Saturday, November 29, 2008

Magical Beans

OK, I finally got off my lazy rear end and dug out my homemade lightbox. I am tired of my pictures looking ...well, tired. Plus, this project for homemade vanilla extract deserves it!

I found this a little over a month ago on Travelers Lunchbox and thought "HOW COOL IS THAT?" Who would of thought that making your own vanilla extract would be so easy.

So, I jumped on Ebay and one week and $15 bucks later I had a 1/4 pound of Tahitain Vanilla beans. I had most of a bottle of vodka left over from a party and I was in business.

I split about a half a dozen beans and plopped them into the vodka. My next step was finding some cute little bottles (which actually was the hardest part). I finally found them at Michaels. Several weeks later I have pleanty of vanilla extract for my holiday baking and hmmmm... wouldn't these make cute gifts?

The pictured bottles still need a little more time before they are quite ready to use but I was too excited to wait any longer to share this. You want the extract to be a nice rich brown color.

There is not an exact science to this. More beans = faster and richer extract. Melissa at Travelers Lunchbox also suggests jumpstarting your homemade extract with a bottle of good quality storebought extract. If you use vanilla beans on a regular basis you can use the left over beans. Again, this will result in a slower production.

Here is the coolest part of this. Once you start a bottle of vanilla extract you simply keep topping it off with additional vodka and you will have an unending bottle of vanilla! You can add additional vanilla beans as you use them. As long as a bean still has the vanilla scent it still has life. If you have used a whole bean in your recipe(such as boiling it in milk) just give it a rinse before adding to the bottle. If you don't ever used vanilla beans in cooking you can add a couple of new ones split down the middle every once in awhile.

Everlasting Vanilla Extract

1 L Vodka (any brand)
6-8 Vanilla beans

Split beans down the middle with a sharp knife. Drop Beans into Vodka. Store in a cool dark place. Once a week give bottle a bit of a shake. In 6-8 weeks you will have a rich bottle of extract.

Once extract is established pour a few ounces into a smaller bottle for every day use and top off larger bottle with additional vodka. Continue to do this as you use your vanilla.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's a Beautiful Life

One of the disadvantages to my job is 911 does not close. This means that SOMEONE has to work on the holidays. This year that someone is me (along with a few other people). Because our schedule is on a 4 week track and Thanksgiving and Christmas are exactly 4 weeks apart, my shift gets the distinction of working BOTH holidays this year. But, someone has to do it and next year it will be someone else.
Don’t feel TOO bad for me though. One thing it didn’t do was prevent me from eating! It started early in our shift when my partner and I popped into the resturant my daughter (yes, she had to work too) works at for breakfast and crossed our fingers that we would not get a call before getting our food. Not only did we manage to get our food and swallow it whole actually eat it; but, we were seated next to a very nice couple who not only didn’t complain about the loudness of our radios, but thanked us for doing our job (which is not expected but always greatly appreciated). When we went to pay our bill were told that they had already paid for it. Wow! I have to say that made our day!

But no, the eating did NOT stop there. The ER staff all brought food to share so each time we dropped off a Patient we popped into the lounge to partake in the feast that was there. Downtown at EMS base we also had a potluck dinner and between the cooperation of the citizens of Cumberland county (by not calling 911 too often), the dispatchers, the coordination of the supervisors and us covering one anothers zones, each crew managed to rotate in to grab a quick plate with all the traditional fixins. Though we had gotten our fill, we had invites from the fire stations and even a few homes where we went to pick up patients. So, trust me we were NOT going to starve!

On top of all this, I prepared this Buffalo chicken Dip that I found on the Big Red Kitchen. This is the same place I found the recipe for the Jalapeno Popper Dip. Seems like Robin Sue has a knack for great “man food” ( Though I have not heard any women complain either). I strategically placed this in the EMS room (where we go to write our reports after we drop off our patients) for the crews to snack on between calls. Like the Jalepeno dip, this is like Buffalo wings deconstructed. I LOVE IT! I swear, both of these dips taste like the real thing.

