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Weekend Specials: Homemade Vanilla Vodka

Vanilla is the 3rd most expensive spice, behind saffron cardamom (though some websites list it as the 2nd). From what I understand, it’s pretty labor intensive to harvest them….

When searching for fun, homemade food gifts, I stumbled on this website, Food in Jars. The author highlighted homemade vanilla as a great, easy gift (though a bit of a time investment). And the recipe cannot be simpler.

Vanilla beans (at least 5 or 6 per bottle), split in half

1. Split vanilla beans in half and drop into vodka bottle.

2. Let sit for a couple weeks, turning the bottle from time to time.

I had a bunch of fun shopping for little bottles to bottle my vanilla. I found some great bottles at consignment shops, which I thoroughly cleaned. It will be a lot of fun to give these out. Plus, if you put a vanilla bean in the gift bottles, the recipient can add more vodka to get more vanilla extract from the bean!

I will post more pictures as the process evolves.


Crockpot Cranberry Sauce

Crockpot Cranberry Sauce

I am a huge fan of cranberries. I love cranberry sauce, cranberry jelly, cranberry relish and cranberries hung on the Christmas tree! This is the season fresh cranberries are found for reasonable prices in the grocery store and I’ve been playing with several cranberry sauce recipes. Here’s my favorite combination so far:

–12 oz cranberries
–1 cup orange juice
–1 1/2 cups brown sugar
–1 cup white sugar
–1/2 tsp cinnamon
–1/8 tsp nutmeg
–1/4 tsp orange zest
–1/4 tsp lemon zest

Rinse the cranberries, picking out any duds and extra stem pieces that may have been in the bag. Combine all the ingredients in a crockpot. Set the heat to high. This should cook covered around 3 hours, stirring each hour. Pop the cranberries against the side of the crockpot bowl with a large spoon when they are nice and soft.

I’ve found this is a very forgiving recipe. The first time I made it I had the recipe on high for 2 hours stirring every hour and then let it cook uncovered a while. I only meant to cook it another hour but ended up letting it cook another three hours. It was a thicker sauce but still tasted good. It also smells great while cooking!

The original recipe came from: here!

Rachael’s Fabulous Chicken Dinner

My second adventure with Julia Child and her guide to French cooking! And I must say, I think it is as successful as my attempt, Cream of Mushroom Soup. I love cooking whole birds, not really sure why, but I think it has something to do with achieving the perfect skin. Plus, nothing feels like a real meal as a turkey dinner or a roasted chicken. I intended to cook duck today, but when I went shopping earlier this week I could not find a duck at any of the grocery stores I frequent….then this evening I go to my local grocery store (very small, go there for last minute things) and THEY have duck, though frozen.

I am actually going to share three recipes with you today, all coming from Mastering the Art of French Cooking– a recipe for dark chicken broth, the roasted chicken, and a method of jazzing up frozen peas.

Finished product

Brown Chicken Stock

1 chicken neck (from the roasting chicken)
1 sliced onion
1 sliced carrot
1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil
2 cups of chicken broth or water
2 parsley sprigs
1/3 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon of thyme

1. Brown the chicken neck and the veggies in the oil, cooking until brown.
2. Add the broth and spices. Simmer over medium low heat for about 1.5 hours.

This dark broth came out thick and rich, and it ended up being perfect for jazzing up my peas, as well as filling out the chicken cream sauce.

Poulet Roti a la Normande (Roast Chicken Basted with Cream, Herb, and Giblet Stuffing)

1 roasting/fryer chicken, around 5 lbs (save the innards)
1 tablespoon of butter
1tablespoon of minced green onion
2/3 cup of bread crust (I actually used a hardened baguette )
4 tablespoons of cream cheese
2 tablespoons of softened butter
3 tablespoons of minced parsley
1/8 teaspoon of thyme
1/8 teaspoon of salt
pinch of pepper
1 cup of whipping cream
3 tablespoons of brown chicken stock (see recipe above)
3 to 4 tablespoons of whipping cream
lemon juice

1. Saute the gizzard in hot butter and oil for 2 minutes. Add the heart, liver, and onions (all chopped). Saute for 2 minutes more, or until the liver has stiffened but is still rosy on the inside. Scrape into a mixing bowl.
2. Blend the bread crumbs, cream cheese, butter, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper in the mixing bowl with the gizzard mix.

3. Sprinkle salt inside the bird and then fill with stuffing. Rub the skin with butter (note: I also stuffed garlic cloves, butter, and parsley under the skin of the bird.

