A Little Something Useful… Homemade Vanilla Extract

Have you ever been gifted a liquor that didn’t agree with you? At first taste, all is well, then like a bad date, leaves you full of regret with a monstrous hang-over? One of my friends gave me a bottle of vodka of said propensity. The cocktail made from this particular vodka was pretty smooth, so much so that I had another, complete with a full meal and dancing afterwards. The next day, I felt such a recourse, as though I’d been on a bender of cheap shots and mixed liquor all night. No thank you. However, when my friend gave me a bottle of the hellish vodka, I just smiled graciously and tucked it in the closet.

As the holidays approached, the availability of gourmet items like fresh vanilla beans were everywhere, yet the good vanilla extracts were SO expensive! Then it came to me: I’m gonna make my OWN darn extract! There’s nothing like homemade in my book, and with the hellish vodka, taking up space… why not put it to good use?

Now making vanilla extract is not an overnight thing. It takes the vanilla beans at least 30 days to cure. There are various methods to make extracts – you can use any high-proof alcohol of choice such as vodka, rum, bourbon, tequila or such; the alcohol does influence the flavor, as do the amount of beans used. I referenced this website to get me started: http://tipnut.com/homemade-vanilla-extract/ – which was really helpful. Generally, I fully endorse using alcohol that you would enjoy for cooking, but using the hellish vodka would be fine since extracts are used in small, concentrated doses. By the way, I decided to write about this after I’d embarked on my extract journey, so you’ll simply have to visualize the hellish vodka in it’s natural state – clear! So here goes:

Here are the vanilla beans I used – Generally 2 beans per pack; Trader Joe’s is inexpensive and quality.

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Split them down the middle – scrape the concentrated goodness into the alcohol

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Added them straight to the alcohol bottle – the sentiment at the bottom is pure vanilla! Shake up at least once a week, and let it marinate for at least 30 days – this has set up about 2 months.

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I just transferred the contents to this bottle which is much more convenient to use – As you can see, Trader Joe’s is my favorite store, and this organic maple syrup is love in a bottle! There were trace elements left to mingle with the vanilla.

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I especially like this top for easy pouring!

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This extract smell like vanilla heaven, and does not perish. It’s best kept in a dark, cool place. Next time you have a yummy dessert, use it!

Goodbye, hellish vodka. Hello, vanilla extract!

Have you tried this? What’s your experience?

Breakfast Spread on the Fly…

What. A. Week… Actually, hectic can’t describe my last 2 weeks with school starting for the kiddos AND myself! Early mornings, hustle for more school supplies that you somehow missed, orientations here and there…. my head has been on a spin cycle – hence, the absence of entries on here. :-/

No matter, I’m a trooper, and I tend to adjust to surprises and rigor pretty well. So when dear Hubby informs me on Sunday night (while I’m getting the kiddos ready for the week, mind you) that he’s having a friend over at 8 am for a meeting, and could I pull a little something together, my first thought was to throw my shoe at him…. but the second was, I got this! (Of course I did away with that first thought! lol)

Get Your Plan Together

Do you have any quick meal go-to’s? I find that when entertaining, having a couple of perfected recipes are the best! If I’m having a few guests over, a frittata would be the business, but since it’s just Hubby and his comrade, I decided on a quick bagel spread with fruit and juice.  This was easy enough, but it’s not about just slapping some bagels and cheese together… you gotta make it special! I’ve incorporated some veggies, two kinds of cream cheese, and a some lox to be fancy with it, but you can use whatever you like… the choices are endless! Just make sure the ingredients used are good quality.

  • Prep the night before – I sliced red onions, cucumbers and beefsteak tomatoes and stored them in tupperware. I made an avocado and garlic cream cheese, (1/2 avocado, 1 small clove of minced garlic, a good squeeze of lemon juice) and transferred it and the plain cream cheese into smaller containers.

  • The day of, slice and toast the bagels – use a spray butter like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” to flavor – I used whole wheat bagels and everything bagels

  • Arrange everything on the table where your guests can help themselves – I’ve added a melon platter, capers, orange juice, and coffee brewed in a french press -the only way to brew coffee, in my opinion! Note that everything is transferred to small, attractive containers for appearances… which is half the battle of entertaining!

Simple, yet effective… and you hardly break a sweat! 🙂

Beautiful Lifestyle Principles

So I am on a constantly revolving path to fitness and good health. I’ll start a gym regimen, go steady for a couple of weeks, only to fall off the wagon due to injury or my ever-changing schedule.  I’m definitely more consistent with my food choices for myself and family, but it’s common knowledge that consistent exercise is a vital need for our bodies, especially as age becomes a factor. *cough-almost Forty-cough-cough*

I will attest that in order to stick to an exercise regimen, incorporating your favorite activity is key. If you’re an athlete, go for a team sport. If you’re an aspiring body-builder, the gym is definitely your speed! I’ve always been enthusiastic about dance, (I’m an absolute geek for Dancing With The Stars…Shhh) so, exercises incorporating grace, balance and movement are my thing! So I just happened upon this book, Ballet Beautiful the other day, and found something interesting to share:

Aside from the compelling routines, the author Mary Helen Bowers, who incidentally prepared Natalie Portman for her jaw-dropping role in Black Swan (2010), offers a healthy philosophy on the approach to health and overall wellbeing that she calls The five Ballet Beautiful lifestyle principles:

