DIY Drawer Inserts

Collage drawer 1

Messy drawers. It’s something that we all struggle with. And no, I’m not talking about the kind that cover your bottom half. I am always in a constant battle with my  kitchen drawers, bathroom drawers, even the everpresent “junk drawer”… I mean, why do we even have a drawer specifically to hold “junk”?  Continue reading

homemade vanilla extract

vanilla extract 2

As a frequent baker, one thing I constantly go through is vanilla extract. And honey, let me tell you, that stuff ain’t cheap. At nearly $20 a bottle, it turns baking into quite an expensive hobby. But all that changed when I decided to take the leap and start making my own.

Vanilla beans are generally not too cheap on their own either, but a wonderful blog friend told me about a website called Beanilla that not only has great-priced vanilla beans, but they have lots of sales throughout the year too! I saved even more money by buying “Grade B” beans for the extract – they aren’t great for baking but they’re perfect for making extract.

To make your own extract, all you need is three things: vanilla beans, alcohol, and a container to put them in. It’s really that simple. I use Svedka vodka because it’s neutral, it’s relatively smooth (and it’s super cheap – about $16 for 1.75 liters), but you could use any type you like. You could also substitute bourbon, brandy,  whiskey, or rum in place of the vodka depending on what type of flavor you’re looking for. Vodka will produce the most neutral flavor for you, closer to what you’re probably used to using, where the others will give you more depth of flavor.

The ratio is simple So, let’s say I buy my 25 vanilla beans for $16, then I add my vodka. You can use from 4 to 7 vanilla beans per 8 oz of alcohol. I used 5 or 6 (depending on the batch) and they came out great. Assuming I use 5 beans per batch, I will get 5 servings from my 25 beans – about $5.36 per 8 oz of vanilla extract. Which beats the pants off of my usual go-to brand… and that’s assuming I only use the beans for that batch.

You see, I haven’t even told you the best part yet. The best part about all of this is that when my reserve gets low, I can just top it off with more vodka and give it a quick shake – and voila! More extract! That gives me an almost infinite supply* 100% pure vanilla bean extract, no additives or chemicals. All from the comfort of my own home. (Yes, I realize eventually the strength will diminish and I will have to get new beans eventually, but until then…)

homemade vanilla extract

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 to 7 vanilla beans
  • 8 oz vodka (or alcohol of your choice)
  • 1 non-reactive container (see notes)

Instructions

  1. Wash & sanitize your container.
  2. Place vanilla beans into said container.
  3. Cover beans with alcohol.
  4. Close and give it a shimmy-shake.
  5. Yes, it's seriously that easy.
  6. Place container in a cool dark place (like your pantry?) and give it a shake about once a week for 6 to 8 weeks, until the alcohol turns a gorgeous dark brown color.
  7. At this point you can either a> strain the beans out using cheesecloth and transfer to another container or b> keep vanilla beans in the container and top off with additional alcohol as needed. Once your extract begins to lighten in color, you will need to add fresh vanilla beans to the mixture. I have not yet encountered this situation.
  8. Use in place of regular vanilla extract.

Notes

Mason jars work well for this, as do adorable swing-top bottles like the one pictured above.

To speed up the infusion process, you can chop your vanilla beans into smaller (1 to 2-inch) pieces.

http://wee-eats.com/2015/02/03/homemade-diy-vanilla-extract/

asiago croutons

crouton main

Croutons, as you may or may not know, are extremely easy to make. Have bread? How bout an oven? Well then, you can have croutons! Technically you don’t even need the oven, but it’s my preferred method for turning old bread into croutons, since pans don’t always cook them as evenly as I’d like, plus then I have a pan to wash.

When you use the oven for croutons, all you need is a sheet of parchment (and maybe some foil, depending on how much fat you’re using) … yay, no dishes!

well, except this one…

For these croutons, I used day old asiago bread that I had already sliced, then buttered (you can drizzle or spray with oil if you prefer – buttering each slice can be a little laborious) the slices and cut them into cubes. Evenly distribute the cubes on a parchment lined baking sheet and toast in a 425 for about 15 minutes, or until evenly browned, tossing halfway through.

These were enjoyed atop roasted red pepper soup, but you could add them to any number of soups or salads. Of course, you don’t have to use asiago bread, you can use any bread you like, cut into any size cube you prefer, tossed with any additional spices you might be looking for. The general process will always be the same. Cut, add fat (spread butter, drizzle or toss with oil), toast @ 425 F for 15(ish) minutes tossing halfway through. Done!

DIY Croutons

  • 1 loaf day-old bread (this was asiago)
  • butter or oil
  • any seasonings you may want

Preheat oven to 425F

If using butter, slice bread then butter the slices and cut into cubes. If using oil, cube bread then mist or toss in oil.

Pour into even layer on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake in preheated oven 15 – 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until golden brown.

Sprinkle with any additional seasonings when you take them out of the oven.