Thursday, June 14, 2012

Start Your Homemade Vanilla Now for Christmas!

6 months ago I came across a great idea for something to make as Christmas gifts...Homemade vanilla!  But, takes 6 months to reach it's full potential and I was just weeks from Christmas.  So, what did I do?  I marked my calendar for June 2012 to start making vanilla for next Christmas!

Well, my reminder came up and here we are!  I thought about posting this closer to Christmas when I could show you the pretty finished product, but then I thought, that's not very helpful to you.  So if you'd like to embark on vanilla making along with me, start now and you'll have it ready to gift at Christmas time and ready to use in your own holiday baking!

My vodka and vanilla beans...scroll down for more links to buy some beans!

- Vodka
- Vanilla Beans (2 large beans per cup of vodka)

All the research I've done says that in the end, there is no difference whether you use good vodka or cheap vodka.  So, I went for the cheap stuff....about $8 for a liter.

1) First I poured some of my vodka out into a big 4 cup measuring cup, just because I wasn't sure if the beans would overflow the bottle. You could use any other bottle too but I thought it made sense to just use the vodka bottle itself since I'm planning to make a LOT.

2) Carefully slit open your beans, starting just below the stem and going down to the tip.  I used a small paring knife, but if you have a clean x-acto blade that may be better.  Careful not to chop it completely in half...just slit through one side so all the vanilla-y goodness can ooze out in the bottle.

3) Put the beans in the bottle.  Pour back any vodka you may have removed earlier.  Whether you're pouring some back or pouring it all into a different bottle, a funnel is super handy.  An Alessi Pino Funnel makes it even more fun.
4) Cap it off.
5) Store in a cool, dark place for 3-6 months.  Give it a good shake every week or so.

Looks pretty already! I can't wait to see it take on the color of the vanilla.  I'm planning to remove the vodka labels from the bottles too so they look nicer as they soak.
6) Strain it, package it, and give or use it! I'll be sure to post some updates of mine as we get closer to Christmas, and pictures of however I end up packaging it...if I'm really on the ball I'll give you all some downloadable & printable labels.

They say that 3 months is the minimum to make vanilla, but it's at it's best after 6 months.  You can also apparently add more vodka to the same beans as they will flavor the vodka for up to a year.
These are the 2 Oz bottles
I ordered to package my vanilla to give as gifts. About $11 for 12 of them.

I got my beans on Amazon and I'm happy with them.  They came vacuum packed, and were nice and soft and fragrant.  I ordered the 1/4 pound size for $12.50, which they say is approximately 27 beans...mine had 30.  So I could theoretically make 3 liters (12 cups) of vanilla with 1/4 lb of beans and have a few left over!

Below are some links to various portions you can order,...hard to tell in the titles but from left to right the links will take you to: 7 beans, 16 beans, 1/4 lb (approx 27 beans), and 1/2 lb (approx 54 beans). 

Here are a few links to bottle options below.   I went with 2 oz bottles, which is twice the size of the little ones you get at the grocery store.  I think I may order some of the bigger ones though now that I see just how much I can make with my 1/4 lb of beans!

This is a fun part...

Do the math:
$8.00 - 1 liter of cheap-o vodka (the amount of beans I got could do 3 liters, so I may get more)
$12.50 - 1/4 pound or in my case 30 vanilla beans ($0.42 per bean, 8 beans per liter of vodka)
$10.95 - 12 2-oz bottles ($0.91 per bottle)

1 liter (4 c) of homemade vanilla extract costs just $11.36.
1 liter = 34 ounces = when bottled up as gifts adds up to:
17 2-oz bottles ($0.66 per bottle),
or 8.5 4-oz bottles ($1.34 per bottle),
or 4.25 8-oz bottles ($2.67 per bottle).

Of course that's not figuring in the cost of whatever pretty labels you may make, or the PRICELESS gift of your time and attention in making this!  But wow, what a deal for some amazing vanilla that will likely beat anything on the grocery store shelf!

Stay tuned for updates on my vanilla, and feel free to comment on your own if you decide to make it too! (or correct me if I'm doing it wrong, as I'm a total newbie myself!) ;-)

You have 6 months to figure out how to pretty up your bottles, but here are a few ideas for tags and such to get the wheels turning...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Save the Parsley!

Do you ever buy a bunch of parsley at the grocery store because you need some fresh stuff for a recipe or a garnish?  Then the other 90% of it that's left falls into the back of your refrigerator drawer where it withers away, only to be re-discovered weeks later as an unrecognizable bag of brown mush?

Here's an don't have to go 100% Martha Stewart-ish by growing your own herbs too (although I do grow a few myself and love to use them fresh in the summer!), but you can get the same end result by drying what's left of your grocery store "bunch" really easily.  You don't need any special tools, you don't need a dehydrator, and you don't even have to turn on your oven if you don't want to.

This is what I did today.  I took my left-over bunch out of the fridge, snipped off the stems, spread them out on a cookie sheet and set them in a "sun puddle" on our kitchen counter. Once I notice the sun is moving away from them, I scoot the pan over.... the time the boys are done with their naps, we have a huge tray of freshly dried parsley. 

Now just stick it in a glass food jar that you may have saved for future herb storage, or rescue one from your stash of recycleables.  Voila!  Don't you feel like Martha?! And sooo good for not wasting food? And even re-using a jar?  Oh how "green" of you!

I use the "sun puddle method" to dry and save the chives from my garden too.  We have a skylight in our kitchen which shines on the countertop, but you may find sun somewhere else in the house.  Of course you can just leave them to air dry without just happens quicker that way.

At the risk of overloading you with links, I pulled up a few links below for some cool spice jars and racks, spice jar labels, funnels to help fill them, and some drying racks below.  Happy herb drying! :-)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Quick Picnic Lunch Tip!

Here's a quick little tip for you to use this summer!  This is our lunch that I packed this morning for our "family fun day" trip to the beach.   I wasn't quite prepared as I didn't have all of our ice packs frozen in time, so I used a bunch of freeze pops instead.  Works just as well as ice, if your cooler is kept cold enough the kids can snack on them, and if they melt you can simply stick them back in the freezer when you get home! (Don't forget to pack a little pair of scissors!)

Have a great weekend and keep's a hot one, at least here in MN today!

(and in case you don't have freeze pops on hand, here are some cool ice packs worth checking out, including sweat free ice packs and freeze-able containers and lunch bags!  Click on the images for Amazon links.  And if you want to try the Fla-Vor-Ice freeze pops like we did, you can also find them can get a case of 200 pops for around $11 bucks!)


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