Eggplant Parmesan Bowl

I’ve had fun fixing meals lately that are layered in a bowl.  Probably a bit of a fad thing but I’ve found several combinations that we like.  I usually use a variety of vegetables, a protein, and sometimes a sauce of some kind.  When I’m cooking for just the two of us, I serve our food restaurant style.  Saves on serving dishes and seems easier all around.  With the “bowl meals” sometimes the base is couscous, or quinoa, or rice.  In this recipe the base is polenta.  My friend Jane came across this recipe today and texted it to me.  She thought it was something I would like.   I happened to have all the ingredients.  At our house we love polenta.  We love eggplant.  And we love anything with tomatoes.  I make eggplant Parmesan fairly often and usually serve it with pasta.   This recipe changed things up a little from traditional eggplant Parmesan.  I modified the recipe as I prepared the dish tonight but felt it needed to be changed up just a bit more.  My ingredient list incorporates my changes.  I felt it needed more sauciness and more seasoning in the cheese/breadcrumb mixture.  But we loved it and had second helpings.

The recipe called for canned cherry tomatoes.  I have personally never seen canned cherry tomatoes but they did give a pro tip for substituting fresh cherry tomatoes.  The recipe called for 1 pint of fresh cherry tomatoes, 2 T tomato paste and 2 T of water simmered together until the tomatoes begin to wilt.  I recommend doubling the amount of tomatoes to 2 pints and doubling the water to 1/4 cup.  Two tablespoons of tomato paste is plenty.  I almost always buy small heirloom tomatoes and those worked just fine.

Ingredients:

2 (13.5 oz) cans of cherry tomatoes OR the fresh tomatoe substitute above

2 T fresh basil leaves

1 tsp fresh oregano leaves

1 T each of dried basil and oregano

1 tsp garlic powder

3 T kosher salt, divided

fresh ground pepper

1-2 eggplants cut into 1 inch rounds

4 T olive oil, divided

1 cup panko

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Unless you find canned cherry tomatoes prepare your fresh tomatoes over medium heat in a heavy skillet.  Simmer until the tomatoes start to wilt or burst.

Once your tomatoes are ready stir in the fresh herbs and the garlic powder and transfer them to a casserole dish.

Cut your eggplant into 1 inch thick rounds and nestle them in among the tomatoes.

Generously brush the eggplant with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the eggplant rounds are tender.  While the casserole is in the oven toss the panko, cheeses, salt, and dried herbs together with  2 T of olive oil in a medium bowl.

Also, while the eggplant rounds are cooking, prepare your polenta and keep it warm for serving.  Once the eggplant is tender, remove it from the oven and top each round with the cheese breadcrumb mixture.  Return the casserole to the oven and bake until the topping is a golden brown.

“Bowl” up and serve!  A spoonful of polenta, an eggplant round, and a spoonful of sauce.  Serve with fresh grated Parmesan.  If you follow the recipe with my modifications you will have more sauce in your bowl than shown below.

Enjoy this take on eggplant Parmesan.

NOTE:  While tonight is the first time I’ve made this, I think you could cook down whole or diced tomatoes, vs the cherry tomatoes, and get pretty much the same flavor profile.  A little chiffonade of fresh basil would look great on this dish.  I should have thought of that before I took my photos and we devoured our bowls.

Meat Pie

Some time ago, I’m not sure where, I came across a recipe for meat pies and tucked it away along with the hundreds of other recipes I plan on making one day.  Today was the day for meat pies.  The weather is getting colder and comfort foods like this are extra appealing.  The ingredients are very basic and the dish comes together quickly, especially if you use pre-made pie crust.  However, it’s Sunday and I had lots of time, so I used my favorite King Arthur recipe for pie crust which I’ll also share here.  I made two pies and shared one with our neighbors.  She has been down with a cold or flu and no one feels like cooking when they’re sick.  He doesn’t like vegetables so this dish was perfect for sharing.

First the crust.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups AP flour (10.5 oz)

1 1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

10 T cold unsalted butter, cubed

6-10 T ice water

The beauty of this recipe is that you make it in your stand mixer. I’ve made crust recipes in my food processor before but this works perfectly every time.  Measure out your flour, salt and shortening and put it into the bowl of your stand mixer.  Use the beater attachment and mix until you have an even crumble.

Add the butter and mix until there is an uneven crumble.  You still want to be able to see little chunks of butter.