I made a few changes to this mostly because I made a much bigger quantity of it and for convience (you know me I used a pre-cooked deli chicken). I had enough for a large bowl for the ER and two smaller ones for the EMS room and our dispatchers (never hurts to try to make them happy) The one thing I did not do was heat it. I pulled out a small amount after I mixed it together and zapped it in the microwave for a few seconds and honestly I did not like it that way. But at room temperature it was awesome. I think this is just a personal preference so try it and decide for yourself.

My shift ended at 8 pm and I met up with my kids along with their respective signifigant others and a few other friends thrown in. We spent a few hours playing games and I went home and fell into bed exhausted. But before I went to sleep I thought about my blessings. My children, my family and friends and a job that I love. Though my Thanksgiving may not have been traditional (much like my entire life) that does not mean it was not happy.

I hope every one had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Buffalo Chicken Dip

3 cups cooked chicken,shredded
2- 8oz pkgs softened cream cheese
1-12oz bottle Buffalo Wing sauce (I used Franks Red Hot)
1-16oz bottle Chunky Bleu Cheese Dressing
2 cups shredded Cheese (I used 3 cheese mexican blend)

Mix all ingredients together. Serve at room temperature (or warmed if desired) with Tortilla chips and celery.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Try It, You'll Like It

Let’s take a poll. Who likes cranberry sauce? Ok for all of you out there who said no or EWWW,tell me this… Have you EVER had anything but that icky jellied stuff out of a can?

Trust me that is NOT cranberry sauce. If you tried homemade cranberry sauce I would bet that at least half of you would not turn your nose up at it again. If you said you DO like cranberry sauce, you will be in heaven when you see how quick and easy it is to make. When you taste it, you will swoon!You will be perplexed as to why anyone would EVER buy that canned stuff.

If you are the person who always brings the soda or rolls to holiday dinner because your family does not trust you to cook or you want to impress your Mother-in-law, offer to bring this. You will feel smug when people start asking you for the recipe!

Kickin Cranberry Sauce

12 ounces fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

Finely grated zest from 1 orange

2 tablespoons of finely chopped crystalized ginger (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients except crystalized ginger in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries pop open, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Skim foam off the surface with a metal spoon and discard. Cool to room temperature. Stir in crystalized ginger. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 months.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pardon Me Waiter, There Is A Foot In My Soup

After seeing this picture, I want to see a show of hands ...How many people want to come for dinner???? I know it looks gross, but believe me you do.

Actually I used these chicken feet to make chicken stock. I had read about using them last year but I never thought I would actually be able to find them. But, I went to "Compare and Save" (which is a Hispanic grocery store in the Bonnie Doone area), there they were!

I went in there to check out their produce and see if I could find anything new and interesting. There were lots of things I want to try there but once I saw the chicken feet I was distracted. I had several chicken carcasses in my freezer that I had been meaning to make into stock so this was a good reason to get on that.

Adding chicken feet to your stock makes it richer and thicker. Chicken feet contain a lot of gelitan which gives your stock a velvety mouthfeel. Similar to when you add butter to pan sauce. It's hard to explain but you definately know that it is something good.

I just boiled the chicken feet for 5 mins then cut off the claws and tips of the toes and added them to the rest of my carcasses and proceeded with my ususal method of making stock that I posted last year but according to Elise at Simply Recipes you can make it with just the feet.

It is so nice to have home made stock in my freezer. Flavorful stock is the secret to making a soup that taste like it cooked all day but can actually be thrown together in just a few minutes. I even went as far as making a couple of containers of "soup base". I froze some shredded chicken in stock so that I can pull it out and make a quick Chicken and rice or Chicken Tortilla or my favorite, Avgolemono.

