Monthly Archives: May 2011

How To Tuesday: Very Vanilla.

It takes a few vanilla beans, a splash of vodka and a heap of patience to make your very own vanilla extract. Considering the price of vanilla extracts and beans I think it’s well worth the wait. You get the most out of those pricy beans and definite bang for your buck.

Since starting my vanilla extract I read on the almighty internets that the only way to make a true vanilla extract is to obey the ratio of 6 or even 8 vanilla beans to 1 cup of alcohol. Anything less and you’re just making vanilla flavoured vodka. Sigh. Where I buy my vanilla beans they come 2 to a vial for about $4.50 so 6 beans is going to put me back $13.50 and that’s only going to be a hair more cost effective than buying it in the store once I go about the business of buying the vodka.

So I leave the choice up to you. If you’d prefer a more potent extract and have a cheaper source for beans then, by all means, stuff six of those suckers in the jar. If you’re like me and can’t justify the expense then just work with what you’ve got. You can always splash a little more extract in there for good measure because who doesn’t like a little extra vanilla goodness?

All you’ll need is…

3 – 6 vanilla beans
1 paring knife or pair of scissors
1 cup vodka
1 airtight jar (preferably dark glass)

Note: Vodka is the preferred alcohol to use when making vanilla extract because it has a neutral flavour and does not impart it’s own flavour to the mix. Feel free to use rum, brandy or even gin if you’d rather infuse the extract with a little something extra.

Using your knife or scissors slice each vanilla bean in half lengthwise leaving one end intact to keep the halves connected. Place them in the jar and cover them with the vodka.

Store the jar in a cool dark place for at least 2 months. Make sure to give it a shake every few days to encourage extraction. It can last for years and get better with age just like a fine wine. Enjoy!

Bloomin’ Cake.

Today you can find me over on The White Library. I made a super pretty super tasty Chocolate Covered Almond Cake for Sandra and her beautiful blog.

It seemed only fair after she revealed her secrets to designing the perfect dessert table. If you didn’t visit The White Library yesterday then make sure to stop by and see the details of this bloomin’ cake.

Guest Post With The White Library: Dessert Tables 101.

I am so happy today to bring you a little something from the lovely Sandra of The White Library. It’s a beautiful blog that’s a dedicated daily resource for entertaining, weddings and inspired living with a vintage flare. It’s full of everything from inspiring party ideas to unique DIY solutions. What’s really special about Sandra is that she’s the genius behind Sandra Downie Event Designs, the wedding and design firm that designs the most creative and breathtaking events. It’s pretty obvious she has a certain insight into designing the perfect dessert table so today she’s going to talk a little bit about how you can create an easy and lovely dessert table yourself.

Dessert tables are all the rage right now, from weddings to birthday parties, they make for the sweetest happy endings and they are a fun way to get your guests interacting with each other. Although they are pretty to look at, getting the perfect look together takes more than just putting some desserts on a tray and calling it a day. Here are some tips to help you create a dessert table that will leave your guests utterly engaged and saying “wow”.

   1. Colored food is good but be careful. Unless it’s Halloween, I am not a big fan of black candy. When choosing the        frosting color, cookie colors, candy colors etc… Remember to choose colors that are appealing to the eye. You don’t        want to turn your guests off. People eat with their eyes first.

   2. Choose your plates and platters wisely. Say you are doing a country or rustic or shabby chic wedding. Try choosing        plates and platters that have that sort of feel to them vs. plates/platters that are modern in look and design.

   3. Think about the weather. Is your party going to be held outdoors in the middle of August? Then I say stay away from        chocolate. Choose hard candies and sweets that are bound to withstand the heat.

   4. Don’t overcrowd the table. You want your table to be visually appealing and not confusing to the eye, so try not to        crowd your table with goodies. Instead limit the amount of offerings to 6-8 sweet treats.

   5. You CAN have it all. Don’t think you have to have just candy, or just dessert. You can easily have a combination of both        that will ensure a well rounded set of treats

So that‘s it. Now you know how easy it is to make a show stopping dessert table, sure to please your guests!

XO Sandra

How To Tuesday: Chopped.

I gave myself a much needed manicure and set about showing you the easiest, fastest and most efficient way to chop an onion.

First let’s talk about knives. I would suggest using a chef’s knife or santoku. It’s very important to use a knife that you’re comfortable with. Not too big, not too small, not too heavy and not too light. Consider yourself the Goldilocks of knives. It’s dangerous to use a knife that isn’t comfortable in your hand because you can easily cut yourself. I enjoy my set of KitchenAid knives because they are light and solid with an ergonomic handle that fits perfectly in my small hands. Lee prefers his set of Henckels knives because of their heft and large wooden handles that are perfect for his large hands.

Now, there’s a sweet spot at the base of the handle that’s meant to grip with your thumb and first finger. This is the natural point of balance between the blade and the handle that makes it easy to rock the knife back and forth.

Lop off the end of the onion then turn it on it’s end and slice straight through the root leaving you with two equal halves. Peal the skin off the one half and set aside other other.

Make three to four horizontal slices toward the root but not through it. Place it face down and make a few vertical cuts perpendicular to the horizontal ones, making sure to leave the root intact once again.

Pivot the cutting board and, with your fingers curled in for protection from the sharp blade, chop the onion across the vertical cuts. Discard the chunk of root and marvel at your perfectly chopped bits of onion.

As Nature Intended.

