Biscuits and Gravy

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Good morning & Merry Christmas. I went to bed last night cooking my rear off in order to feed everyone last night and also make sure everyone is fed today. The one advantage is that I didn’t have time to watch too much TV and get all ‘festive’ meaning that today’s headache is fully related to sleep deprivation. Before I go on, I just want to be clear, I AM NOT ALONE! My wife is also cooking her ass off as well, there’s just a shitload to be done. So, if you happen to be a husband reading this and you’ve spent your morning playing vintage NES. You need to get off your ass and fucking help. This shit is hard.

To start off my day, after opening 3 bottles of whiskeys that etiquette suggests I can’t drink for some 12 hours  yet, I launched into breakfast mode. With egg and dairy allergies, my go-to egg mash-up is completely off the table. What wasn’t off the table is biscuits and gravy. So, what’s the status of that? Well, the biscuits weren’t quite right for this and the sausage gravy is basically perfect.

For your biscuits, use literally anything. I used the royal baking company’s oatmeal biscuits. these are sweet and would work well in something like a strawberry shortcake, but they did make for a nice contrast in this one.

  • 1 1/4 C. flour
  • 1/2 Tsp Royal Baking Company Baking Powder*
  • 1/2 Tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 C. water
  • 6Tbsp shortening
  • 1 1/3 C. Cooked oatmeal (steel cut or something – NOT instant!)

I used egg substitute, which generally works fine for baking. Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients then mix them together. If by some miracle, you manage to get a dry enough dough to roll out and cut, do that. Otherwise, pour into a clean, well seasoned, and well oiled cast iron skillet. Put into the oven for ~30-35 min at 350. Even when the fork comes out basically dry, it’s going to come out of the oven pretty soggy, it’s largely due to the moisture content of the oats, it should be fine, if a bit thick.

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For the sausage gravy:

  • 1 Lb breakfast sausage
  • 1/3 C. flour
  • Lots of milk (I used Almond/Cashew)
  • Pepper to taste – Use a lot, like a whole Tsp, probably.

Brown the sausage and slowly add in the flour while stirring the browned sausage. Once all of the flour is coating the sausage, start pouring in milk at about 1/2 C. at a time, allow it to thicken and add more until you have a nice thick gravy. Add your pepper and maybe a hint of salt. If you add too much milk, let it cook a bit, it should thicken, if not sprinkle just a bit more flour on.

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* To make Royal baking powder sift together 2T Cream of tartar, 1T cornstarch & 1T baking soda. This is a baking powder without the aluminum phosphate and can be used on a lot of vintage recipes.

Easy Enchilada Casserole

By Fred Tice

** This article first appeared in the November 30 Issue of the Seward Journal Newspaper**

Rather than serve up the usual fare of ‘leftover turkey’ recipes,
which you’ve undoubtedly already worked through, something not-turkey
and also easy seemed in order. Fred Tice came to the rescue with this
gem:
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There are two methods I use to determine the bona fides of a Mexican
restaurant. The first is when I sit down. A pitcher of margaritas
should appear instantly, as if by magic.

OK, no, not really.

The first is the chips and salsa. If the chips are stale, or the salsa
thin and weak, that doesn’t bode well.

The second, far more important test is how well they make enchiladas.

A really good enchilada is a culinary work of art, a thing of beauty.
Have you ever tried to make them, complete with the presentation of a
first-rate Mexican eatery? I have, and rolling those things up without
destroying them is darn near impossible, not to mention time
consuming. That’s why I use the recipe that follows. Total prep time
is about 1½ hours.

Ingredients:

A package of around 20 or so small flour or corn tortillas. (I like
flour, but corn is healthier and lower calorie. The diameter isn’t
important, it’s just that corn tortillas usually only come in
six-inch.)

2 pounds ground beef or turkey

32-oz. can enchilada sauce, green or red, chef’s preference

1 to 1½  pounds grated cheese (depending on the cheesiness of the
cook). I like to mix ½ pound mozzarella and ½ pound Monterey jack, but
whatever you have on hand is fine.

16-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained. I like the ones w/ oregano, basil
and garlic already in the can; this is optional.

Spices as desired.

½ tablespoon cooking oil

8-oz. can of sliced black olives for garnish (optional)

In a large skillet, brown and drain the ground meat. Mix in the
enchilada sauce and tomatoes. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat
and simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until a fairly thick consistency is
reached. Mixture should not be too soupy. Season to taste with cumin,
salt, pepper, chili powder, and/or paprika.

While enchilada sauce is simmering, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly oil a large casserole dish (approximately four quarts). Line
with tortillas. When ready, ladle on a layer of sauce, enough so
tortillas are just barely visible. Then add a layer of grated cheese,
approximately ½ inch thick.

