Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Great Holiday Gift Idea!

I know, I know, it's only September and I shouldn't be thinking about Christmas yet - but I am!  I have been wanting to make homemade vanilla extract for months, and it's finally time to make some for myself and a few to give away as gifts.  I bake a lot, and considering that everything from my homemade granola cereal to my oatmeal energy balls contains vanilla extract, I go through a bottle of the stuff every couple of weeks (I can't always find the larger bottles of pure extract at the stores I frequent, so I'm forced to buy those little chintzy ones for $3 a pop).  That being said, making my own is quite a bit more cost effective, and I'm guessing it will be quite delish.

I purchased the three glass bottles pictured below (which stand approx. 8 inches tall) at a garage sale for $2 (old dressing bottles would work well if you're not a garage saler), in addition to 2 bottles of brandy for $22 plus tax.  The two bottles of brandy made all three vanilla extracts, in addition to a quart-sized jar of Elderberry Elixir (recipe coming soon!).   I bought the organic vanilla beans from Mountain Rose Herbs for $7.50 plus shipping, and received 12 beans in the package, so I have enough left over to make another jar of extract.  After all was said and done, each jar of vanilla extract was still cheaper than a much smaller jar of the high-quality extract you can find in some stores - and the beans used were organic, to boot!  This recipe is so easy (and the result so pretty, especially to foodies like me) that I hope you give it a try!

Homemade Vanilla Extract

9 to 12 whole vanilla beans
2 bottles of good brandy
3 or 4 decorative glass jars with corks or lids (sterilized)

Sterilize your jars and lids in boiling water for 7 minutes.  Let dry.  Place 3 to 4 vanilla beans in each jar and cover completely with brandy.  Place the lid on tightly and let sit in a cool, dry cupboard for 8 weeks.  Liquid will darken over time.  Use as needed after 8 weeks.

*I've read that, once the 8 weeks are up and you are using your extract, you can leave the beans in the jars and top off with brandy as needed for quite a while to keep up your supply.*
Sweet and Savoury Sunday

Monday, September 9, 2013

Crunchy, Zesty and Easy Fridge Pickles Recipe

If you've read my previous post on grape picking and canning jam, then you know that I'm not a fan of the canning process.  That being said, this recipe requires no canning!  Just follow the directions, place in the fridge, wait two days and Voila!  You have two jars of pickles that are better (and cheaper) than most store-bought varieties.  If you're like me, you will stare at them every time you open the fridge until those two days have passed :)  As an added benefit, they will keep in the fridge for several months, but I doubt they will last that long!

Items Needed:
2 quart-sized Mason jars, bands and new lids
6-8 pickling cucumbers (the fresher, the better), cut into halves or spears
2 cups distilled white vinegar
2-1/2 cups water (filtered or distilled preferred)
6 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
6-10 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half
4-8 Tbs dill seed **
1 Tbs whole black peppercorns

**My first batch was a bit too zesty/salty, so I cut way down on the dill seed in my second batch.  You cannot cut down the salt, because the brine requires a specific proportion of vinegar and salt to pickle.  So adjust the dill seed according to your tastes.**

-Sterilize the jars, bands and lids in boiling water (you really don't have to sterilize the jars, but I prefer to do so). 
-Divide the garlic, dill seeds, pepper flakes and peppercorns into the jars.
-Wash the cucumbers and cut off any bad spots, in addition to cutting off the stem ends.  Divide the sliced cucumbers into the two jars, leaving 1/2" to 3/4" space at the top.
-Combine the vinegar, water and salt in a non-reactive pot to make the brine.  Bring to a boil and stir until the salt is dissolved.
-Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers and leave 1/4" space at the top of the jars.  Wipe the top of the jars, put the lids on and tighten.
-Age for at least 2 days in the fridge.

**This recipe has been adapted from this website, and can also be used to pickle green tomatoes.**