Baking Booze (AKA: Homemade Vanilla Extract)

It was Spring Break a week ago.

For those of you that have left the realm of school and school schedules behind you, let me refresh your memory:

Spring Break is a tiny taste of heaven.

Spring Break is a sample of slumber.

Spring Break is a baking bonanza…so I wanted to share a project with you that I started several weeks ago.

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Homemade. Vanilla. Extract.

Its like the Spring Break of baking…except even I don’t know what that means so forget that.

It seems expensive at first.  However, after the initial purchase of ingredients, you end up with a huge amount of vanilla and end up saving money in the long run.

But its really easy!

And you seem super cool to all your baking buddies.

(Pardon my pictures please, the lighting was awful!)

You take some vanilla beans and split them in half.

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Put the beans in a (very) clean jar.  (I boiled mine and let it air dry.)

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Cover with vodka.

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Shake (and bake?)

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Store in a cool place and be patient for 6-8 weeks shaking well every day or two.  Who am I kidding? THAT’S hard!

There are a few decisions you’ll have to make:

1. What kind of vodka to use.

– I used the cheapest I could find and my extract is wonderful.  Quality of the ingredients however will impact the quality of the final product.  So…..use what’s in your price range.  It’ll be fine.

2. How many beans to use.

– I actually did a lot of research on this point.  Some sites said 3 beans per cup of vodka, others said up to 16 beans per cup. Wow.  This is what you need to know: more beans = more concentrated flavor and faster extraction.  I had purchased a decent quantity of beans for a 50 cents apiece at IndriVanilla, so I used 10 beans per cup.  I have a feeling that the vanilla would have been fine with fewer beans, but I’ve only done this once so I can’t guarantee it.  My theory is again to use what’s in your price range (but at the very least use 3 beans!).  It should be fine.

3. How much patience you have.

– You need a lot. Just saying.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Ingredients:

  • Vodka
  • Vanilla beans (enough for at least 3 per cup of vodka, more if you can swing it!)
  • Glass jar with tight fitting lid

Boil or otherwise sanitize the jar and lid and let air dry.  Split the vanilla beans leaving a quarter inch connected at the top.  Scrap the seeds out of a couple of the beans and put in the jar.  Add the rest of the beans.  Add enough vodka to cover the beans.  (You can cut the beans in half if you are using less vodka.)  Place the lid on and shake vigorously.  Store in a cool, dark place and shake every day for the first couple of weeks.  For the rest of the 6-8 weeks, shake every other day or so.

To see if its ready to use:

  • Open lid and sniff
  • If vanilla is the predominate scent, and its been at least 4 weeks, you can probably use it!
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Simply Scrumptious

I never used to understand those people.  You know, the ones that treat their animals like humans?

Silly!” I thought.  “Ridiculous!” I said.  “Dogs are cute, but I would never have one and as for cats…I only like tiny kittens.” I insisted.

Then I saw her.

A scraggly scrap of fur.

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You see, I moved in with two of my best friends after college…two friends that were bound, set, and determined to each get a kitten.  I had listened to the talk all school year with no change in my no-personal-pet wanting status.  However, a week of looking over their shoulders at incredibly cute kittens while sitting in the new apartment…you get the idea.

Then, we got a call from a friend that there were three kittens that needed a home.  The thought of two of them being taken to a warm, loving home and one being left behind?!  I couldn’t stand it.  As we were leaving to get them,  I announced – to my roomies shock and amazement –  that I would take the last kitten.

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She was the runt.  She was tiny and scruffy.  It was love at first sight.

I named her Decepticon.  But her name is really: Decie-Schmoosh.  Or Schpickle.  Or Schmooshy-Face.  Or Punkino-Donuto.

You get the idea, I became one of those people.

Normally, I can keep it limited to daily kiss attacks on the squirming and squeaking Fluffer-Nutter.

Then her birthday comes.

I buy her a can of fish…and I shape that fish into a cake…and I sometimes put a candle on it and sing her the Birthday Song…

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Yeah…

That’s her brother Oliver.  He was suspicious.  He wanted dry food instead.

Whatever.

With the kitties having treats, it made sense that the humans should get treats as well.

But not canned salmon.  Because it smells really weird.

So we decided on peanut butter cookies instead.

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I made one batch last night.  I probably ate half.  I decided they needed something more.  (I may have just wanted an excuse to make more…)

I added cardamom.  I nearly fainted with joy.  I may have exaggerated a bit.  They were AH-mazing.

You can totally make these with or without the cardamom.  You can also add bacon (!) like the original poster did.  (My roomies aren’t a fan so I left it out…sad day.)

You probably have all the ingredients for the basic part right now….so go make them as soon as you read this!

