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GRAPEFRUIT & THYME SODA

My garden and I did not start the month of August off on the right foot. While I was being bombarded left and right by dishes and posts featuring beautiful tomatoes, the plants in my garden taunted me with green orbs of various shapes and sizes that refused to ripen. I obsessively checked them twice a day. I even had a dream that, amidst a bit of chaos involving Doctor Who (David Tennant, not Matt Smith), the air traffic controller from season 2 of Breaking Bad, and a woman who insisted she must go to Paris for “jewelery season,” I uncovered a vine of perfectly ripe tomatoes at the edge of my much-nicer-than-it-is-in-waking-life backyard.

While my tomato plants refused to cooperate, my garden did manage to redeem itself with a bounty of herbs, including an overabundance of thyme. I don’t know why, but the smell of thyme makes me thirsty. I love adding it to drinks and it works well with a number of things (lemon, blackberries, pears, etc.), but thyme + grapefruit = THE BEST. I was introduced to this combination nearly a year ago at my favorite Burlington restaurant, and I have been obsessed ever since.

Oh and BONUS: This soda practically begs for gin. Put ‘em together and, boy, do they go down easy.

Grapefruit & Thyme Soda

zest and juice of 2 pink grapefruits
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
10–12 springs of thyme
pinch of salt
seltzer
Combine water, salt, zest, juices, and thyme in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce and let simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 1 hour.

Run mixture through a cheesecloth to filter out the solids. Return the filtered liquid to the pan, add sugar, and heat until sugar is just dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool, then transfer to a container. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

To make soda: Combine 1 part syrup with 1.5 parts seltzer.

To make a grapefruit-thyme gin fizz: Add 1 part gin and 1.5 parts syrup to a glass filled with ice. Top with seltzer then stir to combine.

ZUCCHINI & SWEET CORN PIZZA

esterday, I shared a simple pizza sauce recipe and a few house-sitting pictures with you. Today, I’d like to follow that up with the resulting pizza and a house-sitting anecdote.

What follows is a prime example of what it’s like to be me. See, I seem to be a magnet for “oops” situations. We’re talking a rapid series of events that will cause my brain to completely freeze, and my I-work-8-hours-a-day-on-a-computer fingers on my left hand to start involuntarily making ctrl+Z keystrokes. Sometimes, it’s my own fault. But most of the time, it feels like mischievous cosmic forces are at work, putting me in ridiculous situations for their own amusement. (See also this post.) It’s cool though, because apparently the universe and I have similar senses of humor. (I am also well aware that this cosmic torment might actually be better defined as “karma,” since I have a bit of a penchant for mischief myself.)

The story begins on Friday evening of last week. I’ve finished my work, wrapped up a number of care-taking chores, and I’m ready to enjoy a glass of wine. I grab a corkscrew from a drawer, remove the cork most of the way from the bottle, then start to pull the rest of it out (which, for me, usually requires a bit of upward pull and a little bit of wiggling back and forth). But right as I start to pull, the entire thing pops right out. And since my cork wiggle had begun with a tilt towards me, the metal top of the corkscrew wound up in the outer corner of my eye socket. Luckily, after about 10 seconds of my brain only being capable of thinking, “holy $&*#, HOLY $&*#,” my memories of bad ankles and high school soccer practice kicked in, and I was able to switch gears to, “ice pack [or bag of frozen corn] — 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off.” After enough icing to calm myself down and dealing with the fact that a white shirt was a bad ice pack wrap choice (I was also bleeding a little), I did manage to enjoy my glass of wine. I also examined the cork, which turned out to be about half an inch shorter than any other cork I’ve ever seen. You win this round, universe.

One of the things I quickly learned about house-sitting in a rural place is that it requires a lot of planning ahead, food-wise. On occasion, I realize that I’m running low on staples, but I really don’t feel like driving half an hour to buy anything. That is how things like this pizza come into being. (And yes, the bag of corn that saved my poor eye is the same one that went onto this pizza!) There happened to be a lone zucchini in the vegetable drawer, and with a dwindling pile of garlic scapes and some random scallions, a delicious pizza was born!

