Friday, November 28, 2008

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Know how to make Vanilla Extract? I didn't either.

But then I "scored" some vanilla beans at an incredible price and started reading about other uses for them.

Little did I know Vanilla Extract is nothing but rum or vodka steeped in split vanilla beans for about 8 weeks.... and beyond.....

So here we go.....this is day six....

I'm going to bottle it for gifts over the Holidays, with a half vanilla bean inside which keeps it's potency continuing. Although, it takes eight weeks to steep so I'll be late. But hey, story of my life.

I once bought presents for my family in another state in October, wrapped them, boxed them and placed the box on a chair.

And it became part of the decor.

I think it was like February or so when I realized I'd never mailed the box of presents.....LOL

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Crockpot Split Pea Soup

I've noticed I don't see a lot of split pea soup featured on blogsites. It's probably because it's not fancy enough and is considered kind of pedestrian. But have you ever noticed that whenever you go anywhere that serves a variety of soups (like the supermarket) that the pot containing the split pea soup is always EMPTY? Ever noticed that? What does that tell ya?

So this weekend it was gray, rainy, windy and chilly. And all I wanted was some split pea soup and cornbread. So I made some. Here's my take on it:

1 15 oz bag split peas (green or yellow or both) rinsed, soaked overnight, and picked over
4 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
1 yellow onion diced
4 cloves of garlic diced
2 carrots peeled and sliced thinly
2 leeks washed and sliced thinly, white and light green parts only
2 celery stalks washed and sliced thinly
2 smoked ham hocks
32 oz Chicken broth
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground pepper

Pour rinsed split peas into crockpot.

Saute onion, garlic, leeks, carrots, and celery in oil until the onion begins to soften and turn translucent.

Add two ham hocks to crockpot along with bay leaves, salt and pepper and thyme. Add sauteed vegetables.

Pour chicken broth over the contents of the crockpot.

Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, turn to medium and cook another 8 hours until peas are fully cooked and break down when stirred. I recommend NOT using a submersible blender as you want the carrots and celery and leeks to remain somewhat intact.

Remove ham hocks from the soup and discard. (Some folks recommend cutting meat off the ham hock and adding to the soup, but I rarely find much meat in a ham hock so I just discard. As a variation, I sometimes add sliced kielbasa or cubed ham to the soup during the last hour of cooking.)

Important: Degrease soup by skimming the top layer of oil/grease and discarding.

If soup is too thick when done, or when serving later just add water and mix well.

Serve and garnish with a bit of sour cream and/or croutons and parsley.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Pie

Yes, I love pumpkin pie. But I like pumpkin pie that's a little different. I've tried Chocolate Pumpkin Pie, Pecan Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie, Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie, etc. etc.

I came across a recipe for Dulce de Leche Pumpkin and immediately knew I had to try it. Thanks to for posting this recipe.

1 deep dish pie crust (I used frozen in this rendition)
3/4 cup Dulce de Leche (I splurged and bought some imported.... see below)
2 eggs
1 15 oz. can Pumpkin puree
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 12 oz can evaporated milk

Spoon Dulce de Leche into the pie crust and spread evenly all over the bottom.

In a bowl beat eggs well with the brown sugar and add all the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Slowly pour egg mixture into the pie plate. Place pie on a cookie sheet to catch any overflow. (And it will overflow a bit, trust me, don't skip this step)

I found a had about a cup of mixture left over so I poured some Dulce de Leche into two pyrex baking dishes and just poured the pumpkin mixture on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 55 minutes to an hour. The pie will be a bit jiggly in the very middle but firm from there out. Remove, it will continue to bake a bit as it cools.

See that Dulce de Leche trying to escape? Don't worry, almost ALL of it stayed in the pie.

Serve with Whipping cream and chopped toffee if desired.

Enjoy! This pie is REALLY good!

