Friday, August 30, 2013

Home Made Vanilla Extract

Do you buy Vanilla Extract?  I used to, but then found out how easy it was to make my own, and I've now got a jar in the cupboard that I use for baking.  You can even use it to flavour some coffee, if you like vanilla coffee.   Personally, I like Mocha, but I did try some in my coffee one day and it wasn't bad.

 I cannot believe that it has taken me this long to make my own extract.

I mean, two ingredients and leave it alone for a month, how simple is that?

Here's the recipe, such as it is.

Two vanilla beans, split lengthwise and the center scraped out with a sharp knife, you want the seeds in there, they do add a lot of the vanilla flavour.    I also cut my beans in half, cause otherwise they weren't submerged.      I bought my beans at World Market, but you can buy them online as well.  Just make sure they are fresh and pliable, if they're too dried out, they do not seem to work as well. 
1/2 cup Dark Rum, or brandy, cognac or vodka.   Any of them.    I like the nuances of a mixture of brandy and rum myself.    So that's what I did.  Well, actually I only had a 1/4 cup of brandy left and it wasn't quite enough so I added 1/4 cup of dark rum as well.   And it was good.  


Place the beans in a glass jar, pour the rum/brandy over it, and seal.   Set the jar in a dark cupboard and shake it once a day or so for a couple of weeks.   Then just let it steep in the dark.   You can use this after a week or so, but I let mine go a whole month, before I used it the first time.








Label it, trust me it helps.


After using a couple of teaspoons, replace those with some more rum or brandy.   And add another vanilla bean every few months, just to keep the goodness going.  

I don't strain this when using it, I don't mind if some of the seeds get into my batter or frosting.  Just adds character.  But if it does bother you, just use a fine strainer to strain out the seeds before using the extract.

And another hint, if you happen to run into a really good deal on vanilla beans, you can split them in half lengthwise, and submerge them in a container of sugar and in a couple of weeks, you have some lovely vanilla sugar.  

And just got hit with  this thought, whew that was close.   This would be an awesome Christmas gift for your fellow foodies.   You know who you are.  

It's not too early to think of Christmas, really, it isn't.  Just ask your grandkids.   You could make this in a large jar, then decant it into some pretty little bottles.   I think I see a visit to the big city in my future. 

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shortcrust pastry

I made some pastry for the Kentish Pie and realized I've never shared a recipe of how to make it.

I admit, I've been lazy and been buying the store bought pie crust, cause it was easy to have it in the freezer, and just take it out when I was in the mood for a pot pie.   Sigh...

But really, it's not that hard to make it myself, and gee, if I can freeze the commercial stuff, why can't I freeze my own home made crust?  DUH!!!!   I think I had a blonde moment or three there.
Shortcrust Pastry fixins

But I digress, and am dithering around here as well.

Oh heck with it, let me just share a story.    Way back in the dark ages,  Grade Eight to be exact, I had a Home Economics  teacher who shared a secret with us on making perfect pastry.  One thing Mrs. Patterson told us was to handle the dough as little as possible.  And if you had cold hands that was even better, and in later years, I would actually set my hands in ice water, to cool them down, before I handled delicate doughs. 

Of course we were silly little girls and didn't appreciate just what a gifted teacher she was at the time, and weren't always that complimentary about her. Mrs. Pattersons' nickname was Squirrelly.  I know, not nice.    I did learn a lot in her class. 
By the way, I still have the apron I made in her class, crooked seams, stitches and all.  I even wear it from time to time.  It's red and white checked Gingham. 


Now that I got that out of the way, let me share the how to's on making a good, sturdy shortcrust pastry for meat pies.   This is still flaky, but it  holds  up better for robust fillings.

I like to weigh out flour and fats when I can for baking.   Especially now when I live in a climate where the humidity level can fluctuate a lot.   Weighing allows for a little more exactitude.
Besides which, I have a scale and know how to use it.   So there.
I also used salted butter this time, cause that's what I had the most of, and I omitted the addition of salt.  But it could have used just a titch more salt. 