Add another layer of tortillas, then more sauce, and another layer of
cheese. Repeat until all ingredients are used, making the top layer
cheese. Garnish with olives if desired.

Place in preheated oven and bake uncovered for 30 minutes, or until
cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven, allow to cool until top layer of
cheese stops bubbling, and serve. Refried beans make a good side with
this recipe. Another bonus – great leftovers. This is one of those
recipes that is better after it sits in the fridge all night, then
microwave for breakfast. Yum!


Special thanks to Fred for submitting this article. Image shown is Dave Koster attempting to make both a green batch and a red batch for a school potluck – it went over well.

Dessert with a Dairy Allergy

image1Before I start, I want to make it clear that I’m fully aware that you can get all kinds of awesome desserts without a hint of dairy. But let’s all be honest with each other. The very best dessert selections basically consist of the following ingredients with sugar and vanilla: Cream, butter, and Eggs.

This summer my wife developed a pretty bad chicken egg allergy to accompany an already irritating milk allergy. Which, no problem, we’ve got ducks – take that chickens! Unfortunately, ducks stop laying when it gets to be winter, and so at the one time of year when we really need them, nothing. Those feathery bastards just waddle around the yard and eat. So, all the expense without the benefit.  Anyhow, this leaves us without eggs at a critical time of year, so I’ve got a trifecta a of problem – no butter, no cream, no eggs. That knocks out entire kingdoms of desserts. Basically, this leaves me with Oreo cookies because they don’t actually appear to have any nutritional content whatsoever, therefore they’re pretty near to hypo-allergenic.

So, instead of just handing my wife a carton of Oreos, which would have been fine, but not particularly festive (even if I got the peppermint ones), I made them slightly more sexy and called it pie. The interesting thing about this recipe is that it’s frikkin’ good. The texture is good, the flavor is good, and if someone didn’t tell you it was vegan, which they would because nobody is going to serve you a vegan dish without making damn sure you know it was vegan, you might not even know it was vegan. That said, I did pull the guts of this from another cook, so here’s the credit for that: http://hellyeahitsvegan.com/vegan-chocolate-pudding/

What you need:

  • 1 package of double-stuff Oreo cookies
  • 1/2 stick of fake butter, flax-seed stuff works fine
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1/3 C. Cocoa powder (Dark is best)
  • 1/4 C. Cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 C. Unsweetened cashew milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (you will use 1/2 for filling, the rest for whip-cream)
  • 1 Can of full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated, and unshaken – treat this very carefully.
  • 1/2 C. Powdered Sugar

Instructions:

Start by putting your beaters and bowl into the freezer. I just stick mine outside, much colder and doesn’t take up freezer space.

image7Empty most of a package of Oreo cookies into a food processor, about 30 cookies. The reason you use the double-stuff is that the filling helps the butter-replacement as a binding agent. I did try the skinny ones, and I didn’t like it as well. Melt the butter and pour over the cookies then grind into a pulp. This is a bit of a pain and you might find that just putting the lot into a gallon ziplock bag and pounding the ever-loving crap out of it with a rolling pin also works just fine.

image6Press the cookie stuff into a pie-crust shape inside a 9″ pie-pan, then set it into the fridge to set.

image2Make the whip cream by opening two slits into the bottom of the coconut milk can and then opening the top. Scoop out the heavy solids into your cold bowl, and leave behind any extra fluid. Beat this until it’s smooth, add 1 tsp of vanilla and 1/2 C powdered sugar and beat until it’s whip cream (stiff peaks). If it starts to get watery again, you may have over-beat it – either way just stick the whole mess back into the fridge to set, it’ll be fine.

image4The final bit is to make the chocolate pudding filling. This happens fast, so be vigilant. Whisk together the corn starch, cocoa powder and 1/2 C. Sugar, put this into a small sauce pan and slowly add the cashew milk over a medium low heat with a whisk, once it’s all together and seems to have mixed, switch to a rubber spatula, stirring constantly, make sure the mix is coming out of the corners of the pot. It’ll start to thicken first around the edges and it’ll be lumpy. Keep stirring. It’ll thicken about the time you ask yourself how much damn longer do I have to stir. Since we’re putting it into pie, thicken just a bit more than you might for any other pudding. Remove from the heat and pour into the Oreo cookie crust. Paste it back in the fridge to set. That’s it. You’re done and you’ve only dirtied 95% of the specialty cooking items you own. Anyhow, that’s it, just top with the whip-cream when you serve it.

Enjoy!