From Argentina! Muito Bom!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dulce de Leche Pear Bread Pudding

I'm a big fan of Bread Pudding. I came across this recipe from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody and she was kind enough to let me adapt it for my blog. Naturally once again, her photographs make mine look amateurish, BUT, the recipe tastes just as good despite my optic endeavors.

This bread pudding is deliciously soft and crunchy at the same time and the addition of the pears is a great idea. Combined with Dulce de Leche and it ranks right up there. This batch did NOT last very long.

1 French Baguette
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup evaporated milk
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup peeled fresh sliced pears or canned pear slices.
½ cup golden raisins or currants

Preheat oven to 350F.

Leave the bread out overnight so it turns slightly stale.

In an greased 8-x-8-inch pan, sprinkle as many bread pieces as you can on the bottom. Sprinkle with ½ of the diced pears and ¼ cup raisins.

Mix the egg yolks, sugars, vanilla extract and spices together in a bowl. Then stir in the heavy cream and evaporated milk.

Pour the custard over the bread first layer of bread. Add a layer of pears and 1/4 cup of the raisins.

Add another layer of bread and pears and raisins. Pour balance of egg mixture over pudding.

Press down gently with a spatula so all the bread gets soaked in the egg mixture.

Bake the bread pudding for 45 minutes to an hour until golden on top. Cool 10 minutes and serve warm.

Serve with Dulce de Leche or Caramel sauce. The Dulce de Leche pictured below is the best I've ever tasted. It's imported from Argentina and is thick, deeply colored, and delicious.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Janna's Jam

One of the advantages of having a food blog apparently, is that occasionally you get to try something for free.

And, sometimes it's worth blogging about.

This is definitely one of those times.

I was talking to a co-worker who informed she likes to do canning and offered to let me try her most recent offering. I thought to myself, ok, yeah, I'll try your strawberry jam.

Much to my surprise, it was an onion confit. (I even had to go look it up, a confit is: A condiment made by cooking seasoned fruit or vegetables, usually to a jamlike consistency.)

It is absolutely delicious!

I've tended to use it much like a Chutney with Steak, hamburgers and even ham.

It is pungent, savory, slightly sweet, with a fascinating blend of flavors. I must admit, I even just spread it on some Ritz crackers and ate about eight of them with nothing but the Onion mixture. (And a cold Beck's beer,

It's a combination of Walla Walla sweet onions, Red Wine, White Wine Vinegar, Sugar,
and some secret spices.

Janna herself recommends you can use it as follows:

Make a pocket in thick cut steaks and stuff in onion confit, then BBQ to medium doneness (serve with sautéed mushrooms and taters)

Add to an Au Jus for French dip sandwiches

Add to any brown gravy

Split a ciabatta roll and put onion confit and slices of goat cheese or cheddar on to make a Panini

Substitute for cranberry sauce on turkey or chicken sandwiches

Eat out of the jar.

If you would like to try some yourself contact Janna at

Limited supply at $4.00 per jar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Honey Oatmeal Bread

So last week I had a disaster of soup making. Although I must admit I enjoyed laughing at myself. Soup Disaster

That being said, I decided to redeem myself by baking. Because if there's one thing I know how to do it's bake. And that being said, I love to make homemade bread. And, might I add, no bread machine here..... I love mixing the dough, kneading it, shaping it, and molding it to my wishes all by hand. It's one of the most gratifying things to make in my opinion.

(Well MORE gratifying if you have a KitchenAid admittedly with a Dough Hook!)

And don't get me wrong, I went YEARS without a KitchenAid and made homemade bread
by hand.....and I remember mixing sticky thick dough until my arms hurts..... And both arms would hurt because I'd wear out my right arm and have to switch to my left.... I decided eventually, that if it's painful to "make the food" and/or painful to "eat" the food, I don't want it.

Until the day I bought the.....Kitchen Bad Boy.

Anyway, I realized, I hadn't made any bread in quite a while.....