3. Roast the chicken in the over for around 1:45 minutes- 2 hours, or until the internal temperature is 190 degrees. Make sure to bast with butter or broth throughout. About 10 minutes before the chicken is done, remove all but a spoonful of the juices. Then begin basting the cream over the chicken, 3-4 tablespoons at a time, every 3-4 minutes. The cream may look curdled, but don’t worry, it’s not.

4. Remove the chicken from the roaster, and lightly salt it.
5. Add the dark stock to the cream in the roasting pan, and heat until boiling. Allow to boil for 2-3 minutes. Scrape the edges to get the excess chicken residue.
6. Remove cream from heat, add the last of the cream a tablespoon at a time, stirring to smooth. Add a couple drops of lemon juice and season as needed.
7. Spoon some sauce over the chicken, and serve the rest on the side.

I LOVED the stuffing. It was so creamy and warm and delicious. I would never have thought to put cream cheese in stuffing, but it went so nicely with the cream sauce. I also think that having a hardened baguette made a difference too (if I am being honest here, I would have to tell you that the baguette had already made its way to the kitchen trash, but I salvaged it. Never fear, the bread was encased in its paper bag).

The cream basting was interesting. I was skeptical, especially when the cookbook said that it would look like it was curdling. However, the cream sauce went wonderfully with everything in the meal.

Peas (a way to jazz up frozen peas)

10 oz. of frozen peas
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of green onions
1/4 teaspoon of salt
pinch of pepper
1/2 cup of dark chicken stock

1. Bring the butter, green onions, salt, pepper, and stock (the same stuff I made above) to a boil in a sauce pan.

2. Add the frozen peas and boil for 5-6 minutes covered. Uncover and rapidly boil until most of the liquid is gone.

This simple recipe truly did make the peas pop. And they were the perfect companion to the chicken.

Overall, this meal turned out wonderful. The chicken was juicy, the stuffing blew my mind, and the peas complimented everything. I had a couple self-critiques that I will share. I didn’t get the chicken as crispy as I would have liked. I think next time I will wait an additional 10-15 minutes before I add the cream, to allow the skin to get a bit more crispy. Also, I had some trouble getting the cream sauce thick. I am not sure if it’s supposed to be thick or thin, but I envisioned it being thick…and it didn’t end up being so. This may have been because I transferred the cream to a clean pan, leaving behind precious chicken residue.

I am truly enjoying my French cooking experience. Such rich, filling foods. Two recipes down, hundreds more to go!

Weekend Specials: Tina Nordström’s Apple drink with Vanilla Vodka

My family loves to watch cooking shows, particularly ones on PBS (we still have “farmer vision” as my mother has always maintained the viewpoint that cable would make us all too lazy). Saturday mornings will normally find the tv at the ol’ homestead in Ohio fixed on PBS where various cooking shows can always be found. A favorite of mine was always “New Scandanavian Cooking” (I’m not sure if it’s even still on anymore) because the food was beautiful and so was the scenery. So when we all decided to post holiday appropriate alcoholic drinks here, the only thought in my head was that show and a particular recipe that I’d always wanted to try out. The really crazy thing about this recipe is that I made it first earlier this week and by now (today) they have evidently updated their website and the recipe is no longer available. Oh no! Sadness! So I will link you to the cooking show’s website HERE, but unless I’m missing something the recipe is no longer available there. I think it’s because the gal that created it is no longer on the show. Anyway, here it is…

Tina Nordström’s Apple Drink with Vanilla Vodka
(Serves 6 people)

5 wine glasses
5 tablespoons dark honey
2 pints unsweetened apple juice
5 whole cloves
1 vanilla pod (or the equivalent in vanilla extract)
2 cinnamon sticks

1. Put one tablespoon of honey into each of 5 wine glasses.
2. Add 3 tablespoons of ABSOLUT VANILLA into each glass.
3. Combine the apple juice and spices in a saucepan and bring it to a boil for a few minutes.
4. Let it cool for a couple minutes (the liquid should not be boiling but should still be warm).
5. Strain and divide it between the 5 wine glasses.
6. Stir briefly and serve immediately.

**NOTE: Sometimes I alter this recipe by floating berries (raspberries, blueberries and cranberries tried so far) in the recipe. Usually adding them right after the honey and letting them sit and stew in the honey and vodka while I prep the apple drink part.**

Apple drink with Vanilla Vodka

Weekend Specials: Godiva Peppermint Patty

Abby’s drink entry is pictureless this time around because an unfortunate dropping incident occurred at the Myers household causing problems with the family camera. Abby sends her apologies and her insistence that this drink is absolutely as delicious as heaven with or without a picture to accompany a recipe. I’m sure you’ll agree by the time you get to the end of this.