Avgolemono is a Greek lemon soup. I posted my own version of this last year but it is worth repeating. Don't let not having homemade stock keep you from making this. It is still great with store bought stock. This is so good for a cold day or a great comfort food for when you are feeling under the weather.


6 cups Chicken Stock
1 cup shredded Chicken(optional)
3 egg yolks
2-3 lemons
1/2 cup Orzo
1/3 cup finely diced carrots
Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring Chicken stock to boil. Add in Orzo and carrots. Continue to boil 8-10 min until Orzo is Al dente.Add in Shredded chicken. Lower heat to simmer. Place the egg yolks into a small bowl. Zest 1 of the lemons into eggs then squeeze in the juice of the remaining. Beat lightly. Temper the eggs by slowly stiring in about 1/2 cup of the broth a little at a time. Slowly stir the egg/broth mixture back into the remaining broth. Simmer for 5 min. Do NOT let mixture come to a boil as it will cause the eggs to separate and though it still tastes good its not very pretty when it does this. If you have left overs (and I doubt you will) be sure to heat very slowly for the same reason.

NOTE: Orzo is a rice shaped pasta. You can replace this with rice (and I have in a pinch, but I really prefer the Orzo) but you will have to increase the cooking time to about 25 mins.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taking It Apart and Putting It Back Together


I happen to really like Jalapeño Poppers but I have an aversion to deep frying. One, because I hate the smell of grease in my house and two, because besides being a messy cook I am also a cook that burns herself a LOT. Working with large amounts of hot oil is a recipe for disaster. I do, occasionally get the frozen kind that you bake and they are pretty good, but mostly I just get them when I go out.

But when I found this recipe for Jalapeño Popper Dip on a blog called Big Red Kitchen. I knew I had to try it. It is all of the flavor of Jalapeño Poppers without the frying! Sort of Jalapeño poppers deconstructed.

I took this to my friend Evie's bachlorette party and had a good response from the girls. But when I took it to work ,the guys really scarfed it down and everyone wanted the recipe!

This is a perfect "Sunday, watching the game" dip. You can serve it with Crackers (Ritz work well),bread or the guys really dug the "scoops" variety of tortilla chips. Get it? Dug? Scoops......never mind. You can make this mild or turn up the heat as you like.

I made just a few minor changes to this recipes and I used the "Lite" versions of cream cheese and mayo. I replaced the canned jalapeños with 4 fresh but the recipe does not reflect that because honestly, I think you will get a stronger Jalapeño flavor with them. Next time I plan to add both(but I really like a kick).

Don't forget when working with fresh Jalapeños that the heat lives in the seeds and membranes of the peppers. For less heat you should remove them for more heat leave them in. (I usually leave some but not all) I also recommend wearing gloves while working with them. The oils in the peppers can be difficult to wash off and you might get a not so friendly reminder of that later in the day when you touch your eyes or nose.

Happy Snacking!

Jalapeño Popper Dip
2- 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temp
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1- 4 ounce can chopped green chilies-undrained
1- 4 ounce can sliced jalapeños-undrained

1-3 fresh jalapenos - cleaned and chopped

1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 stick butter, melted

In a food processor add the first 6 ingredients and process until smooth. Spread the dip into a greased 2 quart casserole. In a bowl mix bread crumbs and the other 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Pour melted butter over top crumb mixture and mix well. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the dip and bake in a 375° oven for about 20 minutes until the topping is lightly brown and dip is slightly bubbly. Do not overheat or the oils in the mayo and cream cheese will separate .

Notes: The panko bread crumbs can be replace with crushed saltines or crushed Ritz crackers (I would reccomend Ritz).

Baking this in a "flat" casserole dish rather than a deep one is preferred to achieve more topping to cheese ratio when eaten.

Please NO powdered parmesan cheese product...ick!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Taking On The Establishment


I love coffee, I am not really a coffee-aholic but I do have to have at least one (large) cup a day and I usually have 2, occasionally 3. OK, maybe you could say I AM a bit of a coffee-aholic. But I can stop anytime I want. OK, I can't stop but I can live with just one cup a day.