Turkey & Wild Rice with Roasted Chestnuts

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The best part of thanksgiving is, without question, the sales afterword. No, I’m not talking about electronic gizmos and other random junk. I’m talking about taking a stroll through the meat department at the supermarket. You can absolutely pick up ham or turkey for half the price they were a week prior to the holiday. Nothing makes me feel like I’m husbanding quite so well as getting a 50% discount on a hunk of meat. The biggest challenge with this is, of course, that the family has already been consuming leftover ham and turkey for the better part of a week and are not going to be well pleased when presented with MORE TURKEY.

The truth is, I don’t really care. Feeding the family on the cheap is an occupational necessity. I am not made of money, and if people would turn the lights off when leaving a room or just wear a sweater, I might just have more money to spend on tasty and exotic foods. As it is, the only reason we’re not eating beans and rice every night is a direct result of my economic vigilance at the grocery store. Which I’m not very good at, so it’s a pretty minor help, but I do try. Anyhow. Here is an interesting recipe I knocked up using bits of cooked turkey and fresh herbs I had left over in the fridge. You could also use the leftover second (half-priced) turkey you got from the store the week after Thanksgiving.

You’ll need:

1lb Fresh Chestnuts
1 1/2 C Wild Rice mix
2 14.5oz Cans Low-sodium Chicken broth
4Tbsp Fresh Rosemary
2 Tsp Fresh Thyme
2Tbsp Fresh Sage
1Tbsp Fresh Parsley
1-2Lb Cooked & shredded Turkey
1Pkg sliced mushrooms
Salt, pepper, garlic powder

Making it happen:

Cut an X in each fresh chestnut & roast in the oven at 425F for 30 min. Flip once at about 15 min. Let the chestnuts cool a bit and shell them. Slice them into chunks, discarding any moldy ones.

Heat up the turkey and sliced mushrooms just so the mushrooms start to cook and reduce in size.

Add rice, herbs, a bit of salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the Chicken Broth in a large pot. Heat to boiling and add the chestnuts, turkey, and mushrooms. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until all of the water has been absorbed – this takes anywhere between 45min and 1hr.

Serve alongside some sort of veggie, like asparagus, and some leftover cranberry relish.

Grandma Shafer Rolls!

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by Stacy & Dave Koster

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that is more about tradition
than anything else. It’s why those weird sweet potatoes with the
marshmallows on top is prepared for so many tables even though it’s
not even an outside consideration for any other meal of the year. I
mean, until I was an adult, I never even knew you could eat sweet
potatoes on days other than Thanksgiving. The point is, every family
has a favorite dish, and if that dish isn’t on the table when everyone
takes their seat, it’s not Thanksgiving. In our household, Grandma
Shafer’s rolls are one of those dishes. We make them every year,
whether Thanksgiving is at my house or someone else’s. What’s
interesting about this recipe isn’t the unique dense texture and
sweet-yeasty flavor; it’s in the making. The real tradition is in the
preparation. Every year, for as long as I can remember, my mom would
forget the recipe, and never the day or week before when it could
conveniently be obtained through a casual search and phone call. This
fact was always discovered when it was 30 minutes after we should have
started them. At this point, Grandma Shafer or Aunt Kim would be
called in to save the day, after pleasantries.

Of course, this is only part of the tradition. Once that recipe was
located, and the dough made and readied for baking, everyone would be
called in to the kitchen with calls of “Grease your hands,” amongst
grumbling and muttering. Then everyone would cover their hands in oil,
roll the dough into small balls, and drop them in threes in muffin
tins. In the end, we’d get our rolls and all would be well with the
dinner table. And also breakfast and lunch for the next few days,
because this recipe makes a prodigious number of rolls and they’re
awesome left over.

In a large bowl, stir together:

1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 pkg. Fleishman’s Rapid Rise yeast
1 tsp. salt

On the stove, heat until finger warm:

1 cup milk
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter

Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and, with your hand mixer,
beat at medium speed for 2 minutes.

Add 1 egg and 1 3/4 cup flour. At high speed, beat for 2 minutes.

Stir in 3 1/2 cups of flour (this is best done by hand. If you use
your hand mixer for this part, you are guaranteed to break it).

Spread 3/4 cups of flour on wax paper, or wherever you want to knead
the dough, and pour the batter onto it. Knead until smooth and
stretchy.

Let the dough rise in a greased and covered bowl for 1 hour. Punch the
dough down and let rise for another hour. In greased muffin tins,
place three dough balls in each spot, and let rise for another hour.

Bake at 425 for about 6 minutes, or until done.

