Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Fall officially starts in a few days and I am excited for it because I love fall baking! Last year, at the beginning of fall, I decided to start making my own vanilla extract in order to save money. I do a LOT of baking in the fall and through the winter as well, so I go through a lot of vanilla. Making homemade vanilla extract is simple and really does save you money. It also makes a great holiday gift for all of your baking friends!

To make vanilla extract, you need 2 simple ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka.
I like to purchase Madagascar vanilla beans in bulk online, usually from Amazon. I usually buy a 1/4 pound at a time (which equals about 27 vanilla beans) and it costs under $15.00! In the grocery store, you can buy 3 vanilla beans for around $ buying in bulk is much cheaper!
Another way to save money, is to buy cheap vodka. You don't need top-shelf vodka in order to make great vanilla extract. Just make sure you buy regular vodka, not the flavored stuff!

To make the vanilla, you will need 3 vanilla beans for every 8 ounces of vodka. Pour the vodka in a glass jar or bottle that has an air-tight cap. Spilt the vanilla beans and add them to the vodka in the bottle. Put on the cap, store it in a cool, dark place for about two months, shake the bottle every now and again, and then you will have perfect homemade vanilla extract. It's that easy! Enjoy!

This is what the vanilla extract looks like after 2 days. It will be a dark amber color at 2 months.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Pesto Pasta Salad

I love pesto. Seriously love it. My kids like it too, but my husband, the stinker that he is, when it comes to anything yummy, hates it. So, I rarely get to make anything with pesto at home.
I've made this pesto pasta salad only a handful times, but it is SO, SO good. The only times I ever get to make it is for pot-lucks at our church or for our school PTO events. I always get big compliments on the salad and many ask for the recipe. This salad is fairly simple, but as with so much in life, simple is always better!

Pesto Pasta Salad
(recipe adapted from
10 servings (I usually make 1 1/2 of this recipe to serve a larger amount of people as a side dish)

1 lb rotini pasta (I use multi-grain 14 oz package)
1- 14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained, chopped coarsely
1- 10 oz container of cherry tomatoes (I like to use a mix of gold and cherry tomatoes), halved
1- 6 oz can of medium-sized black olives, drained and halved
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
12 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
8 to 11 oz of fresh or prepared basil pesto (to taste)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (in a can)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp fresh cracked black pepper, or to taste

Cook rotini pasta according to package directions, just to al-dente. Drain and rinse with cold water; set aside.

In a very large bowl (like a punch bowl), gently mix together the chopped artichoke hearts, halved cherry tomatoes, halved black olives, chopped green pepper and cubed mozzarella cheese. Mix the pesto with the olive oil and add to the bowl, along with the parmesan cheese and minced garlic. Combine with the other ingredients.

Gently fold in the pasta and add the salt and pepper to taste. Mix and check seasoning again. Add more salt, pepper and parmesan cheese to your liking.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. This salad can be made one day ahead of serving. When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator about a half hour or so before, stir and add a little more olive oil, if needed, to "refresh" the salad. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Berry Muffins and Chocolate Chip Muffins (Egg-Free)

A lot of people have go-to recipes for everything. I am one of those people. You name it, I'm sure I will have a tried and true recipe to give you, or a recipe from someone that I know, that will be without a doubt, a success.

I have three go-to muffin recipes that I alternate and make on a weekly basis, and they all happen to be egg-free. I often make banana chocolate chip muffins because I seem to always have left-over bananas and they are my kids' favorite, but I also make these berry muffins and regular chocolate chip muffins a lot. These recipes always turn out great and are so quick and easy to make.

Berry Muffins (Egg-Free)
(recipe adapted from The Food Allergy Mama's Baking Book)
Makes 12 muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour (can use 1 1/4 cups all-purpose and 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk (can use rice or soy milk)
1/4 cup melted margarine or vegetable oil
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T water (slightly more if using white whole wheat flour)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup fresh or frozen berries (blueberries or raspberries are great)
Sparkling sugar or granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with baking spray.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour(s), sugar, baking powder, and salt with a whisk.

In a separate medium sized bowl, mix together the milk, melted margarine (or oil), lemon zest, lemon juice, water, and vanilla.

Add the flour mixture to the milk mixture and stir with a spatula until just combined.

Gently fold in the berries using the spatula. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups.
Sprinkle the tops with the sparkling sugar (or granulated sugar).

Bake for about 20 minutes (checking at 15 minutes), or until a tooth pick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let muffins cool in pan for a couple of minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Enjoy slightly warm or at room temperature!

Chocolate Chip Muffins (Egg-Free)
(recipe adapted from Food Allergy Mama)
Makes 12 muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour (I use 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup white whole wheat)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup margarine, melted
2/3 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, mix milk with 1/2 T vinegar and let sit 5 minutes)
2 T water
1 1/2 T vanilla
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour(s), sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate medium sized bowl, mix together the melted margarine, buttermilk, water, and vanilla.

Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and stir with a spatula until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Bake for 18-20 minutes (checking at 15 minutes), or until a tooth pick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool for a couple of minutes in the pan and then remove muffins to finish cooling on a wire rack. Enjoy!