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Cardamom Peanut Butter Cookies

adapted from Shutterbean

Makes about 24 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional but amazing!)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Cream both sugars and the peanut butter together.  Add the egg, baking soda, and cardamom (if using!).  Mix well until the mixture gets crumbly.  Make walnut sized balls of the dough, roll in sugar and place on a cookie sheet.  Use a fork to squish the balls and make the delicious criss-cross pattern.  Bake for about 10 minutes, the cookies will be barely set on the edges.  Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes (Don’t skip this!  They finish setting up at this point!).  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Not ‘Cho Grandma’s Banana Bread

Those that have lived with me in recent years can tell you that the most accurate gauge of my stress/exhaustion levels is the state of my bedroom.

As a formerly messy person (and by messy I mean you couldn’t see the carpet…), I have to make a conscious concentrated effort to keep my personal spaces clean and organized.

(Some of you who have only known me since college are probably thinking, “Really? I’ve been to your dorm/apartment/classroom…and I’m just not buying it.”  Honestly, just ask my mom.  She could regale you with stories of Saturdays spent digging through piles of stratified junk and clothing with me throwing a hissy fit out in the hallway because she dared to get rid of my circus souvenir from 3 years earlier that I hadn’t seen in approximately that long.)

I digress.

My room at the end of a normal week will be slightly cluttered with an unmade bed and a couple pieces of clothing strewn about.  Nothing that couldn’t be corrected in under 10 minutes.

This week the mess hit catastrophic levels.

My shoes made it 5 feet from inside the front door to juuusssst far enough into my room that the door could open and shut.  Not a single article of clothing made it in the hamper.  Papers and books were strewn on any and every available surface…including the floor.  Valentine’s Day candy containers littered my nightstand and dresser.  It was bad.

You know what really helps when your stress/exhaustion hits that level?  Well, obviously sleep but that’s not exciting and you still have to wake up in the morning.  The thing that really helps is…carbs.

Wonderful, comforting, preferably sweet carbohydrates.  (Don’t come to me for diet advice.  I can’t help you there.)

The carb for choice this week was banana bread.  You know that wonderfully fragrant, slightly sticky, perfectly sweet bread?  The one that brings back visions of childhood and the only stress was your mom throwing away your old circus toy?

Oh, that’s just me?  Moving on…

I have this recipe for banana bread that I’ve used since I just started learning how to bake.  I’m assuming it came from my Aunt Rhonda since the card said “Rhonda’s Banana Bread” but this somehow has never been completely verified.  When I make it, its good.  But when my grandma makes it…words fail and angels start to sing.

I’ve  accepted the fact that mine will never be quite like Grandma’s until maybe I reach grandma status…which lets face it is a ways away.  So this weekend I decided to play with the recipe a bit and turn it into a completely different beast so that my taste buds would no longer compare it to hers.

I came up with…drum roll please…Chocolate Banana Bread.

I’ve added choc. chips for years.  But we were out.  My roommate was skeptical at first that cocoa powder would work, but she wants me to make it again so I think she likes it…

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Chocolate Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3-4 bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted (about 5 1/3 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease a bread pan.  (To save yourself possible heartbreak at the end of baking, line your greased pan with a bit of parchment paper and lightly grease that.  The bread will lift right out and no chunks will be left in the pan!)

Mix all the wet ingredients plus the sugar in one bowl.  That would be the: sugar (gasp!), bananas, eggs, milk, melted butter, and vanilla.

Sift all the remaining ingredients together into another bowl (mostly ’cause it’s fun to sift but also to add air and help it all become one a little better).  To recap, you are sifting: baking soda, baking powder, salt, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cocoa.

Combine both bowls together and pour into your prepared bread pan.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until moist crumbs stick to a toothpick inserted in the middle.  Make sure you check it after 1 hour and add a couple of minutes at a time if needed.  Be very careful though not to over-bake otherwise it will be very dry!  Bread will last well wrapped for 3-4 days.

Not Just a Day for Lovers

I. Love. Valentine’s Day.  Always have.  Always will.

No, I do not now nor have ever had a boyfriend that goes all out and makes it incredible.  Doesn’t matter.

Valentine’s Day, for me anyway, is a day that I can let people know that I truly do love and appreciate them in a totally non-creepy way.

When I was in elementary and middle school, picking out the perfect valentine for each friend was a process that could take hours, sometimes days! After all, I couldn’t give one that was super sappy to a boy!  I loved getting an extra however-many minutes before school officially started to pass out those cards (and see everyone’s boxes up close!)

I’ll never forget the year a boy gave me a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates…and then pretended that his dad made him do it.  I totally still have that box (sans the chocolate of course!)

In college, people tried to convince me that Valentine’s Day without a boyfriend was a terrible, horrible, catastrophe of a day.  I didn’t believe them.  I made a pineapple upside down cake with my best friends instead.  We drank sparkling grape juice.  We were so, so cool.

As a 3rd grade teacher, I look forward to the Valentine’s Day party more than the Christmas party!  Shocking, I know.  Watching my 26 little weirdos race around the room with their own valentines, begging to be allowed to dig into their candy…it takes me back to my childhood and I get misty eyed.