SO, I decided some Honey Oatmeal Bread was in order.... (If you're an absolute newbie to homemade bread, check out my post for beginning bread makers.... here.)

The source of this recipe is King Arthur Flour.


1 1/2 cups hot water
1 cup oats
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
approx. 3 cups of flour
2 tablespoons honey
oats for topping (tablespoon or so)


In a large mixing bowl, combine boiling water, oats, 1/2 cup honey, butter and salt. Let stand for 1 hour.

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. (If the yeast foams up, it is "proofed", if not discard and start over with yeast and water)

Pour the yeast mixture in the oat/honey mixture. Add 2 cups of flour and mix well. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time (it may take 2 1/2 to 3 cups more flour) You know you've
added enough flour when the entire dough is in a ball and not sticking to the sides.

Scrape out onto a well floured surface and sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over the top of the dough so your hands don't stick. Knead the bread for about 5 minutes until smooth. Don't hesitate to sprinkle more flour over the top or on the board if it's sticking. You won't incorporate too much

Oil a bowl, plop the kneaded dough into it and turn over so both sides are oiled.

Heat your oven to 300 for 3 - 5 minutes and turn off. (I've found this little bit of heat in the oven is perfect for bread.) Cover the bowl with saran wrap or a warm moist towel and let rise until doubled.

Remove from oven, remove towel, and punch dough down thoroughly. Pull back out of bowl onto floured surface....sprinkle a little flour over the top and briefly knead again 4 - 6 times. Turn over. Now, this should be enough for two loaves so cut in half, shape into loaves and place in slightly greased bread pans. (for the ragged ends or underside, just tuck under the loaf, they'll disappear as it rises and bakes.

I chose to make one loaf and some rolls as I was having company for dinner. Just take half the loaf and shape into a loaf and place in bread pan. For the rolls, just tear out ball shapes of dough from the remainder (you might want to flour your fingers) and roll into balls and place adjacent to each other in a greased 9 x 9 baking dish or round baking tin, or even muffin cups; they all work.

Place dough in oven, covered again, and let rise for 45 minutes. Remove from oven.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. When at temperature, place loaves or baking dishes into oven and bake for 45 minutes. It's been my experience that bread often "looks" done way before it truly is done. If you use glass baking dishes it's easier to tell, because you let it bake until the bottom and sides are lightly browned, then it is done. In the absence of that, tap or "thump" the top of the loaf firmly, and if it sounds hollow, after 45 minutes of baking, you'll be ok.

Remove. Slightly heat a tablespoon or two of honey, and brush over tops of breads and sprinkle with a few oats for decoration.

Enjoy! (Isn't that purty stuff to make? huh?)

And if that doesn't look good enough? Toast it, butter it, and put some jam/jelly on it...... The best ever....seriously.... There's nothing like hot homemade bread.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Butternut Squash Apple Soup

Don't these ingredients look good? Or at least photogenic? Butternut squash, Granny Smith apples, shallots, garlic, onion, and a potato for thickener?

Let's talk about recipes for a second. A number of the recipes I post are family recipes that have been around for a long time or ones I've adapted or made up.

Occasionally, and more often now that I read other food blogs, I find incredible recipes that I replicate or modify giving proper credit to the originator.

The third thing I do with recipes, and really enjoy, is having a basic idea of what I want to make, and reviewing a number of recipes and adding or deleting ingredients as I read different versions of the same item I'm making to come with a new "mixture" of ingredients that will be somewhat unique.

This is what I did with the Butternut Squash recipe.

I consider myself a fairly good cook and baker, and able to co-join ingredients and come up with a successful output, ya know?

So I perused a number of recipes.... I started with the basics, as you see in the photo above. And as I looked at recipes I decided to add, in addition to chicken broth, fresh apple cider...(I LOVE fresh apple cider), and then some real maple syrup from another recipe, cinnamon sticks seemed like an appropriate addition, as well as nutmeg and finally a freshly split vanilla bean.