I would like to say I am a coffee connoisseur. I do love good coffee and I recognize it when I have it. But, I rarely meet a cup of coffee I absolutely won't drink. I guess I would have to say I am more of a coffee slut than a connoisseur.

This comes from years of working EMS. Drinking bad hospital coffee or Convenience Store coffee to stay awake on night shift.I will go as far as reheating coffee I have made earlier in the day (sometimes even the day before). I know, it's gross but sometimes you need a cup of coffee before you are capable of MAKING coffee.

In the morning I prefer my coffee hot but at other times of the day I like it cold. This has me stopping at Starbucks and dishing out 4 bucks on a Iced Mocha WAY more often that my budget likes. But you know us addicts ...we will sell our souls for a fix.

I have tried making Iced coffee at home. You know, with that left over pot from last week this morning. I can't say that it was very tasty but yes I drank it anyway.

When I came across this method for cold brewing coffee I was intrigued. I did not know that was even possible. So, I decided to give it a try. I was amazed by how good it was. When you cold brew the coffee you don't extract as much of the oils and acid in the coffee which is part of what makes it bitter the longer it sits. You do however get a wonderful smooth flavor.

This is an excellent method for making iced coffee. The only downside it that you have to plan ahead. The good news is it will keep in the fridge for several days so you can keep it on hand. I also found that it makes a excellent quick cup of hot coffee when heated (Much better than the reheated stuff from yesterday). There is some debate about the caffeine content of cold brewed. When I researched it I found some sources say it is pretty much equal to hot brewed and others that say it has a bit less. I guess with the amount I drink, it would do me good to have a little less caffeine anyway.

The original directions I found for this directs that this be done in a jar or other glass container with a lid. But I found my French Press (which I think by far makes the best hot coffee) to be really convenient for this because it has a strainer built right in. If you don't have a French Press you should run right out an buy one you can use a jar and a fine mesh strainer or even a paper coffee filter (though this takes a little time).

The instructions advise using a nice blend of coffee coarsely ground coffee. I plan on doing that at some point but I think just your average french roast coffee bought at the grocery store results in a pretty good finished product.

Cold Brew Coffee

2/3 cup ground coffee

3 cups water

Place Coffee and water in French press or glass jar with a lid. Let stand for 12 hours. Strain twice (I found the second strain unnecessary with the french press).This "base" can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Serve over Ice

I prefer one part milk/cream to 2 parts coffee and I often add flavored creamer or sometimes a little chocolate syrup. You can also experiment with your favorite flavored syrups.

Believe it or not sometimes I do drink something beside coffee though. I made the mistake of trying The Carmel Apple Spice the other day. Mistake, because now I would like to drink it everyday! (Again we are back to my wallet protesting) It is like a spiced apple cider with carmel it is SO good!

So, last week I watched them make it and guess what? It is SO easy to make and they sell the syrup there at the store. For the cost of 2 drinks in the store you can make enough for a party and I promise you it will be a hit. My friend Savanna made it for her husbands change of command ceremony (which was outside in the morning and COLD) and put it in a crockpot to keep it warm. Every time the lid was lifted the aroma was heavenly!

Carmel Spiced Cider

6 oz Apple juice or cider

1 oz Cinamon Dulce Syrup

1 tsp Carmel Ice cream topping

Whipped cream and cinnamon for garnish

Heat juice/cider on stove in in microwave to desired temp. Add Cinamon dulce syrup and carmel topping. Stir, Top with whipped cream with a little carmel drizzled over top and sprinkled with a dash of cinamon.

So, while I am here trying to put Starbucks out of Business I will bring back a recipe that I posted last year for "Better than Starbucks, Cranberry Bliss Bars"Just a warning though, don't make them if you are not having a party or taking them somewhere. You don't want a whole pan of these in your house because they are TOTALLY addicting!