About fifteen years ago some friends gave us some homemade vanilla for Christmas.  It was some of the best stuff we had ever had!  Ever since then we have been making our own vanilla.  Making your own vanilla is easy, inexpensive and just makes sense if you love to bake.

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This is what we used to buy, a little 2 oz. bottle that cost way too much and did not last us very long.  I phoned into our local grocery today as I had NO idea what this size bottle was running lately.  The house brand of vanilla extract is currently $5.29 for a 2 oz. bottle!  It was all I could do not to burst out laughing.  I would not be able to bake like I do if we had to pay $5.29  for vanilla every two batches of chocolate chip cookies I made.

The vanilla extract you buy in the grocery store does have alcohol in it, alchohol free vanilla is very hard to come by.  Most imitation vanilla extracts also have alcohol in them, so don’t be put off by the following recipe for homemade vanilla.  Trust me, this stuff is tasty.

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First grab a bottle of vodka from your local store.  We usually pick up whatever is on sale

This bottle of UV probably cost us between $7.99 -8.99.  We usually don’t spend anymore than that per bottle when making vanilla, or lavendar spray.  For a 1.75 liter bottle I use 3-4 vanilla beans.  There are all sorts of vanilla beans out thereTahitianMadagascarMexican.  We’ve been using Tahitian beans for years with great results.  The above links will take you to Amazon where they have 12 bean packs for $14.95-17.95.  You can also buy larger or smaller quantities from their site.

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Take your vanilla beans and slice them down the middle.

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This smells so incredibly good, I can not even describe the sweet smell of vanilla that will fill your kitchen if you try this.

Take the vanilla beans and put them into your bottle of vodka, give it a shake to loosen the insides of the beans.  Label your bottle so you know when it will be ready to use.  I allow the beans to soak for at least three months.  The longer the better, but three months is good.  I store our bottles of vanilla in a cool dark place and give them another shake every once in awhile.

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You can see in this photo how dark the vodka gets after the beans have been sitting awhile.  I believe this bottle is four months old.  All of the little black flecks you see in the bottle are from the vanilla bean.  If you don’t care for these just run your vanilla through a fine sieve.  We always leave ours grains of vanilla in the bottle.

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Last Christmas I made a bottle of rum vanilla.

I prepared it the same way as with the vodka and have used some a couple of times in cookies and ice cream.  It has a much stronger flavor (as to be expected) and is a really tasty change in recipes where you would like a little more flavor.

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Here is the finished rum vanilla, super yummy!

So, lets do a final cost break down.

Bottle of vodka (approximately 25 oz.) -$8.99

Vanilla beans- package of 12 for $17.99 divided by three- $6

Total cost for a 25 oz. bottle of vanilla- $14.99 or  $1.20 for two ounces.

To store your leftover vanilla beans there are a couple of things you can do to keep them fresh.  One way is to vacuum seal them into bags or jars.  The other way is to put them into freezer bags, squeeze all of the air out of them and then stick them into the freezer until you need them.

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The price difference is incredible and you know what is going into your vanilla.   Three months is quite awhile to wait, so get busy, make your own vanilla.  I promise you’ll like it.   If you don’t you can just mail your bottle to me ;-)

Herbed Focaccia Bread

1 cup water

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbl. sugar

2 tsp (total) mixed herbs (rosemary, oregano, basil)

3 cups flour

1 scant Tbl. yeast

Use bread machine dough cycle.  After the cycle is finished, shape dough into a flat, rough circle on an oiled baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.  Lightly coat top of focaccia with more olive oil.  Push your finger tips into the top creating craters.  Sprinkle top with sea salt and additional rosemary, oregano and basil.  Cover with a dishcloth and let rise 30-40 min.  Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

I spread this dough waaaaaaaaay out to make a large loaf.

I posted about making these before and how we do not have a panini press, so I make do with our cast iron grill and skillet. I use some olive oil to lightly grease the grill pan and heat it up over med.-med/high heat.  I then place the sandwiches on top and put a heavy skillet over it to weigh it down.

This last time I used deli sliced turkey, provolone and spinach.  I grill it on one side for a couple minutes then turn it so it gets hot through and the cheese starts to melt.

If you want to make the dough by hand the dough cycle on our bread machine consists of mixing the dough, kneading the dough, then letting it rise once for about an hour.  I just take advantage of having the machine.