Once the butter is mixed in and while the mixer is running slowly add the ice water until the mixture starts forming large clumps.  Stop adding water and stop the mixer.  If the clumps hold together restart the mixer and add just enough additional water to make the crust come together in one ball without any crumbs.  You’re done mixing.  Remove the dough to your work surface and divide it into two discs.  Wrap each disc in wax paper or parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

One of the tricks I learned from King Arthur that makes so much sense is to make one larger and one smaller disc.  The larger disc for the bottom crust, the smaller one for the top.

Now that the crust is made and chilling you’re ready to prepare the meat mixture.

Ingredients:

2 pounds lean ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 large sweet onion diced

2 T butter

4-5 russet potatoes boiled

2 T poultry seasoning

1/2 tsp ground cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Peel, cut and rinse potatoes.  Cover with cold salted water, bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are fork tender.

While the potatoes are cooking rough chop the onions.  Heat butter in a large heavy skillet and cook the onion just until it is translucent..

Add the pork and beef to the skillet with the onion and, over medium heat, cook until the meat is no longer pink.  Drain off excess fat but leave a little for flavor.

Season the meat with the poultry seasoning, cloves, and salt and pepper to taste.

Rice the potatoes (or mash) without any butter or cream.  Stir in just enough of the potato to bind the meat together.

Looks like cheese, but it’s just riced potatoes.  Now it’s time to roll out your pie crust.  The filling recipe makes 2 pies.  Put half of the meat mixture in each pie.

Roll out the top crust and cut vent slits.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  Slice and serve.

I served ours with steamed broccoli and a salad.  And catsup of course.

Meat pie is definitely a good comfort food for cold days and I will make it again.  The leftovers should reheat well and it may even taste better the second day than the first.

NOTE:  When I first read the recipe I thought the spice combo of poultry seasoning and ground cloves with a beef and pork dish was odd.  But it actually worked well.  However, you could change that up and use Italian seasoning and serve with a side of marinara or Mexican seasoning with a side of fresh salsa.  Endless possibilities.  I preferred using catsup with this recipe but you could make a gravy or barbecue sauce if that would be more to your liking.

As an aside, for years I always cooked potatoes in a pot with the lid on.  Awhile back someone told me potatoes should be simmered in a kettle with the lid off.  I googled it, because that’s what we all do now, and sure enough, the instructions for boiling potatoes say lid off.  My potatoes have always tasted fine but occasionally, I make an effort to do it the proper way now.

 

 

Chicken Cacciatore

I recently took a long weekend road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with two girlfriends to see the Fall colors and just enjoy each other’s company.  While we were in Marquette we decided to go to dinner at an Italian restaurant that seems to be very popular.  We got there at 5:00 on a Friday night and got one of the last available tables.  We thought, wow….this is a good sign!  We ordered cocktails while we looked at the menu and those were excellent.  One of us had a frozen strawberry daiquiri and two of us had margaritas on the rocks.  One of us ordered the meat ravioli and two of us ordered the chicken cacciatore.  Two of us would be sorely disappointed!  The cacciatore entree included a salad and garlic bread for about $15.  Pasta was an add-on for a little over $4.  The salads were good.  Cold and crisp iceberg lettuce with a couple olives, pepperoni, and tomato and a nice house vinaigrette.

After the salads it was all downhill.  The chicken cacciatore consisted of two small pieces of breast meat, served in a Corning ware dish, SWIMMING in what tasted like an unseasoned can of Hunts tomato sauce.  My apologies to Hunts.  No flavor whatsoever.  This is how appealing it looked!!

Seriously the worst Italian meal I’ve ever had.  I was glad that I ordered the side of pasta because I only ate one of the small pieces of dry chicken.  No one came around with fresh grated Parmesan cheese or cracked pepper…there was a shaker of the  cheese that comes in the green can and a pepper shaker on the table.  For a place that is considered an upscale Italian restaurant Olive Garden would put them to shame, and I am not an Olive Garden fan.  The good news about this horrible meal is that I was inspired to make chicken cacciatore as soon as I got home.  I’ve always made chicken cacciatore with lots of vegetables and seasoning and chicken on the bone and I’m in good company because so do Lidia and Giada.

