Vanilla Beans and Homemade Extract

I love vanilla beans.  Probably one of my favorite discoveries.  I remember trying straight vanilla extract as a kid and how wonderful it smelled yet tasted terrible.

A couple of years ago I got my first vanilla beans.  They aren’t cheap, but neither is good vanilla.

There are a few things to know and to do with vanilla beans. For starters there  is no waste.  If using in a recipe you will procure the seeds but the remaining pod is full of flavor and likely still brimming with seeds so there is plenty to do with it.

As a general rule an inch of vanilla bean is equal to a teaspoon of vanilla.  Of course as with any spice it will vary by quality.  In bean form though you get a very good product to work with so use accordingly.

The easiest way to harvest the seeds is to cut to desired length and make a slit down the middle.  Using a dull knife or spoon scrape the seeds from the bean and add to recipe.

Now what to do with the rest of the bean.  I personally keep a jar of vodka with all of the bean remnants; I use that anytime I just need some simple vanilla extract for a recipe. You can though add the bean to some sugar for some vanilla infused sugar or simply toss into a potpourri mix.  What ever you do; don’t thow it out!  There is so much good flavor and smell left that you really should enjoy every last bit.

Enjoy ~ Kimberly

Parmesan Cheese Crisps ~ a fantastically easy elegant treat

These are one of the easiest elegant treats to make.  It dresses up the simplest of dishes.  I used them tonight with some simple spaghetti and sauce.  To be honest I actually used a pecorino romano cheese but parmesan works just as beautifully so use which ever you prefer.

Parmesan Cheese Crisps

  • fresh grated cheese ~ parmesan or other hard italian style cheese

I used 1/4 cup total and made 4 little crisps.  Each with about 1 Tablespoon of cheese; then spread out to about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes. They can easily be made bigger or thicker but adjust the cook time accordingly.

Let rest for about a minute before removing from cookie sheet; they can easily be shaped while still warm if desired.

Enjoy ~ Kimberly

Fresh from the Garden ~ Basil

Just a quick post today.  I’m working on some lasagna which I will share probably tomorrow but I must share with your my favorite technique for cutting basil.  I like to plant a few different varieties of basil; today I used a purple and another that has both green and purple colors. 

First remove any flowers and stems.

Place about a teaspoon of olive oil.  This amount will vary based on how much basil you have; I ended up with about a tablespoon of basil so add more oil if needed.  You just want to make sure all the leaves are lightly coated.

Gently stir around the basil to coat with oil.  Now for the next step.  Stack up the basil leaves; and roll up similar to the picture below.

Using a sharp knife slice the basil in to thin strips; chiffonade if you please.  The olive oil keeps the leaves from bruising. and the rolling of the stacked leaves makes short work of the task.

Enjoy ~ Kimberly

Skillet Pot Roast ~ Chuck Roast with carrots and potatoes

I love finding a piece of beef marked down.  This week it was a package of chuck steak; two small steaks weighing about 1 1/2 pounds. Certainly not fit for grilling; at least not to the medium rare I prefer my steak so I decided a roast would be delicious.

I went with just a stove top cook for these.  It took about 2 hours total time.  I always begin by seasoning with salt and pepper and browning the beef of both sides.  This takes about 4 – 5 minutes each side.  Once browned I added a half cup of water and covered.  Reduce heat to low and allow to slowly simmer for about an hour.  Prepare a few potatoes ~ I used about 8 baby reds cut in half.  Peel a few carrots; I love carrots so I went with 6 cut in half.  Charles likes celery so I added a couple of stalks of celery and one onion cut into quarters.  Place veggies under meat after first hour has passed.

Continue simmering another hour or so until vegetables and meat are tender.  Once tender remove meat and veggies from pan. If desired make some gravy with the drippings or serve with a little butter, salt, and pepper on the potatoes.

Enjoy ~ Kimberly

Beer Can Chicken ~ Charcoal Grilled Deliciousness

Just a quick post to highlight the fantastic beer can chicken Charles made for dinner today.  The cooking time depends on size of bird and temperature of grill.  We like natural lump charcoal over a medium high heat.  It took about an hour and a half for our chicken.  The flavor infusion was perfect with fresh rosemary and plenty of garlic cloves.

Stuff chicken with herbs and garlic.

Balance chicken on half filled beer can over foil tray on grill.

Cook until juices run clear.

Enjoy ~ Kimberly

Chicken Stock ~ Homemade Broth

Chicken Stock is so much better when you make your own.  We make it often; it’s always different depending on our mood.  Today I went for a low sodium simple version with thyme.  There are many different ways to make stock and broth so don’t hesitate to experiment with different flavors.

Chicken Stock

  • Bones, skin, leftover parts of one roasted chicken
  • 1 Tbs thyme
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 quarts water
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 20 coriander seeds

In large stock pot combine all ingredients.  Coarsely chop vegetables if desired ~ more surface area will allow more flavor to be released.  Over medium heat bring to a simmer.  Reduce to low heat; you should see very slight movement at this temperature.  Continue simmering for several hours until liquid had reduced by nearly half and rich color is achieved. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and freeze or use immediately.

I simmer mine all day.  I would guess this batch went for about 8 hours of simmering; the longer you cook it the better the flavor will be.  This was made with the leftovers from the olive oil and herb roasted chicken we made the other day; a ended up with about 3 pints of golden broth.

Add more veggies or herbs if desired.  Sometimes we spice it up with crushed red or other dried peppers, other times we add additional herbs, celery seeds are a great choice too for chicken broth.

Enjoy ~ Kimberly

Butternut Squash ~ prep technique ~ easy to cut and peel

I decide there has to be an easier way to prep winter squash.  I mentioned in my spaghetti squash recipe that Charles had cooked it whole.  I got to thinking surely this concept would work to soften my butternut squash but without cooking the squash through.  I simply washed the squash and pierced with a sharp paring knife about 20 times all around (5 piercings up the length turning a quarter turn and repeating). I baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes ~ I then removed from oven and allowed to rest for about 2 hours before I peeled and cut the squash.  I perhaps could have allowed less time to rest before peeling but I had errands to run so the 2 hours worked for me.

Cooking first made it cut like butter.  I was able to easily cut the squash into sections and peel in a snap.

The squash was still firm enough to use in any recipe; about the same texture as a raw potato.

I diced most of it and used about 1/2 for some butternut squash soup.  I haven’t made plans for the rest of it but I will definitely share the soup recipe in the next day or so!

Enjoy ~ Kimberly