Zucchini & Sweet Corn Pizza

  • 1 round of pizza dough
  • 1/2 a batch (or around 4 oz.) of pizza sauce
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 8 oz. of sweet corn (fresh or frozen)
  • 3 garlic scapes, minced
  • half a dozen or so scallions, minced
  • 1 1/4 cups of mozzarella, grated
  • 1/4 cup of jarlsberg, grated (parmesan or edam are good alternatives, or just use all mozzarella)
    mixture of olive oil and honey (for the crust)
  • If using a pizza stone, place it on the bottom rack in the oven. Preheat to 475°.

Saute zucchini and corn over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until most of the water has cooked off.

Shape dough into a circle (or whatever shape you wish). Evenly distribute sauce, then sprinkle on half of the cheese.

Evenly distribute toppings, then add the rest of the cheese. Brush honey and olive oil mixture on the crust.

Bake for 15–20 minutes, or until the crust begins to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool, then slice and serve.

Roasted Mushroom Ravioli with Thyme & Garlic Scapes

I’m sitting here, staring at these little ravioli on my computer screen, trying to think of something nice to say about them. And I’m finding it rather difficult. Not because they weren’t good — they were, in fact, quite good (aside from a mediocre pasta dough experiment, which I will address at a later date). But because I’m sitting in my 91° room, while a fan blasts 91° heat towards my face at high speeds long after the sun has set. So when I look at these ravioli, all I can see is warm, hearty food that was cooked over a pot of boiling hot water, then tossed into a sizzling hot frying pan. Not the sort of thing one dreams about on an evening like this, when throwing together a minimum-effort burrito and cracking a cold beer feels borderline commendable. But a few days days ago, in the balmy 78° weather, these things really hit the spot. So I will now attempt to transport my consciousness back in time, so that I may present these things with the level of enthusiasm they deserve.

First off, if you’ve ever had roasted mushrooms before, I really don’t need to convince you that these ravioli are delicious. And if you haven’t, just imagine perfectly tender, succulent mushrooms that pack an insane amount of flavor. Now think about mixing those up with chèvre and parmesan. Oh and then there’s the whole pan-frying pasta in butter part too. Sold? Sold!

Roasted Mushroom Ravioli with Thyme & Garlic Scapes

yield: approximately 2 1/2 dozen medium ravioli

  • 1 lb of cremini mushrooms, cleaned
  • a few tablespoons of olive oil
  • a hefty dash of red wine vinegar or sherry
  • two cloves of garlic, minced
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 2 oz. of chèvre (herbed, if you can find it — if not sub in some fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, etc.)
  • 3/4 cup of parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • a few garlic scapes, minced
  • a few sprigs of thyme, minced
  • 1 batch of pasta dough

To roast the mushrooms:

Preheat oven to 450°. Toss mushrooms with olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper, then spread across the bottom of a baking dish. Roast mushrooms for 15–20 minutes, or until they look nice and tender and smell divine. Remove and let cool.

To make the filling:

Once the mushrooms have cooled down, dice them and transfer to a bowl. Mix in chèvre and parmesan (and fresh herbs, if using). Set aside.

To make the ravioli:

Roll pasta dough out into a rectangular shape on a well-floured surface (making rectangle as symmetrical as possible), until thin but not in danger of tearing (about 1/16 of an inch thick). Distribute spoonfuls of filling along half the surface of the dough. Brush a little bit of water in between the spoonfuls of filling, then cut off the unused portion of the dough. Carefully transfer it on top and press to seal.

Cut out ravioli with a sharp knife or a pasta wheel. To make extra-sure they are sealed, press all around the edges with a fork. Trim ravioli, re-knead the leftover dough, then repeat the process until all of the filling has been used. Freeze any ravioli that you won’t eat immediately.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the ravioli. Cook until they begin to float (this should only take a few minutes). Meanwhile, melt butter in a pan over medium heat, then add the cooked ravioli, garlic scapes, and half the thyme. Pan-fry for a few minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Top with the remaining fresh thyme, then serve!

Strawberry-rhubarb Balsamic Shrub

When you hear the phrase “drinking vinegar,” what comes to mind? Weird old-timey medicine? Something gross you’d drink if you were doing some sort of “cleanse”? It’s vinegar. And you drink it. That doesn’t sound delicious at all.

I decided to make a shrub purely out of curiosity. I had a bunch of strawberries and rhubarb leftover from making ice cream, and my eye on this post for a while now. I wanted to try it and I wanted to like it, but deep down, I was worried I’d hate it. It would be too vinegary for me, and I’d feel like a wimp. I’d wind up putting it in smoothies or trying to dilute it with seltzer and/or booze, all the while lamenting the waste of expensive balsamic. But now that I’ve finally tried it, I can honestly say that I don’t like it. I LOVE it.