I love spending that night with my roomies (who happen to be 2 of my most favorite people ever!): eating copious amounts of chocolate, quoting Friends, and realizing anew just how much I will miss them when we part ways in a few months.

My point is: don’t hate on Valentine’s Day.  It doesn’t matter how the holiday got started.  It doesn’t matter that society has made it into a huge commercial holiday (hellllooooo! Christmas anyone?).  Who cares that restaurants have made it into “couple’s night”?

It’s simply a day to let people know that you love, care about and appreciate them.  Plus, you get to eat chocolate guilt free!

My favorite way to eat chocolate?  In the form of fondue!

Chocolate fondue is an incredibly easy and inexpensive way to create a special “meal”.

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P.S. If you don’t have a fondue pot, just put it into a bowl that you can nest inside another one filled with a small amount of hot water.  It will stay nice and melted for 10-15 minutes.  At that point, you can either refresh the water or heat the chocolate up again if needed.

You will need:

Equal parts chocolate and heavy whipping cream.

A variety of items to dunk into the melted chocolate.

(You can use fancy chocolate if you like…but honestly?  Chocolate chips taste fine.)

Heat the cream, add the chocolate.  Stir until melty and smooth.  Done.

We went simple with our dippers (but the sky really is the limit here!):

– Heart-shaped strawberries: made by making a V-shaped cut when removing the stems.

–  Big marshmallows

– Graham Crackers

– Grocery store cheesecake

In the past we have also used: bananas, pineapple chunks (yum!), brownie bites, orange slices, rice crispy treats, and pretzels.  If you would eat it covered in chocolate, you can totes use it as a dipper!

Recipe for Raised Eyebrows

For any of you that don’t know, I lead a fairly vanilla life.

I follow a recipe while cooking.  I read the fine print.  I’m never late for work.  I drive the speed limit…sometimes.

I very, very rarely have any adventures or do anything unexpected.

Wait.

My life isn’t vanilla, its hobbit-like!

Anyway…

This last October I took a major step out of my comfort zone.  I raised a couple of eyebrows.  I had to work fairly hard to convince a few people that I wasn’t playing a joke on them.

I got a tattoo.

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When I thought about tattoos in the past, I didn’t get it.  I couldn’t see why someone would willingly let another person effectively stab them with needles.  I didn’t judge them necessarily, but I also didn’t try to understand.

My tattoo symbolizes an idea that has come to mean a great deal to me over the past year and half.  I want to never forget what I’ve learned.  I want to never again doubt who I am.  I want to remember what God has been trying to tell me for so long.  I want to have a permanent reminder that I am God’s beloved child (1 John 3:1-3).

You wouldn’t think I would need a tattoo to remember that, right?  It’s really not that I needed that tattoo, but that I wanted it.  I wanted a reminder of His love every time I wash my hands.  Every time I reach for a glass of water.  Every time I happen to glance down.  I tend to forget that God doesn’t want perfect people, and my tattoo is a reminder that He loves me: forgetful, scattered and vanilla person that I am.

A Blogger’s Beginning

packageAlright, I admit it.  I’m new to this whole blogging thing.  As an avid reader of many blogs, I’ve built an image in my mind that I will likely never live up to.  I have finally realized that I may not become the next Pioneer Woman overnight, it might take a little while.

Sigh.

The other day, I decided to just give it a go and see where I end up. (Hopefully in your computer! ‘Cause that’s not creepy at all…..)

Anyway…

Last Saturday I was able to visit the amazing store known as Anthropologie for the first time since I’ve lived in Tulsa.  Due to poor planning, in the past I have always arrived approximently an hour after they closed, grrrr!  (This will connect, I promise!)  I have been hearing about the store for quite a while, both from friends and from podcasts.  On one particular podcast hosted by two of my favorite food bloggers (The Joy the Baker Podcast), it was mentioned that many of their unique plates came from Anthropologie.  As my roommates and I drove to the shopping center to finally visit the store (while it was open!),  I permitted myself to dream that perhaps I too would find a plate that could be the official start of my own prop closet…and maybe even the motivation to finally take the leap and start my own blog!  See how this is all starting to connect?

The clearance section was right inside the doors, and as clearance sales are my siren’s song, I just had to go look.  It wasn’t a bad selections, there were some throw pillows (tempting), blankets, and other random knick-knacks.  After seriously considering a sequined pillow, and in the process convincing one roommate that  I am in fact becoming a pillow hoarder, I turned to the next table and saw dishes.  My heart beat faster, my breath came quicker and I swear I heard heavenly music (though that may just have been because an awesome song came over the speakers…who can say?)  As I’m sure you’ve must have figured out by now, I did indeed buy my first props and they were indeed influential in my decision to finally start blogging already.

If you stay with me, I can promise: many, many more random stories, the occasional rant about my crazy cat and a plethora of delicious goodies.

So…..what do you think?  Aren’t my plates pretty?!

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