Homemade Garlic & Ginger paste

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I like to cook with ginger, and against all odds, the kids like eating stuff with ginger. The problem, as is always the case, is that I’ve got 45 minutes or less to prepare and serve dinner. When a recipe calls for ginger root it basically knocks the meal out of contention for an easy after work/school meal. I suppose I could go and buy one of those $5 tubes of pre-pureed ginger, but really, it goes about two meals and it’s so full of other preservatives to maintain color and whatever, I don’t actually feel like I’m doing the right thing. Plus, that would require planning, and I can tell you good intentions (aka: grabbing a ginger root off the shelf) are way easier than planning. At least for me. Anyhow, I’ve got a middle-ground that also manages to sort out the problem of garlic at the same time. It’s a piece of cake and you can totally knock it together after a day of mopping, sweeping, cursing and threats of death and destruction.

img_1815All you need is a decent sized ginger root, peeled and cut into 3/4″-1″ cubes – you’re aiming for about a dozen of these. Also a medium sized garlic clove, peeled. Toss the whole mess into a food processor until it’s as pasty as you want it. If you want to get pastier, add a bit of olive oil after you’ve minced it, stir that around with a spoon and go back after it with the food processor.

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Then, use 1-2 Tbsp in whatever recipe is calling for ginger. I also use it extensively in stir-fry. It keeps for weeks in the fridge and while it does acquire a sort of greenish tinge, I assure you, it’s still perfectly fine. unless it’s been there for a year and also has a small colony of semi-sentient beings taking a foothold on the surface.

 

Some Kinda Chicken Thing

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I’m starting to think that Sunday is really the only day I’ve got the stomach or attention span to cook. Not that I don’t have the stomach or attention span to eat the rest of the week, it’s just that when you’re in a household with children and two working parents, there just isn’t time to enjoy cooking, or cook, or think about what to cook. Most days you roll in the door at quarter after 5, and set to getting something resembling a meal on the table by about 6. That’s like 45 minutes to actually prepare. I’m not even sure you can routinely get a batch of hamburger helper to cook up in that span of time. Do people still eat that? It was basically a child-hood staple for me and I haven’t eaten it in over 20 years.

I can almost always have dinner on the table when it’s plain noodles – which my children and wife are generous enough to allow me to pass off as a perfectly acceptable option. It gets dicier when I try to get fancy. In the summer, I’ve got the luxury of tossing some chicken on the grill and nuking some canned green-beans, that goes over reasonably well because I can alternate between barbecue sauce, various non barbecue marinades, or olive-oil and spices. Winter is a little more difficult. I can still get away with chicken in the oven, but it takes a lot longer and roughly 94.2% of the time, I’ve forgotten to either pull the chicken from the freezer or ask my wife to before she leaves for work. Without defrosted chicken, it’s either Dave’s special ‘Damn-near everything from a can’ tacos, or plain noodles, which you can only do once a week each.

Last week was no exception to this rule. I cooked ham on Sunday, spaghetti on Monday, fast-food on Tuesday, Wednesday was crock-pot day, so my wife threw leftover ham and beans into the crock-pot, and Thursday I didn’t even bother with a meal. So, today, I decided that we needed something approximating nutrition, or at least a dinner that resembled a home-cooked meal. Unfortunately, I also wanted to wallow in self-pity over my failure to get a book published, avoid house cleaning, and play a bit of classic video games. The obvious way to manage all of these, and still end up with good food at the end, is the crock-pot. I selected a recipe from the chicken book, modified it to include only ingredients I have on hand, adding a few others for good measure, and converted the whole thing into a crock-pot meal. Here is what I came up with:

Ingredients:

  • A bunch of chicken (I used like 5 Thighs and about as many drumsticks)
  • 3 cans of Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion (diced)
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup pitted & quartered kalamata olives
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup wine (use a nice one, I prefer Black Box)

Directions:

Throw all that stuff into the crock pot, I didn’t even bother defrosting the chicken. Cook on low for 7.5 hours and serve over jasmine rice. That’s it. It took longer to work out what ingredients we had than to prepare and cook it. Cheers!