I really don’t know if I can express how much I love this weird vinegary deliciousness I’ve created. It has a wonderful sweetness to it, counterbalanced by a refreshing tang that kicks you right in the the back of the tongue. Normally, I’ll make a soda syrup that will wind up just sitting in the fridge, hoping it gets used for a few cocktails before it’s deemed no longer drinkable. But I just can’t get enough of this stuff. I’ve been drinking a glass or two of it per day, while telling myself that I can’t have any more because I need to save it for cocktails this weekend. (I’m even considering not using it for cocktails, especially after a little experiment this evening left me craving more shrub and less gin. What?!)

If you’d like to learn a little bit of history about shrubs, Serious Eats has a great article that includes two different methods for making them (hot- and cold-processed). For my shrub, I followed the cold-processed method. Call me old fashioned, but I think there’s something much more appealing and wholesome about giving the ingredients a few days to naturally get acquainted with one another, rather than tossing some stuff in hot sugar water and straining it out after a matter of minutes, then throwing in some vinegar and calling it a day. I can only speak to the results of the cold method, but what I can say about that is it only requires patience and stirring, and the end result is amazing. I already know that I will be making this many, many more times this summer.

Strawberry Rhubarb Shrub (with a little pineapple too!)
(adapted from Fudge Ripple)

yield: approximately 2 cups of syrup

1 1/4 cups of ripe strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and sliced
1/2 cup of rhubarb, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup of pineapple, sliced (if you don’t want to bother with pineapple, feel free to replace this with another 1/4 cup of rhubarb or strawberries)
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
10 black peppercorns, slightly crushed
1 cup of balsamic vinegar (make sure you use a decent quality balsamic)
1/2 cup cider vinegar (again, decent quality)
Combine fruit, peppercorns, and sugar in a bowl or jar, stirring to evenly-coat the fruit. Allow mixture to sit for around 1 hour, then macerate until everything is nice and broken up. Cover and let sit for 24 hours. (At room temperature is fine, but feel free to stick it in the fridge too.)

After 24 hours, macerate the mixture again, trying to crush the fruit as much as possible. At this point, you can add the vinegars immediately, or let it sit for another 24 hours. (I let mine sit for another day.)

When ready, add the vinegars and stir well. Store at room temperature for 7–9 days, giving it a good stir each day. When finished, pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, then transfer to a clean jar or container. Store syrup in the fridge.

To mix: Add 1 part syrup to 2.5–3 parts seltzer.

As far as cocktails go, I did not like this very much with gin. I think it would pair much better with tequila, which will be my next experiment!

UPDATE: This shrub + tequila = a match made in heaven. The flavors work with each other so well that you can barely tell where one ends and the other begins. It tastes like a beautiful summer day in a glass! Combine 1 part reposado tequila, 1 part shrub syrup, and 2.5 parts seltzer in a glass filled with ice. (I also added a few drops of pear bitters, and it was divine. I realize most people won’t have these on hand unless you happen to be one of those crazy people that bought Brad Thomas Parsons’s Bitters and immediately made six different batches of bitters . . . like I did. If you’re mega-jealous, do not despair — there just might be a giveaway in the future!)

German Flag Layer Cake

I spent two weeks in Germany just over a decade ago. (Let’s pause for a moment so I can get over how old that sentence made me feel.) I had been to Europe the year before with a group from my high school, which was kind of a blur—an awesome, fun-filled blur—due to the amount of standard sight-seeing we had to cram in after some travel delays (which involved a night spent in Newark airport, a missed connection in London, and a severely jet-lagged me browsing through duty free shops like a zombie). To this day, the best $2 I have ever spent was on a shower in the London-Heathrow airport. But traveling to Germany on my own to visit friends who lived there was a completely different, uninsulated experience that allowed me to take in much more of what was going on around me. Why is all of this water fizzy? What is this delicious chocolate spread you eat for breakfast? How can something called “grey bread” be so good? Why does this beer go down like water? To this day, it baffles me when someone gives a hefeweizen the “yick” face and says it tastes like bananas. Whatever, man, more banana beer for me.

