Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Last Christmas, I made vanilla extract to give to friends and family as Christmas gifts. It really was so easy, and it's inexpensive. The trick is that you need to allow a few months' time for the alcohol to extract enough flavor from the beans (2 - 4 months, specifically: after 8 weeks it is perfectly usable, but the flavor gets stronger the longer you let it go). So, for those of you who might have some summer free time and want to get WAY ahead on your Christmas gifts, now's a good time to start!

Making vanilla extract yourself is great for lots of reasons, whether you're planning to gift it or not. First, it really is pure vanilla extract - much better quality than you can find at your local grocery store... unless you're paying a fortune or you happen to be reading this from Mexico...  And, believe it or not, it can be much cheaper this way, too, especially if you are making a lot at once.

Homemade vanilla extract has the strongest, most wonderful velvety smell and flavor. Plus, of course, your house will be filled with the scent while you're making it. Mmm...


--unflavored vodka, 80 proof or higher (at least 40% alcohol) - can be really cheap vodka
--vanilla beans
(750 ml vodka / 12 vanilla beans)

Slice the beans lengthwise. Place in glass bottles or jars. Fill bottles/jars with vodka. Beans should be completely covered with alcohol, so you may need to cut the beans into shorter pieces, depending on the size of your bottles/jars. Seal the lid tightly. Shake well. Store in a dark place to steep for 2 - 4 months, shaking well once a week.

You may remove the beans and strain the extract (through muslin), but the bits and pieces of the bean floating around in there only give it a stronger flavor.

Vanilla beans tend to be exorbitantly priced at grocery stores, so I do recommend buying online. There are several varieties and a range of sources to buy from online. I bought Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans from Amazon, during a holiday-time sale. To read more about varieties of beans, as well as how to use and store them, these FAQs on Beanilla are an excellent source.

My advice: order in bulk, and have some leftover to use for other things in your own kitchen!

I loved the little bottles I got from Specialty Bottle. I used the 4-oz. Boston Round bottle for most of my extract, but I also ordered some 2-oz. bottles for me to keep and and refill continually. In addition, I filled a couple of ball jars for myself, so I'm set on extract for a long time.

In most recipes, you can use pure vanilla - scraped directly from the bean pod - instead of extract. I use  vanilla beans in most of my baking, and I especially try to use them in recipes which showcase a vanilla flavor, like vanilla ice cream. 

The empty pods actually have lots of flavor left in them after the "guts" have been scraped out, so I like to put them in my sugar canister and let them infuse vanilla into the sugar. Vanilla sugar - there's another gift idea! :)

I used in 4 oz. bottles for gifts, so I placed 2 vanilla beans in each bottle. One 750 ml bottle of vodka = about 25 oz., so it does about 6 of these bottles.

As for labels, you can of course print them (or have them printed) on adhesive paper. I printed mine on regular paper, then ModPodged them onto the bottles. They came out very nicely, though some of the ink rubbed off a little if I used too much pressure with the paint brush. You can find tons of label templates online. I designed mine myself. 

(Unfortunately I didn't take pictures of the extract 
when it was "dressed up" with ribbons, etc. for gifting, 
so I just snapped a photo of the ones I have in my cupboard.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013


It's happened again. Summer clothes are upon us, and I'm not ready! It's that winter-ish little layer of cuddly flub that I built up during hibernation. Actually to be honest, when spring first comes it never really matters how pale or flabby I am: At the start of warm weather, I'm always so happy to feel the sun on my shoulders that I don't care if my arms are toned up for a sundress.

But that wears off.

And the cuddly winter-ish flub has to go.

True to my springtime routine (though I'm a little late in getting to it this year), I have been eating well, working out more, and in general making healthier choices for my body. But we all have weaknesses...

I have a serious sweet tooth (as you can probably tell from all the baking I post about), and my husband really likes to keep ice cream in the freezer, which is BAD for me. In terms of something cold sweet to enjoy in warm weather (especially when Nate's eating ice cream next to me), this dip is one of my favorites.

It's loaded with protein (that can vary depending on the yogurt you choose). It's cold, creamy, and sweet. This recipe lasts me a few days - though if you're not careful it can be gone in one sitting :)


12 oz. nonfat honey Greek yogurt
3 - 4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (to your taste)
drizzle of honey (optional)
sprinkle of cinnamon

Stir together ingredients until smooth. Store in airtight container for 7 - 10 days.