Blueberry Smoothie

This is not an exact recipe so bear with me.  Our blender is about a 5-6 cup blender.  I put four partially frozen bananas in, one large can of pineapple ( 30 oz. sliced, or chunks) also previously frozen, one cup of strawberry yogurt, I then fill the rest of the room in the blender up with frozen blueberries and blend till smooth.  You may need to get a spatula and mix it a little if the berries are just sitting on top.  If the smoothie does not look thick enough after blending it you can add five or six ice cubes and blend it again.

Potato Bread

My brain is strange, I know this is not news for most of you :)   Oddball things pop into it at weird times.  The other day I was remembering my grandma talking about her mom’s potato bread.  When she and my great grandmother shared a house, my grandma would come home from work and would smell fresh baked potato bread.  She said the potato bread was so delicious that she had to tell my great grandmother to stop making it as she (my grandma) was gaining too much weight from consuming the yummy bread.  I decided I wanted to make this bread and contacted a great aunt through Facebook.  A cousin of mine, who is also on Facebook, let me know that she had seen the recipe and would get it to me as soon as she found it.

The next day the recipe was waiting in my message box, hooray!  The day after that I was boiling potatoes and waiting for dough to rise.

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Here’s the recipe with a few minor changes by me:

Great Grandma’s Potato Bread

1 pound thick-skinned potatoes (3-4 med. sized potatoes)
1-1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup warm water – about 110 degrees
2 eggs
about 8 cups flour, unsifted

Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain, peel, and mash with a potato masher or press through a potato ricer. There should be 2 cups mashed potatoes.

Place potatoes in a pan and gradually stir in milk. Add butter, sugar, and salt. Heat to warm (110 degrees); set aside.

In a large bowl, mix yeast with water; let stand for 5 minutes. Beat in potato mixture, eggs, and 3 cups of the flour. Gradually mix in 3-1/2 cups more flour. Turn out on a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding remaining flour as needed.

Place dough in a greased bowl; turn dough over so the top is greased. Cover and let rise in a warm place til doubled, 45min.-1 hours.

Punch dough down, then divide in to thirds. Shape each third into a smooth loaf and place in a greased 5X9 inch loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place til almost doubled, 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or til loaves are browned and sound hollow when tapped; turn out of pans and cool on racks.

Note:  This dough rises FAST, due to the dough being warm at the beginning, so keep an eye on it.  The recipe said it made two loaves originally, it makes way more than that.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out!

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Yep, that was my first run through with the bread dough.  BIG, HUGE loaves of bread.

I really liked the the way the bread turned out nice and light loaves of bread.  I decided to try the dough by making cinnamon rolls.  Make the dough as above, but after the first rise divide it in half.  Roll out half to 16×18″ on a floured surface.  Spread with 1/3 cup of very soft butter (you don’t want the dough to tear) and sprinkle with 1 Tblsp. of cinnamon and 1/2- 2/3 sugar.  Roll up starting with the longest edge, seal edge by pinching dough together.  Slice in to 10 equal slices and place in a greased 15×10 pan.  Repeat with the remaining dough and place in the same pan.  Let rise 30 minutes and then bake at 375 for 25-30 min.

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Mix 8oz. softened, cream cheese, 1/2 cup of softened, butter, 1 tsp. vanilla, 4 cups of powdered sugar and 1 Tblsp. of milk until smooth.  Add more milk if too thick to spread.  Spread over hot rolls and enjoy!

I made a batch up for my family and then made up a second batch for my dad to take to session.  They’re fairly quick due to the quick rise time of the bread, and yummy!

I wanted to make the dough up one more time as loaves before posting the recipe, just to make sure everything worked smoothly.  This time I made two loaves of bread and used the last third for rolls.  I was able to get a dozen nice sized rolls out of the last third of dough.

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The first two loaves of bread both had a large air hole near the surface.  I have looked over some bread troubleshooting pages and none of the things they have listed are a problem.  I have not sliced in to these last two loaves yet so maybe it was just a case of the first batch over rising?  It seriously rises fast, so keep an eye on it.  I’m anxious to see what the these last two loaves look like inside.  If I discover the problem I will post an update here.

So there you go!  Enjoy!  This stuff is yummy and oh so bad for you.  Consider yourself forewarned.