Recipe:  Shortcrust Pastry

12 ounces Flour
6 oz.  cold Butter or half butter and half lard, if you like, cut into cubes
3 tablespoons Ice Water, or more as needed. 
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cut the fat into the flour until it resembles rice or bread crumbs, or use a food processor if you like.  I finally got a pastry cutter and used it this time, but in the past and probably in the future as well, I will just use a couple of knives to cut the fat into the flour.   I've been doing it that way for many years and I'm good at it.  

Add 3 tablespoons ice water and fold the flour/fat mixture together.   Mix very gently.   If the flour mixture doesn't start to come together, then add a tablespoon of ice water and mix some more.   (I actually used 6 tablespoons of water for this dough, humidity was low and the flour was very dry).  At this point I dump it out of the bowl onto my counter and use a pastry scraper to finish mixing it together.  Remember, don't let it get too warm, all you get is greasy dough that way.


I gathered the dough together with the scraper and then divided it in half. Mainly because I was going to bake half of it right away, and didn't want to make a big disc.  I did shape the half that went into the fridge into a disc though.  Also letting the other half rest in the fridge, helped the dough relax a little and made it easier to roll out later on.


Can you see the streaky bits in there?   This tells me that the dough is going to be nice and flaky.   I probably could have added a little more water, but I decided to go ahead with a slightly drier dough.

 I love using all the toys at my disposal that I can.   And one of my more recent purchases is this mat.    Oh and the rolling pin as well.  You would not believe how great this is.  
 One little hint, if you are going to make a pie, you can roll the dough over the rolling pin and use that to position the rolled out dough over the pie pan.
I've tried picking up those sheets of nice rolled dough, and had them tear on me. 
 See, easy as pie.
Use a good sharp knife to cut off the excess dough on your pan.  But remember, if you are doing a blind bake first, that the dough will shrink up a little.  I've learned that the hard way, a few times.  sigh

And if you are pre-baking the shell, you can use a fork to prick the bottom to keep it from pooffing up if you don't bake it with some pie weights or beans on top.

So there you have it, my version of Shortcrust Pastry.  







Next up, how to make a really, really, really flaky crust for sweet pies.   But, I'll save that for another post.
In the meantime, I'm heading down to the kitchen to mix up a couple batches of this recipe, and am going to freeze them for future use.   You can never tell when a pie is going to be needed.  

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Kentish Pie

I'm not too sure how to describe this dish, it's like a cross between a pie and a quiche and totally delicious.
I found the recipe on Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb and Ginger site via Carole's Chatter Food on Fridays.    She has a fun idea, she asks bloggers to link a recipe or recipes, every Friday.  Each Friday has a theme and guess what it was a couple of weeks ago, yup Pies and Tarts, in fact, here's the link,   Carole's Chatter Food on Friday: Pies and Tarts.    There were over 250 recipes submitted.     I looked at a few of them, submitted a few of my own, and then I saw this.  
Kentish Pie

A Kentish Pie.

I had to look, and when I did,  I decided that this was just fun enough and different enough to make for Tapas Night.   So I did.   Make it that is.

And it got eaten.    There weren't even any leftovers.  

I think this would make a fantastic dinner meal, served with a side of veggies, but it's also a good potluck dish.   And you can bake it beforehand, take it out of the pie pan, and serve it at room temperature.  How cool is that?  Especially down here in the South where you don't want the oven going and heating up the house in the afternoon.

I also made a shortcrust from scratch, mainly cause I wanted to keep my hand in.   And now I think I'm going to make a couple more batches and keep in the freezer, for the times I make a chicken pot pie.  This was one of the best recipes I've ever made.      I'll share the recipe in a separate post.

Gotta keep you reading here, one way or another. 

Now for the Pie.
 It has Apples, Bacon and Cheddar in it.   I know, what a combination, but oh so very good.   However I have to say this up front, I did not cut the apple slices thick enough.  Next time, they will be thicker.   And next time, I would like slightly thicker bacon as well.    I think it would be tastier.