Earlier this year, one of my friends from Germany came over for a visit. To celebrate, my friend Adam threw a party, and I made soft pretzels and this cake. I really want to be able to say that I came up with the idea for this cake on my own, but it was actually my boyfriend. As soon as he said, “how about a cake that looks like the German flag?” I thought, “oh my god, yellow, red velvet, and chocolate cake—how did I not think of that?!” Throughout the party, whenever people complimented me on the cake, I begrudgingly gave credit where credit was due. When I made it this time, I even managed to completely forget that it wasn’t my idea, until my boyfriend smugly sweetly asked if I would be giving him credit for it. Gah!

So here it is again, just in time for the end of Oktoberfest! I really wanted to get beer in the cake itself, but then I ended up making the whole process way too complex and just had to go back to basics. So this is just your standard yellow cake, red velvet cake, and chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting. I would instead suggest drinking beer while you make and eat the cake. It’s better that way anyhow. 🙂

German Flag Layer Cake

Note: Since dividing cake recipes into thirds is way too complicated and imprecise, I just cut the recipes for standard size cakes in half. You can either cut the layers down as you see fit, or just make a very big cake.

All three layers of this cake bake at 350°. Grease three 8-inch round baking pans and set aside. Instructions for each layer of cake are as follows.

Yellow Cake
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • ½ cup of butter (1 stick), softened
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ⅓ cup of milk
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • yellow food coloring

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla. Alternate between adding the milk and the flour mixture until just combined.

Pour batter into your pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Red Velvet Cake
(adapted from Bakerella)

  • 1 ¼ cups of flour
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup of oil
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 1 ½ tsp vinegar
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • red food coloring

Lightly stir the egg, then whisk in the rest of the liquid ingredients (oil, milk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring).

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and mix until well-combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate Cake
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • ½ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ⅓ cups of flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup of butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1 ⅛ cups of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract

Pour boiling water over cocoa powder and set aside to cool. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl, then mix in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. Alternately add the cocoa and the flour mixtures until just combined.

Pour batter into pan and bake for around 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate Frosting
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • 6 cups of confectionery sugar
  • 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) of butter, softened
  • 10 tbsp evaporated milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together sugar and cocoa powder and set aside.

Cream butter in a large bowl, the alternately mix in the evaporated milk and the cocoa mixture, then add in vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy.

Assembly

After all of your layers have cooled, begin assembling your cake. Keep in mind that the bottom and middle layer will compress slightly from the weight of everything on top of them, so you might want to cut the chocolate layer down to be a little smaller. (For an in-depth demonstration on how to build a layer cake, see Whisk Kid’s posts on assembly and frosting. Or check out the Good Eats episode The Icing Man Commeth.)

Once you’ve got your cake all together, cut yourself a slice and pour yourself a big ol’ beer. Prost!

Roasted Tomatoes

When I was young, tomatoes were up towards the top of my Most Hated Foods list. My mother once paid me $20 to eat a slice of one (a slice). I did it, but I definitely did not enjoy it. But then I grew up, and I developed those “mature taste buds” that everyone was telling me I’d have eventually. And I realized that tomatoes are quite delicious.

OK, confession: I still have a bit of a neurosis when it comes to tomatoes. See, I’m not sure I believe that any of our taste buds “mature” (in the strictly biological sense), as much as I think we all give in to trying things we’d shunned in our younger years, to avoid being that person. And so, I had to deconstruct my childhood enemy The Tomato and figure out what exactly it is that I don’t like about it. The answer: those gross, slimy, seed-ridden guts. Ick. And I’m glad I figured it out, because now I can enjoy things like these roasted tomatoes!

 

This is pretty much the perfect use for all of those smaller tomatoes you’ve got hanging around that you have no other use for. It seemed like my roma tomato plant turned into a monster overnight. And as I was driving several different stakes into the soil and tying up the endless branches laden with oddly-small tomatoes, I was saying to myself, “dude, what are you going to do with all these things?” They’re too small for sandwiches. I’m feeling too lazy for sauce. Oh wait, cut them in half and throw them in the oven? Yes.

 

FYI: Roasted tomatoes = stupid good. With all of the garlic and basil I added, they taste like little bite-size bits of the most delicious tomato sauce. I had plans to use them on a pizza, and I had to hide them behind a bunch of other, annoying-to-move things in the fridge to keep myself from snacking incessantly. I can’t wait to get back to my freakish tomato plant in Vermont and make some more!