Damn this sounded good, and if you look below, looked beautiful as well:

So I made this at night, and refrigerated it overnight (to let it steep), and the next morning before I went to work, set it up in the crockpot, and turned it on medium.

I got home like 8 or 9 hours later, and my house smelled, .......strange. Not good, like it usually does if I've done a soup or roast in the crockpot.....just kinda different.

So I checked the soup, took a taste, and it seemed FAR from done..... so I turned it to high, salted and peppered it, and let it boil happily away for another 4 hours.

I then took out my new handy submersible blender, and blended everything together.....

And guess what?



The onions were crunchy and terrible (I didn't saute them first, figured 12 hours in a crockpot would soften them, wrong!)

It was bland (I figure I underestimated the amount of squash I needed by 4 times)

It tasted slightly like cider and that was it. (See comments above)

And overall, the taste of the overall soup was alien, strange, and not something that would appeal to anyone on this planet. Somehow the combination of flavors, that although sounded delicious in my head, tasted like a witches brew.

So, even though you may have a blog, a great camera, love to cook, and think ya know what you're doing, try my recipe and it'll bring ya down to earth.... LOL

I just had to share.

Gosh, I'm this old and finally realized I'm human. (obviously joking, you don't raise 3 kids and not realize that everyday of THEIR

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies with Sea Salt

What a great cookie recipe. These are light, crunchy, slightly sweet, hint of white chocolate and the tang of sea salt. Great combination.

I found the recipe on the Smitten Kitchen blog. The recipes there are so good. I'm adding her to my favorite blog list as I type this.


1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
6 ounces good-quality white chocolate bar, chopped

Sea salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and table salt in a medium bowl.

Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated.

Scrape down bowl again.

Add flour mixture gradually and mix until just incorporated and smooth.

Gradually add oats and white chocolate and mix until well incorporated.

Refrigerate dough for about 15 minutes to make it easier to work with.

Roll dough with your fingers into 1 inch balls and then flatten slightly and place on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.

Sprinkle Sea Salt directly onto the top of each mound of cookie dough.

I found this dispenser to be perfect. One twist right over the dough was exactly the right amount.

Bake in oven for exactly 15 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes before removing to cooling rack as the cookies are fairly fragile until cooled slightly.

Enjoy. Makes about 48 cookies.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Crockpot Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

So as I said, I went to the Seattle Food and Wine Experience and had a bowl of Pumpkin Soup made by the Herb Farm Restaurant. It was SO good I immediately went on a search when I got home to try and find a recipe that might be close to it.

Of course I failed. That soup was the ultimate. BUT, I did find the following soup and the ingredients intrigued me and it did NOT disappoint.... It was gotta try it.

Adapted from Gourmet and The Smitten Kitchen.

Great find SK, thanks!

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

Three 15 1/2 ounce cans black beans rinsed and drained
1 cup drained canned tomatoes, chopped
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup minced shallot
4 garlic cloves minced
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
4 cups beef broth
a 16-ounce can pumpkin puree (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup dry Sherry
1/2 pound cooked ham, cut into 1/8-inch dice (I used a hamhock, cooked and then trimmed of meat and discarded)
3 to 4 tablespoons Red Wine vinegar

Garnish: sour cream and chive or parsley

In a food processor coarsely puree beans and tomatoes.

In a large skillet cook onion, shallot, and garlic until beginning to brown. Add to crockpot. Add cumin, salt, and pepper. Add hamhock. Stir in bean puree. Stir in broth, pumpkin, and sherry and wine vinegar until combined and cook on medium until for 6 - 8 hours. During the last half hour add 1/2 cup Sherry to 'brighten" he mixture. Remove hamhock, slice meat off the hock and add to crockpot. Discard bone.

Season soup with salt and pepper. (I know you all know how to season a crockpot, but read my hint anyway.... How to salt a crockpot soup.)

Serve soup garnished with sour cream and chive or parsley.