Ingredients:

One whole chicken cut up

2 T olive oil

1 large onion rough chopped

2 sweet bell peppers rough chopped

sliced mushrooms

4-5 cloves of garlic chopped

4 slices of thick bacon diced

1/2 cup red wine to deglaze the pan

2 pints of canned diced tomatoes

1 pint of tomato sauce

2 T dried basil

2 T dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Pasta of your choosing

Fresh grated Parmesan or Asiago and fresh basil for serving

Preheat the oven to 325.  Cut the chicken into pieces (or just purchase a chicken that’s already been cut up).  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven and brown the chicken pieces on each side.

Set the chicken aside on a platter and add the bacon and vegetables to the pan.

Cook the vegetables until they are tender and most of the fat has been rendered from the bacon.  Deglaze the pan with the red wine, add the dried basil and oregano, and the tomatoes and sauce.

Return the chicken to the Dutch oven,  Cover and bake for approximately 2 hours.

Once you remove the pot from the oven allow it to rest while you prepare your pasta.  My favorites are spaghetti or angel hair but any pasta will do.  Remove the chicken to a platter and add the hot pasta to the sauce.  Serve with fresh grated cheese and thin sliced fresh basil.  The chicken will be fall off the bone tender and the combination of the vegetables and seasoning result in a tasty sauce.

 

As much as I like going out to dinner, sometimes my own cooking just tastes so much better.

NOTE:  Perfect pairings for this dinner are a cold, crisp salad and garlic bread.  The restaurant had that part correct.

Cooking the cacciatore with skin on, bone in chicken makes the dish ever so much tastier.  However, if I were to make it with boneless, skinless chicken I would use dark meat.

This dish would also be wonderful served with polenta.

Pizza Burgers

For sentimental reasons I decided to try this recipe.  A good friend, who sadly is no longer with us, used to make this recipe for pizza burgers and they were a big hit with her family.  Almost every time her grandson came to visit she would make them.  Her boyfriend used to help her.   He’s wanted to replicate her recipe so I made them for him the other night.  If you’re a food snob you might stop reading as soon as you see the ingredients.  For sure my husband is a food snob.  He made up his mind he wouldn’t like them even before he tasted them.  And to tell the truth, I didn’t want to like them either.  But I did.  It is beyond amazing to me that this combination of ingredients tastes JUST LIKE PIZZA.  It reminds me a little of the lady in the grocery line who saw my Christmas baking partner buying the ingredients for our chocolate fudge.   She said her mother made the best fudge (according to her) using Velvetta cheese.  I have no sentimental reason to try that recipe so that will probably never happen!  But it exists out there on the internet if anyone is interested.  Proceed to pizza burgers.  The recipe is not complicated at all and comes together quickly.

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef

1 can SPAM

1 block longhorn cheese (I used 8 oz of Colby jack)

1 half jar original Ragu spaghetti sauce

onion powder, garlic powder, and oregano to taste

Preheat your oven to 425.

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat brown the ground beef.

While the meat is browning shred the cheese and the SPAM.

Once the meat is browned put the meat in a mesh colander to drain off excess grease. Return the ground beef to the skillet over low heat.  Season to taste with onion powder, garlic powder, and oregano.  Add the SPAM and cheese and stir until everything is incorporated and the cheese is melted.

Stir in about half of the 24 oz jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce just until the meat mixture is moistened.  You don’t want it quite as juicy as a sloppy Joe.  Remove from the heat.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  (I used a pizza pan because these are, after all, pizza burgers)!!  Put hamburger buns on the baking sheet and spoon prepared meat mixture on the buns.  There should be enough for 8-12 sandwiches.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes.  You can serve them open faced or with a topper.  Your call.  Keep an open mind and enjoy!

I only made up 4 sandwiches on slider buns for sampling purposes and gave the rest of the pizza burger filling to our friend.

NOTE:  While not difficult, I think the SPAM would be a little easier to grate if it had been in the freezer for a tad bit before grating.  My friend’s recipe called for a “block” of longhorn cheese.  Not having any idea how much was in a “block” or being able to find cheese labeled “longhorn” I used 8 oz of Colbyjack.  I did not add any salt.  It has been a really really long time since I’ve had SPAM but I was sure that would add enough salt to the recipe.

To kick this up a bit you could add a couple slices of pepperoni or perhaps a little slice of mozzarella cheese to each burger before baking.   But before you modify, please taste!

