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Posts tagged ‘fun’

6 Quick Steps To Make Your Own Homemade Pure Vanilla Extract

 

Did you know you can make your own pure vanilla extract at home with just a few ingredients? It’s not a mystery any longer and it’s a lovely gift to give to your favorite baker. As with any homemade product, there are several benefits to making your own. For one, you get to choose the quality of ingredients and know exactly what is in your vanilla extract. This means, you will have the highest quality vanilla extract available without anything artificial.

A few years back we decided as a family to give handcrafted gifts for the holidays instead of purchasing them. I was in search of what I could make that would be both fun and practical. That’s when I learned that I could make my own pure vanilla extract. Why had I not thought of this before?  Considering that nearly everything that is mass produced now were once made at home, it’s not that crazy of a thought that I could produce a gift that my family and friends would enjoy.

 

Vanilla bean pods

So what is pure vanilla extract? It is simply the extract (flavor and aroma) from the vanilla beans that have been immersed in alcohol (usually vodka because of it’s neutral flavor, but sometimes brandy or rum) over a period of time. The FDA requires;

“In vanilla extract the content of ethyl alcohol is not less than 35 percent by volume and the content of vanilla constituent, as defined in 169.3(c), is not less than one unit per gallon.”

So that means the vanilla extract you’ll find in the store, is 70 proof (35% alcohol) and it contains 13.35 oz of bean per gallon of alcohol which would produce a single strength vanilla extract. After more research I found that some bakers prefer a double strength vanilla extract and others do not. I am guessing it is a matter of preference.  I lean toward loving the scent of vanilla and enjoy baking with it so my recipe may have a wee bit more vanilla than others but since I’m making my own and not planning to sell it I can follow whatever guideline works for our baking needs and that is a nice pure vanilla extract that flavors our baked goods without overpowering them.

The vanilla bean grows from a kind of tropical orchid. The fruit starts out as a hard green pod and the greenish white flowers (missing in this photo) and in a natural setting are dependent on bees to pollinate them, but now in modern times they can be artificially pollinated.  These vanilla beans are picked unripe and then submerged in hot water to remove their protective cover and allow for the natural liquids to seep out. They are then allowed to dry in the sunlight and ferment. When they have turned brown and covered with a layer of vanillin crystals the vanilla beans are ready.

 

Kauai'i - Green vanilla pods on the vine -Steel Grass Chocolate tour

Unripe vanilla bean pods on the vine in Kauai

 

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Fresh Fish & Zesty Salsa Warm up Winter Nights…

Perch Tacos with Salsa Verde


This taco recipe is a simple, full proof meal that can be easily modified to your liking.  Combining the sweet tang of tomatillos (even easier to grow than tomatoes) and the smokiness of jalapenos hits a perfect balance.  Paired with the light fresh texture of winter white fish, we see it pleases almost any palate.

“Son!” is the constant refrain heard from inside the Ice Shanty throughout the winter.  That’s short for “it’s on!”-a phrase we learned quickly when perch and trout fishing out on the ice with family and friends.  Once the state fish and wildlife department announces the ice is thick enough and safe, the shanty is skied out to live on Lake Paterson until the spring thaw.  (It is converted into “deer camp” in the fall.)

And through the winter, patiently braving the cold is rewarded with buckets of fresh, flaky perch, delicate trout and delectable Kokanee (lake dwelling sockeye salmon).

Since the fish and water are so cold in the dead of winter, there is never a trace of “fishy” flavor in these perch.  They may be smallish, even tiny, but are so fresh and prolific that it is completely worth the effort.  Being small fish, they are perfect for tacos, chowders or an easy fish and chips.

Ice fishing is fun and productive.  It is a wonderful first fishing experience for children because they can easily bait their own hook, catch their fish and keep going at it, all by themselves.

The first time that Phoenix  age 6, went ice fishing, he was so ecstatic that he plunged his hands into the icy water, refusing gloves, bringing up one fish after another off his line.  (That’s not to suggest you catch the perch with your hands, he was just very enthused.)

Paired with the Salsa Verde below this recipe is packed with flavor.

1 lb Perch or other white fish such as halibut or snapper
t 1.c bread crumbs
1 large organic egg or 2 small
1 c. Jalapeño Salsa Verde
1-3 T. Olive oil
8 tortillas
1 c. shredded purple cabbage
½ c. Mexican crema or creme fraiche
½  c. additional Jalapeño Salsa Verde or Tomato Salsa
1 c. chopped fresh cilantro
½ c. green onions
Lime wedges for serving

The fish works well breaded and fried, or quickly broiled.  For frying, mix your eggs, briefly soak the fish fillets, then bread.  In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Arrange the fish on the pan and cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over and cook until the fish is opaque throughout, about 1-2 more minutes more. Timing depends on the thickness of your fish.  Rather than time it exactly, take your cue from the fish.
To assemble each taco, place 1/8 of the fish in the center of the tortilla and top with 2 T. cabbage, 1-2 T. crema, 1-2 T. salsa, then garnish with 1 T. cilantro and 1 T. green onions.  Wrap and bake briefly or sauté in a heavy skillet.  Serve the tacos with lime wedges, sour cream or topping of choice.

Jalapeño—Tomatillo Salsa

2 Pint Yield

This salsa recipe is one of our favorites.  It combines the exotic sweetness of tomatillos with the smoky zest of jalapeños.  Without being big and chunky in texture, it is much thicker than similar tomato salsas.  Go liberal on garlic and cilantro to taste, as the salsa benefits from each.  And feel free to change up the ratios to your liking–with this recipe it is fun to get creative.

We’ve been whittling down this salsa for years and one thing is for sure: amount does not equate to quality.  Even the smallest batch of this salsa goes a long way, both because of its flavor and thickness.  It’s definitely spiced up our winter nights:)  Enjoy!

5 1/2 c. husked and chopped Tomatillos
1 c. chopped Jalapenos, fresh or roasted
1 c. chopped onion
6 cloves minced garlic
1/2 t. salt
2-3 T. freshly ground cumin
1/2 c. cider vinegar

up to 1/2 c. other pepper variety to taste such as green chills or cayennes (optional)

1/4 c. lime juice

1/2 c. cilantro

Chop tomatillos, peppers, onion and garlic separately by hand or food processor.  Combine all ingredients except cilantro and lime juice in a sauce pan over medium high heat.  Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least 5 minutes.  Add lime juice and cilantro for last 2 minutes of cooking.  Ladle hot salsa into jars.  Can in water bath or pressure cooker, or enjoy fresh.

recipe Serves 4

Note: We usually make a double or triple batch of this salsa.  It is just as good preserved by canning or freezing. 

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