Godiva Peppermint Patty

Makes: 1 servings
Serve in: a brandy snifter (or a mug)
Alcohol: 11%

1/2 cup hot chocolate
1 shot “Rumple Minze” Peppermint Liqueur
1 shot “Godiva” Chocolate Liqueur

Pour hot chocolate into a brandy snifter. Add peppermint schnapps (“Rumple Minz”) and “Godiva”, then stir. Top with whipped cream (Recipe follows).

Homemade Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pour the cream into a large bowl and beat well with mixer for one minute. Slowly add the sugar and vanilla while continue mixing. Beat until cream becomes the consistency of whipped cream (may take several minutes). (Hint: you can add flavors to your whipped cream, just use one teaspoon of any ONE of the following…… chocolate powder, or, pumpkin pie spice, or, peppermint flavor.)


Alicia’s Easy Holiday Pork Tenderloin

Alicia’s Easy Holiday Pork Tenderloin

It’s the Holidays, so obviously it’s the season for big meals! For Thanksgiving I decided to do something a little different. This dish is a great alternative to a Christmas ham or turkey. Sometimes, you just want something else!

Marc and I had had our turkey at a Thanksgiving Day party, and we’ve always wanted to try pork tenderloin at home. This is a very simple but flavorful dish that feeds about 4. Enjoy!

Pork in a crockpot.

What you will need:
1 large crock pot
1 thawed pork tenderloin (1.5-2 lbs)
1 medium onion chopped into 4
1 and ½ cups of your favorite red wine (I used cabernet sauvignon)
¼ of a cup of brown sugar
1/3 of a package of McCormick Slow Cookers BBQ Pulled Pork Seasoning

Place the tenderloin in the crock pot. Set each piece of the onion evenly against the sides of the pork. Combine the brown sugar and seasoning in a mixing bowl with the wine. After it has been mixed thoroughly, pour it into the crock pot over the pork. Set the crock pot on high and cook for two hours. During this time, I keep a large serving spoon next to the crock pot so I can periodically “baste” the pork with the sauce/juices sitting in the crock pot.

After about 2 hours of cooking on high, cook for at least another 2 hours on low. I decided to be generous on the side dishes since it was Thanksgiving, so I decided on julienne carrots, zucchini and yellow squash roasted in light olive oil, roasted potatoes, and some quick Kraft Stove Top cornbread stuffing. I know, (GASP), I didn’t make the stuffing from scratch but that’s why this dish is called “EASY Holiday Pork Tenderloin”! The stuffing isn’t pictured because at the time it must have still been on the stove.

Just a few notes: this was my very first pork tenderloin so I decided to leave the actual seasoning to the experts. I’m sure many of you out there are confident enough to come up with your own seasoning creations! The wine and the brown sugar gave the pork sweetness while the seasoning provided that kick of BBQ tang. A perfect combo if you ask me.

The leftover pork is amazing as a sandwich on a nice roll the next day. With that said, maybe go light on the portions, save room for dessert and have a piece of pumpkin pie so you can have leftovers! Happy Holidays!

A plate of pork!

Two-Step Southwestern Stew

A really delicious soup for the winter months

Had a TON of cans of kidney beans in my cupboard (vegetarians like beans, amongst other things) and decided to search for a recipe on the Vegetarian Times website to use up some of those. For those of you who DON’T know yet, the search function on the Vegetarian Times website lets you type in all the ingredients you have and search for recipes that contain all or one or more of those. You can also refine your search by doing an Advanced Search. It’s a really rad feature that I use quite often when I realize such-and-such a vegetable is looking not-so-great in my fridge. You should all go try it out. Anyway, I wanted a recipe to use up kidney beans and my boyfriend Jake (who is NOT a vegetarian) also had meat that we needed to cook (a nice piece of steak that I bought for him the last time I’d been in Safeway). So I looked for something that could potentially be a “whole” meal for me and a side dish for him. I found this great stew recipe…and it was super easy. From start to finish it took 30 minutes tops and since a lot of the ingredients are canned the prep went SUPER fast. You can find the recipe online HERE!

Two-Step Southwestern Stew

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes with green chilies, preferably fire-roasted, with liquid
1 15-oz. can white or yellow hominy, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium-sized zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat.
2. Add onion, and cook 5 minutes, or until lightly browned, stirring frequently.
3. Stir in tomatoes with liquid, hominy, beans, zucchini and cumin.
4. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook 10 to 12 minutes, or until zucchini is tender.
6. Stir in cilantro, and serve.