cup?) costs over 2 euro and claims to contain enough chips to make 20 cookies. They do not. I’d need at least 4 packages to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies which would cost way too much money. I haven’t had a chocolate chip cookie since I moved here.

Brown sugar is available but it is brown granulated sugar, not the dark, sticky stuff you can get in the states. Vanilla extract comes in either tiny glass vials or plastic envelopes and doesn’t taste or smell the same. It is much more sweet and syrupy.

Another surprise is that baking powder comes in packs of paper envelopes, and Germans use vanilla sugar more than vanilla extract, which also comes in paper envelopes. Many German baking recipes use these envelopes as measurements, so it’s not uncommon to see recipes call for “one packet of vanilla sugar, one packet of baking soda”, etc.

I moved to another country armed with all of my American recipes, of course, so these measurements make no sense to me and are not very helpful when I’m trying to re-create my favorite chocolate chip cookies. I’m sure I could figure out how much vanilla sugar to substitute for vanilla extract but not only does that sounds like a pain in the ass, I’m not sure how well it would work. So.

A welcome discovery was that vanilla beans are actually much cheaper than they are in the states and I decided to just make my own vanilla extract. I’ve actually done this once before on a larger scale and ended up with enough to last me almost 2 years. There are tons of formulations for vanilla extract making out there. I think the internet kind of exploded with them a few years back when someone discovered just how crazy easy it is to do.

All you need is cheap vodka, vanilla beans, and time. What?? I know. Also, an added bonus of doing this is that if you ever get desperate you can drink what is essentially your very delicious, very potent vanilla vodka. You’re welcome.

The amount of vodka to vanilla bean varies depending on how much vodka you start out with. I had a teeny bottle (about 1/2 a cup) so I only used one bean. If you have a larger bottle I would use two to three beans. A good ratio to keep in mind is one bean to every 1/2-1 cup of vodka.

First, you want to take the label off of the vodka. You can do this by soaking the bottle in a mix of water and soap for a few hours. After that the label should come right off.

Take your vanilla bean (or beans) and make a vertical cut down the length of the bean, splitting it in two but keeping the ends intact.

Put the bean in the vodka, seal the bottle, and shake to release all the vanilla particles.

Put the bottle in a cool, dark place and shake it every few days for at least a month. It will begin to take on a darker and darker hue, and after a month it is ready to use. That being said, the longer you can stand to let it infuse, the better. Two to three months would be the best.

This is the same bottle 10 days later.

This is 2 months later.

Still 2 months. Vanilla particles!

And ta-da! Vanilla extract. You can also use bourbon or rum as long as it’s high proof. (Bourbon would be super delicious, yeah?) Once it has been infused you can strain out the vanilla particles if you like but I personally don’t think it is necessary.

You can also cut the proportion of vanilla to booze in half, decrease the infusion time, and make vanilla infused booze! More on that later, perhaps?

Wouldn’t this make a great gift for that baker in your life? I’ve also heard of people making giant batches and using them as party (or wedding!) favors. What would you do with your delicious homemade vanilla extract?

xoxo, Stef

Cocktail: The Autumn Leaf

27 Nov

I’ve been really into cocktails lately.

I blame all of my visits to Rickhouse and my newfound ability to amass alcohol for this. First, Rickhouse is an amazing bar with some of the best cocktails I have ever tasted. Second, I’m finally at a stage in my life where I can both afford good alcohol and don’t necessarily consume it all the moment I buy it. (We’ve all been there ammIright?) Because of this I have managed to accrue a decent amount of alcohol; effectively creating a functioning bar.

 

 

I have seven bottles of gin you guys. SEVEN.

You know what this means? THE RETURN OF COCKTAIL HOUR! Also it means that I have been teaching myself how to make cocktails more complicated than a gin & tonic. Though there is nothing wrong with a gin & tonic. They are delicious AND distinguished.

Inspired by my recent cocktail shenanigans, I created this delicious bourbon cocktail that I like to call the Autumn Leaf. No leaves were harmed in the making of this cocktail.

3/4 oz lemon juice

1/2 oz maple syrup

2.5 oz bourbon

1/2 oz apple cider (or juice)

2-3 dashes old fashioned bitters

cinnamon & sugar for rim

First rim your glass. Mix together some sugar and cinnamon on a plate, rub lemon or some water along the edge of a short tumbler, then invert the tumbler onto the plate and twist it around to rim the glass with the cinnamon sugar.

 

 

Then add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. You can be creative with this. No cocktail shaker? It’s cool. I don’t have one either. I use a mason jar. LIKE A BOSS. That little ducky is a ml/oz measure.

Shake shake shake.

 

Strain into the prepared glass (no ice).

 

Enjoy.

You can ALSO make this in a taller glass with the addition of ginger beer. If you do this, follow all steps above, except strain into a tall glass filled with ice and top off with ginger beer.

Also yum.

I just drank all the bourbon in my house you guys. Oops.

❤ stef

How To: Make Mustard

25 Sep

It turns out that making mustard is very, very easy.