 

 

Chocolate Mayonnaise Sheet Cake

A year ago on April 19th I lost a very special friend, Debra, to cancer.  There was a celebration of life for family and friends  followed by a luncheon.  I made the chocolate mayonnaise sheet cake she loved and decorated it with the monkeys I had bought to use on her birthday cake.  She loved all animals but monkeys were a favorite of hers and always made her smile.  Whenever I saw cute monkey memes I would share them with her and I once gifted her a hideous pink sock monkey that I made.  She adored it.  My first and last attempt at sock monkeys.  Debbie had the gift of gab.  She loved to come down and sit and visit and have a cup of tea or a cup of coffee with a little rum chata in it.  And she had a sweet tooth.  She loved chocolate.  So if there was a cake or cookies or brownies she was a happy girl.  And if there were no baked goods, there was always a dish full of chocolate candy and that’s where she’d head.  I’ll always think of her when I make this cake.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups hot, strong coffee

1 cup cocoa

3 cups AP flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350.

Whisk together the hot coffee and cocoa and let stand for 20 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl combine the sugar and eggs.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Beat in the mayonnaise and vanilla.

Alternate flour mixture and coffee/cocoa mixture beating after each addition and beginning and ending with flour.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased and floured sheet pan.  Bake for 22-25 minutes.  Allow the cake to cool completely before icing.

To make this cake easier to serve to a crowd I cut the cake, used cupcake lines to separate individual pieces, and then iced each piece.  I made a peanut butter icing but you can use any flavor icing you like.

This post is for you my beautiful friend.  I miss talking to you and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea with you at my kitchen island.  I hope there is a lot of chocolate in heaven.  And monkeys.  A lot of monkeys.

Roasted Nuts

Nuts.  A healthy and filling snack.  Nuts are a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats as well as a number of vitamins and minerals.  Almonds are the highest in calcium of all nuts and and studies have shown that they can reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol which is particularly harmful to heart health.  Pecans and walnuts have also been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels and contain compounds that act as antioxidants.  Walnuts, one of my favorites, may help to reduce inflammation which can contribute to many chronic diseases.  A study of college students found that eating walnuts increased cognition, suggesting they may have beneficial effects on the brain.  Walnuts are supposed to be the top nut for brain health.  That’s probably why I like them so much!  I’ve always been told that fish was brain food.  But maybe it’s really nuts!

Considering all of the health benefits, snacking on a handful of nuts each day, unless, of course, you have an allergy to tree nuts, is a good thing.  Eating nuts that are covered in chocolate might, however, cancel out the health benefits.  And while raw nuts are probably best, nuts that have been roasted with a little sea salt are ever so much better tasting.  My friend Jane gave me this quick and simple recipe for roasting nuts.  They are excellent!

Ingredients:

5 cups of raw nuts – I used pecans and almonds

1 1/2 T HOT water

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

2 T olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375.

Measure out your nuts into a large metal bowl.

Whisk together the 1 1/2 tsp of salt and the HOT water together until the salt is dissolved.

Using a spatula or wooden spoon pour the salt water over the nuts and stir well.

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and spread the nuts out in a single layer.

Bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, stir, and bake for an additional 8 minutes.  Depending on your oven temperature you may want to bake them for a couple more minutes.  You can sample a couple after 15-16 minutes remembering that once they cool they will crisp up a little more.  After baking return the hot nuts to the bowl and stir in the 2 T of olive oil and additional sea salt to taste.  Spread the nuts back out on the parchment covered pan and allow them to cool completely.  Once cooled store them in an airtight container.

ENJOY

NOTE:  I used raw almonds and pecans but any kind of raw nut would be good.

These nuts were so good I decided that some other flavor profiles might work as well.  I did a second batch adding 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla to the 2 T of olive oil and sprinkling 1 T of cinnamon and 2 T of superfine sugar on the hot nuts.   I could have added even a little more vanilla and cinnamon.

If you like things kicked up a bit, 1/2 to 1 tsp of cayenne pepper added to the sea salt at the end may be another good choice.

If you don’t have superfine salt or sugar on hand you can use a coffee grinder or mini food processor to accomplish a fine grind.

As with any recipe, you’re only limited by your imagination.

Mango and Black Bean Salsa

This has long been one of my favorite compliments to grilled fish.  It’s easy to pull together, adds nice color to your plate, and has a great fresh flavor.  It would also be an excellent addition to a pork loin or chop.  You might think it an odd combination but it works!

Ingredients:

1 mango diced

1/2 cup or red onion diced

1 can of black beans rinsed and drained

1/2 cup of fresh cilantro

3 T olive oil

3 T fresh squeezed lime juice

salt to taste

Peel and dice the mango.  That’s probably the most challenging part of making this dish.  Add the mango to a medium size serving dish.