  1. Be Prepared 
  2. Eat well and often
  3. Substitute for satisfaction
  4. Be flexible
  5. Forgive and move on

To avoid extensive quotation, here’s a quick summery – Be prepared for whatever your life entails, pack smart and healthy snacks to avoid making bad choices. Eat well and often entitles you to listen to your body – some folks do better with 6 tiny meals, while others function better off of 3 meals and 2 smart snacks in a 24 hour period. Substitute for satisfaction requires that you don’t deprive yourself of taste, only substitute mayo for mustard, brown rice for white rice, or balsamic vinegar for the creamy ranch you normally go for, and so on. Be flexible has nothing to do with how far you can go into the Chinese splits, *don’t we wish* but rather applies to your relationship with your body and food, which also applies to the last –Forgive and move on – If you have a night of burgers and fries, don’t count yourself out. Forgive your night of gluttony and fun, and get right back on the wagon of smart eating and mindful exercise.

This book is a nice read… I like her approach, although her constant reinforcement of Ballet Beautiful this and that can be a bit repetitive. *Branding at work… Got it!*

All in all, it’s worth picking up, if not for the ballet, then for the healthy life skills that can be applied to any form of exercise and lifestyle.

You can do it!

 

Salute to Juice

Juicing is a craze I was slow to embrace. Every time someone would mention how amazing the effects of juicing was, I’d get a visual of midnight infomercials with manic hosts tossing a million ingredients to make a magical mystery mix. I wasn’t enthusiastic.

However, I had a revelation while staying at some friends’ house in Spain. Their surroundings were so rustic and beautiful.

They had a lovely orchard and garden, and picked everything we ate. There was such an abundance of fruits and veggies, they made smoothies with the extra. I was so in love with the process, and how I felt afterwards, I was motivated to buy my own Vitamix juicer when I got home. I’ve been juicing ever since!

While I didn’t initially get into it for health purposes, there are quite a few benefits to this new habit. It’s an effective way to get a blast of nutrients and fiber your body needs to function properly. If you have a hectic schedule, and constantly reach for junk food and fast fixes, this is an excellent way to substitute the bad with the good, with an added energy boost from natural sugars of the fruit.

When juicing fruits and veggies, it’s important to use organically- grown produce – produce that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals such as pesticides – because the vitamins contained in the skin boosts the nutritional value when incorporated in the juicing process. As this is not a juicing blog, I will not bore you with the list of fruits, veggies, and their value. Instead, I will thrill you with colorful array of pictures of my tantalizing smoothie skills! 😛

Start with fresh organic fruit of choice – here we have apple, pear, blueberries, strawberries, banana, ginger root and wheatgrass – an excellent detoxifier and metabolism booster

Combine all that yummy fruit into the juicer – what’s that greenery at the bottom, you ask? Just a little spinach for a dose of vitamin k. Shhh… don’t tell the family, what they don’t taste will help them!

Add some organic unfiltered unsweetened apple juice – about half-way – and once you get the juicer going on high, add a few ice cubes.

There you have it… A carafe of the Good Stuff! With no added sugars or sweeteners, you’ll be surprised how delicious it is! I call this mix – The Good Stuff! *I know, I know…*

By the way, I also added chia and flax seed – two amazing resources of omega-3 fatty acids. You can add what ever you like to these mixes for your personal needs. Just be creative and enjoy!

If you want to learn more about the nutritional benefits of juicing, check out this article on livestrong.com

Happy Juicing!

Good Eats in the Heat

It’s August, clearly hot in most areas of North America, and with the heat comes the occasional aversion for the kitchen  Even the most enthusiastic foodie like myself can’t imagination turning on the oven even in an air-conditioned setting.

Here’s a quick, no-heat option for a Spanish favorite – Gazpacho.  This is a cold tomato soup, which sounds a slightly unattractive for those unfamiliar, but unless you don’t like tomatoes, this is a delicious, refreshing dish that could be an appetizer or a light meal with some shrimp and a good crusty bread. Here’s a recipe from one of my fav sites, Allrecipes.com:
Southern Spain-Style Gazpacho
recipe image
Rated: rating
Submitted By: MUGAL
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Ready In: 1 Hour 20 Minutes
Servings: 4
“This refreshingly tangy bowl of the Spanish classic was inspired by a trip to Toledo, Spain.”
INGREDIENTS:
3/4 green bell pepper, seeded
1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 day-old crusty bread rolls, cut into thick
slices
6 tomatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
DIRECTIONS:
1. Blend the green bell pepper, cucumber, garlic, and 1/2 cup olive oil together in a blender until smooth. Add the bread slices to the blender one at a time and blend each into the mixture until smooth. Blend the tomatoes into the mixture one at a time until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl; season with salt and cayenne pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon olive oil to serve.
As I stated before, I am a foodie. I’m suggesting recipes that I’ve not only tried, I’ve pretty much owned them. (patting self on the back) There are a lot of gazpacho recipes out there, but this one is the closest I’ve come to the gazpacho I tasted and fell in love with in Spain. I have just a couple of suggestions:
  • Try red wine vinegar instead of balsamic. This is up to you, but I like the taste of the red wine vinegar.
  • Use a really good spanish extra-virgin olive oil. You’d be surprised how the oil contributes to the taste.
Enjoy!

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