Who knew, right?

The basic components of mustard are mustard seeds and vinegar. There are endless variations of mustard you can make by building off of these two ingredients. Mine, for example, contains honey and beer. Other ingredients you can use include wine, sugar, herbs, garlic, and maple syrup. Here is a basic recipe:

3 TB yellow mustard seeds

3 TB brown mustard seeds

vinegar to cover seeds, such as cider vinegar

your favorite beer

2-3 tsp salt

1 TB honey

Whatever you add, all mustard starts the same. You must soak the mustard seeds in vinegar overnight. I use a half and half combination of yellow and brown mustard seeds. Then I cover the seeds with vinegar plus about 1/2-1″.

 

The next morning, blend the seeds and vinegar until they become a paste.

At this point you should add more liquid. I used beer. Add a little at a time until the mustard has a more liquid consistency. This is completely up to you and is very difficult to get “wrong”-so don’t worry about it too much. This is also when you should add salt and a sweetener if you would like. I used honey.

Pour the completed mustard into a jar.

Loosely tighten the cap and allow the mustard to sit on the counter for 1-2 days. This will allow the flavors to blend and mellow. After that tighten the lid and store in the fridge.

Eat. Nom nom.

You will never buy mustard again.

❤ stef

Recipe: Strawberry Jam

18 Jan

It’s officially winter. Part of me loves winter-I grew up in California, in the uber-temperate Bay Area, and despite what many Bay Area natives will tell you, winter doesn’t really exist there. Yes, it gets colder. Sure, you have to wear a jacket. But until I moved to Boston I never had to buy a winter-specific jacket, never had to fully change my wardrobe (my CA winter wardrobe consisted of summer clothes with the addition of tights, boots, and jackets), and never had to deal with snow.

When I first moved I was wary. I had no idea what kind of jacket to buy. My classmates (most of whom were from the east coast) made fun of me. I didn’t mind. I probably would have made fun of me too. The truth is that I grew to love it. I like snow, and the freezing temperatures, and the excuse to drink warm alcoholic beverages on a cold winter night. I like wool and I like to knit warm hats for me and my friends. I like subsisting on stews and roasted meats, and I like watching the snow fall outside my bedroom window.

That being said, sometimes a respite from the freezing temperatures and the gray weather is necessary. Sometimes it’s nice to create a bit of summer, enjoyable even, even if it’s just you in your kitchen, making jam from frozen strawberries.

Strawberry Jam for Wintertime

1 16 oz bag of whole frozen strawberries

1 C sugar

Skin of 1 tart green apple

1 tsp lemon juice

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Sprinkle of ginger

First you have to let the strawberries defrost a bit, so leave the bag out on the counter for an hour or so. Or, if you’re in a hurry (like me), throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until the berries aren’t as hard.

Put the strawberries and the sugar in your pot and just allow them to sit for about 15 minutes. Don’t turn the heat on yet, just coat the berries in the sugar and let them get all sugary.

Mash them with a potato masher. If you don’t have a potato masher, use a fork.

Bring the jam to a boil on a medium heat setting. Boil for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the lemon juice, the cinnamon and ginger, and the apple peel.

The apple peel is a natural source of pectin. The more you learn, right?

Return to a rolling boil and stir until you can’t stir down the boil anymore. It should be really bubbling away. Boil for another two minutes.

Turn off the heat source and check to see if the jam is set by using the back of a frozen spoon. If you look closely at the image above you can see a line drawn in the jam on the back of the spoon. That’s how you know it’s ready.

Ladle into jars.

At this point, you can choose to process it in a water bath if you like, or you can just stick it in the fridge. I chose to just keep it in the fridge. This recipe only make a little bit of jam and I was planning on using it right away. If you WANT to water process it, you need to have the correct canning jars. Finger tighten the rims and process in a water bath-a rolling boil-for about 10 minutes. Remove from the water bath and cool for 24 hours. Check the seals on the jars to make sure they are tight, then store.

And there you have it. Delicious jam for the wintertime; guaranteed to lift your spirits.

❤ stef

 

How To: Homemade Coffee Creamer

4 Nov

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve had an undeniable craving for pumpkin spice ANYTHING.

I’m not really a big fan of pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice lattes, or even pumpkin, really, so this is a bit of a surprise for me. I think it has less to do with the “pumpkin” and more to do with the “spice”. I’m a big fan of “spice”. The pumpkin is just an ingredient I can’t get away from.

In the last few weeks, I’ve made pumpkin spice syrup, pumpkin spice pancakes (more on these later…), and the subject of today’s ramblings-pumpkin spice coffee creamer. I found the recipes for homemade coffee creamer on Pinterest (um, how great is Pinterest? You should follow me.) and was crazy excited. There are a bunch of recipes for different flavored creamers up there, but I singled out the pumpkin spice one, of bloody course. I did change it just a bit but the basics are the same. If you want to experiment with making other flavors, definitely check out Deliciously Organic. It seems to me that once you get the general idea, you can make any kind of flavor your little brain can imagine. Yum.