Rinse and drain the can of black beans and add to the mango.

Add the diced red onion.

Add the cilantro.  More than 1/2 cup if you love cilantro.

Juice a fresh lime.

Add the lime juice and olive oil and stir to combine.  Season with salt to taste.  Enjoy over a piece of grilled fish.

NOTE:  Like I mentioned, this would be a great compliment to a pork chop or pork loin.  I ate the left over salsa with cottage cheese.  You may have seen mango salsa in the grocery.   Of course homemade is always best and freshest.  But you might also like it with some tortilla chips, perhaps with a little minced jalapeño to kick it up a bit.

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

For quite some time I’ve wanted to experiment with a cauliflower pizza crust.  I was intrigued.  My favorite pizzas have a thin crust.  I’ve never liked a lot of “bread” with my pizza so this is perfect.  And no carbs.  At home I usually make my own flour and yeast crust and I must admit, this took a little more effort.  Perhaps mostly because I’d never made it before.  But I think it was worth the effort and I will definitely make it again in the future.  The flavor was great.  The crust browned nicely on the bottom.  And between my husband and I, we ate the entire pizza!!  So I say that is a positive endorsement.

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (not from a can)

1/2 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp basil

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs lightly beaten

Remove the core and stems from the cauliflower and cut into medium size pieces.  Process the cauliflower in a food processor until it looks like rice.

Bring a couple inches of water to a boil in a good size pot.  Put the riced cauliflower in a steamer, cover the pot, and steam for 15 minutes.  While the cauliflower is steaming preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Whisk your eggs and measure out the cheeses and seasonings.

Once your cauliflower has steamed, dump it on a clean dish towel to cool.  Once it has cooled use the towel to wring as much moisture as possible from the cauliflower.

Once the cauliflower has cooled and you’ve wrung as much liquid out as possible add it to a mixing bowl along with the egg, cheeses, and seasonings.  Mix thoroughly.

Line a pizza pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Spread the crust ingredients out with your hands in a circle or square, whatever you prefer.  Spread it pretty thin.  I was worried it was too thin but it was not.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the crust from the oven and add whatever toppings you choose.

I used leftover homemade marinara sauce with additional pizza spices added, sausage that I browned, peppers, tomato, and onion.  Increase the oven temperature to 425.

Bake the dressed pizza crust until the cheese is brown and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.

Seriously,  Isn’t that a beautiful pizza!!  I make a round pizza and cut it into squares.  Anyway you cut it, enjoy.  With a little less guilt than flour crust.

NOTE:  I have no idea how leftovers would keep as we didn’t have any.  If you have a cauliflower hater in your circle or even a vegetable hater in general, don’t tell them what it is.  They’ll never know.

Eggplant Parmesan and Spaghetti Squash with Marinara – Keto Friendly

Keto Friendly.   The Keto Diet is a very low carb, high fat diet reminiscent of the Atkins diet.  It’s a diet that was first used primarily to treat difficult to control epilepsy in children.  There are also documented benefits for heart health, diabetes, and brain functioning.  It is intuitively obvious that significantly reducing the amount of processed foods, sugar, and carbs we eat will have health benefits.  In an effort to eat healthier and reduce sugar and carbs I’m experimenting with Keto conscious recipes.  Often keto will only require minor modifications to dishes I cook all the time.  This “modification” was very tasty and very satisfying.

Ingredients for Marinara:

1 pint diced tomatoes

1 pint tomato sauce

2 T olive oil

1 medium onion diced

3-4 cloves of garlic sliced

salt to taste

In a heavy saucepan heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until tender; about 3-4 minutes.

Add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce and allow to simmer until thickened.  Use an immersion blender if you prefer no pieces of tomato in the sauce.  Add salt to taste.

While your sauce is simmering, prepare your spaghetti squash.  Preheat your oven to 375.  I came across this hack for preparing spaghetti squash a few years ago in one of my food magazines.  It is easier to remove the seeds, cooks more evenly and makes longer strands of spaghetti.  Use a mister to coat a foil lined baking dish with olive oil.  Cut the squash into 1to 1 1/2 inch thick slices.  Use a paring knife to go around the inside edges and remove the seeds.  Put the squash in the baking dish, spritz the top with olive oil, and bake for 45-50 minutes.