Cranberry Relish

** This article will be published in the 11/16 Edition of the Seward Journal Newspaper **


As I write this, Thanksgiving is two weeks away.  I am, or was, super excited about having my family all in the same place for the festivities. After Tuesday, however, I think festivities is a rather generous expectation for the day. The best analogy I can come up for the proceedings is the past week on social media, specifically Facebook. If you think about it, Facebook is just a giant Thanksgiving dinner table. Think about it, all of your friends and family are going to be there along with at least a few people only one other person knows. Everyone is listening to all the conversations and, for better or worse, looking to jump in on one. Undoubtedly, someone will lead with a prayer meme before everybody goes around throwing up memes about what they’re thankful for. After that comes the food pictures and recipie discussions. Maybe you’ll get pleseant conversation about the kids, which leads to one person gushing about their job and everyone else complaning heartily about theirs. Eventually though, the politics memes start. It’s going to start subtly by someone tossing out a funny meme about the candidate they didn’t support, which they also imagine, incorrectly, everyone else will find funny too. Then there’s a response, and the whole dinner table starts to roll down hill until, eventually, at least two people are shouting and the rest of us are chasing the wine to the bottom of the bottle, and reaching for the liquor cabinet. At the end of it someone will throw their hands up and storm out, with the standard, ‘I’m taking a break from Facebook for a while’, and a few others will walk away from the proceedings and go back to posting about the Seahawks again.

This year, that’s where we’re at, pretty much all of us, I think. I’m super optimistic that after already reaching the point of angry red-faced shouting on Facebook, everyone knows to not bring up politics for even a second, it’s a slippery slope. In any case, if it does get there, because it will, I’ve got the perfect recipie that you can knock up by just throwing ingredients into a blender. 

What you need:

– 1 Navel orange (unpeeled)
– 1 bag of store-bought cranberries
– 1 Cup of white sugar

Directions:

Put all of that into a blender, and it’ll be fine if your huffing and puffing and shouting or totally distracted and thinking about this argument or that. If you like, you can throw in a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier.

Irish Stout Pie

*This article first appeared in the 8/24/2016 edition of The Seward Journal Newspaper*img_1462

This week was one of those weeks. You know, the sort of week where a
bottle of cheap wine and carton of ice-cream is not only a perfectly
acceptable meal choice, it’s the perfect ratio of comfort-food to
energy expended. As much as the kiddos would have loved cartons of
ice-cream for dinner, it would have resulted in my week having gone
from pretty bad, to epically bad. Needless to day, dinners consisted
largely of emptying cans and boxes into pots and declaring it dinner.
The only comforting thing about that was the fact I didn’t have to do
much more than grunt at the stove for a minute. A much more preferable
meal for any one of those days would have been an Irish stout steak
pie. Real comfort food.

This recipe is brought to you by a conglomeration of things found on
allrecipies.com. You can even find the base recipe out there, if you
want to see how they did it. While this recipe isn’t the most
difficult thing you could knock together, it does take several hours
to prepare and cook, so be ready for that. I had fully intended to
tweak it to improve the outcome and validate what I’m about to put
down here, but the tweaks are all about delivery, the flavor is fine.

Filling ingredients:

2Lbs round steak or stew meat, cut into 1/2” cubes and floured with 1 Tbsp flour

3oz Lard (You can, of course, use shortening, but the lard has much
better flavor)

1/2lb bacon – chopped into small pieces.

3 large diced yellow onions

1 sm. pkg. of fresh mushrooms

1 1/2 C. Irish Stout

1 Tbsp chopped fresh Parsley

handful dried cranberries

1 tsp. dark brown sugar

Pie Crust (or just use store-bought or your favorite pot-pie crust) ingredients:

1 C. Lard

1 tsp salt

3 C. all-purpose flour

1 cup chilled water

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 325F

Put the lard and bacon into a large skillet over medium heat until the
lard melts – at this point, drop in the floured steak cubes and cook
until brown. Transfer this into a 13×9 casserole dish. Cook onions and
mushrooms in the same skillet until the onions are brown and mushrooms
tender. Add the onions and mushrooms to the steak and bacon mix. Stir
in the Irish stout, parsley, cranberries and brown sugar into the mix.
Cover and bake in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours.

If you’re going to make the crust from scratch, now would be the time
to whip up the dough. I’ve doubled the recipe, and that should be
enough, but if you find it doesn’t quite work, make more using the
same proportions described above.

Mix the flour and lard with a pastry blender until crumbly. Do not add
all of the water! add a little more than half of the water and mix by
hand. Continue adding water until the dough holds together. At this
point, I like to separate the dough into balls, cover and refrigerate
them for a bit so they roll out easier and stick less. In this case,
you’ll be making the bottom and top for 2 9” pies.

Remove the casserole dish from the oven and increase the temperature
to 400F. If the gravy doesn’t thicken after the bake, use flour or
corn starch to finish it up. I recommend flour as corn starch can make
the texture of your filling a little slimy.

On a floured surface, roll-out the bottoms for your pies and line your
two 9” pie-pans with them. Bake in the oven until lightly brown.
Remove from the oven and add the filling then cover with another layer
of rolled-out dough. Put the pies back into the oven until golden
brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Homemade Vanilla

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** 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.