Roasted Tomatoes

  • lots of small tomatoes (I used roma/grape tomatoes, though anything small would probably work)
  • garlic, minced
  • basil, minced
  • olive oil
  • salt

Preheat your oven to 250°. Cut your tomatoes in half. De-seed them if you’re crazy (err . . . “particular”) like me.

Place tomatoes in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. You could also throw in the basil and garlic at this point and toss to evenly distribute those, but I wanted to make sure that I got every little bit of garlic and basil inside of the tomatoes. To do this, I arranged the tomatoes, cut-side up, on a baking sheet. I then pushed them all together to make sure nothing could fall between, sprinkled the basil and garlic over them, rearranged them to be evenly-spaced, and put the sheet in the oven.

Bake for about an hour and a half or more (depending on how large/small your tomatoes are, and how “roasted” you want them to be). I prefer mine to be closer to sundried tomatoes. They were quite small, and I took them out after an hour and a half. Just check them after about an hour. When they look perfect to you, take them out. Eat them on anything! Pasta, pizza, with cheese and crackers, by themselves . . . whatever you like! They will make most anything taste even better. 🙂

Asparagus & Lemon Quinoa Risotto

Well it seems that March, like February, has just flown by. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve been wondering when it’s actually going to begin to feel like spring in the northeast! We had a few 40° days in the beginning of the month, abruptly followed by an appalling amount of snow.

And after a lot of shoveling, a few more warm days, and a lot more cold days, the snow has finally begun to disappear. Luckily, those few spring-like days in early March put me in the mood to start my seedlings. (Quite a feat for me, queen of procrastination that I am.) So even though it has been crummy and cold outside, I’ve had little bits of spring sprouting and growing in my kitchen.

Look at them—my babies!

Speaking of seeds, did you know that quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain? I discovered quinoa about six years ago, when I randomly bought a box of it in the organic aisle of the grocery store. And after reading the back of the box while I was waiting for it to cook, I learned what a wonderful, highly-nutritious complete protein it is! I also learned how to pronounce it (bonus).

My favorite, lazy way to make quinoa is to throw in some peas and soy sauce. But this time, I was curious how it would work as a risotto. The answer: quite well! The only thing that could have made this dish better is some shrimp. My boyfriend thought it was a little too lemony (although I didn’t mind it). If you don’t love lemon, you might want to use the zest of only half a lemon, and leave the juice out all together. But if you add shrimp, use it all!

Asparagus & Lemon Quinoa Risotto

4½ cups of stock (chicken or vegetable)
1½ cups of quinoa
1 bunch of asparagus, chopped
1 lemon (zest & juice)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp of butter
¼ cup of parmesan cheese, grated
¼ dry white wine

Forgive my image-heavy post . . .

I was testing out my new flash on these in-process photos.

Soak quinoa in a bowl of water for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, bring stock to a boil in a large pot (you’ll want to use a pot that has a well-fitting lid). Keep the lid on the pot when you aren’t actually transferring things in and out of the pot, to keep evaporation to a minimum.

Once the stock begins to boil, add asparagus. Boil for 5–7 minutes, then transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Place in the fridge or an ice bath. Bring the stock down to barely a simmer and cover.

While asparagus cooks, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a large, shallow pan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for 3 minutes. Drain quinoa and add to the pan. Saute for about a minute, then lower heat slightly. Using a ladle (or something similar), ladle in just enough stock to cover the quinoa. Let simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed, then ladle in the same amount of stock. Continue until the liquid is gone, and the quinoa is fully cooked (when the white germ ring becomes visible around the outside). If you’re running low on liquid and your quinoa isn’t fully cooked, just add some water to your stock pot, bring it to a simmer, and then continue with that.

As the last of your liquid is being absorbed, add in asparagus and white wine. Once the liquid is gone, remove from heat and stir in butter, lemon juice and zest, and parmesan cheese.

Sidenote: One of my favorite things to do with leftover risotto is to use it in a frittata (with hot sauce and maple syrup). I haven’t tried it with quinoa, but I don’t foresee it being bad!

Homemade Vanilla Extract: Giveaway!

