Homemade Vanilla

img_1738

** This article first appeared in the October 5th Edition of the Seward Journal Newspaper **

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see a post on Facebook with the face of Will Farrell as Elf with a subtitle reading something like ‘Just 322,584 minutes until Christmas.’ I usually roll my eyes. I like taking my holidays one at a time. If I started worrying about what to get my wife for Christmas one minute before Christmas Eve, I might very well have a nervous breakdown. With Halloween about a month away, even I have to concede there are a few really solid reasons to start talking about Christmas. First off, I get as excited about peppermint-flavored everything as your typical 20-something does about pumpkin spice. Not only that, if you were to walk into a Fred Meyer or Target right now and go to the Halloween displays, you only need to let your eye wander just a bit further down the aisle to find the Christmas lights. Let me tell you, I do have an opinion about that and I will talk about it. To be fair, though, this is a better time of year to hang Christmas lights than, say, November, because it’s still reasonably warm outside and there’s no ice to worry about.  

Among other things, Christmastime is a busy time filled with cooking and gift giving. When it comes to Christmas baking, it’s usually the old favorites or family traditions over and over again, and, while I’m always game to try something new, I’m a big fan of traditional. It’s comforting in the dead of winter. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for gifts. Every year, I’m stretching for something to give to friends. I want make sure I’m unique and thoughtful, and that I give something that’s worth receiving. Unless it’s a knobby and ill-fitting pair of badly knitted wool socks. Homemade gifts are the best, provided you’ve got time to do it. Which brings me to why I’m talking about Christmas well in advance of Halloween. It’s because making your own vanilla extract takes time, about eight weeks. 

 

Ingredients 

– Good quality vodka OR good white rum (not spiced) OR bourbon. Vodka makes for a neutral vanilla extract, anything else will add other flavors, which could be fun. 

– 7 whole vanilla beans – you can get bundles of 25 Madagascar vanilla beans online for around $40 

– 1 8-oz. bottle with a cork for aging 

– Decorative bottle with a cork or stopper for presentation. 

 

Cut 7 vanilla beans lengthwise to expose the inside, scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife, slice in half or smaller to fit in the bottle if necessary. Place the beans in the bottle. Add 7 oz. alcohol of your choice and about 1 oz. of water (preferably distilled or spring water) to the bottle. Make sure the beans are fully submerged. Provided you use standard 80proof alcohol, the alcohol content should be about 35 percent. Seal the bottle and shake. Place in a cool, dark area and shake about once a week. Keep it there for eight weeks. Transfer the liquid to a decorative bottle with a stopper and you have vanilla that is totally giftable or can be used in your favorite Christmas recipes. 

Advertisements

When the kids get old enough

Today I totally forgot to pull anything from the freezer for dinner. If it weren’t for the two very nearly expired packages of tofu and a huge bag of stale rice, we’d have all starved. Well not really, the kids would have eaten marshmallows and I would have counted the 500 or so calories contained in a beer sufficient for a meal.

In addition to the tofu, we also had some veggies. Veggies + rice + tofu, topped with whatever sauces came out of the Asian section of the grocery store = Stir Fry.

Literally the hardest part of cooking stir fry is cutting stuff up. But!!! My kids are now old enough to be handed a knife and pile of veggies and told to proceed in whatever fashion they deem sufficient. Victory. All I had to do was fry the tofu and poof cut up zucchini, peppers and squash magically appeared on the cutting board.

It really feels like all those nights of cutting up pork chops into pieces so small they require an electron microscope to actually see have finally paid off. Best part – they didn’t bitch about dinner. If only every night could turn out so well.

Homemade Mustard

**This article first appeared in the 10/19/2016 edition of the Seward Journal**

I was digging around trying to work out what might be a good recipe
for the week, and I got to thinking about Christmas looming just a
couple months down the line. I think this is mostly because I’m the
sort of guy who sets three alarms to get up on time. I’ve got my
super-optimistic 4:45, then the more conservative, but equally
unlikely 5:30, and then there’s the 6:05, “no-seriously” alarm that
usually does the trick. I think about Christmas gifting in the same
way. In October, I start thinking stuff up and typically find myself
scrambling around the day before the Christmas party with the gift
exchange to find something interesting. One year, I was so desperate
that I just stuffed all of the things necessary for beer and brats
into a gift bag and called it an ‘Authentic German Taco’ kit. Without
the fancy made-up label, it would have looked vaguely like I forgot
about the gift exchange and simply chose a bag at random from my most
recent grocery trip and labeled it a gift. Which is, in fact, what
happened there. Also, don’t Google “German Taco.” It will not go well.