Have you ever caught yourself marveling at the absolute perfection of nature? Fluffy clouds inexplicably shaped like familiar everyday objects. Beautifully red and romantically heart-shaped strawberries. Honeycombs, flawless hexagons built by determined bees and filled with the sweetest honey. Shimmering lustrous pearls hidden inside unassuming oysters settled on the ocean floor. Bits of simple twigs and grass interwoven into a crib for eager baby birds all the while perched precariously in a tree braving wind and rain. The impeccable arc of a rainbow reflected off the tiniest raindrops brightening even the dreariest days.

Maybe I have too much time of my hands. It’s an excellent possibility.

Today, while snapping photos of our budding crab apple tree in my pajamas, socks and sandals, I was visited by a little ladybug. She lazily buzzed down to the branch I was focused on and landed lightly on this sweet little flower bud. She was all too ready for her close up, sitting patiently and politely while I maxed out the space on my camera on her sweet little self.

Sometimes if you sit still long enough you notice these things. The consummate beauty of the world lays itself before you in the form of a shining beetle, ripples in a pond or a puffy bunny-shaped cloud.

The key is not to mess with nature. Take it as it is and appreciate it in its entirety. In the spirit of that lesson I’ve made Almond Butter. Simply almonds, toasted and pureed with a splash of oil and a hint of sea salt.

Almond Butter

Source: My imagination.

2 heaping cups almonds, blanched and toasted
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 – 3 tbsp olive oil

Note: If you prefer chunky Almond Butter, leave 1/2 cup of almonds out of the puree, rough chop them and stir them in when you’re finished.

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After toasting a cooling your almonds puree them in a food processor for a few minutes until it begins to form a dough-like clump. Add the salt and just 1 tbsp of olive oil to start. You don’t want to make your Almond Butter too thin and you can always add more.

Puree that for another few minutes until you’re satisfied with the consistency and thickness, adding more oil as needed.

Store the Almond Butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Enjoy!

Tuesday Tip: Cry Me A River.

To avoid tears when you’re chopping an onion make sure to use a very sharp knife and work quickly. Instead of using forceful up and down chopping motions slide the knife forward or back when slicing into the onion. This way you let the knife do the work and avoid releasing a lot of juices from the onion which form sulfuric acid when they react with the moisture in your eyes.

Muffins For Mom.

The thing about moms is that you never seem to really appreciate them until you’ve grown up.

When you’re a child mom is your best friend, banisher of monsters and kisser of boo boos. When you’re a teenager she’s the voice of reason, enforcer of chores and face of dreaded responsibility. When you’re in college she’s the embodiment of worry, telephone police and always the last one to find out about anything. When you’ve finally settled down and maybe even starting a family of your own she’s right back to being your best friend, reliable confidant, trusted adviser.

I had struggled to draw upon one memory in particular to illustrate my mom for you. I’ve decided I can’t choose just one because so many swim to the surface. Drawing lady bugs on band aids over my scraped knees. Letting me lick the bowl and beaters. Teaching me how to thicken sauce or roll dough. Knitting into the night squinting in her tiny reading glasses. Talking in her sleep in the dim light of the TV. Driving me to piano lessons and making sure my fingernails were cut short. Passionately singing along to songs on the radio to which she only knows half the lyrics. Sending me care packages of fudge, seeds, aprons and pearls. Calmly taking my various panicked calls about the pie, custard or turkey.

It’s a well known fact that all moms love muffins. Breakfast is the traditional celebratory meal for mother’s day so I combined the sweetness of turbinado sugar, the enticing scent of cinnamon and the adorable tartness of cottage cheese to make this mother’s day special.

I love you mom! These muffins are for you.

Cinnamon Cottage Cheese Muffins

Makes about 30 muffins.

Source: My imagination.

1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
2 cup flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 cup plain cottage cheese
2 tbsp turbinado sugar

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and position a rack in the center. Line your muffin tins with baking cups and set them aside.

In a large bowl lightly blend the egg, milk and oil. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients along with the cottage cheese until it’s just mixed.

Divide the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each cup 3/4 of the way and sprinkle turbinado sugar over the tops of each. Bake them for about 15 minutes until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into each comes out clean. Transfer them to a cooling rack and enjoy!

Jumping The Gun.

It’s time for Bermuda shorts and flip flops, campfires and s’mores, picnics and late night sunsets. Sunglasses that are both ridiculously huge and fabulous. Freshly mowed grass and the adorable buzz of bumblebees. Tan lines and the feel of warm sand between your toes.

It might seem like I’m jumping the gun a bit here. It wasn’t a week ago we had bits of stubborn snow clinging to the ground. Canadian Summers are short so we have to make the most of it. We had our first campfire over Easter weekend while there was still a chill in the air and snow on the ground.

In the spirit of the beautiful weather I hope we can hang onto for as long as possible I made S’mores Cookies. For those of us with long or short Summers, now we can enjoy a little piece of it all year long.

S’mores Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Source: Adapted from my family recipe.

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup demerara sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup graham crackers, chopped
1/2 cup mini marshmallows

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position a rack in the center. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugars. Add the vanilla and eggs then blend it in.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt then mix it into the wet ingredients. Fold in the chocolate chips and chopped graham crackers.

Drop heaping tbsps of dough onto the prepared baking sheets then press them down lightly with your fingers. Bake them for 8 minutes then take them out and set the oven to broil. Press 2 – 3 mini marshmallows into each cookie then toast the marshmallows for a brief 1 minute under the broiler. Transfer them to a cooling rack and enjoy!

Tuesday Tip: Menu Madness.

In order to keep your grocery bills low make a weekly menu and do your shopping for the week all in one shot. Most large grocery stores get shipments of produce on mondays and tuesdays. If you want the freshest ingredients and the shortest lineups those are perfect days to go.