1 C heavy cream

1 C whole milk

3 TB pumpkin puree

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

1/8 tsp clove

1/8 tsp nutmeg

(Quick note here: for the spices, the original recipe calls for 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice. You can use that, or the spices I’ve listed here, or really any combo you like. The most important is cinnamon and I wouldn’t use too much ginger, clove or nutmeg just because they can be kind of strong. Steffany out.)

6 TB maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients, EXCEPT vanilla, on a pot on the stove. Heat, whisking together, until the mix starts to steam. Don’t let it boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in vanilla. Let cool until room temperature. On a hot day, do this in the fridge. No one wants bacteria. Once cool, strain through a fine mesh sieve, pour in a bottle and store in the fridge.

I added more maple syrup to my creamer than the original recipe, but I (personally) still find that I like a tinge bit more sugar in  my coffee. What can I say? I like my coffee super dark and sweet. It’s the best. If you find that the creamer isn’t sweet enough for you, you can always add more maple syrup and shake it into the creamer, or you can just add some extra sugar to your coffee.

Happy morning time!

❤ stef

How To: Creme Fraiche.

30 May

Alrighty. Creme fraiche. So it turns out creme fraiche is ridiculously easy to make. All you need is some heavy cream, culture, and a warm-ish windowsill. Emphasis on the warm-ish windowsill. I made this stuff in early May and Boston was still dealing with some shitty weather, so although I left my jar out for almost two and a half days the creme fraiche did not thicken correctly. I ended up sticking it in the fridge and then leaving it out for again for about an hour when the sun finally showed up, and it thickened almost immediately. Bacteria yay?

It is very fun to make. Very. It doesn’t involve much active process, but you feel triumphant anyway. Like an ass-kicking pioneer woman who is about to blow your bloody MIND.

1 container heavy cream

1 TB buttermilk or 2 TB yogurt – I used yogurt

jar

This picture makes me believe that the cream is ready to conquer the WORLD.

So. Pour all of your cream into a jar and add the buttermilk or yogurt. I used 2TB of greek yogurt. I had read that the cultures in yogurt aren’t as “strong” as the ones in buttermilk so I doubled the recommended amount. The yogurt you use will impart a slight flavor to your finished creme fraiche. For example, I used a tart greek yogurt and my creme fraiche was likewise slightly tart.

Stir in the yogurt/buttermilk and leave it (preferably uncovered, unless you’re worried about bugs) at room temperature for 24-48 hours. Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken slightly once you move it to the fridge.

I left it out longer (2.5 days).  On a warm day I would probably leave it for 12 and then check on it to ensure that it is thickening correctly, but you likely won’t need to leave it out for so long. Mine, even after 2.5 days, was initially very thin. I then left it out in the sun for maybe an hour and it thickened right up.

This is how it looked after 2.5 days.

As you can see, it wasn’t coagulating correctly. It still tasted good, it just didn’t quite have the texture I was after. If you end up with runny creme fraiche, remember that you can always whip it like whipped cream if you wish. I was actually planning on doing that until the sun finally showed up.

You can use the finished product in so many ways, just be sure to use it up in a week-ish. (I’m a little lax with expiration dates…I basically use something until it starts to smell.) (TMI?) Things I made:

Scrambled eggs

Pancakes

Creme fraiche/nutella strawberry dipping sauce (you just swirl the two together).

Enjoy!

❤ stef

How-To: Hard Boiled Eggs

13 Mar

Oh, hard boiled egg. You are a mysterious beast.

I never know when you’ve become successfully hard-boiled. It’s not like I can crack you open to check. Do you like to hide your secrets from me, egg? Hm?

That’s not very neighborly.

Fortunately, I have found a way to DEFEAT you! Muahaha!

The secret lies in bringing the water to a boil then turning off the heat and allowing you to slowly cook in the heated water.

Yummy yum yum.

You can be used in all manner of ways, hard boiled egg. I can turn you into deviled eggs, or egg salad, in meatloaf, plain with salt and pepper, as ramen garnish, with toast for breakfast…the list goes on.

Today I think I’ll turn you into egg salad.

Hooray egg salad!

Hard Boiled Egg/Egg Salad

Cover your eggs with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then shut off the heat and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Rinse with cold water and peel off the shells. You may need to let them sit longer if your eggs are huge or you are hard boiling a very large quantity, but I always let them sit for 15 minutes and they always turn out great.

Egg Salad

Roughly chop up your eggs. Add about 1TB mayo, 1 tsp mustard, 1TB chopped pickle, 1/2-1 tsp assorted herbs (I like dill and thyme), sprinkle of paprika, salt and pepper, teensy bit of pickle or lemon juice, maybe some capers.

Mash about until it looks good. Taste and add salt if you think it needs. I like my egg salad with tomato if I have it, but I didn’t. I ate it with cabbage and some havarti cheese. However you eat it, spread on some bread or crackers and enjoy!

 

❤ stef