Way back in mid-October, I’d already decided on the treat-trifecta I would be doling out to friends and family during the holidays: vanilla extract, handmade orecciette, and candied citrus peels. It is currently t-minus 3 days to christmas, and I have completed one of those items. Well, one and a half . . . ish. I made one gift bag of orecciette for a yankee swap; it took up three hours of my time and a majority of my counter space. Doing that again, for a dozen more gifts? Nuh uh. Not happening. And as for the citrus peels, watching a pot of boiling sugar water for several hours and cleaning stickiness off of everything in my kitchen is pretty much at the top of my list of Things I Don’t Want To Do right now. But in my world, where ambition is constantly pitted against laziness-fueled procrastination, one out of three ain’t bad.

Because I love the idea of homemade vanilla extract so much (which—to give credit where credit is due—I originally discovered here), I really wanted to post this in late November / early December, so that you too might have a chance to make your own and delight all of the bakers on your gift list. It’s hard to find a more perfect gift for a habitual baker. Not only is it practical, adorable, and easy to make (once you’ve collected all the components), it is also virtually endless. Every time I run out of vanilla extract, I wind up in the baking aisle, begrudgingly scanning the bottles and trying to convince myself that it really is ok to spend $7+ on a tiny amount of liquid, because I will only be using it a teaspoon at a time. But this will be a problem no more! Once you begin to run low, you just add a little more vodka.

Anyway, since I’m way too late to inspire any of you to make this yourselves (for this holiday season, at least), I would like to give a few away! It’s the least I can do. Please forgive me for being lazy. I’ve got three up for grabs. Just comment on this post by midnight on Sunday. I will choose the three people at random, and announce the winners early next week. Hurray for free things!

Now, for those of you who would like to make your own extract, here’s how it’s done. First, you need a bunch of vanilla beans. I purchased a half pound of bourbon vanilla beans from Beanilla. Next, you’ll need a bunch of 4 oz. bottles and caps (I bought a couple dozen from the Specialty Bottle company). And last, you’ll need some vodka. The cheap stuff is fine, just make sure it’s unflavored. As for labels, I just bought some label paper from staples and made my own. If you don’t feel like bothering with that, there are plenty of places online where you can get custom labels.

Now that you have all the pieces, start by cutting up the beans. First, cut them in half. Then split each one down the side, making the yummy goodness (“caviar”) inside more accessible.

And then, stick the beans in the bottle and pour in the vodka.

Seal it, and you’re done. This will begin to look and smell like extract after only 24 hours, but you should let it steep for about 6 weeks for it to reach its full vanilla-ness. As I mentioned before, just keep adding a little vodka when you start to run low. If it seems weak after a while, just throw in another vanilla bean. Three cheers for never buying the store-bought stuff again!

 

 

TURKEY POT PIE

Do you still have some Thanksgiving leftovers hanging around? Are you growing a little tired of turkey sandwiches? Please say yes. And then please, make this.

This year’s holiday was quite a success, if I do say so myself. It will be a model for all future Thanksgivings I host. From now on, I will always brine my turkey. I will happily delegate dishes to friends and family to preserve my own sanity. And I will always make a pot pie out of the leftovers. In fact, I will probably make larger meals all winter, just so I can make more pot pies. They are the ultimate cold-weather comfort food. And they are awesomely good.

I will list the ingredients I used below, but you can use whatever you’d like. Just make enough stuff to fill your pie, and hold it all together with some gravy. You really can’t go wrong!

Turkey Pot Pie
(adapted from Bon Appétit via Epicurious)

  • 2 pie crusts
  • 1 ½ cups of turkey, diced or shredded
  • 1 cup of carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup of green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup of mashed potatoes
  • ½ cup of frozen peas
  • ½ cup of scallions (or onion), sliced
  • 1 heaping cup of gravy
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh sage chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 egg white

Roll out one round of dough and place it in your pie pan. Trim off any excess and chill in the fridge.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add in scallions and mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms just begin to soften and release a little liquid. (If you are using onion instead of scallions, cook onion for a few minutes, until it becomes translucent, then add the mushrooms.) Add carrots and green beans and cook for another two minutes. Add turkey, gravy, peas, mashed potatoes, herbs, salt, and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat. Let simmer until it has thickened slightly.

Remove mixture from heat and let it rest for a few minutes, then pour it into your chilled pie crust. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When the pie is nearly done chilling, preheat your oven to 400°. Roll out your second dough round until it is big enough to cover the top of the pie. Trim excess, then pinch edges to seal. Brush top with egg white. Score a few times to release steam during baking.