Pie Pastry, enough for the top and bottom of the pie  (I'll be posting my recipe in the next day or so for this, but go ahead and use commercial pie crust).
12-14  slices good meaty bacon, cooked slightly crisp and chopped or broken into pieces. 
8 oz.  Good Sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
 8 eggs, lightly beaten, plus one egg yolk for glazing.  (I used the extra egg white in with the other eggs.)
3 tablespoons heavy cream (if you're in Europe, use Double Cream)
Fresh ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out or position one sheet of pie crust in a pie pan.   Cut off any overhangs with a sharp knife.  Or you can leave it rustic looking.    You can either put some pie weights, or some dried beans on the bottom of the crust to keep it from puffing up or just prick the bottom with a fork.   I pricked it with a fork cause I don't have either dried beans or pie weights.  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until it is just done.   Set aside to cool.   Roll out the other sheet of pie crust and set aside for a few minutes. 

While it is baking, fry the bacon up and set aside to cool.   Prepare the apples, peeling, coring and slicing them,

and then cut the cheese into small chunks.

Whisk eggs and cream together with a few good grinds of pepper.  You know how much you like in your food, and as for me, I did about a half dozen grinds.  Don't really know how much that was.

Place a layer of bacon first into the cooked pie shell,
Kentish Pie

 then add a layer of cheese,

Kentish Pie
 then the apple slices.
Kentish Pie

Repeat with another layer of each.

Pour the lightly beaten eggs over top,

Kentish Pie

Kentish Pie
and kind of shake the pie pan a little so there aren't any air bubbles in there.  I picked up the pie pan and set it sharply down on the counter a couple of times.  Like you do when baking a cake, you don't want any large bubbles in that either.  Brush the edge of the cooked crust with some of the egg yolk, this will help to 'glue' the top crust to it.

Place the second sheet of pie crust on top, and crimp the edges together lightly.  Cut off the excess pie dough if you like and use to make decorations with it.

 Cut a couple of slits in the top, to let the steam escape, and then brush the whole thing with rest of the egg yolk.

Kentish Pie
   Not only does this make it look pretty, but you can now 'glue' any decorations to it, that you made with some of the leftover dough.

Place in oven.   I usually put either a sheet of aluminum foil under to catch any drips or just place it on a larger cooking sheet.  

Bake for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees.   Take out of oven and let cool to room temp.   Serve.

Kentish Pie
This pie was very easy to take out of the tin, once it had cooled, which made it much easier to slice and serve.       
Kentish Pie
I am going to make this again, but I'm going to tweak it a little more.   I really liked the combination of flavours, but the cheese got kinda lost in there.   I think next time I will add a little more cheese, and in fact will change it up a little and use some Colby Jack Cheese.     And as I said before, I will also cut the apple slices a little thicker, they kinda got lost inside.   

Go ahead and try this for a nice change of pace.   Personally, I think I'm going to try taking this on a picnic.  It's hearty, substantial and fun.  

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tapas for August


Too much good food.  

Well it was Tapas Night last night. 

Nuff said.

No?  OK

As usual we had a great crowd here and some awesome food.    I love to see all the offerings, and best of all getting together with some great people.  

Here's an over view of the dishes.   And I wish I could say I sampled all of them, but alas, I can only eat so much.

Well, OK, so I had a bite of most of it.  And the scale proves it this morning. sigh...

We had Jalapeno Poppers, Pasta Salad, Rolled Eggplant and Turkey burrito's, Guacamole, and,

well go ahead and take a look...




 I put together some Guacamole,  which a friend of mine taught me how to make.   Thanks Jarrett, your recipe was a hit.   I'll share the how to's in another post.    I have to say the Tomato was out of my little back yard garden as was the cilantro.   I love using my own home grown stuff.  Makes me feel good.
 I made a Kentish Pie, and it was very good, and I will post this recipe in the next day or so. 
 There were some sliced meats and mini-Ciabatta Rolls
 There were Deviled Eggs. Have you noticed how often they are one of the first things to disappear off a table?   I managed to snap a picture before the hordes descended.    OK, so I used hostess privilege and elbowed my way in, and grabbed this picture just after Robin set the plate down  and smacked couple of of hands that were reaching for the eggs.  Just kidding.
 Isn't this pretty?    Sliced Tomatoes, with Feta Cheese and Basil.  Very nice. 
Nancy does some pretty stuff. 
 Little turkey rollups and Hummus and crackers.   Great combination.   Usually Marilyn makes a skillet cake, but this time she went savory, and it was good.
 Harriet made these, an eggplant and turkey rolled enchilada.   I'm so going to get this recipe.  They were yummy. 
 I'm not sure who brought these little stuffed peppers but oh were they good.   And the plate is so pretty. 