Anyhoo, to get on with it, hunting season never really seems to end in
Alaska. Just a quick review of ADF&G regulations is a tangle of
confusing times, dates, geographical areas, and species. The bottom
line is that someone is always hunting moose or caribou in Alaska.
Always. Two highly popular products of those hunts are jerky sticks
and summer sausage. If you were one of the lucky ones to have gotten
game this year, odds are good you had some of these done up, and
there’s an equally good chance you’re going to give a bunch of them
away. I love these things. What I really love about them is the
giftable factor. However, I tend to think, when it comes to gifting
food, a kit is better than, say, a bag of dried meat. This is where
the mustard comes in. The best part of mustard is that you don’t
actually need moose jerky sticks to go with it. Any mix of sausage,
crackers, and cheese will accompany just fine, and will simultaneously
allow you to procrastinate right up to nearly the last second, while
still managing a thoughtful and creative gift.

Depending on how you do it, mustard only takes a couple of days, plus
the time it takes to dig up the mustard seed, probably something like
an online order. So, with about two months to go before actually
needing your awesome homemade mustard, and plenty of time to worry
about it, you can safely procrastinate and still have more than enough time
to get it all together.

Now, a word on the physics of mustard. The spiciness of your mustard
depends largely on two factors. The first is the temperature of liquid
you soak it in. In the world of mustard, cold liquid equals hot
mustard. Second is the type of mustard seed, going in order of
spiciness from yellow/white to brown to black. You can adjust the
recipe as desired to control for how spicy you want it.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup yellow/white mustard seed
  • 1/3 cup brown mustard seed (again, more brown or add some black for a
    spicier mustard)
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. honey (add more if you want a sweet/spicy mustard)

Directions:

Put whole mustard seeds into a large jar with vinegar and water. Use
icy liquid for more heat. Close the jar, shake well, and set in a
cool, dry place for about three days. I put mine on the counter, but
if you keep it in the fridge, it should help develop the mustard
flavor better. Keep an eye on the mustard. If it starts looking dry,
add a bit more vinegar; my experience is that you’ll need to splash in
something like another tablespoon in total. After about three days,
put the mustard and the rest of the ingredients into a food processor
and blend. The less you blend, the chunkier your mustard will be. I
like to guarantee some texture, so I set aside a few tablespoons of
whole, un-ground seed after it’s soaked and hand-mix them back in.
When you’re mixing, if you find it’s a bit too dry and evades proper
blending by sticking to the side of the food-processor, add a bit more
vinegar. If you’re inclined, add a few splashes of bourbon to this mix
– it adds a nice flavor. With all of the salt, vinegar, and mustard
seed, this should keep for a considerable amount of time at room
temperature, but it can go bad, so it’s best to refrigerate.

Enjoy!

First blog post

I was super proud of myself this week. My wife forced me to finish up the Recipe box a full two days early, so guess who’s getting his Saturday morning back? Instead of being a normal guy and squandering my Saturday morning sleeping or pooping or whatever it is regular guys do, I’ll be working on this blog. It’s brand new and I’m very happy with the concept.

Since this is the very firstest blog, I thought I’d give a quick intro to what it is and why the hell I’m doing it. Over the past two years, I’ve been the member of the family largely responsible for collecting the kids from school attempting to manage homework, and cooking dinner. This, as I understand it, is not an unusual thing for a guy to do. The first couple of weeks were great. I made roasted basil chicken and fried potatoes with asparagus spears. Fast forward to yesterday, I baked (burned) tater-tots and chicken nuggets, and that was the most complex meal I prepared for the week. Not all weeks are that way, but cooking every night basically sucks. My least favorite part of the day, aside from waking up before 9am, is asking the dreaded question ‘What do you want for dinner tonight?’ Or, just as bad, hearing “what do you want me to pull out for you to cook for dinner.” The second one is worse because not only do I have to cook dinner, I have to work out what I’m going to cook. In the former, at least I get a free pass on part of it.

Anyhow, to bring this around, because let’s face it I’m writing a blog post and not a novel, this blog is going to focus on the dadding efforts I put forth in keeping my wife and children fed. There may be some other sorts of crafting discussed, and last but not least,  reviews of some of my favorite alcoholic beverages, such as boxed wine and cheap whiskey. Don’t worry though, this is NOT your typical foody blog. This is a real story about a real guy who sometimes, often, boils noodles and calls it dinner.

Stay tuned folks.

-Dave