Bake for 30–35 minutes, or until the crust begins to turn a pretty golden brown. Remove pie and let it rest for at least 15 minutes (this will be difficult, because it’s going to smell good).

After you’ve waited for as long as you can stand, cut pie into hearty slices. Serve it with a side of leftover cranberry sauce, if you are so inclined. Be prepared to go back for seconds!

HOMEMADE BUTTER

That’s right. That delicious stuff you’re buying in the store, those tasty blocks that come wrapped in paper and packaged four-at-a-time in little 1-lb boxes—you can make that.

Not only is homemade butter so much yummier than the store-bought kind, it’s also easy to make. This can be done several different ways. You can use a mixer, a food processor, or a container of some sort. I prefer the container method because it allows for a slow churn, rather than an unbridled whip that risks incorporating buttermilk back into the butter, so that’s what I will explain here.

All you’ll need is:

  • 1 pint of heavy cream
  • a 2-pint* or larger container (I used a 1-liter bottle)
  • cheesecloth (I use a gold filter)
  • salt

*You will need to use a container that is at least twice the volume of the cream.

First, you’re going to want to bring the heavy cream to room temperature. Why is that, you ask? Okay, science time! Milk and cream contain oodles of tiny fat molecules called globules (I still can’t decide how I feel about that word, but I think I like it). These globules are surrounded by membranes that prevent them from sticking to each other, keeping your milk and cream un-chunky (gross, I know). You make butter by agitating these membranes until they begin to break down, allowing the fat molecules to stick together (a process more commonly known as churning), and eventually resulting in the separation of butter and buttermilk. These membranes break down quickest at room temperature or slightly below. You can churn chilled cream and it will eventually yield butter as well, it will just take a lot longer. If you’re impatient like me, pour the cream into a wider container and set in a warm area for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. (I also use this time to try to finish a liter of seltzer.)

Once the cream has warmed, pour it into the empty container and seal with a secure lid. Shake the container steadily but not too rapidly (I am really trying to avoid the term “medium pace” here, despite how fitting it would be—thanks a lot, Adam Sandler). If you shake too violently, you risk reincorporating the buttermilk and over-churning the butter, which cannot be undone. As you shake, you’ll feel the cream begin to thicken, like whipped cream. Next, it’s going to start to feel like a big dairy rock. It will seem like your shaking isn’t doing anything at all (and you may need to put a little more “umph” into it). And then, like magic, things will start to separate! I switch to a slower and more emphatic shake at this point in time—forcefully inverting the bottle one way, then the other. Continue shaking for a few more minutes, or until a good amount of buttermilk has separated from the butter (around ¾–1 cup).

Remove the top from the container. Place the cheesecloth or gold filter over the opening and strain out the buttermilk. (Reserve the buttermilk for delicious pancake- or biscuit-related uses.) Now, you need to rinse the butter to remove any lingering buttermilk, which can cause your butter to spoil quickly. (Confession: I actually forgot to do this and didn’t remember I was supposed to until I started writing this post. My butter has survived so far [it has been about a week], but it’s still an important part of the process that should not be bypassed.) Fill your container with very cold water until it just covers the butter, then drain out through the cheesecloth. Repeat this process a number of times (around 7), until the drained water is clear. Remove the butter from the container (if you’re using a bottle, just cut the top off) and transfer it to a large wooden cutting board. I actually used a plastic cutting board, which was a mistake. (Is it obvious that it’s been a while since I’ve done this?) You want to use something semi-porous that’s capable of absorbing a little liquid.

Using a wooden spoon, press your butter down into a large, flattened pancake. As you do this, you’ll notice liquid oozing out from the butter. Your cutting board should absorb some of that, but you can also use a paper towel to lightly dab away any excess. Gather butter back into a ball and press flat again. Continue to do this until you have removed most of the liquid. Before you gather up your last butter pancake, add some salt to it (about ¼ teaspoon). This will also ward off spoilage.

And now, grab the nearest piece of bread and slather it with fresh butter! It’s good, isn’t it? It isn’t exactly practical to make for use in cooking or baking, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort as a table-bound, buttering butter. (*Ahem*, a Thanksgiving table, perhaps?) There’s no reason this shouldn’t make an appearance at Thanksgiving, or any holiday, for that matter. It can be made days in advance, it’s easily transportable, and it’s delicious. Done and done.