 Leon made some stuffed Jalapeno Poppers and ooh, were they good.  At least the one I got to taste, lovely and hot.  
This dish made my mouth sing.   I don't know what it is called, but I think I know who brought it and I'm going to strong arm them and get this recipe.   I need it.








 And then there was this awesome Pasta Salad.   I just love Pasta Salads, Jill made this one, so I knew it would be good, and it was.  I made sure I had some of it.  







Crostini for the following bruschetta.
 I apologize for the lousy picture, but this was so good.   I could have just sopped up the balsamic vinegar with a piece of bread and eaten it that way.  The Mozzarella was fresh and creamy and the combination was out of this world.  



 And more Guacamole.   Always a popular dish.









 And then there were the desserts. 
  Lots and lots of desserts, 
 Lemon Cake
 Chocolate Pie
Nancy also brought an Angel Food Cake.   And look at that cake plate and dome.   I have a cake plate, but I need a dome, just like that.   (I use a clear plastic salad bowl right now)   I do love me some Angel Food Cake. 
 Brenda made a Sweet Potato Pie and it was very good.   She actually made it from scratch, cooked the sweet potatoes and everything.   It was good.
 Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars.   OMG good.  And it sounds so easy to make.   I did get the recipe and I will share it here, soon,  These were a big hit.
 As were these.   I can't remember the same for these, but there good. 
And last but not least, Carrot Cake and Cherry bars.   I had one for breakfast cause they left me some, and it was good.









I'm sure I missed a couple of dishes, in fact I know I did.  There was also a bowl of fruit salad brought, and I missed it.

However, there was more than enough food, and best of all, we all had a great time.

Well, I did... 

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Ham, Cream Cheese and Green Onion Roll Ups

I was being lazy last weekend, and decided to make some Ham Roll Ups and veggie sticks and bring them with me to a gathering.   We like to get together with some friends on Sunday afternoons, have a drink, a bite of something, and we all bring something really simple.



There were some good dishes there as well, this past weekend, but the pictures I took with my phone were so poor I can't even share them.   Our hostess made some really good Green Chile with beans, another guest brought some smoked fish in phyllo tarts, there were some great nacho's, and this really yummy meat dip and I will be sharing that recipe soon, plus my offering.

I made these Ham Roll Ups.      I've been making these for over 30mumble many years, and have always had them enthusiastically received. 

Let me just say, they get eaten when I bring them.

This makes about 20 or so Roll Ups.

3 bunches green onions, don't use the big ones, use the very slender ones, they taste better in this.
8 oz. Cream Cheese, the Neufchatel is great here, or low fat is fine. 
1-2 packages sliced ham, I prefer Hillshire brand Smoked Ham

And that's it for the ingredients.

Simple, huh?

Soften the cream cheese, either by zapping it in the microwave for 30 seconds or at room temp.   You want this to be quite soft so that it spreads easily without tearing the ham slices.

Wash the green onions, and remove the tough outer sheath, cut them to fit the slices of ham.   I like them to be just a little longer than the width of the ham, so that you can cut the ends to feather out a little.

Spread a very thin layer of cream cheese on each ham slice, and then roll the green onion into it.


 As you can see from this picture, sometimes the sandwich ham you buy is too darn hard to spread the cheese on.     I just wanted you to see this.









 This is how you want it.   Just a little layer of cheese, not too much, just enough.  

Continue until all the cheese, onions or ham are done.  Place in fridge and let firm up for a little while.

I also like to cut them a little on the ends to fan or feather them out a little, just makes it a little prettier.

I impressed myself with this picture, got both hands in there.






By the way, it is perfectly permissible to taste them, or at least taste one as you're making them.   You do want to make sure that they taste good.

Go ahead, try them, you'll like them.   

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