S’more Cupcakes

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This recipe was inspired by a local store having a great deal on s’more ingredients and wanting to make something special for a Thursday afternoon when Corin and her kids were coming out for the day.   After flipping through Cupcakes! I came up with the idea for these.

They are a bit time consuming to make, but worth it!  Enjoy!

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Yield : 1 dozen large cupcakes

Prepare jumbo muffins pans by greasing and placing parchment paper circles in the bottom of each pan.  Preheat oven to 350*

Graham Cracker Layer

3 cups graham cracker crumbs

3 Tbsp. sugar

1 cup + 2 Tbsp. butter, melted

Mix the above ingredients and place a scant 1/3 cup of the mixture in each muffin cup.  Press the mixture in to the bottom of the pan giving a nice firm layer to put the cake batter over.

Chocolate Cake Batter (enough to make 24 regular sized cupcakes).   I like to use the Chocolate Sour Cream batter from the Cupcakes! cookbook.  It is very good, but feel free to substitute your favorite recipe.

Pour chocolate cake batter over graham cracker layer so it is about ¼-1/2  inch below the top of the cup.  Insert one large marshmallow into the center of each cupcake and then bake for 20-30 minutes.

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Make sure to press the marshmallow down in to the cake batter.

Once the cupcakes are baked remove the pan from the oven and let set for 1-2 minutes.  Turn your broiler on while you wait for them to cool.  The original marshmallow should be completely melted by now.

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Cupcakes before adding the second marshmallow

Insert another large marshmallow into the hole left behind and stick under the broiler 2-3 minutes until the marshmallow is slightly puffy and starting to brown.  Remove pan and allow cupcakes to cool for ten minutes.

Invert cupcakes onto a cooling rack lined with parchment paper and let cool completely.  Peel off any parchment paper still clinging to the cupcakes. Leave them bottom side up, what was once the top is now the bottom and vicey-versy.

Frosting:

4 oz. dark chocolate, melted

1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa

½ cup butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

3 Tbsp. milk

S'morecupcake5Mix all frosting ingredients on low-speed until incorporated.  Mix on medium speed for one minute.  Scrape in to a ziplock, cut off a corner and pipe on to cupcakes.  Garnish with a square of Hershey’s milk chocolate and a few mini-marshmallows.

How a humble cupcake became something great…

or The kind of cupcakes I make when my coconut hating sister is not around.

There once was a  humble cupcake.

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Who dreamed of being something great!

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Unfortunately he ended up being forgotten on the counter, went stale and eventually ended up in the landfill. The end!

Okay, lets now talk about frosting. There is nothing better than whipping up a box mix for cupcakes. Yep, I’m talking comes in a box for less than a buck, full of chemicals and other natural goodness cake mix (do you think there are bug parts in there too, Bren?). I love them when I want no fail cupcakes fast so I can spend time on the good part, the froooosting!

I had already started a batch of Devil’s Food cupcakes this morning when we had to cancel having Corin and her kids over for the day.  I went from my plan of making strawberry frosting (same recipe different berry) to thinking about coconut frosting. Corin really doesn’t care for coconut, so I try to avoid using it when she’s around. Now was my chance! To be free of the oppression of my older sister!

I decided to use half butter, half shortening for the frosting. The shortening gives the frosting a lighter texture than all butter buttercream and it holds up a bit better to the warm temps we’re currently experiencing. With half butter you’ll still have some yummy flavor. I  added powdered sugar,  salt and some of my secret ingredient, then beat the bejeebies out of it all.

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Then I slathered the cupcakes in frosting.

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Toasted up a bunch of coconut and then rolled the tops of the frosted cupcakes in it. YUM!!!

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And so the humble cupcake’s fate was not as originally foretold .

He went on to live a happy few hours, rising to become the highest pupcake cupcake in the land!

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Reigning over all the other frosted cupcakes until the end of their little cupcake days.  Which is something like a day and a half  (if they’re among the lucky last) around here.

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Looking to make some Malibu Rum Frosting of your own?

This makes enough frosting to generously frost 24 cupcakes.

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Malibu Rum Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup shortening (I use Crisco)

4 1/2 – 5 cups powdered sugar

pinch of salt

4-5 Tablespoons Malibu Rum

Add all to a mixing bowl and beat on med. high for 3-4 minutes. Add more sugar if it’s too runny or more rum if it’s too stiff. Enjoy!