Once the squash is done allow it to cool so it’s easy to handle.  Push the squash out using your hands and separate the spaghetti stands.

Your spaghetti is done.  Now it’s time to prepare your eggplant.

Ingredients:

1 medium/large eggplant

2 eggs

2 T heavy cream

1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup almond flour

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp basil

1 tsp salt

3-4 T olive oil for frying

1 cup Mozzarella cheese

Slice your eggplant.  Peel or not.  Your choice.  If I buy organic eggplant I do not peel them.  Grate your Parmesan cheese.

Whisk together the eggs and heavy cream.

Combine almond flour, spices and salt.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet.  Dip the eggplant rounds in the egg/cream mixture, then the cheese, then the seasoned flour.  It’s not the usual order of things but it works in this recipe.  Add the eggplant to the skillet and cook until browned on one side, flip to brown the other side, and remove to a platter.

Wipe out the skillet or use another casserole dish.  Return the rounds to the skillet and top with sauce and cheese.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Put the spaghetti squash in the oven for the last 5 minutes to warm.

Plate the squash and eggplant and ladle sauce on the squash and also on the eggplant if you choose.  Enjoy!

NOTE:  This dish definitely was lighter than my usual eggplant with pasta but very satisfying.  We both had seconds.  If you’d like you can prepare the squash the day before as well as the sauce.  The eggplant is best served immediately.

For the sauce I used home canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.  You can use bottled marinara but you want to look for organic sauce with low sugar content and other additives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vanilla

Good quality, pure vanilla extract is crucial to good baked goods.  And it is not inexpensive.  A good friend winters in Texas and she brings me awesome vanilla from Mexico.  I use her Mexican vanilla all the time.   When people try to replicate some of my recipes they notice subtle taste differences between what I baked and what they baked.  I’m convinced it is the vanilla.  I recently came across instructions for making your own vanilla on the King Arthur blog.  And decided I would try it.  It’s not complicated at all.

Homemade vanilla consists of vanilla beans and liquor.  You want to make sure your vanilla beans are fresh.  They should be pliable and soft to the touch.  According to King Arthur there are three kinds of vanilla beans that are readily available.  Sharing his descriptions.

“TAHITIAN:  Contains floral notes as well as subtle cherry and almond overtones; pairs well with fruity desserts and has a strong vanilla aroma.

MEXICAN:  Described as woodsy with hints of spice.  This vanilla is exciting, a perfect choice to bring something new to your baking.

MADAGASCAR:  A classic vanilla flavor that’s described as creamy and sweet.  Often used to make vanilla extract; it’s familiar and comforting.”

The vanilla bean descriptions reminded me of the labels on wine bottles!  I chose the “familiar and comforting” beans from Madagascar.

You also choose the kind of liquor you want to use for your base.  Something that has a neutral flavor like vodka or brandy or rum. You want to steer away from spices or smoky flavors that may overpower the vanilla.  No cucumber vodka or Captain Morgan.

Ingredients:

Vanilla beans

Liquor

You want to make sure you have clean bottles/jars with tight fitting lids.  The bottles I used hold 8 ounces.  I used 2 1/2 beans in each jar.  You want to slit your beans to expose the seeds.  If you don’t want to have “flecks” in your vanilla you can scrape out the seeds.  I choose to leave the seeds in for a richer vanilla flavor.  Once you’ve slit the beans put them in the bottles.

Add your liquor of choice to the jars.  I used a funnel because it’s sinful to spill and waste liquor!  I used rum in one jar, vodka in the other.  Make sure your beans are totally submerged.  If they are not, cut the beans into shorter pieces and return to the bottle.

Now you wait.  For at least 3 months.  Store your bottles in a cool, dark place.  King Arthur says the refrigerator is too cold (and it’s light in there when you open the door) so consider the basement or another area of your house that is relatively cool and dark.  Don’t store them in the kitchen which is typically the warmest room in the house.  If you left the seeds in the pods like I did, shake the bottles gently every week or so.  This will help deepen the flavor,

NOTE:  You don’t have to use top shelf liquor.  I used liquor that I serve at home.  You do want to make sure that you have good quality, fresh beans.  Finally, you don’t want to leave this somewhere where someone might pour themselves a shot!

I’m excited for the end result.  Last year a lot of people got homemade laundry soap for Christmas.  This year it may be homemade vanilla.  Worst case scenario, I’ll have to come up with some great vanilla cocktail recipes!